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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Gingham Embroidery (or Chicken Scratch) for Spring


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I’ve written a little bit about gingham embroidery or chicken scratch here on Needle ‘n Thread in the past. It’s not a type of embroidery I dabble in often, but I do think it’s fun!

Gingham embroidery goes by lots of names: gingham lace, chicken scratch, Depression lace, Hoover lace, Amish lace, snowflake lace, broderie suisse (strangely enough, if you look up “broderie suisse,” you’ll find lots of tutorials and photos for gingham embroidery, but if you look up “Swiss Embroidery,” you’ll end up with whitework and other techniques popping up in search engine results) – and probably many other names that I’ve missed.

They all boil down to relatively simple embroidery worked on gingham fabric, and sometimes on plain, two-toned checked fabric.

Happening on a pretty picture of a very springy piece of gingham embroidery worked on a multi-colored gingham linen, I found myself itching to work up something similarly simple and springy, just to dabble for the fun of it.

Gingham Lace / Chicken Scratch Embroidery for Spring

Using a piece of 1/8″ gingham cotton from Farmhouse Fabrics (they have very nice cotton fabrics and excellent service), I set about playing around with coton a broder and floche on the gingham.

Embroidery on gingham is a fairly simple type of embroidery – there isn’t a whole lot of complicated stitchery involved – so it’s pretty easy to sit down and mess around without a pattern, just to see what develops.

I started working with a corner design in mind, using a grid of white double cross stitches over the darkest checks as a starting point. And then I just went from there.

Although you don’t often see a lot of color added to gingham embroidery – often it’s worked only in white thread or in two tones, matching the color of the checks – occasionally you do see some contrasting colors thrown in. But there’s no reason why you can’t use a variety of colors in a piece, either.

It’s the white in the embroidery, though, that imparts the lace look, although an opposite or reversed lacy look can be had by using a thread that matches the darkest checks on the fabric.

Gingham Lace / Chicken Scratch Embroidery for Spring

I had other ideas floating around in my head while playing with the gingham, but none of them have come to tangible fruition yet in the form of any kind of pattern. These two samples were the result of some very random and unplanned stitching fun.

If I stumble upon likable combinations, and if you’re interested, I’ll put them in pattern form and share them with you, along with some instructions.

Because gingham embroidery is a relatively simple form of stitchery, by the way, it’s very easy to teach to children! If you’re looking for a type of needlework that’s suitable for age 7 and older, this works. I’ve taught chicken scratch to 6 and 7 year olds, and they took to it quite readily. With younger kids, a larger check and a heavier thread work well.

So, there you have it – some dabbling in springy stuff, just for the fun of it. If you’re interested in seeing more, just let me know!


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(46) Comments

  1. I was taught this form of embroidery years ago in the UK. I was told it was Australian Embroidery and have a cloth and napkins I made back then. The funny thing is I now live in Australia and was asked recently by some sewing friends, what type of embroidery it was 🙂

    1. I grew up in South Africa and did this embroidery know as Australian embroidery.
      I made some beautiful smocked gingham summer dresses and used this to finish off the hem. It gives it a nice contrast and finish. I also now live in Australia, interestly, I have never come accross this embroidery in Sydney.
      There is a really good book if you would like to learn more, written by a South African lady – Leona Lehner.

  2. Thank you for exploring this type of embroidery! It’s interesting to learn that it has so many monikers. A few years ago I used the gingham fabric for a stitching challenge, and it was difficult to find patterns for it. I love your use of the colors for lazy daisy flowers, and would very much enjoy having some of your patterns!!

  3. Dear Mary,
    Yes, please, please work on something gingham when you have a chance. I learned to do it as a little girl–even embroidered a blouse for myself at the age of 7. However, I have not worked on it for a long time. I would love to have something fresh to try it out again. It is such fun!
    Thank you for all you do for the promotion of the art of needlework.
    (Hope your birthday was enJOYable!)

  4. I am interested in chicken scratch. I remember my mother doing this on the border of an apron. I would love a tutorial and pattern. I am going to sit with grandsons in June. The older (8) and I do a craft each day while younger brother is napping. I think this would be a wonderful project for him and would Mom and Dad be surprised when they return. Last year I wanted to sketch a quilt pattern from a wedding present to his parents. So, I introduced him to quilting by having him help me measure the different parts of the block and we sketched it together. He also was increasing his math and measuring skills, plus quality time spent with me.

