Stumpwork an embroidery style that has or creates a dimensional look.

"There are very few rules" (for Stumpwork) according to Jane Sinton in her new book Stumpwork. Stumpwork began as a heavy, padded embroidery done in the late 17th century in England. What made it unique is that the designs were not symmetrical or more precise like a sampler. They were composed of things the stitcher liked such as figures, plants, and animals often with incorrect proportions. It was possible to have a piece of fruit larger than a person or a bug bigger than a bird! Many of the designs were colorful and some of the padded work actually had a carved piece of wood beneath it. The stitching was heavy and often used for chair cushions and wall hangings. Stumpwork also adorned personal items such as gloves and mirror frames. Another unique aspect of stumpwork from this era was it was sold in kit form for the smaller items.

The term Stumpwork didn’t actually come about until the 19th century. According to Wisegeek "The craze for stumpwork arose in the 1600s, with some companies even producing printed stumpwork kits which could be used by unimaginative crafters. The popularity of this embroidery technique receded almost as soon as it arose, experiencing a resurgence in the 1800s, when the term "stumpwork" was coined to describe it. The origins of the term “stumpwork,” by the way, are a bit mysterious, with claims ranging from references to wooden batting used in traditional stumpwork to a corruption of “stamp,” as in the stamps used to made commercial stumpwork patterns for sale to crafters."

Stumpwork is alive and well in the 21st century. Its popularity is due in part to the "no rules" and the limitless possibilities for those creative people who want to express something of themselves in their work. Let’s see if it appeals to you as well.

Work Basket

Fabric – Traditionally, it was worked on white or ivory silk satin. You can use a variety of fabrics today, but they must be thick enough to hold a lot of embroidery work. A lightweight fabric can be used, but back it with muslin or fabric stabilizer.

Threads – This is a great way to use threads from your stash because all weights and colors can be used. Here are some examples:

A nap brush would be handy tool to help fluff out an animal’s fur or tease other fibers. A great choice might be the Bunka Brush, Judy’s Boo Boo Stick or the Handmade Wooden Embroidery Brush.

Needles -The needles you use will depend on your thread and stitch. You want the thread to pass through the eye of the needle and the needle should make a big enough hole in the fabric or canvas for the thread thickness to go through without pulling on the thread. You will need a variety of needles. Here are some suggestions of what to have on hand:

Hoops and frames – It is very important that your work be supported while you stitch otherwise your finished element may sag, pucker, or not lay the way you wanted. Some people prefer a hoop while others use stretcher bars or frames. What you use may also depend on the size of your project.

Wire – Some of the elements can be brought to life with the use of covered wire. Cake decorator wire works great. The common gauges used are 28 and 30, with 34-gauge for things like insect wings. Nordic Needle carries 32-gauge cloth stem wire in a package of 12.

Embellishments – We often think this is a relatively new concept to incorporate items into the design, not just as a fringe or decoration. One of the most interesting items used was little sheets of mica for windows in church building and house designs. Mica is a mineral with many uses. To learn more check out this website by the Mineral Information Institute.

Almost anything can be used for embellishment such as beads, sequins, spangles, broken jewelry, feathers, shells, ribbons, cords, etc. Embellishments don’t have to be expensive and it is fun to have a variety on hand for when you are ready to work on your projects.

Be on the lookout for items that can be used as padding or a foundation. Padded appliques would work, as will bits of wool, felt, and batting. Beads with large holes can be used as a core to wrap thread around to create berries and small fruits. It’s fun to think outside the box as you walk through a craft store, flea market, or your own stash!

Your stitching basket will also need scissors, thimble, straight pins (7031A), wire cutters because you don’t want to use your good scissors and tweezers.

Patterns and Designs

The stumpwork stitchers of long ago did a lot of freehand drawing and stitching. Their designs contained the things that they liked or were important to them. Today you have a variety of patterns to choose from if you need inspiration. For example, some of Aunt Martha’s hot iron transfers would be a great way to start. Books such as 5000 Flower & Plant Motifs and Celebration Transfers can also get you started. Once you find a design, you need to transfer it to your fabric. You can use transfer pencils and pens with a light box.


Now you are ready to start stitching. Many of the stumpwork stitches are familiar to you from other techniques.

Flat Stitches would include:

Back Stitch »

You can use the back stitch to create a knot. Over time, the spot where typiacl knots are on the back of your work will rub and wear more, which is where your quilts will begin to rot and tear. To create a back stitch knot, when you begin to stitch, make a couple of back stitches on top of each other and tug to make sure they hold. In her book, Kate Sinton suggested making a knot in your thread to help hold the thread in place. Make your back stitch knot next to that knot. Then cut the actual knot off the end of the thread before you begin to stitch. Use the back stitch technique to finish your thread off also and your piece is knot free.

Couching »

Long and Short Stitches (for Needlepainting) »

Running stitch »

Satin and Padded Satin Stitch »

Stem stitch »

Straight Stitch »

Raised Stitches would include:

Bullion Knot

Drizzle Stitches – Sharon B’s Dictionary of Stitches has an excellent write up for the Drizzle Stitch.

French Knot

Turkey Work »

Woven spokes – such as the 3-point weaving in this Hardanger design »

Needleweaving Stitches

Needleweaving stitches are used to create things like leaves, petals or wings. They can be stitched on top of the fabric, but they often are independent structures stitched on fabric or around wire and attached separately. There are dozens of needleweaving stitches. Great reference books are the Romanian Point Lace for Beginners, Romanian Point Lace for Intermediate to Advanced and A Needle Lace Bouquet.

Nordic Needle has a lot of resources for Stumpwork:

Are you ready to try your hand at stumpwork? Here is a quick tutorial to make a cute bunny in a basket.
Victoria Sampler has two delightful designs using stumpwork Dragonfly Lace and Butterfly Lace.

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

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