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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What’s in a Name? A Chicken Scratch Argument


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Following up on last weekend’s gingham lace (or chicken scratch) embroidery pattern that I posted for you, I’ve been having an ongoing discussion on the email sidelines about the pattern and the recent examples of gingham embroidery that I’ve been sharing here and on my Needle ‘n Thread Facebook page.

Gingham Lace / Chicken Scratch Embroidery Pattern

This is the finished corner of another pattern that I’ll share with you shortly.

This particular piece also falls victim to the sideline argument mentioned above, because when I posted pictures of it, I called it chicken scratch / gingham embroidery.

What’s in a Name?

Do you know, I have a hard time calling this embroidery technique chicken scratch, even though I know that, in America, this is probably the most common name for it. According to a plausible enough theory, the name came about because the stitches look like the marks left on the ground by chicken feet.

Chicken scratch conjures up a particular memory for me, and it isn’t the most attractive visual! A pot full of chicken feet on the stove, simmering for stock. All those little scratchy toes sticking up… So instead of using the term chicken scratch, I generally opt for gingham lace or embroidery on gingham.

But it goes by so many other names, too: Amish lace, Depression lace, snowflake embroidery, Hoover lace.

In France it’s called dentelle Vichy. It’s also called broderie Suisse, and in Spain and Italy, they have their own names for it, too. In Australia, it’s called Australian cross stitch.

Gingham Lace / Chicken Scratch Embroidery Pattern

The Argument

I’ve been told that I am leading you astray by introducing several colors into chicken scratch, and by using stitches and variations that are not “historically accurate.” I replied to those who believe this, thanking them for their well-intentioned critique, and the conversation developed into an on-going discussion.

(Please understand that discussion and argument are both civil terms. They do not mean fight – we are simply arguing a point and discussing our different outlooks.)

The argument is that, if we call this stuff “chicken scratch,” then that name places the embroidery in a certain historical setting – the Depression era. During the Great Depression, chicken scratch was popular because it required only one (or at the most, two) colors of thread to achieve the lacy look on gingham. So, I am told, if we are to call this “chicken scratch,” we can’t use other techniques or colors – we must stick with the original approach that would have been used during the Depression.

Chicken Scratch / Gingham Lace Embroidery

Furthermore, there seems to be a concern that introducing new-fangled stitch combinations or colors into chicken scratch adulterates it, and eventually, chicken scratch as it was will no longer exist, and this would therefore be a disservice to the embroidery world.

Conclusion: if I want to add color and add different stitch combinations that were not used in the 1930’s when chicken scratch was popular, then I can’t call it chicken scratch, and must refer to it only as gingham embroidery.

My Take

Even though I don’t really cotton to the term chicken scratch, and while I understand the point being made, I don’t agree.

“You can only do this with chicken scratch (white thread or two tones on gingham, with only these particular stitch combinations), and call it chicken scratch, because that’s what was done in the 1930’s.”

Ok, try this argument:

“You can only use these colors of wool that were used in the 1600’s, in combination with these stitches, if you are to call this type of embroidery Crewel Work.”

See the problem?

How stunted would our development in anything be, if that’s the approach we took?

If every single named embroidery technique or style only imitated precisely what was done historically with that particular technique, where would embroidery be today?

We could take it to the extreme: Would embroidery then be limited to whatever materials and stitches were first employed, when embroidery was first called embroidery?

I do agree that the name of a technique implies certain things about it. I would not, for example, embroider in wool and just randomly decide to call it goldwork. I would not claim to be doing chicken scratch if I were working with silk thread in long and short stitch.

But I don’t believe that the name of the technique limits us to what was done historically with that technique, when the name came about.

Furthermore, I think that this approach would stultify the embroiderer and severely limit the development of the art.

What’s Your Take?

I told the stitchers I was discussing this with that I was going to bring the topic up on Needle ‘n Thread.

It’s not just a question of chicken scratch, mind you. We also got into blackwork, for example. The Historical Purist claims that “real” blackwork can only be done with certain types of threads on certain types of fabrics, in certain types of stitch combinations, and most certainly only in black – and that anything that deviates from this should not be called blackwork. Otherwise, we confuse future generations regarding the “real” definition of “real” blackwork.

But… my argument: blackwork has a place in the history of embroidery in many different cultures, in many different ages, so to which culture and age do we turn, when fixing blackwork to only mean this particular approach? Must it be only 16th century England that dictates what blackwork is?

So, what about you? Are you an Historical Purist when it comes to names of embroidery techniques, or do you agree that there is a lot of wiggle room for personal interpretation within the named technique, and that this interpreting is what contributes to the overall development of the art of embroidery? Or do you have another view, or other thoughts, on the subject?

Feel free to join in on the discussion below!


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(180) Comments

  1. To me, a technique determines the style in which a piece is done and to *some* extent, the stitches and the materials used.

    Colour is not a factor, to me, in spite of the fact that some techniques are named by colour (blackwork, redwork, whitework, etc.) No one is going to mistake the technique whitework for redwork if the piece is completed in red thread instead of white.

    A good example – I am currently working on the blackwork sampler SAL by Elizabeth Almond. IT has both black and metallic threads – is it suddenly not blackwork? Some participants are using no black thread at all, only colours. Are they not doing blackwork, even though they are doing the exact same technique, the same stitches and using the exact same pattern and materials (linen fabric and DMC threads) as I am? Of course not.

    I think we should have a good understanding of the history of different needlework techniques, but we cannot be limited by that history. In fact, *any* limits are, well, limiting, and who wants to put barriers in place for anything we enjoy?

    There are rules in stitching, but I can only think of two that are important for everyone to follow: wash your hands, and use the best materials you can afford. Other than that, go forth and stitch in the colours and techniques of your choice! πŸ™‚

    1. Hurrah! Quilt blocks have survived nicely for some time with several different names for the same patterns. Let’s be inclusive.

  2. Embroidery evolves. You can call it whatever you like, but it’s going to evolve no matter what, because embroiderers like to experiment.

    “Blackwork” done in colors (for example) – I don’t call it “blackwork”, I call it Holbein stitch. But there’s certainly historic precedent for multicolored blackwork, if one wants to be picky.

    That embroidery on gingham, using the squares as a grid – I’ve always called that “chicken scratch” no matter how many colors it’s got.

    Perhaps we should add “traditional” to things if they’re a strict recreation of historic techniques, and just have fun adding to tradition. Of course, then you get into how far back you have to go to be traditional, but I’m not going to worry about that.

    I hope this makes sense; it’s rather early in the morning here. Basically, I tend to describe embroidery based on the, how can I put this, techniques used and history of.

    1. I agree Anne. Let the fussy ones argue about it, and they will still never come to a conclusion that makes everyone happy. πŸ™‚

  3. LOL, I am having a hard time thinking of how to answer this without getting into a whole philosophy of existence!

    Discussions like this always remind me of Alexander Pope, a brilliant poet living in the early 1700s who considered his major life work to be a translation of The Iliad into heroic couplets, rather than any original work of his own. He and his friends strongly believed that the ancient Greeks had already thought and written everything that was important to think or write, and the world had just gone downhill from there.

    Not many people would agree with that today. I believe we stand on the shoulders of those who went before, rather than at their feet. Thought evolves, language evolves, embroidery evolves. Few poets write heroic couplets today. We do not say they are not poets, but Alexander Pope certainly would have.

    1. What a thoughtful post and I totally agree. Love the saying, “stand on the shoulders not at the feet”. I’ve never heard the term before but it makes perfect sense.

  4. Chicken Scratch–for heaven’s sake!
    Good grief! Use the term Chicken Scratch. We know what it means. I agree with you. Just as Blackwork doesn’t have to be black. We get oversensitive to keeping the traditions. By the way, you do beautiful work. I love your ideas.

  5. I agree with Anne D….you learn a technique and make it your own because you experiment and thus you evolve, developing your own twist. Then the embroidery police appear. Others are content on doing it one way and one way only. I look at your chicken scratch this way…”one morning farmer Brown was painting and spilled the bucket, along came Foghorn Leghorn walking through the mess, thus leaving a trail of color all over the barnyard. He loved it so much he dipped his toe in the paint and proceeded to paint some daisies among his chicken foot prints. Thankfully, farmer Brown enjoyed also so Foghorn Leghorn lived another day”. To each his own but beware, others will either encourage you or shoot you down because you just can’t please everyone.

    1. Good old Foghorn Leghorn! I haven’t thought about him in years! “That kid’s about as sharp as a pound of wet liver!” (Oh, the things we remember…)

      I figure if, down the road, chicken scratch develops further from its origins, people will simply have to study extant examples from its early history, just like we do today when studying embroidery from 300 years ago. That’s just the way any living art works….

      Thanks for the colorful analogy! It made me chuckle!

  6. Someday I would like my grandchildren to be learning embroidery and have them embroidering a Mary Corbet stitch.

    1. LOL! It would be a stitch you’d put in, decide you don’t like, take out again, try once more, change to a different thread, and then finally switch to a completely different approach altogether before it actually “works”!!

    2. Mary, your response to the idea of a “Mary Corbet” stitch is precisely why your contribution to hand embroidery is so valuable. The work you do is amazing and inspirational, but it is allowing us behind the scenes to see the process that makes this site a daily must read. Showing that it is a process, with bumps in the road, give those of us who are less skilled permission to strive. It is one of the most important attributes of a great teacher.

