Couching is technique where you lay fibers across the surface of a textile and attach them with small stitches. The fibers can be yarns or strips of fabric. You can attach the fibers with either hand stitches or embroidery, or with a machine stitch. Generally couching on a sewing machine uses a special foot.
The couching thread can be the same color as the fiber being laid down, or a contrasting color. Have fun with thread choices! Couching can add design and texture to a textile piece.
What is couching?
Couching is the art of attaching fibers or yarns to your fabric with small, visible stitches. You can attach yarn, threads, trims, ribbons, string and even ropes. Couching places the fiber on top of your fabric, and then you take stitches with regular sewing or embroidery thread around the fiber to attach it to the fabric.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
Couching is considered an embroidery stitch, and sometime referred to as ‘laid work’. It is derived from the French word “coucher”, to lay down. This embroidery stitch is an easy and decorative way to to fill spaces, as well as a great way to make an outline.
In medieval embroidery, couching kept scarce and expensive threads, especially gold and silver threads, on the surface of the fabric. Today it avoids damaging materials; for example, gold metallic thread stitched through satin would spoil the satin surface, but couching the metallic thread with a thin silk thread would embellish the satin beautifully.
Start by laying your thread, yarn or ribbon that you want to couch along the line you want to stitch. With a second thread , take small stitches over the couched fiber.
When to use the couching embroidery stitch
Couching is a great solution for using threads that are decorative themselves, but too heavy for simple stitching. It makes it possible to use a wide variety of materials to embellish a project – from fine nylon to heavy burlap.
The couching stitch is perfect for embellishing garments with a design, or adding surface design to fiber art projects and in crazy quilt projects. You can couch thick yarns, fancy threads or even ribbons with a coordinating or contrasting embroidery thread. The key is to keep the tension just right, which is easier if you use a hoop for your project.
What thread should be used to couch?
The couching thread can be very thin or make a statement by using a pearl cotton. It can be the same color as the fiber it anchors, and be almost invisible, or it can be a part of the design with its own pattern of stitches and colors – blending or contrasting.
What is couching good for?
Couching is particularly good for outlining of shapes. Ideas are to couch around your doodles, or appliqué work. It’s perfect if you are one of the people that doesn’t like raw edge appliqué, but don’t have the patience for hand appliqué. Instead, you can couch a thread to cover the raw edges of your appliqué.
How to couch around a free-form design
To couch without a specific line or edge, pin your yarn, string or fiber in the design you want on your fabric. Using a large eye needle, pull the two ends of the yarn through to the back of the fabric, securing it invisibily on the back with a matching thread. Take small stitches with your tying thread, going over your yarn at regular intervals, securing your yarn to your fabric. It’s easiest to work this in an embroidery hoop.
Variations on the couching stitch
You don’t need to just use a straight stitch to secure the yarn on your fabric. Be creative and add more visual interest to your work by trying some variations:
- Group two stitches at a time and leave a bigger gap before the next stitch, play around with variations of number of stitches close together and then a gap
- Cross stitch over the fiber
- Use the Chevron stitch
- Open Chain stitch
- Buttonhole stitch
- Herringbone stitch
- Fly stitch
- Closed feather stitch
How to fill a space with couching
Couch filling is also called Squared or Trellis Filling. It is an easy way to fill large surfaces. A hoop or frame is important to keep your work flat.
The couched thread is sewn down first vertically, and then horizontally across the space you want to fill. The horizontal threads can be laid on top, or woven. They can be close together, or have a large space between them. They can be laid down diagonally, or in a checkerboard — or do a checkerboard and then lay down the fiber diagonally to add more visual interest to your filling.
Couch filling is sued in Jacobean crewel embroidery, as well as European peasant embroidery.
Here is another couching example in progress using silk ribbon couched with a red embroidery floss.
This sample shows a variety of threads and yarns using the couching embroidery stitch.
See my favorite 10 Easy Embroidery Stitches to Embellish Your Projects that includes the couching stitch.
Check out all of the embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.