The Trellis Stitch Family

Clockwise from top left: Knotty Trellis worked to-and-fro, Knotty Trellis worked left-to-right, Corded Trellis worked left-to-right, Smooth Trellis worked to-and-fro. Centre: Spiral Trellis.

The trouble with Trellis Stitch is that it isn’t just one single stitch. It’s a family of needle-made fabrics and detached fillings based on two quite different stitches: coral knot stitch makes a knotty fabric, while twisted chain stitch makes a much smoother fabric with a texture rather like bricking. But, as with the plain and purl of knitting, the right side of one fabric is exactly the same as the wrong side of the other. And none of the variations have acquired proper names, except for spiral trellis, which we’ll come to in a moment. No wonder people get confused!

Coral knot stitch is usually just called ‘coral stitch’. But as ‘coral stitch’ is also another name for what is normally called feather stitch, I’ll leave the knot in the name. Coral knot stitch is just a row of coral knots. In the stitch books, coral knot stitch looks much like it does in the top row of this sample. This is 28 count fabric and I’ve used three strands of stranded cotton, I’ve set the knots three threads apart and each stitch picks up two vertical threads of the ground fabric.

Twisted chain stitch, as shown in stitch dictionaries, doesn’t look much like the stitch in the bottom row of the sample. It usually looks more like a chain stitch with a twist (surprise, suprise). This small sample is worked in the same proportions as the coral knot stitch in the row above: each stitch picks up two vertical threads of the ground fabric and the stitches are three threads apart. It is more obviously a row of knots when worked like this, but it is exactly the same structure as normal twisted chain. And these are the sort of stitch proportions that we want for the twisted chain when working trellis.

Trellis fabrics can be worked as needlelace, punto in aria – partly, or even totally, detached from the ground fabric. But I am dealing here with their use as detached fillings, which are (despite the name) attached at the edges and used to fill a space.

When worked as a detached filling stitch, the first and last row and the sides generally pick up the loops of chain stitch, back stitch or some other edging stitch rather than entering the ground fabric directly. Chain stitch is particularly useful, because well-formed chain stitch worked in the same thread will give you just the right spacing for trellis stitch. That’s very handy when you want to experiment. If the thread won’t make a nicely shaped chain stitch: neither too thick nor too skinny, too stiff nor too irregular, then it’s not going to make good trellis – try something else! As trellis usually only fastens to the inner side of each chain loop, the outer sides of the chain stitch form a neat border.

Trellis was widely used in late 16th and early 17th century English embroidery, but then not used again in England until it was rediscovered in the twentieth century, when the old embroideries were studied in detail. However, in Italy the stitch remained as a form of lace called Puncetto Valsesiano. This is a trellis stitch fabric, worked in alternating rows, punto in aria, using the smooth side as the right side. It is varied with little bars, increases, decreases and open spaces to make a sturdy needle-lace. What is more, it has been worked in the Piedmont area since the sixteenth century – a continuous link with the Renaissance stitchery that brought the Trellis family into English embroidery, and a form of lace that is still very little known outside of Italy. A web search on Puncetto Valsesiano will provide you with links to photos, videos, instructions and pattern books.

Five Trellis Stitch Variations

Below are the links to step-by-step instructions for five trellis fillings. The stitches do not need to be worked on evenweave fabrics; but to make things easier for learning the techniques, I have used 28-count fabric and three strands of stranded cotton (floss), for all the examples. They were worked with a size 24 tapestry needle. I suggest that you start with the same materials. You can experiment with other fabrics and threads afterwards. A frame or hoop is not required – the stitches are much easier worked in the hand than in a frame, as with most knotted, looped or chained stitches. There is no need to work every variation shown here, but please start with Variation 1, as it covers the basics in detail. For each of the first four variations, you will need to make a rectangle of chain stitch, with each chain worked over three threads. Make the rectangle eight chains wide and six chains high.

Variation 1: Knotty Trellis, worked to-and fro

The variation I call ‘Knotty Trellis’ is worked by making rows of coral knot stitch, the second and subsequent rows pick up the bars between the knots in the row above, rather than picking up ground fabric. If the rows are worked alternately left to right and then right to left then this fabric is formed, with a distinctive pattern rather like a diagonal basketweave. INSTRUCTIONS HERE

Variation 2: Knotty Trellis, worked left -to-right

If it is worked with all rows in the same direction, you get a diagonal rib. You can also work this right-to-left to get a mirror-image. INSTRUCTIONS HERE

Variation 3: Smooth Trellis, worked to-and-fro

‘Smooth Trellis’ is worked in a similar manner, but using twisted chain stitch; working each row on the bars of the row below. The difference between working the rows in alternate directions and working each row in the same direction is not as pronounced as with the knotty trellis, so I am just showing one version. INSTRUCTIONS HERE

Variation 4: Corded Trellis, worked left-to-right

A useful variation of smooth trellis is made by working each row in the same direction over a cording thread, picking up both the bar and the additional thread when making the knots in the next row. This smooth corded trellis gives a very solid fabric. It can be used to work pieces in the hand, unattached to the ground fabric. The cording thread can be a metal thread to give even more body and a touch of glitter. INSTRUCTIONS HERE

Again, the right-to-left version gives a mirror image.

Variation 5: Spiral Trellis filling

Trellis can also be worked in rounds: spiral trellis. The smooth version is used for this sample, but knotty trellis can be worked in the same way. Books tend to show spiral trellis worked outwards from the centre, but when working it as a filling for circles and other shapes, attached at the edge, it is very much easier to start from the outer edge and work inwards, decreasing from time to time, as required, to keep the work flat. INSTRUCTIONS HERE


8 Responses to “The Trellis Stitch Family”

  1. Elmsley Rose Says:

    An absolutely wonderful set of instructions! 🙂
    Is there any difference in the workings for left handers?

    • suetortoise Says:

      Not really, because both v1 & v3 go in both directions (and the others can be reversed). Anyway, left-handed people vary almost as much as trellis stitch! (Me, being only a ‘mild’ leftie, I tend to turn the work somewhere between 60 and 90 degrees to the pictures, but still follow right-handed instructions happily without even thinking about it. Others always want to mirror things.) This is why I have deliberately avoided showing hand positions as much as possible: so that people can look at the structure of the stitches and figure out their own most comfortable working methods.

      • Elmsley Rose Says:

        Thankyou ….. 🙂 It reminds me of working PBS – how it best suits *you*.

  2. Francesca Says:

    Really thank you so much for all this instructions, finally I have Trellis clear in my mind !!

  3. Zitella Says:

    Finally, finally, finally with the help of your instructions I mastered this stitch. Using Danish flower thread and it works up like a charm. Thanks.
    Love the blog. Z

    • suetortoise Says:

      Thank you for letting me know, Zitella. I’m really glad this information was useful. I haven’t tried flower thread for trellis but I’ve found similar threads work well. Have fun with it!

  4. Mary dodkins Says:

    Wonderful place to send people to explain just how it is done, many thanks.

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