stitch tutorial: detached buttonhole stitch

Welcome to this embroidery stitch tutorial for detached buttonhole stitch which is also known as detached blanket stitch. This variation of buttonhole or blanket stitch is worked from left to right on a foundation of straight stitches. I love the texture this stitch creates and loved using it in the design ‘Sunflower Cardi’ which was March’s pattern club design in 2023 (see feature image).  I am using my stitch sampler template here which you can download here for your own practice. Below is the YouTube stitch tutorial which also talks you through how to increase and decrease your stitches.

Step by step stitch tutorial: normal detached chain stitch

For this particular example I am using back stitch to outline my shape but you will probably see people using chain stitch or reverse chain stitch for this. The thing to note when stitching your outline is the size of your stitches – here I am using smallish stitches so that my detached buttonhole stitch will be tighter together and create a more even coverage across the fabric. If you used long stitches for your outline the stitches on the inside will be looser and have more gaps. There is no wrong or right one to do – it depends on the end texture you are after. This stitch is called a detached stitch because the stitches actually connect with each other and don’t attach to the fabric so they sit loose on top of the fabric.


Start by outlining the space you are filling (back stitch). Keep your stitches small and even. I am using a contrasting thread for the tutorial.


Bring your thread up on the right side of the space and then bring it back down on the left side at the same level, in a straight line, to create a foundation stitch.


Then bring your needle back up on the left side just underneath your previous stitch. Keep it as close as you can without coming back up in the same hole.


Secure the thread with your thumb and bring the needle through the first stitch at the top, UNDER the foundation stitch and OVER the thread at the bottom.


Pull your thread through, making sure your thread comes over itself at the bottom to create a loop. This is a type of buttonhole or blanket stitch. Pull the thread tight.


Repeat this with the next back stitch at the top of your shape. Make your way across the whole row. Then bring your needle back down at the starting point of the foundation stitch.


Repeat a foundation stitch on the next back stitch down (this is the 3 row in this photo) and continue stitching across from left to right - catching the small loop base of the previous row to create the next row.


Once you have filled the space, for the last row, bring your needle through the bottom back stitch as well to secure the detached stitches to the hoop.


This is how it should look at the end when completed. If you notice that there are uneven gaps in your stitches then you need to check your outline stitch size and make sure you are pulling each stitch tight.

how to increase or decrease your detached buttonhole stitch

If you are wanting to use detached buttonhole stitch on a different shape – like the circle in our stitch sampler template, you will need to learn how to increase or decrease your stitches. First stitch your outline exactly as we did for the square shape. The main difference will be that we will be either ‘adding’ or ‘dropping’ a stitch at the beginning or end of the row.

TO INCREASE – Add an extra stitch at the beginning of the row using stitch from the outline. Then your next stitch will be into the first stitch on the previous row. Continue along the length of this previous row of stitches – adding a stitch for each of the stitches above. When we get to the end of the row we are going to be adding in another stitch again using the outline as an anchor point. This means this second row of stitches has increased by two stitches compared to the first row. 

TO DECREASE – Instead of starting at the first stitch of the row – you are going to ‘drop’ a stitch at the start and start with the second stitch of the row instead. Then you get to continue on as you normally would matching stitch for stitch with the previous row. And when you get to the end of the row if you need to – you can ‘drop’ another stitch to decrease the number of stitches in the row. This means this row of stitches has decreased by two stitches compared to the first row. 

To be able to increase or decrease your rows allows you to fill any shape using detached buttonhole stitch. For example I used it to create the main sections of this cardigan from my ‘Sunflower Cardi’ embroidery design! I also was able to to some half rows of detached buttonhole stitch to be able to change the direction of my stitches slightly towards the bottom of the cardigan. 

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