  5. Mrs. Corbet,
    I have a blue-and-white gingham apron with that type of embroidery on it, (I did not make it) but the embroidery is just in white. Thanks for sharing some names for it. It does sound interesting, maybe I’ll get around to trying it one of these days 🙂


    1. Oh you should, Sarah! It’s a lot of fun! I have a blue and white gingham apron, too, with chicken scratch in it. Not too find of the name “chicken scratch,” actually – gingham lace sounds a tad more palatable!

  6. Dear Mary

    I like gingham and the simple stitching on this design. I’ve not worked on gingham but it looks an easy design to work on, if you follow the squares you can’t go wrong. It must have been lovely to teach young children this sort of embroidery. A lovely spingy design and stitching. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  7. Please do show us more! I spent last summer learning gingham embroidery/broderie Suisse, because of a late-spring post of yours. My daughter, then age 7, worked on a little beginner cottage project with me, but she didn’t take to it as readily as I did. Thanks for bringing gingham embroidery back into the spotlight!

  8. If I stumble upon likable combinations, and if you’re interested, I’ll put them in pattern form and share them with you, along with some instructions.

    Yes… I am interested in seeing more!!

  9. What lovely timing – I bought a cornflower-blue gingham shirt
    I plan to embroider, and had not thought of using colors
    other than blue and white. My great-grandmother did some pieces
    on brown gingham, one of which has a more elaborate white solid
    flower design (no picture – sorry). I’d love to see more designs.
    I also love seeing your Secret Garden unfold – stunning!

  10. Hi Mary,
    My Paternal Grandmother always wore an apron. They were always gingham, and she had always done chicken scratch embroidery on them. I have the majority of the ones she had when she died. I don’t always wear an apron, but I do wear one when I am in the kitchen. It is such a pleasure to put one of hers on and think of the hours she spent making a utilitarian object pretty if only for herself.
    I also own a book called The Gingham Book Of Embroidery that was put out by Coats and Clark. It doesn’t have a publishers date but the illustrations look like the 50’s or maybe early 60’s. It is a girls learn how to embroider book. It teaches about ten stitches using the gingham squares to keep the stitches even and the same length. It goes through the basic stitches you would think of but then it also does herringbone and even featherstitch. It cost 5 cents. After each stitch it had ideas for making things using the stitch they had just learned. I intend on using it this summer to start teaching my granddaughter how to embroider. I would love some more articles from you on chicken scratch.

    1. TerriSue,

      I would love to see some pictures out of your 50s embroidery book!

      And Mary, please show us some patterns. I’m still working on the Secret garden and am finding the short and long stitches quite fun! That was a surprise since they look complicated. After i finished that first bottom leaf, It is so fun to add a few stitches of darker thread over the medium and it made it all blend so nicely. You are right, it is a forgiving stitch.
      I’m still looking for a good lamp for traveling. Do you have any ideas? Thanks so much for sharing all your beautiful projects.


  11. Hi Mary, I like the look, but prefer tone-on-tone to keep the “lace” in the Amish Lace technique. Otherwise, gingham is simply being used like plastic canvas or Aida cloth. When it is done in one of the 2 colors of the gingham, you would think it is lacework or cutwork, even up close. But I agree that this colorful version is good for getting youngsters interested.

  12. I think this type of embroidery is delightful, Mary. It is what I like to refer to as a “palate refresher” , an embroidery sorbet, that is easy, (somewhat) mindless and can be a good carry-around project. In fact, there is a Vogue pattern that uses black and white gingham and black lace. Your article has inspired me to embroider the lace in black floche instead of using lace applique. Will floche hold up to the washing machine or should I use something with a tighter twist? Thanks from Denise in Palm Desert

    1. Well, floche does hold up in the washing machine when it’s stitched with normal surface stitches. I’ve used it on tea towels and the like. I’m not sure how well it would hold up with the longer stitches in gingham embroidery, although if the checks are small (1/8″), then I don’t think it would be a problem. On large checks, though, it might, and you might opt instead for coton a broder 25, which has a slightly tighter twist.

  13. Mary, this is so lovely. I have done cross stitch for many years but am very new to embroidery. I would very much like to try this for napkins….will that work? What kind of fabric should I use? Can I embroider pre made napkins? Any additional thoughts for this rookie would be appreciated.
    I do love your site and so look forward to your emails and am learning so much.
    Thanks in advance for your time and expertise!

    1. Yes, you can certainly do gingham embroidery on napkins! The cotton gingham Mary mentions would be perfect. Most other ginghams you find in fabric stores are a poly-cotton blend and not as absorbent as 100% cotton (which comes in handy when wiping you hands on a napkin!). Also, a 1/8″ or other small checked homespun would also work well as that is cotton.

