Pulled Thread Work
Pulled Thread Embroidery
(Drawn Fabric Embroidery)
© Lorelei Halley 2009                     
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   Recommended Fabrics for Pulled Thread Work        

       pulled thread work PT42. LH      drawn fabric embroidery  Also called drawn fabric embroidery. LH

The Pulled Thread pages in this website:

  Pulled thread embroidery  uses counted thread stitches from the common stock set of embroidery stitches, but works them pulled with strong tension.  It has  been discovered over time that certain thread paths on the front and back of an embroidery produce a specific pattern of holes, unique to that particular stitch.  So it creates a lace-like effect.  No threads of the fabric are removed or cut out.       Do not confuse this with drawn thread work, a form of embroidery in which some fabric threads are pulled out and removed, leaving thin areas.  In drawn thread work these thinned out areas are then decorated in various ways.  See Drawn Thread Work.   See also:  Compare Drawn Thread Work and Pulled Thread Work.

Historic forms from Persia and the eastern Mediterranean region appeared well before the 1700s, but the best and finest work was said to come from Dresden (Dresden Work).   In the German language this form of embroidery is called "Ajour Arbeit", "Ajourstickerei", or "Perser Ajour Arbeit".   It was also made in Denmark, and called Tondern work, from the town where it was made.  In French it is called "broderie ajourée"  or "jours a fils tire".  In the 1700s it was commonly used for fichus, aprons and sleeve falls.  The early forms were fantastic floral designs with motifs outlined either in some surface stitch or with double back stitch.  The latter makes a dense white cushion which would contrast with the various hole patterns.  The historic work was done on a very fine scale, on fine linen. For an 18th century example, see this.   Fangel, Winckler, mentioned below, has photos of historic pieces, including 2 historic samplers showing both the stitches and the order of working the parts.

This form of embroidery did not remain static but also experienced developments over time.  Two forms of folk embroidery from Germany, Schwalm and Hessenstickerei also use pulled stitches, but Schwalm also removes some fabric threads to accentuate the holes and make the empty spots more prominent.  This makes Schwalm a hybrid form between pulled thread work and drawn thread work.  Schwalm has experienced a revival in recent years and a few new books on it have been written.  See the links below.  In the last third of the 20th century there has also been a revival of pure pulled thread technique in Scandinavian countries - sammentraeksmonstre-  with mostly geometric designs for table linen.  Swedish naversom is a drawn thread technique which removes fabric threads both horizontally and vertically, and then works pulled thread stitches over the remaining threads to draw them into clumps.  Only a small number of different stitches are typically used in naversom.

Basic working methods                                                                                                                     bk

Pulled thread embroidery (also called drawn fabric embroidery) is a form of counted thread embroidery in which specific filling stitches are worked as grounds and pulled very tightly in the working.  This compacts the threads of the cloth into clumps and creates a pattern of holes.  No threads are removed from the fabric. It is worked on a loosely woven evenweave fabric (a single weave fabric, not something like Hardanger cloth or Aida cloth).  The cloth should have a small visible space between the threads so counting is easier and the holes become more prominent.  Fabrics used usually have 18 to 30 threads per inch (8-11 threads/cm), although it can be worked as fine as 50 count.  Coarser fabric will be easier to learn on and see.  Each specific stitch must be worked in a specific way on the front and back because the thread paths on the back side of the cloth help to compact the fabric threads in a certain way.  This results in each stitch having its own characteristic kind of hole.  The thread path on the back is just as important as the thread path on the front in creating this characteristic hole pattern.   There are dozens of different stitches used in this form of hand embroidery, and most are standard stitches used in surface embroidery, which create their own magic when pulled tightly in geometric precision. 

Suitable fabrics for pulled thread work  (recommended fabrics for pulled thread work):                                                            *

     The yellow and blue are 21 threads/inch; the white is 25 threads/inch.

 Thread used for the pulled stitches should be approximately the same thickness as the fabric threads (or just a little bit finer), and similar in color.  I don't recommend color for this form of embroidery because the interest is in the patterns of holes created, not in the stitches themselves.  The work does not have to be white, however.  Whatever color of cloth you choose should be fairly closely matched by the embroidery threads.  I do not recommend embroidery floss because it is not strong enough.   However, it may be possible to use floss so long as you work with 2 or more strands in the needle.  Preferably, any single thread or well twisted thread will work:  DMC Coton a Broder, Retors, Floche, Pearl, Cordonnet, Cebelia, similar Anchor threads, lace threads and quilting threads, such as Mako Aurifil or Sulky,  will also work.  The outlining stitches can be worked in a thicker pearl cotton, or a soft single strand embroidery cotton, or any thread that you like, also similar in color.  Using a darker or lighter shade for the outlining stitches can be very attractive and does not detract from the effect of the pulled work.

