Pattern Darning by Sally Simon

Originally published in Needle Pointers, Volume X, Number 1, Spring 1982

Editor's Note - Sally Simon of Southfield, Michigan stitched the cover project for this issue of Needle Pointers. She is a teacher and designer of needlework and author of a book of pattern darning titled Damed Easy.

Easy and enjoyable ... running stitch and reversible ... counting on canvas ... and fun for stitching fingers. These all describe Pattern Darning.

As modern stitchers, we usually relate pattern darning to Blackwork techniques, since this is where we often encounter the designs, but as the saying goes "everything old is new again." From the 14th century Chimu of what is now Peru, who stitched their motifs on fine cotton gauze, to the 19th century young girls whose darning samplers were completed for learning to reconstruct intricate damask weaves for repairing fabrics, cultures all over the world have used this method to decorate articles of clothing and household linens. Traditional Mexican designs would be outlined and then filled in, while the Japanese used all over bands of patterns or individual motifs usually in diamond shapes in their work. Ukranians, the Amharas in Africa and Morrocans used bright, multi-colored patterns, while the Turkish influence in regions of Greece gives us monochromatic red in zigzag and diamond designs.

Today it's delightful to make use of all these ideas. The adventurous stitcher can execute these motifs and designs in one color, bright and exciting, use variegated threads for subtle changes, and even use a carefully chosen color scheme and change colors upon completing portions of a pattern. White or ecru thread on white canvas gives a very subtle and elegant look to one's embroidery.

The stitch is the simplest one known to embroiderers ... the running stitch. In pattern darning, each row is completed in one continuous line from A to B. The return journey is the continuous line from C to D ... and so on, back and forth across the area to be covered. (See diagram)

Darning patterns can be horizontal, vertical and diagonal. Some patterns use combinations of these, but the stitching method remains the running stitch.

Talking to oneself helps in keeping track of the pattern. Saying "over 4, under 1, over 4" is a useful technique. Also, label the rows of a pattern to see clearly where the repeats might begin. (See pattern I.)

Filling patterns work best in an outlined area since the "shadow" created on the back is an important part of the whole appearance. Rows will be stitched from side to side, and the thread is carried into the outline and caught in the back before returning to the filling area. In border designs, upon ending a row, a 'jump' stitch will take the thread to the second row (simply move to the next position).

A marvelous bonus in pattern darning is the reverse side of the canvas. Most patterns have lovely "negative" designs and careful anchoring of threads make this ideal where the back of a piece will be seen.

Tension is important to the appearance of the patterns, so a frame is suggested and the 'pick and poke' method of stitching With smooth, even tension, the fiber will lay evenly on the surface of the canvas until it drops under the charted number of threads and comes up again. If the thread is pulled too tightly, the stitching fiber will be straight, and the canvas will shift so that the "under" canvas threads are distorted.


Any count of canvas can be used, as can other even count fabrics. Using waste canvas basted to clothing or other fabrics furthers the possibilities of clothing embellishment by pattern darning.

Only the imagination limits the fibers which can be used. The appearance of the patterns, either completely filled in solidly, or open and spacious can be varied by the selection of thicker or thinner amounts of the chosen fiber. The chart offers some suggestions, but is by no means complete ... be adventurous and enjoy your creations.

Canvas Full Look Open Look
#10 4 ply Persian 2 ply Persian
#3 Pearl Cotton
#12 3 ply Persian 2 ply Persian
#3 Pearl Cotton
#14 3 ply Persian
8 ply floss (silk or cotton)
Tapestry wool
#3 Pearl Cotton
Matte Cotton
#18 Ostara
Bella Donna
6 ply floss
#3 Pearl Cotton
#5 Pearl Cotton
1 ply Persian
A Broder
2-3 ply Medici
#24 #5 Pearl Cotton
4 ply floss
1 ply Persian
#8 Pearl Cotton
A Broder
1 ply Medici

Pattern Darning is FUN! It's EASY! Try a sampler for yourself. Mount a piece of #18 canvas to a frame and try these charts. Maybe even paint sections of your canvas with acrylics or a Nepo marker for multi-color patterns. Use a variety of fibers and colors. And of course ... ENJOY!

Pattern I
Pattern II
Pattern III
Pattern IV
Pattern V
Pattern VI
Pattern VII