    3. I agree with you. Beth!! Brilliantly put. I for one have certainly had the confidence to strive to achieve, based on Mary’s inspiration. ‘Be the best that you can be’ has been my philosophy for a long time and Mary’s blog is all about that, which is why I look forward each day to seeing the email link

  7. As in so much of life, it seems to me this is “just” a matter of terminology. If you start with a gingham fabric and white thread, then add colors and flowers, perhaps we just need to say “based on chicken scratch techniques” to satisfy the purists.

    I have not studied historical embroidery and just started following your blog a few months ago, so I find your discussions quite fascinating. I think you have done a great job with briefly describing the traditional techniques before you show your own take on the subject. You also point out sources for learning more. Can’t do much better than that!

  8. Maybe we could say it’s an “adaptation of chicken scratch”. That way we know something of the origin and that the creative embroiderer has been inventive. Art evolves, which is a good thing!

  9. Everyone of the comments make sense to me. I’m fairly new to embroidery so to me I learn the technique and I like to learn the history of the technique. From there I put the colours I like to the technique. History is history and we go forward each generation makes its own history and adds to the the 1700’s techniques. Whats to argue about that. If thats the case we would all be walking around in corsets and bustles still. UGH beautiful to look at but oh so uncomfortable. Keep up the great work Mary you do the most beautiful embroidery.

  10. Mary, I totally agree with you. No need for me to add, take out or do over what you so precisely explained. What a boring world without change and evolution.

  11. I think needlework not only evolves, it goes around and comes back, or at least closer to, it’s original form. Also what’s popular in other areas, or what materials are available, has an effect on how needlework is done. Remember when cross stitch was so popular in the late 80s-early 90s? All those cutsie projects with sacharine sayings, all on aida cloth, you don’t see many of those being done now. Crewel – in the 70’s how many cartoonish ladybugs, turtles and mushrooms were stitched? In both cases, the current trend seems to be more traditional styles and colors.

    In quilting, fabrics and quilting stitches, and in knitting the yarn sizes and fibers go through cycles. But it doesn’t matter if the fabric is cotton or polyester, the yarn is acrylic or wool, if the quilting stitches are 6 inches apart done by hand or 1/4 inch apart done by machine, if the knitting needles are the size of toothpicks or broomsticks, I don’t know that anyone is saying “that’s not quilting” or “that’s not knitting”. All they seem to care about is quilting is front, batting, backing held together by stitches and knitting is fiber looped together on 2 sticks.

    I understand wanting the knowledge of what the original technique and materials were to be known, but to me, saying “it’s not chicken scratch” when a few more colors and stitches are used seems counter productive.

  12. This looks a lot like the Chicken Scratch I did back in the 70’s. Wish I had thought to add color, maybe I wouldn,t have gotten so bored with the stuff and quit doing it. You made it much prettier and to me it is Chicken Scratch using colors. Keep up the good work. You challenge us to think outside the box.

  13. I would tend to agree with you and the previous comments from Kelly and Anne. We all understand the general terms which broadly categorise embroidery styles, and these can always be sub-categorised for technical accuracy if necessary. For someone like myself who dabbles with a variety of needlework techniques at a more basic level, the generally understood term is probably perfectly satisfactory. It is interesting to understand the development of a particular technique and a specialist embroiderer may wish to use more specific terminology, but this should surely inform rather than restrict the choice of stitches and materials.

  14. I am a historical purist, but people must try new things. Give new things their own names. I could not see you adding “bling” to your satin stitching even though people do so nowadays…

  15. I understand the “purist’s” point of view but I, myself, am one to go outside the box if I feel like it. Why not call the variations another name to make the differences clear? I personally like variety!!!

  16. When one looks at a work if art, a person knows what the artist is trying to convey even if it’s from a different school or art. Why quibble about needle art it’s still artistic license. A rose by any other name would snell as sweet, says the Bard.

  17. Chicken Scratch is the name I have ever had anyone refer to embroidery on gingham fabric.

    I have never had anyone here in Queensland, Australia, refer to chicken scratch as ‘Australian cross stitch’.

    1. To embroidery purists there is a difference in stitching chicken scratch and Australian cross. Try entering chicken scratch into a competition for Australian cross and see what happens – and I’m from Queensland too.

    2. I’d never heard the term ‘Australian cross-stitch’ or ‘Australian embroidery’ until I started reading these posts – I’m in Victoria, Australia.

    3. I agree live in Australia too. Love all your embroidery Mary and thank you for the tutorials which are amazing so easy to understand. Purits always like to whinge about something regardless of the subject.

  18. On the one hand I can understand the purists wanting to protect a heirloom technique. *BUT*, if we *really* want to stick to purity in a technique, what happens with all of the new tools we use, not to mention where do the new stitches fit in? We have to remember that even in it’s developmental stages, a technique is a result of some type of evolution. In other words, blackwork is a technique that evolved from somewhere, somehow. It’s not unreasonable to think that it would continue to evolve.

    I agree with Anne D. If someone wants to denote a historical / pure form of a technique, to simply list it as “traditional” or “historical”, ergo “traditional chicken scratch”, or “historical blackwork”.

    1. Agreed.

      Embroidery is an art and therefore it evolves and changes along with its practitioners. New names arise over time; if a technique becomes popular enough and distinct enough from others it will eventually be given a new name. Until then purists will likely complain loudly that the rules are not being followed: sounds like art critics more than artists to me, but I’m sure it’s part of the growth process.

      Perhaps we are all seeing the birth of a new form: “Corbet’s Chicken Scratch”

  19. Some 8 years ago I introduced some ‘traditional’ embroiderers in the UK to what I then called Chicken Scratch; several were horrified by the name but warmed to the technique when I called it Amish or Depression Lace.
    I agree with the other comments – learn the stitch/technique then play and make it your own so then we can have the ‘traditional’ or purist stitching and the evolved or ‘contemporary’ style.

  20. I agree with your side of this “debate,” Mary. Two more examples to share could be “needlepoint” which, to my mind meant Continental Stitch or Tent Stitch done with yarn-like fibers on mesh at one time. Nowadays, needlepoint has evolved into a much broader field which I’ve seen referred to as “counted canvas work” as well as the original term, “needlepoint.” But needlepoint projects today certainly aren’t limited to one single type of fiber or stitch used, but rather many stitches in all sorts of fibers combined to create beautiful works.
    “Counted cross stitch,” likewise, has evolved over time (to my knowledge) to incorporate many different stitches and not solely little x’s and back stitches. There are beautiful cross stitch projects that incorporate Algerian eyelets, French knots, Smyrna crosses, satin stitch and more – but we still refer to the work as “cross stitch,” right?
    I guess sticklers may say these aren’t “truly” needlepoint or counted cross stitch if they use other stitches to add variety and dimension, but I would argue that the majority of needleworkers still use the two terms and that’s fine with me.

    1. And then there is The Needlepoint Book … over 200 stitches carefully diagramed … not just half cross stitches … OH MY!

      I say “To each his own”.

  21. Interesting discussion. I like to learn the origins of the work, however, I also like to believe there is room for personal interpretation and expansion of the terms for the work, otherwise, what’s the point of creativity? I am learning so much from your teachings. I had no idea the names or origins of so many of the different techniques you’ve shown and are teaching. I just thought embroidery was embroidery, I had no idea there were so many different types of embroidery. Thank you for all this history and your embroidery lessons.

    1. Creativity does not exist if there are too many restrictions placed on it. It then becomes a 9 to 5 job, not a relaxing hobby.

  22. I don’t care what you call it. I think it should be called “Beautiful”. Yes, it is beautiful, no matter if you put color in it or not. The color actually adds to the personality of the embroidery. I still like it done in white, but if you were to ask me, color is what makes it more interesting to the eye.

    Please send along more patterns of this type of embroidery. I enjoy this very much.

  23. “What is in a name? Doesn’t rose smell as sweet by any other name?” Life is too short to spend stitching time by fussing….

  24. I fully understand this discussion! I am a 66yo man that has done all kinds of needlework for 60 years. My grandmother was one to change “personalize” everything she did- cooking, sewing, knitting, whatever. But when I was learning anything she insisted I be a purist to understand the SOUL of the craft. When understood she then told me to be really good I had to make it my own.
    Your blog is the only one I faithfully read every day. You appear to be that kind of person. Thank you

    1. Thanks, Billy! Yes, I see your point completely. It’s the same notion that I learned from an art teacher I had. She said first imitate (to learn technique), and then improvise (to make it your own).

    2. Well said!

      Based on how my beloved mom felt about classical music I would never listen to it – yet she made sure to save up $1 so I could attend the Cleveland Symphony’s Young People’s Concerts.

      She also thought any kind of hand work was a waste of time and money – ‘you can buy better for less money’ – but I obviously only had to wait until adulthood to be free to explore and to learn and enjoy embroidery, crewel, needlepoint, knitting, crochet, bobbin lace, etc., etc., etc.

  25. I have learned, and continue to learn so much from non-purists . Therefore, I confess the only time purist tendencies should be employed is when eating oysters!

