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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Embroidery Stitch Video Tutorial: Chain Stitch

 

The chain stitch is a versatile hand embroidery stitch that can be used to outline and to fill spaces. It’s a fun stitch to work, and always looks great!

Chain Stitch used in Hand Embroidery

The chain stitch is probably one of the most common embroidery stitches, and adapted to all different techniques, even lace making. The chain stitch works very easily around curves, in lines, or in large spaces for filling.

Chain Stitch used in Hand Embroidery

For fun and colorful effects, you can lace the chain stitch with another colored thread, as in the photo above (which comes from my Hand Embroidered Lettering Lessons).

Chain Stitch Combined with Buttonhole Stitch

What else can you do with chain stitch? You can combine it with other stitches, as I’ve done in this combination of chain stitch and buttonhole stitch. Lots & lots of possibilities with chain stitch!

There are many variations on the stitch – heavy chain stitch, cable chain stitch, raised chain stitch band, checkered chain stitch, rosette chain stitch, double chain stitch, crested chain stitch – and many more! Once the basic stitch is mastered, the rest is easy!

Chain Stitch

This is what the basic stitch looks like. It forms a line of interlocking loops.

In the video, I demonstrate two methods of working the chain stitch: the “stab” method, in which you take your working hand to the back of the fabric to pull your needle through, and the “sewing” method, in which you only work on the front of the fabric, “scooping” the fabric with the needle. The stab method works great if you’re working on a tight frame or hoop. The sewing method works best when working “in hand” (without a frame or hoop).

After you view the video, you might want to take a look at these photo tutorials for further tips on chain stitch:

Working Chain Stitch in a Circle
Starting a New Thread with Chain Stitch
Stitch Play: Combining Chain Stitch & Buttonhole Stitch

Here’s the video:

Enjoy!

You can find more How-To Videos for hand embroidery stitches here on Needle ‘n Thread. Feel free to browse through them and add some fun stitches to your stitching repertoire!

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(57) Comments

  1. Mary, the video just doesn’t load for me. Is there anywhere with just pics of your stitches? I am so interested in some of what you mention, and frustrated that I can’t see it.

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  2. Hi, Jo – I’m sorry the video doesn’t load up!! Perhaps you could try going to Google Video and searching for “hand embroidery” – you’ll find the videos on there – and maybe they’ll work for you straight from google. There’s no text explanation, but at least you’ll see the video. Let me know if it works or not!

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  3. Mary, great videos. It’s always fascinating to see how other people work stitches. I find a lot of books show stitches worked back to front to my normal working, I’m right handed, but I work chain stitch from top to bottom towards my body. Perhaps its region specific, or we really are “downunder” in Australia. Will definitely help novices learning their stitches. Christine.

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  4. If ever I did embroidery, it was around 50 yrs ago with my mother. I was about 10yo. I’m mainly a crocheter and am working on a pattern crocheted with embroidery floss. I had to embroider the pupils of eyes…using black floss to chain stitch in a circle over the whites of the eyes. Trying to embroider over 6 strands of floss was difficult! I couldn’t have done it without your tutorial. I couldn’t have made a chain stitch without your tutorial! You made it so simple. Thank you!
    Jeannie

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  5. Thanks for the video. Have never embroidered and there are 2 stitches mentioned “chain” and “long” for the finishing work of a knitted pattern I’m doing. Figured I could just wing it, but it turned out awful looking. Now I can redo and get it to look good. Thanx 🙂

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  6. This is such a wonderful website and your videos are exactly what I need. I have just made my husband a little drawstring bag for his socks when he travels. I wanted to put his initials on it and thought an embroidery stitch would be a good way to do this as the fabric has an easy weave. Sadly my sewing mentality has largely been if it holds then its good! This is not a way to approach embroidering initals! Your video tutorials have helped me decide how to do it and given me hope that it might actually look good too! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skill for free. I really appreciate it.
    Lindsay (Edinburgh, Scotland)

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  7. Thanks so much for the chain video, just what I needed…being left handed, I know that I will be working from left to right. Great demo! Lynne

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  8. Embroidery De-mystified!
    Thak you so much. This is just what I was looking for to give my projects a more polished look. Thank You!

    Angelica Bays
    Tygrlilies.com

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  9. Hi Mary I am having some trouble with this stitch, I am not sure what is going wrong. When I use more than one thread I end up with my thread all different lengths and my stitch is very loppy. Even when I start off with all my threads the same after a few stitches if using two I have one longer than the other and a very messy stitch any help with what is going wrong would be great. thank you in advance.
    Regards Joyce

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  10. Hi, Joyce –

    If you're using two threads, try using one, but doubling it in the needle, with the fold at the eye. Then, when you emerge from the fabric for each stitch, wiggle the needle to make sure the needle is centered in the thread before taking the stitch. Just a suggestion – at least try it. I'm not so keen on doubling my thread in the needle, simply because it doesn't allow you to unthread the needle, should you need to (for removing a knot, etc.)

