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Where haberdashery and geekdom combine
Railroading Tutorial 
6th-Jan-2006 11:43 am
Occasionally the question of "what is railroading and how do I do it?" seems to pop up in this community. Since there was a favorable response the last time I made a tutorial, I thought I'd try again. So, here goes:

First off, I will note that in these pictures, I used 14-count Aida (which I stitched over two) and two lengths of different-colored floss. Each length corresponds to one strand of floss on your workpiece (assuming, of course, that you are working with two strands; there is a note about using more at the end of this tutorial). These strands may or may not be the same color; if you are using one strand each of two different colors, it produces and effect called "blending" or "tweeding".

1. Gather your materials.

You'll need your workpiece (stretched in whatever frame you prefer, unless you're an in-hand stitcher), your threads, and your needle. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I've included a picture anyway. (P.S. - don't mind my messy desk!)

2. Bring your needle up through the fabric.

Begin your first stitch by coming up through the fabric. The lower leg of my cross stitches go from lower left to upper right (/), so I will be heading to the upper right next.

3. Stretch the floss across the fabric.

You now want to stretch your floss across the fabric, in the direction of your stitch. You want to stretch farther than the hole that your needle goes down. Now, smooth the stretched threads so they are not twisted around each other, putting one thread on each side of the hole. It is exaggerated here, so you get the idea.

Note that you are not really "stretching" (i.e., putting tension) on your thread. You are really just taking it across the fabric.

4. Put your needle down through the fabric.

Place your needle between the two stretched strands, and push it down through the fabric. You will pull the threads through straight and they will remain parallel and untwisted. I find that longer lengths can still twist at this stage, so you may have to use your non-needle hand to keep the threads flat to the fabric as you pull. You can also use a laying tool to keep the threads flat, but I will not go into that here.

This is also a good example of what stitching "over two" means. You bring your needle up, go right two holes and up two holes, and put your needle down (alternately, you can count diagonally two holes, but I find this tricky on linen where not all the threads are of a uniform thickness). The "over two" method is typically used on higher-count fabrics: 28-count stitched "over two" would give the same stitch size as 14-count stitched "over one".

5. Complete the bottom legs, and start the tops.

Once you've completed the bottom legs of your stitching, you can start the top legs (unless you stitch in the English style, which I believe completes one whole stitch before moving to the next). This is where the railroading is really important, as your top legs are more visible than your bottom legs.

6. Complete stitching.

Here is the row of five stitches, completed. As you can see, I have been very careful to consistently keep the same color on the same side of the stitch. Here, the white thread is on the "bottom" (or "left") and the black thread is on the "top" (or "right"). It is not necessary to do this. My personal experience has shown that some areas look better with this consistency, and some areas look better with letting the threads randomly lie (though they are still railroaded), as show in the blue/black section of the next picture:

For those who still can't see what difference railroading makes, I direct you to the next picture. If you look at the stitch indicated by the red arrow, you will see that the strands are crossed: both strands come up through the fabric, but the blue crosses over the black before they go back down.

A Note About Multiple Strands

It is still possible to use the railroading technique when there are more than two strands of floss in your needle. You will still come up, smooth your threads, and go back down, though it can be tricky with 4 or more threads. A laying tool (or a spare needle) may be needed to smooth and hold the threads while you take the downward stitch. (If you need pictures of this, ask and I'll see what I can do).
6th-Jan-2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
Added to memories. Thanks!
6th-Jan-2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
No problem!
6th-Jan-2006 06:30 pm (UTC)
Question. Do you always railroad while stitching, or only when you are using strands of more than one color at the same time?

Plus I super appreciate the tutorials that you do! Great pics, easy to understand. Thanks!
6th-Jan-2006 07:05 pm (UTC)
I railroad every stitch I take, it just makes the stitches lay nicer, plus you get better coverage. It's a very easy habit to get in to: I only really had to concentrate on doing it for about half an hour before it became second nature. I initially did start because of blended colors, but I use it for everything now!