  26. I do love “purists”… these are folks who adhere to the original way of doing embroidery..I am happy that they can do the older methods of embroidery.
    What I have to share is that I recently received a book called ” Chinese Embroidery”…An Ilustrated Stitch Guide…by Shao Xiaocheng… I thought for sure it would have the absolutely gorgeous Chinese embroideries and the stitches used to create them…. and it does…however…the author has studied extensively the history of chinese embroidery while showing excellent photos of such different Chinese Dynasty pieces…from the beginnings and the changes in each Dynasty. The author talks of the word “Sit” and how it relates to “creating” embroidery works, studying the history, writing books / articles and appraise
    and repair ancient embroidery. She also writes about the word “Stand” which is teaching embroidery, research, and taking part in activities for the exchange of ideas on embroidery….and more. This is one of the few embroidery books that had me wanting to read more about the history this wonderful type of needlework.
    This brought me to the conclusion that concerning staying true to the absolute
    of the different types of embroidery has it place, we need to be open to all that has occurred in embroidery history and embrace it to create and use what is available to us so we can ensure when history looks back we have evolved the
    processes of all embroidery while hugging tight to traditions that were and will be created through the years.
    I try to be open about what each type of embroidery brings to the table and I will use each one in just one project. Am I picky if I have colors when it is supposed to be all black…I think I am open to my own creativity and use what has come before to allow the ideas to flow…we have been blessed with all the
    new technologies over the past 30 years and I embrace it to bring my embroidery to new and wonderful heights. I am to old now to concern myself with what is…or should be concerning a lot of things in my life.. Embroidery has given me that creative outlet that allows me to be me…and that is the way it should be.

  27. Unless someone is entering a juried show with specific qualifiers, or to a specific time period, I would call it what I wanted.

    I find the “name game” in many areas. Sewers do not want to suggest that they work in the pipes under a manhole cover and eschew being a “seamstress.” They prefer “sewist,” that to me, seams silly. Even labeling the method of knitting one uses has gotten complicated. English throw? Irish Cottage? Lever Action? Continental (with what purl?) or Continental Combined (silly label)?

    Embroidery as well as any making skill is, and should be, one’s personal joie de vivre! That is why we do it. Call it what you want and enjoy!

    1. Lol! Love this cause its sooooo true! I think part of it comes purely from the joy one finds when talking to others who share ones passion. I love talking to other knitters because, unlike my husband, they always know what the heck I’m talking about! A side effsct of that joy is that we fall inyo niggling over details because we finally HAVE some one to niggle over details with!s

  28. Oh oh oh, I am starting a series of cowboy shirts I will wear at the EGA event in Phenix, Arizona So according to some posters will try to tell people what “stitch” I will be wearing, by describing what. The 1930’s called this chicken stratch. Or the Sixteenth Century called this black work, even if it is done in 12 perle cotton not silk, on purple aida cloth. So I shall enjoy doing my
    cuffs and yokes. Will keep on enjoying your site
    and avoid reading posts. Can’t we all just enjoy embroidery?

  29. I agree with you Mary. Any form of art will evolve and have variations. Besides, even though most of the examples of Chicken Scratch that we have from the 1930’s only used one or or two colors (usually white if I understand correctly) I’ll bet that there was at least one embroiderer out there who out of necessity (she didn’t have white thread or enough white thread) or just because she felt like it used multiple colors and played with different stitches. Seems like human nature to me to want to experiment.

  30. I believe that the name we call a given embroidery technique should be a name it was evolved from, not limited by. I say a name because there are so many names around the world for any given form of embroidery. It is almost impossible to know with certainty where any form was initially started, and I believe that many were started at nearly the same time in different parts of the world, having to do with the development of fibers, fabrics and dyes, and the trades between countries. And Blackwork is no longer black, though usually a monochrome.

    1. I agree, Lynn. I don’t want my creativity stifled by a name. It is only by trying new things that we evolve, whether in language, art, or needlearts.
      Those who wish to stitch in the “Traditional” or Historically Correct manner are free to do so. We should grow from the roots, not be confined by them.

  31. When I saw your picture of the piece I knew immediately that it was “chicken scratch”….I feel that this is much to do about nothing….Many year ago, in fact it was in the early ’70s I dared to add crewel stitches to a needlepoint piece that I was doing and at an EGA meeting I was told that it was wrong and I should be ashamed of myself and I should only use either continental or basketweave on canvas…..Today it’s done everyday without anyone say anything….The same thing with blackwork….I think if the stitchers want only to do chicken scratch as they did it in the 30’s that’s their choice, but they should not criticize others for the way they do theirs…..

  32. Mary, I absolutely love what you have done by adding color and different stitches! I just learned about chicken scratch couples years ago and loved the simplicity of it but longed for something new something more.
    For the purists, that’s all they had available. Some creative woman wanted to make her part of the world pretty…special and used what she had on hand and what she could afford and called it depression lace, chicken scratch, Hoover lace or whatever.
    Along came a new millinium and Mary Corbet who put her spin on this form of needlework! Look what Eleanor Burns did to quilting (strip piecing)!
    Mary I love what you are doing! Keep it up! Like another commentor stated, you think outside the box and challenge us…or inspire us.

    1. Hi Mary, I agree with Theresa, You have made Chicken Scratch(I love the name it is fun, which this form of embroidery is)even more beautiful by adding colours. I now can’t wait to try some more with your beautiful pattern and ideas. Thank you. I love your website and have learned so much. Whatever you do don’t stop.

  33. Seems to me that perhaps the purists would be satisfied with the addition of two words:
    ie Traditional chicken scratch variation
    Chicken Scratch Style.

    You are a superb needlewoman and teacher, and I am so grateful to you for helping me perfect so many stitches by encouraging PRACTICE!
    As far am I am concerned, you can call anything any name you want (Hubert? Algernon? Fred?), as long as you show me how to do it and how You do it.

  34. Hello everyone,
    What strikes me between chicken and gingham embroidery is the same direction. Embroidery gingham reminds me of cooking and chicken, I imagine very many people wrapping their culinary preparations in gingham and thus embellishing their towels, tablecloths etc.. The stitches should be simple and relatively quick. What remains? a chicken in jelly on a gingham tablecloth with a choice: Gingham Embroidery or chicken scratch ….

  35. As a retired English Professor, I love this kind of informed discussion. I think in the interest of history, it is important to preserve information about the original styles and methods, and those who are historical purists have an important place in preserving that historical accuracy, but embroiderers have to be able to expand those original practices exponentially as part of their growth as individuals and the growth of the craft. There is surely plenty of room for such development and for the preservation of older modes.

  36. I don’t have my g-g grama’s diary so I can’t quote her but a paraphrase will suffice…To take a needle and thread and create beauty in this world is what we should do…Having the name of the stitch isn’t as important nor is having the “right thread”. Now a bit of background..she came across the Atlantic in a sailing ship, crossed the great plains in a covered wagon and lived to see a man on the moon. She made an embroidered quilt out of flower sacks–pulled 5 threads off one end to embroider with and sew the hand span squares together. Yes they got flour in cloth bags and when she could get 1 for her quilt it was special as they usually went for under garments or shirts for the kids or men…Yes she lived in a sod house and we have the diaries she wrote in every day from when she learned to write on the sailing ship coming to America. Her last entry was dictated to staff at the nursing home the day before she died. She would have them read what she had dictated to make sure it was her words…not theirs that were being written down. She was blind and 3 days shy of 104 yrs old. The quilt was lost in a house fire in 1890’s…she did not replace it with the same kind but with a woven bed cover as in the ‘new house’ they had a room for an upright loom….Someday I will put the diary into a book…a day in the life….

    1. What a beautiful story Cynthia. I totally agree with Mary. I would copy it soon, and let us know I would love to read it!

  37. I am not a historical purist as long as it holds to the SPIRIT of the name it is fine by me. If you want to do “whitework” with pink floss on a green lampshade to match the wallpaper, fine…. If we did limit it to the rules placed on it when it was invented and had to invent new names for it when we do something that deviates we would have so many names for the same historical techniques that had only a deviation or two difference, we would drown in them all. Historically, everything changes, some things take longer than others, but it changes, one easy example is embroidery thread. It used to be that wool was the most common and “the cheap stuff”. Now, cotton fills that slot. And certain styles were the “quick and easy” styles. In that case are you supposed to use “the cheap stuff” on the quick and easy pattern or the more expensive? Which is more “historically accurate”?? I say just enjoy your embroidery, call it what you like and let the historical purists hash it out among themselves, it’s embroidery for goodness sake, the fiction/non-fiction label does not apply, only the crafting one. πŸ™‚ Just my two cents.

  38. I call it chicken scratch. It’s the technique.you use. So it’s colorful chicken scratch. It beautiful. I just learned about it and how to do it about 3 years ago. I love it. Continue the great work. Oh mine was all white. Never thought of using different colors. That will make me think more but want to try it. Thankyou again

  39. Embroiderer’s need a vocabulary in order to discuss and pass on embroidery techniques. These will evolve over time. I believe the historical purists should be stuck with using historical chicken scratch or 1930 chicken scratch to describe chicken scratch done in the 1930 depression. Language evolves and changes over time. Words take on different meanings based on context. “Chicken scratch” can mean both a type of stitching done in the 1930s and a current type of stitching on gingham. Historians can’t be allowed to hold the dissemination of our craft of embroidery hostage to historical methods or descriptions.
    I’m curious what they have to say about teneriffe or bargello.

  40. For me one of the beauties of embroidery as a whole is that it evolves over time to reflect the time it was created in. I personally do a lot of blackwork using filling patterns and often using colors to express the intention of the piece. But I still call it black work because that is the technique I am using, its just a modern interpretation of it.

    The ladies of the past often used what was available alongside techniques they were familiar with. The available materials and colors may not have been true to the original technique, but the effects were pleasing and the intent of decoration was achieved so no one quibbled about labels.