      When planning your napkin project, I would suggest keeping the embroidery to a small portion of the napkin, a corner for example, or a line of embroidery up one side. You want the design to show when the napkin is folded on the table but, because a napkin does get some wear wiping hands and such, you don’t want to cover a big area with stitches making it perhaps more difficult to use the napkin (and to snag the stitches).

      Wouldn’t a set of napkins that match Mary’s tablecloth look lovely!

      Yes, you could embroider pre-made napkins but if they are gingham, I personally would not use 1/4″ checks (which you often see for picnic napkins) because the stitches are fairly large and can shift and/or snag.

      I hope this helps!
      Blessings to you!

  14. Oh the colors are so pretty. One of these days I will try a project with this technique.. Come to think of it, I have some blue gingham napkins which could use some detail in a corner…

  15. I’d love to see more. Long ago I did a bit of cross stitch on gingham- but I never finished it.
    (like I need another project)
    But I could learn it and save it!

  16. I haven’t read the entire post yet but wanted to post a comment – I LOVE chicken scratch embroidery. Actually, I love the needlework styles of long ago and anything traditional – it is what really melts my butter….. I love how you updated the look of chicken scratch by bringing in the added colors – it is just beautiful.

  17. The link in your last sentence (let me know) is broken. I’m not sure if it was supposed to take me to the posting area or an email but I wanted to respond to your query…. Yes I am interested in more spring stuff, chicken scratch, and gingham embroidery. I love to do all sorts of sewing but just sitting down to let an inspiration hit my mind and needle rarely happens with me. I guess I need to “train” that part of my brain. For now, I like to borrow ideas and you have a lot of inspiration here.

  18. I just love your gingham embroidery ideas. I taught this technique at an embroidery class for Seniors, but we used a slightly larger check for more visual ease. My ladies had a lot of fun with it!

  19. Hello Mary,
    I think this looks pretty embroidery to the technique of blackwork in the drawings but it is cool and well-pleasing to the eye, full of colors as nature wakes up at the moment, promise picnic.
    Thank you again Marie

  20. I work with the “Studio Arts” program at the local elementary school where I teach embroidery to 4th and 5th graders. I introduced them to Chicken Scratch several years ago. The students were very excited to stitch their projects and worked with the 3 patterns I designed, a duck on yellow and white gingham, a whale on black and white and a heart on pink and white. Their finished pieces were beautiful and were the hit of the Arts festival/exhibit that year. Many teachers and parents were convinced that it was lace sewn over checkered fabric until they looked closer. I have to say that I was extremely proud of my students for their outstanding work.

  21. I love Chicken Scratching. I have taught it to Girl Scouts, my children, grandchildren. whoever sits still. All ages and abilities can do it — and it so encourages conversation in a quiet setting.
    Please — continue your research.

  22. Love the chicken scratch! I’m lucky to have a few pieces of my grandmother’s chicken scratch, and it just brings back such sweet memories. I’d love to see anything you create with it.

  23. I would love to see more of this type of work. I remember a couple of years ago when you had another article about it. I have “played” with it since then. It is hard to find much written about chicken scratch/gingham lace.

    Please continue sharing information about this “hidden” gem.

  24. Excelentes opciones para estar entretenido, me encanta.

    Gracias por capacitarnos cada día.


  25. I am trying to learn to do chicken scratch but so hard to do by myself. I can’t find patterns or instructions on how to do this lovely stitching! Please help me to find more on this beautiful art.
    Thank you so much!!!

  26. What length of thread do you use – or do you keep it in a skein without cutting lengths?

    Thank you if you get back to me.


    1. With chicken scratch (this type of gingham embroidery) I normally use a fairly long length – maybe 24″? The thread doesn’t pass through the fabric that often, so it doesn’t wear down as fast. I would say use as long a length as you can, that is comfortable to stitch with and doesn’t get all messed up as you stitch (super long threads can be a real pain!), and keep an eye on the thread. If it starts to look worn or frayed, then you need to change it, and probably not use quite as long a piece.

  27. I have looked at some of you gingham chicken scratch works. They are very pretty. I like to do this type of embroidery, but have not been able to find cotton gingham like the ones you use. Do you sell them ? If not would you please guide me where to find them. I am looking for a mint or beige color of 3/8 “ or 1 cm. I want to do a table runner and the placemats. I would like the woven looking fabric. They sell some called Aida, evenweave and linen, and they talk about counts, which I do not understand. Which one do you recommend for chicken scratch? Any help, I really appreciate it!

    Thanks !

    1. Hi, Rosa, I don’t use Aida and similar woven fabrics for chicken scratch. I just use regular cotton gingham – preferable, yarn-dyed. I usually get mine at Farmhouse Fabrics online. I hope that helps!

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