    But, it might help!

    Otherwise, I'd suggest evening up your threads at ever stitch…

    Best,
    MC

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  11. Mary,
    Thank you very much! I have never embroidered before, but your video was so easy to understand and follow! Thank you!
    Olga A.

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  12. I'm 12 years old…attending secondary school and got a project on sewing.You guys definately helped me!!!THANKS ALOT!!!

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  13. Been working on a pair of knucks for a soon-to-be visiting friend, did a search for 'how to embroidery chain stitch' and found this video. Very helpful – looks like I'll be able to finish before he gets here, yay!

    My non-knitting needles have all disappeared into the clutter of my desk, so I dug out a crochet hook I'd bought once (and never really learned to use) – it actually seems to work fairly well for this, I was pleasantly surprised. Yay for pulling loops.

    I'll definitely be poking around the rest of this website if/when I have more questions 🙂

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  14. Your videos are so great. Being new to embroidery, I find myself first consulting a book of stitches then when that doesn’t work (I need to see it done) I run upstairs to computer and go to this site. Bingo! Always crystal clear.

    I just cannot get the stem stitch down though. All thumbs at it.

    A helpful hint to newbies…keep another fabric scrap hooped and do practice run of stitches before attempting your ‘project’ piece. I also like to ‘warm up’ on some stitches before I tackle the main project. Too many times I jump into the thing I want perfect and end up ripping it out because I am not in the swing of things first.

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  15. Mary, thank you so much! I am working on darning my pointe shoes and my teacher suggested the chain stitch for the perimiter. This helped a lot! Thanks again!

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  16. hello! i am crocheting an amigurumi doll and the pattern requires me to do the chain stitch for the characteristics of the face. thank you for putting this video up. it was easy to understand and since i am a visual learner, it was easy for me to kearn this stitch. thank you =]

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  17. Ms. Mary,
    Good morning! Thank you so very much for doing this tutorial. I am a left-handed self-taught stitcher. Your tutorials are the only ones that I can easily follow as a leftie. I greatly appreciate your efforts in providing this website; I feel that you are doing a public service. I very much enjoy your writing “voice.”
    Peace be upon you,
    Amber

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  18. Dear Mary,
    Your video’s are immensely helpful. I just can’t seem to get my hand to do them :/ I’ve been playing around with the chain stitch as I have a project that’s full of curvy flowers. I haven’t been able to master the stem stitch either. **sigh** I’ll keep plugging away. My chain stitches either seem too small or too big, and it seems a bit awkward. Any suggestions? Maybe just some more practice? I keep working away on an old pattern until I perfect the two stitches, which I believe will make up the majority of stitches on the flower pattern. Thanks for your time.

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    1. Hi, Christina – are you sewing your chain stitches? Or “stabbing” them? Sometimes stabbing gives a better result – that is, hold the loop open with one hand and bring the needle from the back to the front into the loop. This way, you can sometimes judge the length of your chain stitch better. Keep them smaller rather than longer – about 1/8″ long usually does it. Hope that helps! ~MC

  19. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for your great videos and website! I found you by googling stem stitch because I was having a hard time figuring how to do it from a book, and now have your site on my rss feed! I enjoy your work! Thanks for helping my embroidery look better then ever!

    ~Lauren

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  20. Hi Mary,
    I have read your pages and comments on all things embroidery from afar for a long time. Your items on the woad dying has brought me out from hiding behind my anonymous computer screen. I feel like I just have to join in the fun!. I could not stop laughing at the amazing witty comments. Your followers are certainly a funny lot. I look forward to more entertainment and learning in the future. It is so fantastic to see a whole world of embroiderers from across the world joined together by your website and their love of embroidery.
    As you can see if you look at my website – there ain’t much there at present. I am an embroidery designer and teacher who has avoided all things tehno for as long as I can. Now my life has changed and I can devote more time to the art of embroidery design so I decided to expand my little hobby business and I have had a website made. I am having great fun adding all of my things to it, but it eats into my stitching time! I wish you much sucess in the future and will be contributing my 2 cents worth to share with everyone.
    Goodluck!
    Cheers
    Susan

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  21. this was great. I learned to embroider about 40 years ago and have not done it. I recently started doing pillows for my daughters hope chest. I have to do the chain stitch to fill in the words, and the video totally explains what to do and complete it.

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  22. Thanks Mary for this great website. I’m from Trindad & Tobago and your website has made practicing and teaching needlework fun and simply. Keep up the wonderful job. Keep inspiring us all.

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  23. Thanks a lot for your wonderful and helpful videos!!! I got a higher grade because of your tips… Thanks a lot and keep up the good work…
    ~MJ~

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  24. Do you know of any resources for making chain stitched rugs? I’m familiar with the chain stitch, but I’m not sure what to use as a ground fabric, how to attach a backing and how to finish it. Any help would be greatly appreciated — thanks!