    Personally, this is the example I follow. Its more about technique then materials. Ie, cross stitch is cross stitch even when using metallic threads. Crewel is crewel even using neon green. And chicken scratch is chicken scratch regardless of purple and green threads. Its the look you are evoking rather then the specific materials you use.

    Now, there are exceptions, for example members of the SCA have limitations on what materials they use in order to keep the materials confined to the time period they belong in, and I can appreciate the personal need for some people to be temporally accurate, but don’t tell me I’m not really doing black work because I use blue thread, I’ll not argue semantics with you. And often when someone is asking about my work I will share with them the history of my technique. But in the tradition of the ladies who came before me, I ask that you respect my black work, even if you wouldn’t call it that. And trust that yes, I do know the history. But its my pdrogative as an artist of this century to use and enjoy the wide range of materials available today in the creation of a more modern design using techniques of the past, and still call it black work.

  41. The original blackwork was not done on the same fabric that is used today. Embroidery is a very personal art. As has already been stated, changing the color of thread doesn’t change the basic style or type of the embroidery. So many stitches cross from one type of embroidery to another. Do we now “forbid” that crossover? Crewelwork uses long and short shading, as does silk embroidery. Horrors! Take a look at the world of quilting: so many blocks have so many different names. The same block can have more than a dozen different names. Confusing? Yeah, but you learn to live with it. Besides, we have too many books on the market to worry about an embroidery form being “lost” by changing thread colors, etc. The history of embroidery is in print and I doubt that information will be lost. Relax and enjoy and add your own personal touch to it. I bet that’s how embroidery came to be to begin with – self-expression!

  42. I would add “embellished” chicken scratch. Isn’t that what we do to our embroidery when we add our own style?

  43. I am all for joy, originality, and as many colors as possible! My doll, Liesl, arrived in a blue and white checked dress with wonderful all-white embroidery, including Tenerife or needle lace. It may actually be made from a guest towel! Probably 1920’s. The dress is clumsily constructed, but I treasure it for the handwork and — well, I treasure all the “mommy-made” clothing of my porcelain-head kids. Those old embroiderers were simply making something as pretty as they could imagine! Whether to the glory of God or for a child’s or their own dress-up. When I fell and ruined one knee of my first grown-up pair of lined wool slacks, I made a red wool heart applique and added yellow flowers and a green wool vine. When I finished my husband’s jean jacket, I added whimsical appliques and hand embroidered hidden messages to the interior workings. The cuffs turned up to reveal machine embroidery that resembled Native American beadwork, inspired by embroidered “liberty cuffs” that I’d seen on a Navy man. We are all working from our own experience. I’ve stood gasping in some museum admiring the blackwork in a painting. I told myself someday I would learn to do that and get hold of a pattern for it. I bought an old silk blouse in a thrift shop in San Francisco which has red and black fine embroidery. The “vibe” is Bulgarian, but I don’t know — I just enjoy that old blouse. I’ve been to Paris, but I grew up perspiring in Bakersfield (CA), so spare me the purists and snobs! I’m reaching for joy. Too much “pippy-poo” and we would be hog-tied in our original creative works!

  44. I agree with Anne D. and Billy. I like the notion of learning the tradition, then making it your own. That’s what’s great about “Needle ‘N Thread.”

    This discussion also reminds me of my mother, a quilting traditionalist who eschews any “quilting” by machine. She says, “That’s not quilting.” hmmm…

    1. I have always looked upon hand quilting as someone with more skill. After all, Couture sewing is mostly hand sewing. Creating even beautiful stitches is a skill.

  45. Just add the word “Traditional” for the purists. This would differentiate between the variations through the years. i.e. Traditional needlepoint would be the basket weave stitch. Think of what needlepoint is now!

  46. A rose by any other name…
    I’d rather see techniques grow and find a new audience than pass out of use. Sounds like a ‘letter of the law’ vs. ‘spirit of the law’ argument.
    A possible compromise is to call something ‘traditional’ blackwork or chicken scratch. I see Anne D has said the same thing.

    Another example is how canvaswork has changed. It’s not just tent stitch with wool. I’ve used all kinds of fibers, and love the variety of textures.

    It would be so boring if no one tried anything new.

  47. Embroidery, like language, evolves, or it becomes a dead language. I think it’s important for a serious stitcher to know the basics and to learn the history of the medium (like learning your scales). Then they should use that basis to do what they wish. Look at Ethnic embroideries, often considered the most traditional–it may be slow but they evolve, embrace new materials and techniques, while still remaining grounded in tradition.

    Stitches (and quilt patterns) often have more than one name. All are “correct” depending on the user’s background and context. I like the suggestions to add the term “traditional” to pieces worked according to that person’s understanding of the tradition.

    I do have a bit of hesitation regarding crewel because it refers to a specific fiber and not a technique or stitch. I can see Jacobean-style embroidery done with silk floss; I would not call it crewel. But I’d call anything done with crewel two-ply wool crewel. Just like I’d call silk embroidery anything stitched with silk.

  48. Just a brief comment; whenever I start to do anything new–I look into the history of it and I learn the technique. After I am well versed in how to do said technique–I run with it. I think that the points you have made, Mary are sound and valid. How boring life would be if each female had to be true to the look and history of the first female. It just doesn’t compute.

  49. I love the name Chicken Scratch and I have four pet chickens. Scratch just refers to the cracked corn that you give the chickens as an occasional treat. They ‘scratch’ on the ground for it, which is what chickens love to do.

    As for the purity argument, I am of two minds. I think there is a place for the historically accurate approach, but I also think that if a technique is to survive it also has to have modern appeal. There are plenty of Blackwork patterns available today that are based on the 16th century technique but have been revamped to make them more attractive to the modern eye. If I am doing a recreation event I might choose the historically accurate patterns for costuming, but for home use I would probably choose the modern patterns.

  50. Oh my goodness, such a tempest in a teacup! People get over it!!! When I first saw the picture of what Mary had done was, “Oooh what gorgeous Chicken Scratch.” While I might think that what she has done deserves a loftier more elegant name, when I look at it, it is Chicken Scratch. My parents were children of the Great Depression. My late grandparents were trying to raise them during that time. When my mother was born my grandfather was unemployed, and on her birth certificate my grandmother was listed as a homemaker. What I’m trying to say is I grew up with people from the Depression. I saw “lace” appear like magic before my eyes as my grandmother embroidered on gingham. If my grandmother were alive today, were I to show her Mary’s work, I am sure she would stand up and cheer and she would call it CHICKEN SCRATCH! Mary has some very compelling arguments. READ THEM. I read this to my husband this morning, I never read him embroidery articles. His take on it was interesting…..What if composers today were told they could only write Concertos as they did in the 16th century when they first came to be. Wouldn’t our classical music libraries be stunted. Would you like all the
    Concertos to sound like Early Baroque? We are supposed to learn and grow. Let us learn from Mary, and keep your narrow minded thoughts to yourself. Who appointed you the embroidery police?

    1. Terri, don’t give them any ideas. πŸ™‚ A handful of those purists would probably set up a petition to get themselves appointed the elected embroidery police. πŸ™‚

  51. My Mom taught me this embroidery back in the early 70’s..she always called it chicken scratch..she grew up in the Depression era…and she also,when she taught me,used colored floss to work the design in.
    I think that it’s fun to be creative and that there is no wrong way to do this embroidery..it’s up to the individual doing it…

  52. I think there are some really uptight people out there. Innovation comes from each individual’s inspiration and imagination. I love seeing the world through other peoples’ eyes and art.

  53. I agree with you. Styles and names of embroidery are not carved in stone. I know in architecture – Art Deco – refers to a certain style between 1926-1939, and even that style changed during that period.
    I remember how upset people were with the 80’s colors in South Beach Miami – that it ruined the original.
    Embroidery is small, fun and easy – so changes happen, some things get named, others don’t.
    I think one can refer to 1930’s chicken scratch for the historic type.
    and any other Chicken scratch for what you are developing now.

  54. Personal interperation is the key word, if you are a purist then embroider as one if you want wiggly room then embroider as you want, the point is to continue embroidery. We love the craft.

  55. Blackwork… Historically it was done in one dark color. Not necessarily in black but also brown and wine red. Do some want to limit blackwork to the geometric patterns that Katherine of Aragon brought from Spain or include the scrolling patterns of the Tudor work?
    As a teacher, I usually call it “blackwork patterns” when I work in color but as every other embroiderer before me, my work is influenced by all that I have seen. You are correct to ask how far back do you want to go to be “accurate” to the technique.
    If you want to discuss depression gingham embroidery then there can be some general “rules”, but why stop progress in the art of embroidery because of things we are not supposed to do? The names of stitches change all of the time. As long as we understand each other why does it matter what we call something?
    The renaissance blossomed because artists were willing to grow in thought and technique. Embroiderers should do the same.

  56. Whatever the results are I am definitely on your side. I also much prefer your rendition of embroidery on two coloured gingham, so much more interesting than those scratchy chicken stitches.

  57. If you were writing a scholarly work for publication in an academic setting, then it might be necessary to worry about the precise meaning of the term “Chicken Scratch” and to make such careful distinctions between the historical technique and modern interpretations of it. You’re not, so don’t worry about it. Use whatever term you think will best communicate your meaning with your audience. Most folks in your audience seem to associate “Chicken Scratch” with “embroidery on gingham that uses the check pattern as part of the design and has a lacy feel”, so that works. I actually have more problems with the term “gingham lace”, since I associate “lace” with openwork of some sort! If you need to distinguish between historical and modern styles of chicken scratch, adding the word “traditional” to discussions of the historical style will solve the problem nicely.

