Tutorial – Nun Stitch

Maybe you have already noticed the frayed edge of my new sampler. It was done in nun stitch, my very favourite way to secure the edges of coarse fabric. When it comes down to very coarse fabric like my sampler, it’s about the only good way I know if the edges will be visible in the finished article. When they will not be visible I glue or machine zigzag the edges of hessian and such and either frame it hiding the edges under a mat or add some fabric binding for frameless hanging. (not that too many of my works reach such a stage of finish LOL)

On very coarse fabrics like hessian or canvas, I add a dash of fabric glue to the backside of the nun stitched edge, especially if the piece is going to be laundered or used in any way. On medium thread count, tightly woven embroidery fabrics such as hardanger a nun stitch edge is pretty secure in my experience when it is done properly. Of course it is not secure enough for clothes or anything else that will be machine washed or otherwise mistreated.

It will be insecure on slippery fabrics like rayon, some manmade fibers and some silks. It is not secure on needlepoint canvas which is too stiff to pull the fabric threads together.

Also, on very open fabrics such as linen usable for pulled thread work and all forms of scrim or mesh this stitch will not produce a secure edging, there are various better options for such fabrics.

On anything with a substantially higher thread count than hardanger this stitch works but is tendious to do, and there are various other options for finishing those.

Funnily, when I was a young teen I invented a variant of nun stitch. I did it like the real one but only did one backstitch – one overcast stitch instead of doubling them. I had no access to a sewing machine and was desperate for a way to keep coarse fabrics from fraying. Guess how surprised I was when I aquired a copy of Therese Dilmond’s Encyclopedia of Needlework and found the real nun stitch in there. By the way, on fine countable fabric or when the edges will be bound or overstitched later I still use my method, it’s faster and in these cases just as durable.

I also invented a crochet version of this back in the day, but that is (maybe) for another post…

But now to the stitch

As preparation, cut the fabric to shape following the threads of the fabric exactly. remove a few threads arround the edges, producing a fringe of the desired length. Use a fine strong thread like pearl cotton, buttonhole sewing thread or mercericed crochet cotton. Floss will not be strong enough.

Work on the front side, working in the direction most comfortable for you. When doing this stitch it is important to pull the working thread hard so that the fabric threads over which you work are bound together in little bundles. Be careful not to pull the whole fabric out of shape.

Secure the thread on the backside 2 threads away from the edge. Do a backstitch over 2 threads.

Do a second backstitch over the first, doubling it.

do an overcast stitch over the edge of the fabric as shown.

overcast the same thread bundle once more

Do another back stitch as shown, then double it again (not shown)

Do the next overcast stitch as shown, then double it

That’s it. Remember to pull the threads hard. if the edge feels insecure, glue the backside of the edge.

And finally, this is how a corner is supposed to look like. For them, just do double back stitch – double overcast stitch – double overcast stitch on second edge – double back stitch.

Meh that was a lot of typing and pic inserting. If this leaves any questions open just ask.

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2 responses to “Tutorial – Nun Stitch

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