Stitch the Aztec Stitch on a Bookmark

by Pat Rozendal

Pat Rozendal's Aztec stitch bookmark. Photograph by Joe Coca.

The Aztec stitch is unique to Mexican samplers and is traditionally worked in very bright colors. It is an openwork technique in which threads are removed to leave woven blocks surrounded by thread bars; the pattern is formed by the path taken as the bars are wrapped. This design is adapted from a nineteenth-century Mexican sampler in the Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas. For more on the Witte Museum's collection of Mexican samplers, see the July/August 2004 issue of PieceWork.

NOTE: The six charts associated with this project are saved as Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) files. The charts, which are provided in links throughout the instructions, can be viewed and printed only with the Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download a FREE reader, click Adobe Acrobat Reader . For your convenience, the file size is noted next to the PDF icon so you can estimate your download time. Finally, if a PDF file takes too long to download, use these instructions to save the file instead.


  • Zweigart Edinburgh, 36-count 100% linen fabric, #3217/222/55 Cream, 10 x 13 inches (25.4 x 33.0 cm), 1 piece
  • Anchor Pearl Cotton, 100% cotton thread, size 12, 68 yards (62 m)/ball, 1 ball each of #47 Carmine Red, #306 Medium Light Topaz, #388 Medium Ecru, #876 Pine, and #926 Very Light Ecru
  • John James Needles, tapestry size 26 and sharp size 9
    Sewing thread, ecru
  • Stretcher bars, 9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm)

Materials are available at needlework and fabric stores or from mail-order or online resources.

Finished size:
6 1/8 x 1 15/16 inches (15.6 x 4.9 cm)

Notes: Stabilize the edge of the fabric with a zigzag stitch and turn the edges under so the stretcher-bar tacks go through two layers of fabric. Mount the fabric on the stretcher bars; stretch the fabric as tightly as possible in both directions. Maintain tension while stitching by restretching the fabric as necessary. All stitches are worked with one strand of pearl cotton. Unless otherwise indicated, use the tapestry needle. Work the pattern in the order described below. The open-work grid is created by removing two threads and leaving six in both directions.

Stabilizing Stitches
Hold the stretcher-bar frame so that one of the longer ends of the frame is closest to your body. Using the marking pen, mark off a rectangle in the center of the fabric that is 194 threads wide by 42 threads high, with the long side of the rectangle parallel to the longer end of the frame. The four-sided stitches will be worked around this rectangle. Using #926 and starting in the upper right-hand corner, work the four-sided stitches (Figure 1 17 KB) across the top edge of the marked rectangle. To turn a corner (Figure 2; stitch A is the last stitch of the previously stitched row), rotate the work one quarter turn to the right; take stitch 1 over the top of one of the stitches of the previous row shown at #1 in Figure 2 (18 KB). Continue the four-sided stitches around the perimeter of the rectangle. When complete, rotate the frame to its original position.

Cutting and Removing Threads
The two threads bundled in the four-sided stitches are the threads that will be cut. Begin removing bundles of two threads around the inside of the rectangle formed by the four-sided stitches. Cut the first bundle of horizontal threads at the inside of the top left corner at #1 (Figure 3 18 KB – the red wavy lines mark the threads to be cut); cut the other end of the same thread bundle inside the top right corner; remove the threads. Repeat for the first vertical bundle of threads at the inside of the top left corner (Figure 3, #2) and at the inside of the lower left corner. Cut and remove the bundles of horizontal threads across the bottom and the two vertical threads down the right side. Finish making the open-work pattern: Beginning at the top left corner, count down six threads (three bundles of two each), and cut the next bundle of two horizontal threads (Figure 3, #3). Cut and remove the other end of the same thread bundle on the right side. Continue to the bottom. Repeat for the vertical threads (Figure 3, starting at #4 and #5).

Scroll Border
Using #876, work the scrolls along each of the long sides; refer to Figure 4 (21 KB) for stitching direction and positioning in relation to the edge of the four-sided stitches. Bring the needle up at the base of each arrow and take it down at the point. You will use a combination of back, running, and satin stitches (the beginning and ending threads for the Aztec stitch will be hidden behind the satin stitches). Stitch the scroll design along each short side; refer to Figure 5 (17 KB) for stitching direction and positioning in relation to the edge of the four-sided stitches.

The front of the Aztec stitch bookmark.

Aztec Stitch
Note that when you're working this stitch, you create bars by wrapping pairs of threads in a direction that positions the threads according to Figure 6 (29 KB) ; move over the bars from left to right and across each woven square (formed by the unpulled threads) from the lower left to the upper right. Wrap each bar four times. Make sure there is enough thread in your needle to work across an entire row.

To begin, hold the frame so that one of the longer ends of the frame is closest to your body and begin at the lower left corner (Figure 6). Using #926, anchor the thread behind the scroll satin stitches on the wrong side of the fabric in the border and bring the needle up in the empty square in the lower left-hand corner (Figure 6). Wrap the first two threads together tightly; make sure to cover the threads of the fabric by laying the wraps side by side until the bar is filled. Work across the fabric in rows, progressing from lower left to upper right, wrapping the bars and carrying the thread across the woven squares. When you reach the top of the row, anchor the working thread by going behind the cross-stitches (formed on the back of each four-sided stitch) and carry the thread from one row to the next. When you are finished working a set of three rows, skip over the stitches where threads have been removed (trying to go behind them may cause the cut ends to come loose). Rotate the work (and Figure 6) at the end of each row so the needle is always horizontal, pointing right to left under the threads of the fabric to wrap the vertical bars and pointing top to bottom under the threads of the fabric to wrap the horizontal bars.

Note the gray stitches of the fourth diagonal row in Figure 6: There are two threads adjacent to each other that occupy the same holes when you diagonally cross the center of each woven square of threads. Stitch the rows in order in the following colors starting at Row 1 (Figure 6): Rows 1 - 6, 16 - 21, 25 - 27, 37 - 42, 49 - 54, and 64 - 66 in #926; Rows 7 - 12, 31 - 36, and 58 - 63 in #388; Rows 13 - 15, 22 - 24, and 67 - 72 in #306; Rows 28 - 30 and 55 - 57 in #47; Rows 43 - 48 in #876. Rotate the frame 180 degrees and cover the remaining bare threads by starting at the previously stitched Row 1 and working from left to right toward the corner and in the following colors: Rows 1 - 6, #876; Rows 7 - 9, #926; Rows 10 - 15, #306. Note that Row 1 of these last filling stitches is adjacent to the previously stitched Row 1.

Remove the fabric from the stretcher bars. Wash the fabric; rinse until the water runs clear. Iron dry with a pressing cloth.

Count out two threads from the outside edge of the scroll design and remove the third thread; repeat on the other three sides. Count out eleven threads from the previously removed thread and remove the twelfth thread; repeat on the other three sides. Count out ten threads from the previously removed thread and cut between the tenth and eleventh threads; repeat on the other three sides.

Miter the corners: With the right side of the fabric face down, fold each corner at a diagonal at the first pulled thread. With wrong sides facing, fold at the outer removed thread lines and fold under again at the inner removed thread lines to create a hem. Using the sharp needle, blind stitch the folded edge of the hem to the edge of the four-sided stitches.

About the Designer: Pat Rozendal of Houston, Texas, is an embroidery teacher and a needlework historian specializing in samplers. She has studied Mexican samplers in museums in the United States and in Europe.