    There’s a related discussion among Hardanger stitchers about the use of color. Traditionally, Hardanger is white on white or cream on cream, but these days any color combination is used with the technique. Some are more comfortable sticking with tone on tone combinations, others go wild with color. As long as the stitches used are primarily Hardanger stitches, it’s Hardanger as far as I’m concerned!

    Mary in MN

    1. Hello,
      YES, I am agree with you.You just have to know what made ​​us want to have: Traditional or more colorful. Sheets made ​​in the purest traditions: satin, oxford … and use the same white or satin padded green or pink on a child sheet.

  58. Hi Mary,

    Terms are just terms. Unless you are trying to produce a work for historical purposes–(a reproduction piece) one should not be so self limiting as to materials used. Trying something new is part of the fun and beauty (sometimes frustration) of a project. Thanks for the cheery patterns of the gingham and cotton–we just got hit with more snow up here and we are clinging to any sign of Spring!

  59. I think the Historical Purists also belong to the Quilt Police. I believe too many rules stifle creativity. It’s like saying if you ever made a telephone call on a rotary phone hanging on the wall in your kitchen…..that is the only way you should ever make a telephone call…..

  60. I love gingham! Like a daisy it evokes girl-next-door wholesomeness,freshness, innocence,and sunny days. It’s homey, folksy, unsophisticated. “Chicken Scratch” plays the same in my mind, a simple embellishment do-able by almost anyone and not requiring special skills or means. As no more than cross-stitch on gingham it represents fancifying a common fabric that genuinely doesn’t invite further decoration. In further words, Chicken Scratch, turning something plain or ordinary into something just a little special, is a folk tradition, making the most of our abilities and available materials.
    Now I haven’t said anything new, just expressing my understanding of a technique in its purest form. Chicken Scratch was me as a youngster working a 4-H project.

    Today I appreciate the challenge of working a traditional form into new directions. I find today’s example charming; it’s pretty and remains true to the geometric patterning of the gingham. I would describe it as Contemporary Chicken Scratch or a variation thereof. Were I to go beyond the implied limitations; ie, going deliberately out of the gingham box, I would be comfortable calling my work Freeform Chicken Scratch.

    I’d like to play with this free approach. I’d consider working upholstery gingham or regular cotton gingham interfaced. Hm, polka dots anyone?

  61. Mary,

    I tend to sit in the middle of this argument. I enjoy the historic notes and the basic understanding of what these stitches are about and whence they came, especially the country folk art side of stitchery, which is where it began for me. I also know that not all stitchers can afford silk and wool and must sometimes settle for cotton or acrylic yarns, but still make beautiful things for their friends and family to enjoy. I am more excited to see people stitching and wanting to learn to stitch and sew than I am worrying about if they have the historical vocabulary right. When and if that becomes important people will take time to study those things, art history and historic preservation have their place, but for the most part we do what we enjoy and use what we have available. I’m also not a linen or cotton purest and have been known to stitch on stabilized polyester blends, burlap and the occasional terry cloth beach towel.

    Coming from a farm in Iowa where chicken chores were considered women’s work, chicken scratch always seemed like a duragatory term. I never realized until I was an adult it was only used for for gingham embroidery. Growing up, women who were beautiful stitchers would often negate a compliment to their needlework, by answering a comment from a friend with, “Oh this is just some chicken scratch, “I’m fixing up an apron for my granddaughter.” I’m convinced the reason we love these old aprons is more about the love that was put into them than the type of stitching that was used. In my case, by the time I was old enough to really stitch well, my grandma was no longer able and my mom was too busy at work to come home and embroider, although at least she knew how to help when I got flustered. Everything I learned after age 7 was learned from a kit which had directions to follow and pre-selected threads. Now I have choices, but finding threads can be difficult, and time is still an issue, but at least I can stitch and now pass the traditions on to others who will one day follow even if they do not use gingham, prefer to stitch on felt, or create alien stitches that I have never heard of. As a teacher, I have learned to accept that I do not have all the answers and to let those who are sure they are right, own their answers because often mine are just as good, even if I did not follow the directions.

  62. Hi there,
    I know this technique by all the names mentioned and quite honestly, who cares what you call it. It’s a form of embroidery and I do it a lot and it is just such great fun to do. Thanks for your patterns and amazing ideas. Just loved it to bits, so much so, that I am incorporating a few of the new ideas in an article that I am entering in our Annual Royal Show for Home industries and Crafts.You are the best. Take care. Anne Durban, RSA

  63. Mrs. Corbet,
    I believe that the embroiderer should follow her hopes and dreams. Should be imaginative and free to stitch what she wants to stitch. Because, after all, we do not do this just to make the world a more beautiful place, but we do it for our own personal enjoyment. Where’s the fun in only using certain stitches for certain techniques and only calling it a certain name? That’s just my opinion πŸ™‚


  64. I grew up doing this with my mother in the 60’s. We referred to it as gingham embroidery. I don’t think the name really matters.

    For those purists that have a problem using all the different colors….get over it. My mother and I always did aprons with white and another color (darker that matched the gingham).

    What you are doing is lovely and it is your creation to make as you see fit. I love the interpretation that you are doing.

    People would get annoyed with me because I bought some heavy weight cotton fabric which was preprinted with a crewel design and I spent the next 4 months embroidery on top of the design with wool, pearl cotton, embroidery floss, etc to punch up the design. It looks lovely…I have had many people that want to buy it from me….but it is a table cloth that sits proudly on my dinning table. I love it and enjoy just seeing it there. No one believes that I would spend that much time working on it. But if I wasn’t knitting or quilting while sitting around at night I was working on that. It is so relaxing to do handwork to me.

    Keep up what you are doing. Love your daily messages, videos and product reviews. I have purchased many of the things that you have reviewed, once I had you input.

    1. If not for progress, we might all be walking around in chain-mail overcoats.

      However, I’ve also learned, from a very wise teacher, that to create something truly unique, you must go back to its beginning.

      Honor the basics, but don’t be bound by them.

  65. In the 1970’s I worked a table cloth in what I now know is called Chicken Scratch and I used colours so what? As long as the wheels keep turning and all embroidery techniques are still worked surely this is more important than what it is called.

  66. I’m not a purist. I think I’d make a note on the history of it in my embroidery notebook and do what I liked.

    The reason women did depression lace with one or two colours was because that was all they had and all they could get.

    Times are different and we should be,too.

  67. One last thought about why names or vocabulary terms matter:

    I had a gentleman ask me if I could machine embroider an insignia to make a flag to fit on top of a golf flagstick. I said yes and made arrangements to create this flag according to the picture of this insignia. When I got the embroidery finished,and the flag made, he asked if I could make another flag with the embroidery on both sides so it would not be blank on one side since I had covered the back of the embroidery with another piece of fabric.

    I was willing to do the work, but this flag was for charity and would end up being quite costly. He assured me this is what he wanted, so I made the second flag. When I was putting the two pieces together to make the double-sided flag, it dawned on me that an appliqued double sided lawn flag would have served his purpose, but my guess was he only knew the term embroidered and had no understanding of reverse applique or cutwork. He did not have the vocabulary to ask for an appliqued cutwork flag so that the insignia would show on both sides and instead got exactly what he asked for even if this was not exactly what he wanted.

    When we use our own terminology or show people what we mean by example, then those who are strangers to our craft will also have the vocabulary to ask us for what they need or want. If we lump all types of decorative hand stitching into embroidery, we are not helping each other, or helping others know that there are many different genres of stitching available. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, as long as the terms we use are communicated to those who are willing to listen. Sometimes when words are not enough, we also need samples to show, but it is definitely helpful when stitchers understand the terms so then we can help strangers discover their own place in our world.

  68. I have the same problem with all the drinks called “martini” that have never been near a bottle of vermouth. But in this instance, I think keeping the historical accuracy helps us to remember the reasons why this method came into being. Many people were poor and didn’t have access to supplies.
    I love your blog and rarely miss a day. Thanks for keeping us thinking about creativity and art, and once in awhile about a slightly different topic!

  69. This has been a very interesting conversation and I don’t think I can really add to it except to say that everything needs to evolve – it’s how our art grows. I’ve been quilting since the mid-70s and find it amusing when people say you can’t or you shouldn’t do something – we call them the quilt police – but when I think of how much quilting has grown because rules were broken… The same applies to any art – we take what exists and make it our own – the next artist takes if from there. Art should never be stagnant.

  70. I basically call this chicken scratch and pretty much agree with you. I thought when I first saw your photo “how pretty chicken scratch with more color!” I remember my Aunt’s doing this type of embroidery when I was small. They always used gingham and mostly used white thread, but not always. I remember one Aunt who made my Grandma an apron on black and white gingham and used red thread. It was pretty! I did a “blackwork” with my stitching Bee and decided to do mine in blue on white background. I did the same pattern they did and the stitches look the same on back as on the front. This is very pretty and thanks for sharing !

  71. Ah Mary,
    This argument permeates so many practices, including quilters. Hand quilt only quilters insist that the hand method is the only real way. This may have changed recently, but as early as a few years ago to obtain a Masters Certification in Quilting from EGA one must work entirely by hand. While I adore hand work I also believe that we must move forward and push the boundaries of everything. I also think everyone should at least learn the fundamentals because, well fundamentals are the building blocks of fun. But back to quilting… my argument is something like this…

    Let’s suppose I built a time machine and transported myself back to a Kansas prairie hut in the mid 1800s. After introducing myself to a tired prairie woman engrossed in getting a few stitches in at the end of a long day or work I would demonstrate for her a rotary cutter, mat, ruler, some great scissors, a sewing machine, and so on, having of course installed a generator and provided her with electricity.