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  25. hi! I am 10 years old and learning how to stitch. I do the french knot, and pull hard, and it always turns out like a running stitch. WHAT am I doing wrong?

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  26. I’m trying to chain stitch a border on a baby afghan. I don’t get it………… If I insert the needle back in the hole I came up through, I’m removing the last stitch!! How then do you keep moving forward?

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    1. Hi, Pam! Did you watch the video? In the video, notice that the you go down in the same hole and you pull your thread through, but not all the way, leaving a loop on the top of the fabric, and then when you come up, you come up into the fabric a stitch length away (however far away it takes to make the stitch as long as you want it), and inside that loop that you left on top of the fabric. You pull forward down the line you’re stitching, to tighten the loop around the working thread. And then you make the next stitch by going down inside the loop you just made, but leaving another loop on top of the fabric as you pull the thread through (pull through, but not all the way). Then you move forward the stitch length before coming back up in the fabric and inside the loop you just left. You can also use a “sewing” method, which is also explained in the video. ~MC

  27. Hi, I have inherited a box of embroidered doyleys and dressing table sets etc done by my uncle’s (88) mother and aunt so possibly 70 years old. Some of the pieces have been stitched, as part of the pattern what looks like a plait; but one side a slightly larger than the other. The left angle looks like the inside edge where it enters the fabric is covered by the slightly smaller right side of the plait; extremely neat work and very accurate. I looked at your ‘heavy chain stitch’ tutorial but that doesn’t look like it. Each section of the plait does not have any stitches along side. The reverse is almost exactly the same just not as heavy. Also another piece has what looks like very narrow lazy daisy stitches i.e. no space like leaves have for example and the back is a zigzag pattern. I cannot duplicate that either. Any suggestions.

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    1. Hi Liz – can you take close-up pictures of the front and back of the stitches? If so, you can send them to me at mary(at)needlenthread(dot)com and I’ll try to help! – MC

  28. Thanks Mary! Every stitch you teach is so useful. I am learning and enjoying embroidery because of you!

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  29. Good Evening, Nrs. Corbet. I really have to thank you for these videos, because I just tried the “Heavy Chain Stitch” and I am completely, totally, IN LOVE! I swear I have never had a stitch where I felt completely comfortable with first try. So, as I watch this video I can’t help but wonder, ‘Is the sewing method easier for this particular stitch?” Usually, I stick with stabbing, but I think I’ll try the sewing method for regular Chain Stitch first. It made more ‘sense’ to me for lack of a better way of explaining it. What’s your opinion?

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  30. I am on a boat in the San Juan Islands. I thought I could teach myself how to embroider T-shirts, towels and wine bags for Christmas presents. I have not gotten very far this summer using books. Looks ridiculous! Tonight the chain stitch came to life watching your video on line. I can learn this way. Much appreciate for your excellent tools! Willing to share cooking lessons for needle work classes any time. Vous ete tres gentile.

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  31. I just have to thank you for this site.
    I do just simple Redwork and look for stitches that may enhance the embroidery.

    Again, thank you!

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  32. Good morning, MS Corbet, This blog on the chain stitch will come in handy when I begin working on the clothing for my art doll-Frida Kahlo. My husband calls it the ugliest of ugly-Kahlo sometimes photographed harshly in black and white. But she is a unique Mexican Artist to study for as a colorist she was fun to create in work-clay doll, crocheted shawl, and sewing. I like to work the doll’s outfit in colorful stitching through embroidery. This stitch variety is terrific in its tutorial. Thanks, atk

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  33. Sorry, but I wanted to mention how this great embroidery web site helps me decorate stuffed cats (other animals) made from my husband’s old socks. I embroidered a whole sock cat with embroidery stitched sort of used it as an instructional time. I gave five cats to the library to used a surprised during the summer reading program at the town public library. This embroidery has filled in quite a few of my dolls and dresses I made from scratch and the stitched enliven the clothes.
    Seems odd two years ago I created 13 dwarf puppets from JRR Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT: the clothing was embroidered-small outfits. I will give them to a library to sell for funding. The most fun outfit was for Thorin Oakenshield-a dragon-while embroidering this I stuck my finger with a needle often. But the fun was in the work created as if it was painted.
    Thanks for this tutorials that embolden me to try small things when creating a character with embroidery stitched. ATK

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  34. Buenas noches, me gustaría poder recibir información de ustedes y los videos sobre bordados.

    Muchas gracias,

    Amparo

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  35. I am learning lots from your website — after a lifetime of cross-stitch, I am enjoying the enhanced creativity of free-form needlework!
    On chain stitch, I am concerned that if it is used on frequently washed items (kitchen towels) a thread could break and the whole line or figure would unravel quickly. Whereas, with stem stitch, it takes a while before there is much unraveling.
    Have you or others experienced this?

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  36. Thank you for your chain stitch tutorial! I hope you don’t mind, I put a link to it on my blog! I think it is so helpful, I know my readers will think so too!

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