 An embroidery hoop or frame and tapestry or blunt pointed needles are necessary for the pulled stitches.  Outlining stitches are also easier with a hoop, and you will use sharp or blunt needles depending on the stitches you choose.  For the pulled stitches always use tapestry or blunt pointed needles.   Some say it is possible to do the pulled stitches without a hoop, but I find it far easier to control the tension if I use one.

 Do not let your needle run out of thread in the middle of a row, because running the thread in to end it may make an irregular spot in the middle of the area of holes.  Instead, always complete an entire row with your thread.  Sacrifice a length of thread when your needle thread runs short, rather than risk creating an irregular area in the ground.  When running ends in to hide them, be sure that they don’t cross behind a hole and become visible from the front.

 When beginning a project overcast the raw edge of the fabric but don’t worry about being neat.  The loosely woven fabric suitable for this kind of work frays too easily. 

 Also, when working a geometric project from a chart, or when a large area is to be filled with a complex stitch, it is really necessary to lay in some basting lines to help position the parts of the design correctly, and to help you count threads as you work.  If my design is based on stitches worked 4 threads tall, I make basting lines in which each stitch is exactly 4 threads tall, and run them vertically and horizontally down the center of the cloth, using a contrasting color thread.  Sometimes if a design has complicated changes of direction, I may lay in a dozen basting lines to mark the places where I have to change direction.  If my design is based on a stitch which is 6 threads tall, I make the basted stitches 3 threads tall.  In this case two basted stitches, and under and an over, make up one full stitch unit.   I can then use the basted stitches to help me count.  The piece below shows the basting lines and stitching at different stages.  Since the design consisted of zigzaggy diagonal lines which changed direction frequently, I decided to lay in basting lines at every pivot point.  This made it easy to know when to turn.  Without the basting lines I'd never have gotten all the rows to line up correctly.  The first shows all the green basting lines at the beginning of the project.  The 2nd shows a more advanced stage; but you can easily see the green basting lines wherever there's a zig or a zag.

      Drawn fabric embroidery in process.

TO FINISH THE EDGE OF THE EMBROIDERY                                                                                bk

One can finish the work with a hemmed or hemstitched edge and mitered corners, or one can work four sided stitch, three sided stitch, or squared edging stitch in two or three rows, folding the edge under so that the second row (the inner row) catches both thicknesses of cloth.   Excess fabric from the 2nd layer on the back is then cut off close to the stitching.  These stitches lock the cloth so firmly as to prevent any raveling.  The edge stitching is worked without a hoop. 

edge finish First work a row of four sided stitch (or 3 sided stitch or squared edging stitch) about 1 inch from the fabric edge around all 4 edges of the fabric.  Then fold the fabric exactly along the outer edge of the row of stitching.  At the corners fold diagonally and cut diagonally to remove some bulk, but leave at least 1/2 inch, depending on the number of threads per inch in the cloth.  Then work a 2nd row of four sided stitch inside the 1st row, catching both layers of the cloth.  When completed, the excess fabric can be cut off close to the 2nd row.   And you are done. 
See the end of the  Pulled Thread Tutorial  page for details of how to work squared edging stitch on the edge and for photos,
and also Pulled Thread Tutorial 2   for examples with four sided stitch or three sided stitch.
buttonhole over folded fabric edge Another possibility is to work buttonhole stitch or Hedebo buttonhole stitch over folded fabric.  However, plain buttonhole stitch can be worked over the raw edgeWorking over a folded edge is more secure.  See  Pulled Thread Tutorial 2  for examples.  See here for diagrams.

 See McNeil and Fangel for other suggestions on edge finishes and hems.

 The Stitches                                                                                                         bk

The stitches for pulled thread embroidery fall into several family groups, and within each group there are several variants which differ in their spacing.  The variants often have their own names.  Considerable differences in appearance result merely from changing the spacing.  There are also dozens (perhaps hundreds) of composite stitches.   I will not attempt to give you the entire list, which runs to more than 70 possible variants, but just a few of the more basic ones.  Some stitches require a large area to show their full effect, some work in smaller areas.  Some stitches are difficult to count on the first row.  Most are much easier once the initial row is established.  And some stitches produce a puffy or ridge effect.   See my diagrams for some basic pulled thread stitches.

 The basic groups of pulled thread embroidery stitches are: 

wave stitch 

4 sided 

satin stitch (group and spaced)  

upright cross (worked in diagonal rows)  

back stitch  

faggot stitch  


double back stitch (the reverse of herringbone)  

Greek cross  

3 sided stitch  

miscellaneous and composite stitches

You will find that each author will group the stitches into families in her own way.  My divisions follow the basic way of doing the stitches.  The wave stitch group is probably easiest to learn.  I found both faggot and 4 sided stitch very confusing at first, but once mastered, I now regard them as among most useful.

