How to do couching stitch

To learn how to do couching stitch, why not check out my couching stitch tutorial. It includes:

  • illustrated embroidery stitch instructions
  • a couching video
  • tips for success
  • variations on couching stitch, including trellis stitch
  • Royal School of Needlework stitch bank.

Couching stitch uses

Couching is a method for laying foundation threads on the surface of the material. You then stitch them down with little stitches going across the original thread, often in a thinner thread and in a contrasting colour.

You'll find couching useful if your threads are thick or difficult to stitch with, such as metallic thread. It's also easy to use on curves.

If you want to create a knobbly effect, such as for tree trunks or branches, couching stitch is a great choice. You can see this in the photo below on the tree trunks in my spring embroidery kit. I did the foundation stitch in 3 strands of dark green DMC thread. Then I did the couching in light green and apricot using 2 strands of DMC thread.

Couching stitch on trees in spring embroidery it

Couching stitch tutorial

Couching stitch tutorial
  • Bring the needle with the main thread colour up through the fabric and lie the thread flat. Put the needle back down at the place you want the couching to finish.
  • Leave the thread in the needle. Put it out of the way behind your work while doing the couching stitches.
  • Bring a second needle with contrasting thread up through the fabric. Make small stitches over the foundation thread to keep it in place.
  • To finish, adjust the foundation thread if needed, then finish off the thread ends. Then bring the needle with contrasting thread to the back of the fabric and secure.

Couching stitch video


Tips for couching stitch

  • Couching is straightforward, but it's easy to get the second thread tangled up with the foundation thread. So make sure it's tucked well out of the way on the back of your work.
  • Be careful not to stitch the couching thread through the foundation thread. You'll need to adjust the foundation thread to tighten or loosen it, especially on curves.

Download my free stitch guide covering 10 basic embroidery stitches.

Couching stitch variations

Firstly, you can choose contrasting colours for the couching to add colour and patterns to your embroidery. You can see how couching is used for decoration in this photo from my hot air balloons embroidery kit.

I used 3 strands of red and grey threads and couched them with 2 strands of apricot thread to create the speckled effect in this example. 

Couching used as a filling stitch in my hot air balloons embroidery kit

Secondly, you can add texture by using different types of thread for couching. In my winter landscape embroidery kit, I laid silver metallic thread onto the fabric. I then couched it with 2 strands of sage green DMC thread for the tree in the top left corner.

Couching and trellis stitch on trees in winter embroidery kit


Trellis stitch

Trellis stitch is also known as trellis couching. It's similar to couching stitch, but the foundation stitches form a grid. The grid lines can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. It's an easy embroidery stitch for filling large areas.

You can see trellis stitch on the tree in the top right corner in the photo above. It's from my winter landscape embroidery kit. I stitched the diagonal lines of the trellis in metallic thread. Then I couched them at the intersections with small vertical stitches in sage green DMC thread.

Trellis stitch instructions


Trellis stitch embroidery instructions
  • Create a grid by doing one stitch along the full length of each diagonal, shown by arrows in diagram 1.
  • Then do the diagonals in the opposite direction, diagram 2.
  • Using a contrasting colour, stitch small straight stitches over the intersections to hold all the diagonals in place, diagram 3.

More on couching

The Royal School of Needlework has a stitch bank which aims to preserve every known stitch. It will become a world-wide directory of embroidery stitches. You can read their stitch bank entry for couching stitch and see how to do couching stitch here and trellis stitch embroidery here.