Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost for you.
This text comes from the book Art In Needlework by Lewis F. Day and Mary Buckle. The information has only been edited for clarity. I share this info so that it is more freely available to embroidery beginners!
Herring-bone is the name by which it is customary to distinguish a variety of stitches somewhat resembling the spine of a fish such as the herring. It would be simpler to describe them as “fish-bone;” but that term has been appropriated to describe a particular variety of it. One would have thought it more convenient to use fish for the generic term, and a particular fish for the specific. However, it saves confusion to use names as far as possible in their accepted sense.
It will be seen from the sampler, Illustration 20, that this stitch may be worked open or tolerably close; but in the latter case it loses something of its distinctive character. Fine lines may be worked in it, but it appears most suited to the working of broadish bands and other more or less even-sided or, it may be, tapering forms, more feathery in effect than fish-bone-like, such as are shown at E on sampler.
Ordinary herring-bone is such a familiar stitch that the necessity of describing it is rather a matter of literary consistency than of practical importance.
The two simpler forms of herring-bone (it is always worked from left to right, and begun with a half-stitch) marked A and C on the sampler are strikingly different in appearance, and are worked in different ways—as will be seen at once by reference to the back of the sampler (Illustration 21), where the stitches take in the one case a horizontal and in the other a vertical direction.
To work A, bring your needle out about the centre of the line to be worked; put it into the lower edge of the line about ⅛th of an inch further on; take up this much of the stuff, and, keeping the thread to the right, above the needle, draw it through. Then, with the thread below it, to the right, put your needle into the upper edge of the line ¼th of an inch further on, and, turning it backwards, take up again ⅛th of an inch of stuff, bringing it out immediately above where it went in on the lower edge.
What is called “Indian Herring-bone” (B) is merely stitch A worked in longer and more slanting stitches, so that there is room between them for a second row in another colour, the two colours being, of course, properly interlaced.
To work C, bring your needle out as for A, and, putting it in at the upper edge of the line to be worked and pointing it downwards, whilst your thread lies to the right, take up ever so small a piece of the stuff. Then, slightly in advance of the last stitch, the thread still to the right, your needle now pointing upwards, take another similar stitch from the lower edge.
The variety at D is merely a combination of A and C, as may be seen by reference to the back of the sampler (opposite); though the short horizontal stitches there seen meet, instead of being wide apart as in the case of A.
What is known as “fish-bone” is illustrated in the three feathery shapes on the sampler (E), two of which are worked rather open. It is characteristic of this stitch that it has a sort of spine up the centre where the threads cross. Suppose the stitch to be worked horizontally.
Bring your needle out on the under edge of the spine about ¼th of an inch from the starting point of the work, and put it in on the upper edge of the work at the starting point, bringing it out immediately below that on the lower edge of the work.
Put it in again on the upper edge of the spine, rather in advance of where it came out on the lower edge of it before, and bring it out on the lower edge of this spine immediately below where it entered.
In close herring-bone (F on the sampler, Illustration 20) you have always a long stitch from left to right, crossed by a shorter stitch which goes from right to left. Having made a half stitch, bring the needle out at the beginning of the line to be worked, at the lower edge, and put it in ⅛th of an inch from the beginning of the upper edge.
Bring it out again at the beginning of this edge and put it in at the lower edge ¼th of an inch from the beginning, bringing it out on the same edge ⅛th of an inch from the beginning. Put the needle in again on the upper edge ⅛th of an inch in front of the last stitch on that edge, and bring it out again, without splitting the thread, on the same edge as the hole where the last stitch went in.
If you wish to cover a surface with herring-bone-stitch, you work it, of course, close, so that each successive stitch touches its foregoer at the point where the needle enters the stuff (F on the sampler, Illustration 20). It will be seen that at the back (21) this looks like a double row of back-stitching.
Worked straight across a wide leaf, as in the lower half of sampler, it is naturally very loose. A better method of working is shown in the side leaves, which are worked in two halves, beginning at the base of a leaf on one side and working down to it on the other. There is here just the suggestion of a mid-rib between the two rows.
The stitch at G on sampler, having the effect of higher relief than ordinary close herring-bone (F), is sometimes misleadingly described as tapestry stitch. It is worked, as the back of the sampler (21) clearly shows, in quite a different way. You get there parallel rows of double stitches.
Having made a half-stitch entering the material at the upper edge of the work, bring the needle out on the lower edge of it immediately opposite. Then, going back, put it in at the beginning of the upper edge, and bring it out at the beginning of the lower one.
Thence take a long slanting stitch upwards from left to right, bring the needle out on the lower edge immediately opposite, cross it by a rather shorter stitch from right to left, entering the stuff at the point where the first half-stitch ended, bring this out on the lower edge, opposite, and the stitch is done.