 In the following partial list of pulled thread stitches  the italic variants are the easiest to count, so they are good ones to start with. 

See  Pulled Thread Stitches and  Pulled Thread Tutorial  for diagrams of these stitches, and see The White Sampler for photos of 110+ stitches.  The ones marked with * are diagramed on this website.

back stitch

 ringed back  *

waved back 

square back *



wave stitch

wave   *

reverse wave    *






faggot  *

reverse faggot  *

spaced faggot

diagonal drawn filling *

upright cross (ridge) *

diagonal raised band or ridge stitch *

open trellis



spaced satin  * (one variant)

satin stitch stacks  *

step stitch  *

Greek cross 

dense variant  *


2 thread variant


square 4x4  *

diagonal 5x5  *

Algerian eye

double back stitch 

cushion  *




square double back stitch *

four sided stitch 

worked horizontally  *

worked in diagonal rows  *

diagonal 4 sided worked in diagonal rows  *

spaced 1 thread between each stitch & row *

three sided

three sided  worked horizontally *

diagonal 3 sided  *

See the page The White Sampler in this site which has photos of my huge sampler where I have recorded all these stitches and how they look.  (That page is an ongoing project which will have details added continually.)

For those designs which consist of outlined shapes filled with pulled thread stitches, you want outlining stitches which have some breadth on the back side, enough to hide the tails of the pulled stitch threads.  This gives a place to run in the beginning and ending tails of the threads from the pulled stitches.  See   Pulled Thread Stitches and  Pulled Thread Tutorial  for diagrams of these outline stitches.

 Traditional stitches used as outlines:

Chain stitch

Coral knot *

Danish knot *


Double back stitch

 Other possible outline stitches:

Broad chain

Hungarian chain *  

Palestrina knot *

Sorbello stitch  * 

Whipped running stitch or whipped back stitch (I like 3 rows)

Satin stitch blocks

long arm cross (Slav cross stitch)

zigzag twisted chain st

raised chain band *

Pulled stitches which produce a raised or embossed effect:

upright cross *

open trellis (an upright cross variant)

diagonal cable = reverse faggot *

reverse wave, especially when the rows are spaced a few threads apart

pebble stitch (a variant of waffle), when rows are spaced 1 or 2 threads apart

all double back stitch variants *

For online stitch diagrams, see:    and      and  and


 Designing Pulled Thread Work:  Different Kinds of Designs                                               bk

There are several ways to approach designing for this kind of embroidery.

For more examples of many of these kinds of designs for this form of embroidery, see   Pulled Thread Gallery   

Recommended Books                                                                                                    bk

In my opinion the best books for learning this are:

·    Moyra McNeill PULLED THREAD EMBROIDERY, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, 1972.  ISBN 0-8008-6562-6

·     Esther Fangel, Ida Winckler & Agnete Wuldem Madsen DANISH PULLED THREAD EMBROIDERY (with English and Danish text), Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1977 ISBN 0-486-23474-6

Two more recent books, which add many composite stitches to the repertory are:

McNeill has the largest number of basic stitches, arranges them in stitch groups, and has very clear stitch diagrams and photos.  She also has several additional suggestions about ways to finish the edges, and some suggestions for how to approach modern designing..  Fangel has what I think are the best examples of modern design or kinds of designs.  Fry and Altherr show many more composite stitches than McNeil or Fangel.  Both Fry and Altherr have useful instructions and advice about general working methods.

 WAYS TO APPROACH LEARNING PULLED THREAD WORK                                                                        *


  pulled thread bookmark sampler     pulled thread leaf bookmark        yellow pulled thread sampler    

pt b1  pt b2     pt b4           Pulled Thread Embroidery beginners' projects.  See Pulled Thread Tutorial 2  for instructions and patterns.     All LH     

Try out stitches that appeal to you on bookmarks, or start a sampler having just the basic stitches, and then use those stitches in a small project, such as coasters or small mats (3-4 inches or 5-6 cm), a pincushion or sachet, Christmas tree or window ornaments (a good way to display pulled thread work with the light coming through it).  Perhaps do each small project using a different way of organizing the design and a different way of finishing the edge:

 To begin learning I suggest a sampler, and you can make it small or medium size -- whatever suits. See  Pulled Thread Tutorial  for one possible sampler.  The point of doing a sampler is that you then have an actual example of the stitch, and this will be very helpful to you when you are choosing stitches for a project.   

I’ve also designed several small projects with geometric designs, but the 1st four use all the stitches on the sampler, and no others.  And by doing 4 small projects, you can use a different edge finishing method on each and learn how those work also.  Go to Pulled Thread Tutorial 2  for free patterns for these small mats and for some bookmarks.

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Contact me at     if you have questions.                   August 16, 2010              Revised October, 2018