Starting Thread With a Pinhead Stitch

I Heart You Earrings patternI just released the I Heart You Earrings pattern. In it, I mention starting my thread with a sort of pinhead stitch. I may have called it a pin stitch. I’ve heard both. We need to check with Marion to see if one is correct. I’m guessing the reason for the name is because it’s a teeny-tiny stitch, i.e., the size of a pinhead. It hides under the first stitch and is a great choice for isolated stitches—think: the stars in some of our Let There Be Night patterns.

It dawns on me that you may not know how to do this pinhead stitch, so it’s time for a tutorial. I have seen a couple of different ways to do this stitch, and I confess I alter it to suit my needs, whims, and sense of what is most effective.

You can both start and stop a thread with this stitch.

  • Diagram of thread paths for pinhead stitch to start a thread on linen or evenweave

    Pinhead Stitch Path Diagram

    Starting a Thread

    This diagram is for a pinhead stitch used to anchor a cross stitch. The pinhead stitch will hide under the cross.

    This diagram assumes the cross will be stitched with the thread coming up at 1, going down at 2, coming up at 3, going down at 4. This matters! Bringing the thread up at 1 cinches the pinhead stitch to the ground fiber. If you want to start your thread in another corner, rotate this diagram so the number 1 is where you want to start. If spatial puzzles aren’t your thing, scribble this diagram on scrap paper and physically rotate it. (Then add some spatial puzzles to your mental exercises, Jen!)

    The path is as follows: Thread comes up at a (hold the tail on the back side with your finger), goes down at b, comes up at c, goes down at b again, comes up at 1 for the cross and is pulled snug.

  • Diagram of pinhead stitch with thread pictured

    Pinhead Stitch Thread Diagram

    Here’s a thread diagram. Again, it came up at a, down at b, up at c, down at b again, up at 1. You can see how the starting thread is pulled snug against the ground fiber on the b-1 stitch.

  • Diagram of the pinhead stitch under the cross stitch

    Pinhead Under a Cross Stitch

    The cross stitch on top of the pinhead is another layer of snugging and cinching as well as a visual cover. Thread, unlike the lines in my diagram, will fluff out and fill much of the square. Plus, your pinhead will be the same color as your cross, right?

    You can trim the thread tail very close to the stitching on the back.

  • Numbered diagram showing the path of a pinhead stitch that ends a thread

    Pinhead Stitch Path Diagram

    Ending a Thread

    Same, same here. This diagram assumes your cross ends going down at 4. Rotate as needed.

    Now, most tutorials on ending a thread with a pinhead stitch recommend the following:

    After the cross, the thread comes up at a, goes down at b under the cross stitch, comes up at c, and goes back down at b to the right of the a-b stitch. The whole pinhead is stitched under the cross.

    I disagree! Here’s why:

    Visualize the starting pinhead stitch. The a-b thread tail is caught in a loop made by the c-b-1 stitch. That loop cinches the a-b tail to the ground fiber around which the loop passes.

    If we bring the thread down to the right of the a-b thread when ending the fiber, where is the loop that cinches the tail in place to the ground fabric? There is none. That tail is hanging out.

    Therefore, I recommend this path:

    After the cross, come up at b, go down at c, come up at a, go down at b and bring the tail through the loop made by the 4-b-c stitch. Again, all this is done under the cross. Now the tail is cinched to the ground with a loop.

    You could also go up at b, down at c, up at b again, down at a and through the 4-b-c loop. Whatever. Just make a loop and take the tail through it, snug it up, and trim.

  • Thread diagram of pinhead stitch under cross stitch

    Pinhead Stitch Thread Diagram

    This diagram is the same as the tutes that describe the method I’m opposing. They’ve merely interpreted the drawing differently—incorrectly, in my opinion.

  • Thread diagram of pinhead stitch on aida fabric

    Pinhead Stitch on Aida

    The pinhead stitch on aida fabric is the same, except we have to pierce the fabric between the holes. Some people claim that the stitch is harder to hide under the cross, and I would guess it’s because evenweave fibers have more give and can be snugged under the cross. To compensate for the lack of give with aida, try not piercing the fabric precisely in the middle between the holes but, rather, make the stitch as small as possible. A sharp needle will help.

Pinhead Stitch Variations and Ideas

The pinhead strategy uses a snug loop to secure a thread. It also employs the strategy of having the tail reverse direction. Think about it: a tail that extends straight out behind the working thread is easier to pull out than one that is going the opposite direction. That turn offers resistance. Add another turn, and you’ve got more resistance still.

Yet another strategy to secure a thread tail is to split another fiber with it; it could be a ground fiber, a fiber from another stitch, or even the working fiber itself. Running one fiber through another adds resistance: it’s harder to pull out, especially if it’s running through a tightly twisted fiber. Run that thread tail through several fibers and you’ve got even more resistance. This is super-handy in blackwork if you want a reversible piece. Thread tails can be run back through the working fibers and ground fibers in the same line they originally traveled. Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky!

Starting the Thread for the I Heart You Earrings

Starting the thread with a pinhead stitch for the I Heart You Earrings

I use a modified pinhead stitch to start the holographic ribbon (Kreinik) for the I Heart You Earrings.

When I start my thread for the earrings, I do a not-so-tiny pinhead stitch, and then stitch the heart over it. I also usually split the working fiber with itself, too. In the image, if the top right hole is a, the middle is b, and the bottom left is c:

  • I came up at a,
  • down at b, splitting the tail fiber,
  • up at c,
  • down at b, snugging the tail against the ground fiber,
  • starting my heart stitch in the lower left corner.

Related Articles
How To Cross Stitch Over Two Threads
How to Cross Stitch over One Thread on Linen and Evenweave Fabrics
Cross Stitch Embroidery Fabrics 101

6 Responses to “Starting Thread With a Pinhead Stitch”

  1. […] addition, Jen also published a tutorial on her site for pinhead stitch which is useful in making the I Heart You Earrings. You may also find in useful for other projects. […]

    February 3, 2012 @ 12:20 pm
  2. […] See the tute. […]

    February 16, 2012 @ 5:51 am
  3. Cheryl Brumbaugh

    I have been stitching for about thirty years and have never heard of the pin or pin head stitch! Thank you for the title and diagrams. I have always dreaded those isolated stitches would come loose! I won’t need to worry anymore!

    November 29, 2013 @ 1:39 pm
  4. Jen

    You’re welcome, Cheryl! Happy to help. It’s fun to be sneaky with our embroidery, isn’t it?

    November 29, 2013 @ 2:55 pm
  5. Christina Arlington

    Since I learned the pinhead stitch here. I am hooked on it. But, for x’s that are continuous I use a loop start for two thread requirements. But, I use the pinhead to end for a cleaner back. Hasn’t failed me yet. If I know I am going to continue in the same colour thread I end in a the next open spot where I will stitch over it and I find it a little easier than trying to work under an existing x to end it.

    April 18, 2016 @ 1:35 pm
  6. Jen

    Hooray! I’m glad the pinhead stitch is proving useful to you.

    April 18, 2016 @ 6:59 pm

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