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Linear Thinking: Running Stitch Crafts




The simplest stitch in sewing -- the running stitch -- is also the most versatile. Usually a child's first lesson in needle and thread, this practical technique can lend a stylish touch to almost any textile in your home. All it takes is a little imagination

By sight, if not by name, the running stitch is easily the most recognizable of sewing techniques. Whether the dashlike appearance of its simple over-and-under pattern takes the form of a neatly worked quilt or shows up unevenly on a child's first attempt at a sewing project, this basic stitch unfailingly says "handmade."

Although the running stitch is, in the strictest terms, a fundamental and practical sewing stitch, it also can be used to embroider embellishments on almost any material, including patterned pieces. By combining threads and fabrics in a variety of colors and textures, experimenting with the scale of the stitches, and playing with their spacing, you can create an array of effects. Work the stitches in precise rows for a graphic simplicity that complements a minimalist aesthetic, or make them hastily in a freestyle manner to bring a stylish yet homespun effect to even the most basic attire and accessories. Your only prerequisites are an object in need of enhancing, a small length of yarn, floss, or thread, and a little creativity.

Both avid sewers and novices will find these techniques easy to master and the results gratifying. So go ahead and pick up a needle and thread -- and let this simple stitch run away with you.


1. Determine the measurements: Most lampshades, including drum-shape shades, are greater in circumference at the bottom than at the top; this means the vertical rows of stitching on the shade must fan out slightly toward the bottom to create a proportional grid. To find the right intervals for your pattern, complete the following equation before you start to sew. Measure the top circumference and the bottom circumference in inches. Divide the bottom circumference by the top circumference. (Most answers will have decimal points; you will need to round up or down. For example, 1.13 becomes 1 1/8 inch.)

2. With a disappearing-ink pen, mark a tiny dot anywhere on the shade's top rim. Using a T square or a clear quilting ruler, mark a corresponding dot directly beneath the top dot on the bottom of the shade.

3. On the shade's top rim, measure 1 inch to the left of the guide dot, and mark the spot with the disappearing-ink pen. Repeat on the opposite side of the guide dot. Measure and mark 1-inch intervals from this last mark, working completely around the shade's top rim. Repeat on the bottom of the shade using the number you arrived at in the equation above to measure the intervals. (The intervals will be slightly larger than 1 inch.) Mark a line with your disappearing-ink pen connecting the top points to the bottom ones. Mark off 1-inch intervals along that line. Make running stitches along each interval.

4. Measure 1 inch down from the shade's top edge, marking horizontal lines at about 1-inch intervals with the pen. As you move down the lamp, these marks will get wider slightly, but as long as you stay inside the vertical lines, the spacing will look the same to the naked eye. Stitch around the shade over horizontal marks. Depending on your lampshade's lining, you may have to use a sewing awl to punch holes before you stitch. (If the lining is plastic, you will need an awl.)

Wardrobe Essentials

A few well-placed stitches can transform summer staples into colorful coordinates. A young assistant may want to help.

Dress and Espadrilles

Using a water-soluble-ink pen, write a name -- or a favorite word -- along the hemline of a linen dress. Draw a starburst over any dotted letters and on the tops of the espadrilles. Using an embroidery needle and 6 strands of embroidery floss, stitch along the script. To make the starbursts, pass the needle from underneath the fabric, working from the outside to the inside of each spoke.


Using 6 strands of embroidery floss, stitch along 3 edges of a cotton bag.


Make your carryall is as stylish as it is sturdy with a simple pattern in threads of varying colors and textures. Trace circles onto a cotton-canvas bag using a disappearing-ink pen (we used a glass as a stencil); cover the entire bag, or arrange the circles randomly. Stitch along the circles, using a different thread for each (we used a variety of lightweight luminous yarns, including ones made from silk, linen, bamboo, and metallic floss).


Different versions of the running stitch can unify any assemblage of bed linens, whether you embellish an existing pattern or create a new design.

Sheet and Pillowcases

Stitch along the hem in a zigzag, rather than a straight line, to accent plain sheets and blankets. Space the stitches about 1/4 inch apart.

Throw Pillows

Back pillow: Stitch perpendicular to the fabric's stripes, working over and under alternating colors (we worked over the white stripes and under the blue ones), to form a brick pattern.