    I simply cannot imagine her saying – oh now, I’d much rather sit here in the near dark with my few weak candles and my one precious needle and try to finish all this quilting and sewing by hand before the winter comes.

    Seriously? Our hand work evolved from the tools available at the time. As our tools progress so should our techniques and capabilities. I’m not impressed by sloppy hand work any more than I am by sloppy machine work so the underlying idea is that all work by hand or by hand with machine should always strive for excellence.

    I love hand work. There are many, many things I do by hand that I could replicate by machine but that isn’t my choice. Since I also smock some of the heirloom outfits are smocked by hand and constructed by machine. There is room in our world for exquisite work by many methods and I would like to embrace as many as I can while my fingers still work and I have thread to put to needle.

    Save the stitches!!! However they are made!

    Much love!

  72. I read this article a couple of times to make sure that I understood its intent, and would now like to offer my opinion.

    It is important for us, as needle artists, to know the history of our craft, the origin of the stitches, and how the techniques were used at their time and place in that history. However, it is human nature to utilize our creativity and intellect to expand upon a skill, effecting an evolution within that craft.

    This is not to take away from our predecessors who developed these techniques. They merely used what was available with their current technologies. If you want to be historically correct when doing a specific stitch today, then by all means, do so. But, understand that needlework has evolved to now include the fibers available to us today, so much different from what was in use 50, 100, 300 years ago, as well as what was on hand. Therefore, you will see more variety, added richness, to today’s embroideries.

    Cross stitch is no longer just cross stitch. Many counted cross stitch pieces now include several stitches, what we called specialty stitches just a couple of decades ago.

    Let us look at this another way, using the English language as an example. How would it be if we still spoke the English language as it was spoken 1000 years ago, the Old English of Beowulf?? It would not have evolved into the Middle English of Chaucer, with its increased vocabulary. Or today’s Modern English with an extensive and rich glossary? We would not have British, American, or Australian English, each with their own slang added in. Our language would be restricted if we had to speak it exactly as it was spoken when first developed. Yes, we could speak Old English, if we knew it, and it would be correct, for that time period.

    Its the same, as I see it, with needlework. We can do a technique as it was done at its time of origin, or we can add in new stitches, new colors, new fibers, and make it that much richer for our creativity.

  73. This is a conversation that could result in fisticuffs, luckily it’s over the internet so no one is in direct danger. Normally I don’t leave comments, but I thought with this topic, I just had to put my two cents in. I think that ‘the historical’ approach to embroidery, or just about anything really, is a major reason that more people don’t get involed in the hobby. It can be overwhelming to be told that you have to do this, this way and that can only be done that way. I LOVE historical embroidery, but( there is always a but) I don’t find the patterns appealing, I wouldn’t want to embroider them myself, unless I was specifically replicating a historical design. So much in society has changed since then, pick a era, our clothes, our time, societal structures and norms. Embroidery is a creative expression, not a set of laws, do it however it makes You happy, and enjoy it!

  74. I learned to do this technique from someone who DID IT in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s 60s 70s (when I learned) and on and on until her death. SHE used varying stitches and colors and I would defy anyone who suggested she was ‘inauthentic’.

    That said, I have also studied a LOT of history and a LOT of artisan skills. We can study, analyze and deconstruct the spit out of historical pieces. That tells us what the piece was in it’s own cultural/historical context. Those ‘experts’ who assert that any sort of craftsmanship CANNOT evolve despite the evolution of the crafters and artisans are widely referred to as “Authenti[subject of Godwin’s Law]s.

    If you are striving for utter and complete historical reproductions that’s one thing, and there’s a place for that. Importance of names, labels and techniques *MAY* be hair-spittingly precise in those cases. Otherwise ANY artisan craftsmanship eveolves along with the humanity that creates it. I don’t think that makes current works any less authentic than historical ones. Today’s works are completely authentic in today’s cultural context just as any piece is authentic in the context in which it was created.

    This is just my opinion, and I may be wrong…

    (but there’s a lot of credible evidence that suggests I’m not) πŸ™‚

  75. I completely agree with you. If we stayed “true” to the old ways we would never grow as artist. We have to learn how express our interests and desires. We have all these beautiful fibers that may not have been available or affordable in days gone by but should that limit us. I love hardanger an one of the things I love about it is the addition of color and combining techniques. We want more young people to pick up embroidery so it doesn’t die, and being stodgy with rules will just turn me off. I know it would me.m We can always have an eye to the history but bring it in to the present in a way we don’t loose it forever.

  76. I immediately thought of hardanger and how some were appalled when color was first introduced! I still call it hardanger! Everything evolves, usually makes it better, or more useful or prettier and so on. I think your new designs are impressive. Pat in SNJ

  77. I totally agree with you Mary – why stifle the artistic side of creation by limiting something by how or what it was called a hundred years ago. The actual historic facts about a needle art process will still be there for exploration if one wants a purist view.

  78. I feel that if you call a technique “classic whatever” then you should stick to the traditional methods, etc. However, if you simply call it by the traditional name, then all bets are off and the technique is open to experimentation and development. How else are we to progress and find new wonderful ways to work a technique!

  79. I see and agree with both sides. The resolution seems easy enough (I did say SEEMS).
    Purists can simple refer to the work that they are doing by calling it ‘Historically Correct Chicken Scratch’.
    People who are adding more colors, expanding on the original idea can refer to what they are doing by ‘Chicken Scratch Style’.
    Unless it is someone else who is as in love with embroidery and it’s history, as most of us are, or you are teaching then it really isn’t going to matter anyway…
    I could refer to Goldwork as Crewel and my husband or friends would not know the difference, lol πŸ™‚

  80. Does it really matter what we call it?
    When we think of artists who deal in paint, don’t most of them have their own interpretations? They don’t necessarily follow a particular technique to the letter; they just go with what seems right to them.
    Embroidery is an art form as well, so those who embroider should feel free to do whatever “speaks to them” and call it what they want.
    We should certainly feel free to follow our heart in all areas of life regardless of what other people say or think, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.

  81. Mary,

    As far as I’m concerned, you can call it whatever you want. You are an inspiration to me & I’m sure to many others.

    I love reading your posts & am so happy that you are willing to share your wonderfully creative ideas and techniques.

    Thank you so very much!

  82. It’s convenient to use a one or two word term for generally describing or talking about a type of embroidery, but it can’t be used to define it. It would be one thing if you said your Chicken Scratch was a historically accurate example, but you didn’t.

  83. To scratch or not to scratch…
    We made aprons with this technique when I learned it. My grandmother said we used white because we had it around all the time, but that if you had a bit of color it was just fine to use also – white was just the color she always had in her sewing box for other projects. I have a tablecloth that my mom made, in the mid 30’s I believe, that is done in red floss. As others have said it evolves – and call it what you will, if you do it well, it will be called a treasure, no matter what we decide.

  84. All embroidery has developed from something else no matter when or where it has come from. otherwise we would all still be using leather thongs and sewing hides together if we are going to be purists about it. One of the nosy informative samplers I have stitched is the Medieval Egyptian Sampler a class by Alison Snepp based on textiles from 600-1400AD in the Ashmolean Museum. You think Hardanger is only Scandinavian think again, the techniques were being used way earlier. I have no problem with stitches and types of embroidery developing. That keeps the whole art alive and current.
    I love acknowledging the history and will study and endeavour to reproduce older techniques to inform my current projects. I truly honour those earlier embroiderers and learn so much by “perfecting” certain techniques that I can later embellish or adapt to current needs.

    Lets learn from our collective past, honour and create a new past for future embroiderers. Keep the art alive! Deb H

  85. This post made me laugh because of my questions on Blackwork, redwork, etc… and we all decided we didn’t want Pucework! πŸ˜€

    In my own very humble opinion, colors shouldn’t define technique. I don’t like to follow color rules for one reason… I’m easily bored! Now, had I lived in the stringent times, I probably wouldn’t even think about the why’s or wherefores of needlework tradition. But I live in the here and now! For me, as long as the textiles and stitches remain, colors should be up to the artist.

    1. Well, no one here, there may be SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE who will leave examples of it for future generations. πŸ™‚ Just to spite the rest of us no doubt. :-)(snicker)

  86. Personally, I am not a purist. I LOVED the colors you used in your chicken scratch. As far as I’m concerned, the name refers to the technique, but the choice of color is totally up to you.

  87. Just look at all the stitching time y’all are using up!! I would rather stitch than worry about semantics!

  88. This is a very interesting conversation, with really great comments! I’m just so happy that there is new interest in this wonderful vintage needlework technique, no matter the name πŸ™‚

    For myself, I’ve been experimenting on Aida (I recently did a free floral Easter Egg ornament), and although I love your term of “Gingham Lace”, I’m not working on gingham and the stitches are not necessarily defined by that grid so I did not call it that. Also, the lacy look – light on light, or dark on dark – is also not what I was going for; I chose to use bright colours and chunky threads. I started off referring to it as a Variation, but now I just call it Chicken Scratch, or Scratchin’ for short πŸ™‚

    I completely agree with your article and many of the comments – the past is important (and fun!) to learn from, but it should serve only as a foundation for the future and be flexible enough to build on – to encourage new ideas. Unless scholarly in nature, strictly recreationist or historically-based, needlework techniques and terminology should be classed in a way that invites exploration and experimentation!

