ExhibitionsHerringbone Stitch

Museum Exhibition 2018

This exciting and colourful exhibition explores the use of herringbone stitch, its variations and interlaced herringbone stitches on embroidered textiles from around the world. Through history, herringbone stitch has been used to create bands, fillings, motifs and patterns in surface and counted embroidery, including crazy patchwork, pulled thread, shadow work and smocking.

Herringbone stitch and some of the many variations of the versatile stitch are embroidered on the three samplers shown. Variations are created by stitching horizontal, cross or coral knot stitches over the crossed threads; by threading or interlacing the herringbone stitches and by stitching over the herringbone stitch with one or more bands of the same stitch in layers or as double herringbone stitch.

Herringbone Stitch

Other names by which herringbone stitch is known are catch stitch, Mossoul stitch, Persian stitch, Russian stitch, plaited stitch and witch stitch. In reference to early American samplers, it was known as cat stitch.

Herringbone stitch creates a crossed zigzag linear band worked generally from left to right. The start of each stitch crosses over the end of the previous stitch. This is achieved by passing the needle through the fabric horizontally, alternately at the top edge of the band and the lower edge, as the herringbone stitch is worked across the fabric with spaces left between the stitches.

The diversity of the use of herringbone stitch was shown in the exhibition by the embroidery on Mary Lancaster’s plain sewing sampler; the filling on a ribbon tied in a bow on a Mountmellick pillow sham; the linear patterns in the background of a mola from Panama; the smocking worked in herringbone stitch on a hat and also worked over tiny folded and applied triangles on an ethnic Chinese young woman’s apron.

Closed Herringbone Stitch

Closed herringbone stitch is also known as double back stitch and is worked in the same manner as herringbone stitch but there are no spaces between the stitches. Two lines of back stitch are created on the reverse of this stitch.

This stitch is widely used for solid bands and fillings, with other stitches as in the South African figurative design depicting the funeral of an AIDS victim and some of the Indian embroideries or as the main stitch used in a design. Closed herringbone stitch is the main stitch used on embroideries from Crete, Greece, Mexico, India, Burma and Indonesia.

Shadow Work

Shadow work is a type of embroidery worked on sheer or semi-sheer fabric in the reverse of closed herringbone stitch or double back stitch. Outlines of two lines of back stitch are created in the surface and the closed herringbone stitches are slightly visible through the fabric, creating a ‘shadow’.

Interlaced Herringbone Stitch

There are many variations of interlaced herringbone stitch, a composite stitch also known as interlacing stitch. The interlacing can be worked over a single line of herringbone stitch or a double line in a straight line and around circles. The herringbone stitch foundation can also be stitched as a cross, Maltese cross and as a filling over a larger area. The technique and the motifs have different names, and symbolism in some cases, according to different cultures.

Interlacing has featured strongly over the centuries in India and Armenia, for example. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England, interlaced herringbone bands, diamonds, squares, triangles and circles were embroidered in metal and sometimes silk thread on samplers and other embroidered textiles. During the same period, interlacing was embroidered as whitework borders, motifs such as a peacock and as fillings on linen textiles.

Dianne Fisher. Curator