Sunday, September 8, 2013

Interlaced Herringbone Insertion Stitch

Each month I'm presenting a new tutorial on a medieval skill from various types of textile-related crafts. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will allow me to locate, study, and try a variety of new techniques I might otherwise overlook, and second, it's an easy way to get information out there about skills that other people might be looking for or find helpful. This month, I present Interlaced Herringbone Insertion Stitch.

If you've done any studies on the Cap of Saint Birgitta, you've probably been introduced to the fancy technique known as interlaced herringbone stitch. In the case of the SBC, this intricate embroidery method is used to connect the two panels of the cap along the center seam, thus making it not only decorative, but functional as well. Such embroidery falls within the category of an "insertion stitch". The highly woven method used on the SBC rests pretty squarely on the advanced end of the spectrum, but the interlaced herringbone stitch that most modern embroidery dictionaries present is relatively easy.

The herringbone that forms the base of the stitch should be worked evenly for best results, so a light mark or other measuring technique needs to be employed to identify the two parallel rows on each side of the gap. It's also a good idea to fix that gap distance by attaching the panels to a base piece temporarily while you're working the decorative stitch.

The foundation of the interlaced stitch is a double herringbone stitch that's woven properly to allow the over/under weaving pattern work out correctly. There is an extra step to the herringbone stitch to allow this to happen.

To begin, start your stitch on the bottom left by pulling it up from underneath. Then bring the thread diagonally across the gap, and pick up several threads on the top from right to left.

Instead of carrying the thread back over the gap like regular herringbone stitch, slide the needle under the first crossing thread.

Now complete the right to left pick-up stitch on the bottom of the gap.

Bring the thread back across the gap, this time without bringing the needle under any threads. Pick up several threads, going right to left.

Slide the needle underneath the crossing thread you just made.

Follow that pattern until you reach the end of the gap. The needle passes under the thread as it goes to the bottom, but stays on top as it goes back up to the top.

When the row is complete, bring the thread across the gap and up through the fabric from underneath to begin the double herringbone on the return trip. [Note: My example is short, so if I was working with a long seam, like on a huvet, I'd end my thread on the first pass, and start a new length of thread on the second pass. Bring your new thread up from the back in the same location as this- you'll just be missing the crossing thread I created.]

Bring the needle diagonally down and underneath the last crossing thread from the first pass.

Pick up several threads, now from left to right, on the bottom. Position your pickup stitches between the first pass stitches.

Bring the needle back to the top, going under the first thread, and over the second.

Pick up several threads, from left to right.

Going down, pass over the first thread, and under the second.

Continue in that pattern until you are back to the beginning. When going up, go under then over. When going down, go over then under.

The third pass will create the top half of the interlacing. If you're going to start a new thread, bring it up from the back on the top, close to where the final herringbone stitch went through the fabric.

[Note: At this point, it's best for me to explain the steps using \ , / and V to correspond with the direction of the threads. You'll need to rely on the photos to help you make sense of that.]

Slide the needle under the left-most / on the bottom side of the center crossing point.

Now bring the needle over the first \ and under the second \.

Bring the needle into the first top V, sliding it under the left-hand thread.

Now, weave through all three / threads, going over the first and under both the middle and last.

Weave through the next set of \ threads going upward, first over, then under.

Bring the needle into the top V, again sliding it under the left-hand thread.

Now, again, weave through all three / threads, going over the first and under both the middle and last.

Repeat the pattern until you reach the end.

Now, we will begin the return pass by first sliding the needle under the last / thread on the top side of the center crossing point.

Weave through the first set of three \ threads, over the first and under both the middle and last.

Bring the needle into the bottom V, this time passing under the right-hand thread.

This portion of the interlacing gets tricky. There are four / threads to weave through on the upward cross over. The second of these threads can be hard to get, since it's the thread you just brought under two threads. The pattern going upward is over, under, over, under.

Once again, the weaving pattern going back down is over the first, under the middle and last.

Bring the needle into the bottom V, sliding under the right-hand thread.

And over, under, over, under the four / threads going back up.

Repeat back to the beginning.

You might find it helpful to switch to a tapestry needle when you work the interlacing, to avoid splitting the threads. You can also turn your needle around and use the more blunt eye end.

When you get back to the start, you have a completed interlaced herringbone stitch!

A few other points:
  1. The distance between herringbone arms and the length of your pickup stitches on either side can greatly affect the end result. Experiment.
  2. Keep your threads long to avoid needing to change threads before you reach the end. I don't have any mathematical formula for this, unfortunately, but the weaving does take a fair amount of length.
  3. If you do end up needing to change threads midway through, bring the threads to the closer side and hide it behind an existing herringbone thread, through to the back where it can be knotted off. Then, bring your new thread back out in the same location, making sure to treat all three threads in that location as a single thread during the weaving.
  4. If you've got this one down and are interesting in trying the more complex interlacing found on the Saint Birgitta's Cap, I recommend checking out Catrijn's Interlacing Diagram.


  1. This is really awesome! Thanks for the great tutorial. I want to make a St. Birgitta cap, maybe soon, maybe not for a long time. I will definitely need your excellent instructions to do the insertion.

  2. Gracias, es un poco de mucha atencion, pero el resutado es maravilloso.