    And having a broader umbrella term like “Chicken Scratch” introduces anyone interested into a wealth of information and hopefully inspires them to try their own variations πŸ™‚ And I love your flower border – it’s very pretty!

  89. I understand the historical significance of the original stitching, but as long asi know how to do what originally done, I feel there is nothing wrong withtaking artistic license with my stitching. It makes it mine!

  90. Good Grief, I mean really? I may be out of term here,but, whether it is embroidery, cross stitch, chicken scratch, gold work or whatever, to me it is ‘needlework’. I use a needle, I enjoy it thoroughly and it makes my heart joyful. I’m grateful to history for the creation of needlecraft and I respect it, however this is my project and I am doing it MY way. So like the treasures of the past may be one day mine to will become a treasure (at least to my family). Happy Easter everyone, be safe, be loved and stitch happily =)

  91. Mary, thank you for the chicken scratch patterns. They come in handy for decorating some hand towels.
    I am not into all that name calling thing. For me, one is the original chicken scratch and the other one is a by product or whatever. I enjoy doing both, I guess. I prefer the not original since I can mix stitches and colours and come up with my own version of the design. I also do chicken scratch on 14 count Aida.

  92. What’s in a name, eh.

    Each person has the right to call something by whatever they are used to calling it.

    How many times I have told people that my bible is called the Tanakh but they insist that to them it’s the “Old Testament” — but to Jews it is not old – it IS our bible.

    Certain names that are not changeable should remain as stated.

    Lace is lace — but there are different kinds — and many names for even one type of stitch, depending on the country.

    Same as with foods … and sections of the country.

    My apron was called Chicken Scratch embroidery when I was a little girl in elementary school – and that is what I call it.

    Redwork is redwork, even if done in black or blue.

    Shakespeare said: a rose by any other name smells as sweet …

    El gato is the same to a Spanish-speaker as Cat is to me.

    My name is Marny — not Marne, Marni, Marnie, or Marney.

    Let’s not go to war about what to call Chicken Scratch. We already do that because of the Tanakh.

  93. Hi Mary,

    First, thank you for presenting a chicken scratch pattern. I had just bought some gingham to do something for the stitching group I belong to. I have no problem calling it chicken scratch even if more than one color has been used. I remember that my mom used colored threads that looked nice with the color gingham she was working on.

    It is also giving me more encouragement to proceed with a project that I had starter doing Assisi. I had just finished a project with this technique and really liked it and wanted to make it more modern in look. Than I came across an article written by a designer that said other designs than typical birds, dogs, etc and different colors used made it no longer Assisi. I am going to continue with my designs.

    To me that changes one makes in a particular type of stitchery is moving onward in the stitching field. One version may appeal to one person and another will entice someone else.

    Keep up the great job you are doing. I think I am spending more time on your website than stitching. I discovered your website just a few weeks ago.

    Happy stitching.

  94. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for your common sense. Tradition is for honouring and preserving history and memories, and provides much inspiration. I love it, and I’m very, very glad that there are purist who want to be custodians; to replicate and document techniques and styles as they have been worked in the past. Thankfully most of us have free choice because of the efforts of our forebears. They would think us crazy to restrict ourselves to using “all that they could come by in the depression”, for example. I bet if those same forebears had the options for creativity that we have today, they wouldn’t go back to using limited supplies and stitches.
    To dear Synthia (comment 37) what a beautiful story! You have an incredible treasure. Please, PLEASE write your g-g grama’s diary into a book.

  95. I agree with you, Mary, that while we need to understand the historical context of stitches, there must also be room for creative interpretation if embroidery as an art form is to continue to develop.

    When growing up in east central Ohio, my late mother and her sisters referred to gingham embroidery as Amish Lace. I just loved to watch them work. They worked delicate white and dark purple stitches on pale lilac gingham that would become a dresser scarf, it was delicate and quite beautiful.

  96. Hi Mary ~ Thank heaven for change.. it is the evolution of needleart, (aka – soft fiber art ) which has been going on for thousands of years. Many new stitches and styles of embroidery have come about because someone took and idea and developed it a step further. If it weren’t for these changes we would still be living in caves, drawing on the walls. Stitcher’s should not be limited (example as you mentioned Blackwork – using colors. It is still the same stitches ) That Brazilian embroidery can only be Brazilian embroidery if using Rayon “Z” twist thread with the detailed fine growth.
    Almost all of know what Chicken Scratch is, I remember all the aprons and things my Grandmother did in Chicken Scratch – Now ask me what Amish Lace etc is . I would not recognize that name as being Chicken Scratch… some people just need to spend more time stitching and less about an ‘official’ name.

  97. Hello again – forgot to say.. Thank you Mary for sharing the Chicken Scratch designs – they are very pretty AND I do like the different color combinations. Chicken Scratch patterns are hard to find. Think I will make some aprons with Chicken Scratch as Christmas gifts ~

  98. I like your patterns and would call them Chicken Scratch myself.
    My reply is more of a nit-pick with the argument using a crewel example. I think that “chicken scratch” is more like “Deerfield Blue & White” rather than crewel. In that case, the generic term Gingham Embroidery might be more appropriate.

  99. Gosh some folk are just too picky. You are producing chicken scratch embroidery, lovely chicken scratch! My mother used to do Australian cross stitch using white on pastel gingham, and she would have loved your work.

    You are not claiming that your work is a reproduction of depression era chicken scratch so I cannot see why anyone is complaining.

    Our embroidery grows and evolves with every stitcher who modifies a design to suit her (or his) taste and we are the better off for it. However it does get confusing, as I discovered when trying to explain blackwork, redwork and fine & coarse white work to (male) non-stitcher !

    Keep calm and stitch on

  100. I love embroidery done in the traditional way, because of it’s beauty and also passing on from generation to generation, but I was very excited to see the colours used. This could be so pretty on a little girl’s dress and give it a completely different look. This does not mean that the original will be lost forever. Thank you Mary.

  101. I agree with you entirely. I recently received the specs for a tatting competition that says tatting consists of rings, chains and picots. Er no, today tatting has many more techniques. Crafts will not advance and grow if we can’t develop new ways of doing things.

  102. If these purists want to nit-pick, would they be satisfied if you called it a variation of whatever stitch you were sharing with us. We would know that it is Chicken scratch, or Swiss embroidery, or Blackwork, or whatever the stitch is that you are discussing. And,they wouldn’t be offended that you are perhaps maligning something that had been around for decades.

  103. Hello Mary,
    I think you are quite right, the embroidery police should lighten up. This is supposed to be a creative craft! Shocking to say, I have been incorporating all sorts of techniques into my work for years. With care, this can make a piece more interesting – I just use the generic word embroidery.
    Anyway, there’s nothing new in taking an embroidery idea for walk. Just look at the variety of techniques and threads used in those museum piece samplers.
    Happy Easter! From Bernadette (UK)

  104. I’m for the technique argument, in the closest sense possible: chicken scratch is embroidery on gingham using the squares as stitch boundaries (unless you are just doing simple cross-stitches and backfires, in which case it’d be cross-stitch. Blackwood is embroidery done with the Holbein stitch and/or backstretch, usually in black or all one color, although I’ve seen some stunning multicolor pieces. It is NOT redwork, even if it is done all in red: that involves chain, stem, and outline stitches. So your recent pieces are, to me at least, chicken scratch. Maybe 2.0, but chicken scratch nonetheless.

  105. No one is saying “Don’t Express Yourself” or “Don’t Change This Old Method”. We purists are saying “oh, you are making this differently – how cute – you’ve created “Lacelike Gingham”. Usually what draws the spirit to the needlearts is a desire to emulate the great works of others. How can we teach and show and share if all crayons are melted into one pot? Is there to be NO definitions left “sacred”? Are dictionaries or references not valid? Where do things go from here? Are museums obsolete because “we just don’t do things like THAT anymore”…It seems that the greatest argument here is the reluctance to stifle creativity and that is NOT what purism is about. It is ACKNOWLEDGING the difference NOT pretending it is the same thing.

    1. I think we all want to have a common language, and to be understood when we communicate with others. I think it is quite a wonderful thing that this simple form of embroidery has developed all these variants that we see today.

      Maybe a helpful parallel is to look at dogs. The huge variety of dog breeds we have today all come from a few wild dogs that were domesticated 10,000 years ago or so. It is not meaningful to say that modern dogs are no longer dogs. The common root or stem has developed many branches, but they are still dogs.

      If you meet someone new, they may mention that they have dogs, and if you are interested in dogs the next question is “what kind of dog?” The lines of communication have been drawn. You start at the general, and move on to the specific.

      If “chicken scratch” embroidery has become a more general term, with further branches under that, that has to be something to celebrate, rather than regret.

  106. One last thing Mary I promise! I must say that the areas stitched in white are the only spaces that look like lace. The rest of it looks like Chikankari Embroidery which comes from India. They also have the same issue as us because the original Chikankari is delicate in 1 color but now they had to change it to multi colors to keep up with the current trends of flashy blingy looks. Funny how the name is similar to Chicken scratch too !

  107. How about we call what you have been doing with the lovely colors “an adaptation of Chicken Scratch” This would give you plenty of room to use all the color you desire but still stay with the tradition stitches. After all, Deerfield embroidery is the same as crewel, but it is only stitched in shades of blue. This is how we grow and create new things to make our embroidery our own. To me it is like change of color of a chart. The design is the same, you only make it match your own dΓ©cor.