Middle pillow: Stitch at a 45-degree angle to the fabric's checked pattern, working from one corner to the other.

Front pillow: Using 3 strands of matching embroidery floss, stitch perpendicular to the stripes to make 3-inch bands at each end.


With a chalk pencil, mark evenly spaced rows down a blanket made from wool or another heavy fabric. Work long running stitches with a tapestry needle and silk or wool yarn.

Running Stitch How-to

Thread needle with about 18 inches of thread, yarn, or floss; double-knot one end. Pass needle from back of fabric to front and make a stitch. Repeatedly rock needle up and down to pick up bits of fabric at regular intervals, allowing a few stitches to collect on the needle before gently pulling it through the fabric. Do not tug on the needle or the fabric will pucker. If stitching in a straight line, the stitches and the spaces between them should be of equal length. When finished, weave needle through the thread on back of project for about 1 inch, and knot.

Glossary of Stitches

The same basic running stitch takes on different guises when you vary the direction of the stitch, the type of thread, and the weight of the fabric.

1. Intersecting grid in cotton ribbon on burlap
2. Circle in embroidery floss on canvas
3. Freestyle rows in variegated floss on linen
4. Diagonal stitches in embroidery floss on cotton
5. Quilt in sewing thread on padded cotton
6. Brick pattern in embroidery floss on cotton
7. Chicken scratch (zigzag) in floss on cotton bedding
8. Big stitches in wool yarn on wool blanket (you can also use silk)



When working with fine fabrics, such as cotton, use a standard sewing or embroidery needle. For open-weave fabrics, including linen and burlap, use a tapestry needle. For dense wool or canvas, try a heavyweight sewing needle.

Marking Pens

To trace a design on washable fabric, use a water-soluble-ink pen. For fabric that cannot be laundered, use a disappearing- ink pen (marks will vanish in 24 to 72 hours). For difficult-to-mark surfaces, such as wool felt, use a chalk quilting pencil.

Martha Stewart Living, August 2007



Reviews (41)

  • ojolie 21 Mar, 2011

    Hi, all. Sorry to go on again about the bags but I hope this might help. When looking for these bags, I have found many different styles,materials,and prices. Online, look for utility bags. Amazon has several types. Ebags has many as well. They are also called 'mason bags'. Many distributors sell the exact same bag for an array of prices. Look for shipping costs - some are really pricey. Happy hunting!

  • SashaNeon 19 Mar, 2011

    Thank You Chessie11. I wanted to do the craft on the bag but use a different stencil. I was able to find the bag you referenced here and will buy more than one as the s/h is affordable. If I come upon some regular cotton canvas bags, I will experiment on them till I perfect my idea.

    Great looking out.

  • chessie11 18 Mar, 2011 --the $17 tote

  • ToriR2 18 Mar, 2011

    I think the point is that you can do something like this to any canvas tote you own...freshen up your wardrobe instead of spending more money on a new tote. If you are careful to use washable yarns, this same idea would work to brighten up a skirt, shirt, or whatever.

  • conlmack 18 Mar, 2011

    I googled around until I found it at SEARS! $39.95 Bon tool tote.

  • joduluth 18 Mar, 2011

    There's no instructions needed......trace the circles with a glass or other round object......stitch the circles.
    The tote can be purchased at CLC for under $30. I'm buying this tote even if I don't do the embroidery on it.

  • RiceMama 5 Mar, 2011

    You can buy similar canvas totes at

  • Sverige60 19 Feb, 2011

    The canvase bag with the leather handle and latches is a carpenter's bag. I have been wanting one for years after seeing my father's wonderfully paint-spattered bag that he carried his tools when he was a carpenter's apprentice. You can purchase one at a hardware store or on-line. One brand (i think) is CLC. Good luck!

  • kachiina 10 Feb, 2011

    I really like it to! Maybe it is listed in her new sewing book!? I cant wait to get it!

  • Sandy233 21 Jan, 2011

    I wish the pattern for the tote was here also. Where can the tote be purchsaed?

  • cindys66 15 Jan, 2011

    It doesn't look like the project is the tote itself, but adding the circles to any canvas bag that you may have or purchase. I wish it did include instructions for this particular bag or even where it was purchased because I also like it.

  • NormaAgnes 15 Jan, 2011

    Yes, the instructions would be nice. It looks like it would be nice.

