Pulled Thread



In order for your stitching to create the open areas the fabric must have a looser weave. Aida is not a good choice because the warp and weft threads are interlocked. In addition, the thickness of fabric threads is important. Some fabrics have a stiff sizing that also makes it harder to pull your threads tight. I can’t give a hard and fast rule. Fabrics vary so much that I would recommend doing a test piece before starting out to create a large piece. Some fabrics you might try include 25-count Dublin or 28-count Cashel linen.

You can do pulled work on canvas, however it is much stiffer. To do a pulled thread stitch on canvas, you can dampen the area you are stitching with a drop of water. Don’t wet a very large area. One note on dyed fabric…you will likely see the original color of the fabric if you are pulling your thread really tight.


I have always heard that your thread should be about the same width as the fabric thread. However, some of the resources indicate that a thinner thread, such as a Size #12 pearl cotton, would be used for a tighter pull. A Size #8 pearl cotton would give you less of a pull. Also, you can use a thicker thread for more texture. One main concern is the thread be strong enough to pull and maintain that pull when you are done.

There is quite a controversy over whether you should use colored thread. Purists would say that the thread should match your fabric and therefore, seems to disappear when stitched. I, being the non-conformist, would tell you to experiment. After all, it is your piece!


Tapestry needles are great for stitching and not piercing the fabric or threads. You will also need a sharp needle, such as a chenille for some design elements. Your needle size will depend on your thread.

Hoops and Frames

This is one technique that needs to have a frame for most work. It is important to get the right amount of tension and to keep distortion of the edges to a minimum. I would recommend stretcher bars with lots of tacks to keep the fabric secure. Plastic hoops tend to let the fabric loosen a bit as tension is applied.

Couple of notes

I learned there is a light and dark value associated with pulled thread. It is considered a light value if the piece has little or no tension work on it. However, one with a lot of tight tension or open areas is considered to have a dark value.

There is also a direction to consider when pulling your thread. Pulling up is done by inserting your needle below the fabric threads and pulling upwards. Pulling down is done by inserting your needle above the fabric threads and pulling downwards. Pulling to the right is done by inserting your needle to the left of the threads and pulling to the right. Pulling to the left is done by inserting you needle to the right of the threads and pulling to the left. When you gather the threads in the center whether vertically or horizontally that is called pulling away.


You will be delighted to know that you probably already are familiar with some basic stitches!

The first one is the Straight Stitch »

The next stitch is a Cross Stitch »

Four Sided Stitch is a stitch used in many other techniques »

Another stitch you are familiar with is the Faggot Stitch »

The Greek Cross is worked like a Dove’s Eye except you are stitching over fabric and not in the air like in Hardanger Embroidery »

Double Back Stitch »

Eyelets of varying sizes can add a lot of interest to your piece. The key is to always come up at the edge and down in the center, so that you are pulling to the outside. This opens up the hole in the center. Experiment with various shapes to see what they produce. Here are some suggestions. Repeating the eyelets can create some very exciting patterns also!

Some great resources are:

Here are a couple of patterns to get you started!

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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