It's funny, really, because I am horrible at explaining things just with words. I do so much better making these big picture posts. I'm just glad that they help!
6th-Jan-2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
I think I"m going to have to get in the habit of railroading my stitches as well. I've kinda stopped and started a couple of times and I guess I haven't perfected the technic cuz I get bored and go back to just stitching like usual!
6th-Jan-2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
Once you get into a rhythm that works for you, it is second nature. I'm lucky in that I was able to find my rhythm fairly quickly, though for the first week's worth of stitching sessions, I had to remind myself to actually start by railroading, so I would continue railroading (if that makes sense). It's all about what you're comfortable with!!
6th-Jan-2006 06:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for doing this :)
I rail road already but had not fine tuned it with respect to stretching the thread out :)

Definitely would be interested in a tutorial on laying tools!

6th-Jan-2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
I'll see what I can do regarding laying tools!!
28th-Jan-2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
There's a pretty interesting article on laying tools in the following link (pictures, too!):

6th-Jan-2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
6th-Jan-2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
No problem!
6th-Jan-2006 07:21 pm (UTC)
Oh man...now I want to take out all of the blending stitches in Firedance and do them again this way (yeah but i'm too lazy to so i won't lol). Thanks for the tutorial! It helped a LOT.
6th-Jan-2006 07:23 pm (UTC)
No problem!!

Don't worry; I still cringe when I look at older, non-railroaded pieces of mine. On the other hand, you can see a progression of how much better I've gotten, and that makes me happy :-)
6th-Jan-2006 07:37 pm (UTC)
True. I'll use that as a comparison then LOL.
6th-Jan-2006 07:47 pm (UTC)
This is excellent. Really clear explanation with nice big pictures. I nominate you as our official "how to" goddess.
6th-Jan-2006 09:12 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked!!

I'd also like to nominate fuzzyboo03 as co-goddess, for her lovely parking tutorial!
6th-Jan-2006 08:32 pm (UTC)
Your tutorials are wonderful!
Thank you for taking the time and effort in doing this for us.

I already know railroading, but you explained it so well and I really enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures! :D
6th-Jan-2006 09:13 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it!!

Taking the pictures is kind of fun, I will admit!!
6th-Jan-2006 09:41 pm (UTC)
Great tutorial!

I'm still new to stitching, so I didn't recognize the term "railroading", but I actually do this naturally, apparently. As much as I can, at least. I've found myself being really annoyed when my strands get twisted around each other and it maked the threads look too sparse. I end up trying my best to pull the thread through slowly so that the strands stay parallel to each other, and it looks so much nicer! Not every stitch is perfect, but I try my best to do them that way. I just didn't know it had a term!
6th-Jan-2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
**makes** the thread look sparse. Wow. Sorry. XD
6th-Jan-2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked!!
6th-Jan-2006 10:36 pm (UTC)
This makes a lot more sense now. I can definitely see a benefit with the blended floss.
6th-Jan-2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you just need pictures to really see what's going on, you know?
6th-Jan-2006 11:22 pm (UTC)
*claps* Great job on this tutorial! Thank you so much!
6th-Jan-2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked!!
6th-Jan-2006 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the great tutorial. I had seen a link to an explaination of this technique earlier, and I wasn't sure I was railroading correctly. My threads looked flatter and more even, but I wasn't sure that might not be making things harder than they were. As it turns out, I was adding a step (probably where you mention smoothing with the laying tool) and now I know how to do it without!

I would definately like to see you do a tutorial on laying tool use though - I am about to start a BAP for my husband and I want it to be as close to perfect as I can make it. Your tutorials (especially with those great pictures!) are really easy to follow.

Thanks again!
6th-Jan-2006 11:55 pm (UTC)
No problem!!

I will definitely look into doing a laying tool tutorial in the next few weeks, since tehre is so much interest!!
7th-Jan-2006 04:16 am (UTC)
wow thanks!! It looks so easy when you see it. :)
8th-Jan-2006 03:39 am (UTC)
Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! I always thought I was a decent stitcher, but something always seemed 'off' to me. I decided to try railroading when I started my current WIP, and boy-oh-boy! I can tell the difference! I had always been iffy on the whole railroading idea, but it's *the* difference I've been looking for. There's something smooth, or something, I didn't have before. I'm *almost* glad I screwed up on my son's project and have to start over. almost. heh.
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