  • Bluegingerlilly 29 Dec, 2010

    I would really like the pattern for this tot. I've looked everywere on this web site.

  • sewheavenly 3 Dec, 2010

    The tote is really nice but where are the instructions? really would like to make this

  • TreborNC 24 Sep, 2010

    Does anyone have a pattern for the tote?

  • hilaryhawkins 13 Aug, 2010

    Finding Tote Bags - Just Google 'canvas tool tote'. Amazon has some. Here are some brands I came across - McGuire, Klein, and Arsenol.

  • Ijustlovetosew 21 Jul, 2010

    Has there been any follow-up on where to purchase this tote?

  • Patchcat 16 Jun, 2010

    I've been searching so long for even such a kind of tote. Where can I get this pattern, because Texas Tool Totes doesn't exist any more since April.

  • sLsM 11 Jun, 2010

    Where do you get the bag? The website says Texas Tool Totes has closed down

  • CollinsMama 23 Mar, 2010

    I e-mailed to ask for a source, so here is what they sent me:

    The image originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The tote (unembellished) was from: 20" canvas utility bag (#315)
    Texas Tool Totes 1-877-663-5038

  • CollinsMama 23 Mar, 2010

    I e-mailed to ask for a source, so here is what they sent me:

    The image originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The tote (unembellished) was from: 20" canvas utility bag (#315)
    Texas Tool Totes 1-877-663-5038

  • RupertsMom 21 Mar, 2010

    Pleeeeaaae re-send this daily craft idea and attach the pattern. Doesn't anyone edit this e-mail service?

  • Sister Sincerria 15 Mar, 2010

    Hell-o, is there going to be any response to these comment and questions regarding the tote bag?? thx

  • bgcolv2 14 Mar, 2010

    VERY Disapointing. Where's the instructions?

  • shekiba 13 Mar, 2010

    i wanted to make the tote!!!

  • adyoung 12 Mar, 2010

    ditto the last comment : (

  • cablearms 11 Mar, 2010

    that's disappointing - I was looking forward to the directions for making this nice looking tote.

  • wildcats5 10 Mar, 2010

    My questions exactly. I was so excited to see how to make it and I dont see any list for supplies or how to make the bag itself. Please rectify this or at least let us know if it was only suppose to be about embellishing the bag.

  • carefreemom 10 Mar, 2010

    looks like we're just embellishing the bag with circles of running instructions for attaching handles, etc...
    i've done this running stitch technique on sweaters...purchase thrift shop tops or update ones you already own...i used polished cotton thread (similar to using all plys of DMC embroidery floss, but this is one-ply) i did circles and spirals all over the front, a few on one back shoulder, and a few on the cuff opposite the embellished shoulder. cute results!

  • Ijustlovetosew 10 Mar, 2010

    Do you actually make the bag or just embellish it? If so, where can be bag be purchased?

  • katiegirl77 10 Mar, 2010

    How are the handles and buckles put on? I didn't see instructions for that part-- and is the top reinforced with something? thanks. kc

  • katiegirl77 10 Mar, 2010

    How are the handles and buckles put on? I didn't see instructions for that part-- and is the top reinforced with something? thanks. kc

  • kjorge 10 Mar, 2010

    do we have to buy the craft magazine to get the pattern?

  • kjorge 10 Mar, 2010

    do we have to buy the craft magazine to get the pattern?

  • irevin 10 Mar, 2010

    Do we have to purchase the tote? there are no instruction on how to make it, just embroider the circles.

  • irevin 10 Mar, 2010

    Do we have to purchase the tote? there are no instruction on how to make it, just embroider the circles.

  • KaraLynn 10 Mar, 2010

    Where is the pattern for the tote and the dress. There are no instructions on these crafts. What happened?

  • westloop 7 Mar, 2010

    I love this little dress to stitch a child name on but does anyone have a pattern for it?

  • SandyCA 5 Mar, 2010

    Has anyone stitched the lampshade? The Glossary of Stitches says "cotton ribbon." Is that 1/8" wide ribbon?

  • zipattidoda 21 Feb, 2010

    for anyone looking for this canas utility bag I found it at happy stitching!

  • DaycareDiva 5 Jun, 2009

    I am from canada...can anyone tell me where I can buy a bag like that one.