Three Variations of the Fishbone Stitch
The fishbone stitch is one of my favorite embroidery stitches for creating leaves and feathers. It’s fun, simple, and it can fill in a shape fairly quickly.
It resembles a satin stitch in some ways but it’s very much different. The satin stitch runs up and down, left to right, or side to side.
With the fishbone stitch you’ll create a spine within your shape to divide it into two. Your stitch will form ‘X’ shapes which stack on top of each other. As you work your way down, your ‘X’s will begin to look like ‘V’s, ultimately giving the impression that there are 2 shapes each filled with the satin stitch.
Let’s take a walk through the fishbone stitch by creating 3 leaves because there are a few variations, each with its own charm, and also because it’s just fun to know how to create different effects.
The 3 variations include the flat fishbone stitch, an open fill, and the raised fishbone stitch.
Let’s get started!
First, the Flat Fishbone Stitch
It always helps to lightly draw in your leaf shape with a line down the center for the spine of the leaf. It’s not necessary but it’s helpful as a guide.
Each of these variations start with a single stitch which begins at the very top of the leaf (point A) and comes down along the spine (point B).
How long you make it is up to you but in general, the shorter it is the wider the ‘V’ shape will be.
Next, come up at point C (next to A) along the edge of your leaf.
Bring your needle down at point D.
Notice that this step crosses your thread over the center and is just slightly lower than point B.
Let’s repeat this step on the other side.
Come up at E along the edge of your leaf edge.
Then return to the back at F. Again, you’ll cross over the spine.
Just like point D, point F is just a bit off to the side of the spine and a little lower than point B.
Let’s repeat these steps: Come up along the edge of your leaf, next to C and return to the back at G.
Repeat these steps until you’ve filled in your shape. Isn’t that lovely?!
Next, Let’s Create the Open Fill Variation
Open fill means that as you fill your shape open areas of the fabric will still be visible.
The steps are basically the same. The only thing you’ll need to do differently is spread things out a bit.
It’s perfect for giving the suggestion of a leaf or other shapes, and you can really play with it by changing up the direction or curve for different visual effects.
Just as before, create your first stitch along the spine at the top of your leaf. Come up at A, then back down at B.
This time when you come up at C you’ll still do so along the edge of your leaf edge but with a small gap, away from point A.
Go down at D. It should cross over the center. It should also be a bit lower than point B.
I like to make the gap between point B to D somewhat similar in length to point A to C.
Let’s repeat that on the other side of the leaf. Come up at E, then back down at F.
Let’s do it again. Come up at G, then back down at H.
Now the other side.
- Come up at I, along the edge of your leaf.
- Cross over the spine and return to the back at J.
- Continue with these steps until you’ve finished your leaf.
Your leaf should look something like this once you’re finished. I love how it looks without an outline but you can certainly add one.
As you might imagine, this open-fill technique can create really cute pine needles… it isn’t technically considered a fill in this case since you’re really using it to create lines, but it works!
The Third Variation is the Raised Fishbone Stitch
This variation looks very much like your flat fishbone stitch except it’ll be a bit plumper.
This time when you cross over the center you’ll return to the back of your fabric close to the edge of your leaf, not near the center.
See how point D and F differ between the two stitches? The area where your threads criss-cross are also different. It’s much higher with the raised fishbone stitch.
As a result, you’ll slowly build up padding as you work your way down the leaf. So as always, start by creating your stitch from A to B along the leaf spine, then come up at C.
Then return to the back at D near the edge of your leaf by crossing over the center. Point D should be a bit lower than point B.
Do the same on the other side. Come up at point E. Then return to the back at F.
Let’s repeat those steps below the stitches we just created.
Come up at G, then return to the back at H. H is just below D, near the edge of the leaf, not directly on the on it.
Repeat these steps as you work your way down the leaf.
Notice that when you come up to the top of your fabric you’re doing so along the edge of your leaf, but when you return to the back of your fabric you do so just inside of your leaf.
Here’s your finished raised fishbone stitch:
It looks just like the flat fishbone stitch but if you compare them side-by-side you’ll be able to see and feel that the raised stitch has a little more volume and feels pillowy!
Fishbone Stitch Video Tutorial
We’ve come to the end of the fishbone stitch embroidery tutorial. I hope you’ve found this helpful and will use this fun stitch in your future embroidery projects.
Thanks for following along, and enjoy the embroidery video tutorial below which will cover all three ways you can create your fishbone stitch.
For more embroidery stitch tutorials take a peek at my stitch library.