  108. I’m a bit late to the party but I thought I’d reply anyway. πŸ™‚

    The really important thing about a name, in my opinion, is that people know what you’re talking about when you use it. I have never used Chicken Scratch embroidery, but when you used the name, I knew exactly what you meant. IF you had been representing either the pattern or finished piece as historically accurate, then I could see where your detractors would have a leg to stand on. However, in no way did you represent that, so I say call it what you want as long as you get your point across. Only when something is no longer recognizable as the original does it need a new name. The main stitches are the same.

    It’s the same as Blackwork. Yes, it was usually done with the Holbein or double running stitch, but not always. Some used a plain back stitch or even cross stitch. It was done in black, red, white, silver, and (my favorite) lavender. It wasn’t always reversible and some of the backs of those embroideries would surprise you. About the only thing you can say about blackwork was that (as far as I know) it was always done (in Europe) on linen with silk. Even then, Muslims used cotton on cotton when working on undershirts and children’s clothing. Some of the inconsistencies were in the same time frame, just different areas. All the same, when someone says “blackwork” I know what they mean, which is all that really matters unless you were writing about the history of the styles! πŸ™‚

  109. I agree with you on this one.It’s an adaptation to the old way of chicken scratch. You could call it Chicken Scratch of the New Century or something like that by using new stitches and colors in the designs. I think it’s really beautiful this way.

  110. Mary,
    Thinking about this subject of old and new. It is nice to be taught the old way of doing stitches and keep them as what they were. Adding new technique to any old technique is okay but we need to keep the old as it is also. We all like progress in anything we do and use our imagination to add to our own projects.
    Keep up the good work that you do, I have learned a lot from you on old and new.

  111. I think there are certain parameters as to using the name of a stitch. If you have gone out of those then explain that what you’ve done that is outside of the definition of that stitch. Chicken Scratch is only done on gingham. Beyond that as long as some cross stitch is used it’s Chicken Scratch and explain how you’ve changed it from it’s origins.

    Black work is always referred to as coming from 16th century England when in fact Catherine of Aragon brought it to England from Spain when she married King Henry VIII. She did not invent it in England; it was taught to her in Spain. Today people are straying from the only black and adding color. I think, when looking at their work, it’s obvious color or not; it’s black work.

  112. There are several variations of this discussion going on in different places right now and I think it is interesting. My take is that if you are working on a historic reproduction or trying to replicate a historic technique to demonstrate how it was done in the past, for preservation purposes, or for your own enjoyment, then you should use materials and do the work in as historically accurate a way as possible while making clear that your piece is a modern reproduction. In that case, you are learning about history or teaching it, preserving historical works, or creating copies — all perfectly legitimate.

    But if you want to consider needlework or embroidery to be a form of art like drawing, painting, or sculpture, then you have to let it evolve and develop and if you see yourself as an artist then I would think you would want to evolve and develop.

    I firmly believe that if we want to make needlework and embroidery appealing to younger people or to new stitchers of any age, then we need to let go of the needlework police attitudes. We need to encourage experimentation and update older techniques for a new audience. That is how embroidery has survived.

    I personally have family pieces of embroidery starting from the 1830s. Some of the techniques used on pieces made 100 years apart are similar, the materials, colors, and designs are different and often reflect what was in fashion at the time the work was done. Personally, I don’t have any desire to duplicate any of these pieces, but I do use some of the same techniques in my own work. I hope that one of my descendants will appreciate the old pieces and the newer ones. Maybe someone after me will notice the connections between the pieces.

    I personally don’t know a lot about Chicken Scratch embroidery, my ancestors don’t seem to have ever encountered a shortage of crochet thread or linen fabric and white thread. Gingham fabric was first made in checked patterns in Manchester England in the 1700s, so I imagine that there were examples of embroidery on Gingham at that time. That makes all later work some kind of derivative, including the examples from the 1930s.

    1. I just wanted to say that I’ve also noticed that variations of this conversation are popping up everywhere! Although they seem to be about simple matters like stitch names on the surface, perhaps they are more serious at heart? I think maybe it’s a symptom of a much larger concern with communicating about crafts, and how to make them attractive and attainable to new stitchers. The survival of these techniques is in real danger, and I think it makes conversations like this one all the more important πŸ™‚

  113. I like your exploring new ideas of embroidery on gingham. Why not explore new ideas. The white thread on gingham fabric was to create a poor mans lace during a time of great need for frugality – thus only white thread on gingham. Traditionalist can still use that theme and those stitch patterns and call it chicken scratch as frequently found in the US. But if we enjoy embroidery open the window to new ideas if your are not trying to replicate a certain time period. Sue

  114. je connaissais la broderie suisse, mais en plus simple, j’adore les deux modΓ¨les, est ce que tu donneras le diagramme du dernier? Merci d’avance et bon W.E de PΓ’ques

  115. What about needlepoint? If I adhered to traditional needlepoint, I’d be using wool and only doing basketweave!!! How do the purists explain any technique done BEFORE blackwork. Surely it evolved from something else!

  116. hullo all,
    I feel that the many variations of embroidery techniques has given us the oppertunaty to grow and keep the art form alive and interesting for the next generation. This being said does not say that we are changing the original technique but updating it,the original can still be done as it was.So for the purists at heart do the original,and teach the adventurous out there some new techniques. We love to explore and take the old with us to the future.Its like doing a replica with a new version,and giving it our own interpritation otherwise we just copy.So where it would not have been interesting to someone in the old form it is now.The whole point i think is keeping embroidery as a art form alive.
    Moira from sunny South Africa

  117. I guess I am more of an historical purist than otherwise, but in actuality it depends on what day you ask me. In my mind, “real” blackwork is stitched in black. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever use other colors; however, if someone asks I say that the technique is blackwork but I just chose another color. Also, “real” crewel is stitched with crewel wool. The fabric doesn’t matter; it could be needlepoint canvas. EGA has definitions of techniques. I think you must have those even to have a conversation about the subject. It can depend on whom you are talking to. No point in belaboring the issue if you’re talking to someone who is minimally interested or just being polite. It’s sort of like English grammar. You have to have rules, or standards, or communication is rendered vague and iffy. You might understand what the other person means or you might not. You can break the rules once you know them, but you should know why you are breaking them. “Just to see what happens” is a perfectly good reason. Needless to say, I am a little OCD, but I don’t like to guess what another person means when he uses a certain construction, or in this case a certain term. If you start from a basis of structure you can deviate from it as your taste moves you. For the purposes of this conversation, you have to have a word that is meaningful to a lot of people – like, for instance, if you’re planning to teach at an EGA seminar you have to state your technique. If your technique doesn’t fit into a already-existing category, you can call it “mixed media” or “surface embroidery” or something like that. People want to know what they are getting, and they can’t if there is no standard definition. Ultimately, I guess I’m saying you are free to express yourself in any way that pleases you in your stitchery, but if you have to convey information about it to others you must have a name to call it that is meaningful to them.

  118. Just say ‘traditional’ or ‘historical’ chicken scratch as opposed to ‘modern’ chicken scratch—-only when you’re talking to a purist. Otherwise, say whatever you want.

  119. I absolutely love your colorful additions to Chicken Scratch, and being an Aussie
    I had never heard it called this before, but rather like this homely name. I think
    traditional restrictions can stifle true creativity if adhered to too strictly, and these colorful additions or stitch variations help keep crafts alive and interesting to young people whose eyes are attracted to bright colors especially.
    I look forward to your email each day Mary, and being relatively new to embroidery I really appreciate your clear instructions and videos.

  120. Who owns the language? The community of stitchers who use it of course. If we, the stitching community (or at least part of it) choose to use a word in a particular way,and give it a particular meaning it is our prerogative. If another part of the stitching community choose to have a stricter use of the word then that is their prerogative. As words evolve in meaning, people who use them realise that not everybody uses the same word in the same way.

    There are plenty of examples where a word can have a strict, narrow definition in one context and a more broad generalised definition in another context. Science, medicine, the law …. areas that are full of words with multiple meanings or interpretations. A technical area like embroidery is no different.

    1. I’m not sure anyone “owns” the language πŸ™‚ but of course we all use it, and use it as we see fit on any given occasion. On the other hand, if we get too much like Humpty Dumpty in Alice (“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”) we can get incomprehensible.

      As a student of language, I feel that it needs a balance between “this word can only ever mean this” and “this word has now broadened its meaning”, without tipping over into “this word can mean whatever we want it to mean”.

      In the case of needlework, the addition of “traditional” or “coloured” or “Victorian” or “punk style” or anything that clarifies is helpful, depending on the level of detail you want to get into.

      I call my designs Hardanger, because that’s the main technique I use, but they often incorporate colour and other surface stitches. In most circumstances, calling it Hardanger is fine. In some circumstances, I would have to clarify that it differs in some respects from traditional Hardanger. That’s fine. I try to be as informative as I need to be, without being either a fanatical Purist or an outright Anarchist :-).

  121. I like the term “chicken scratch” because it’s related to a specific time in history..the Depression. I think of it as a technique and therefore other colors can be added without adulterating the name.

    1. P.S. I also understand why the term “chicken scratch” doesn’t appeal to you.

      My mom probably wouldn’t have liked it either…she told me of visiting her cousins on their farm and being chased with the bloody feet of freshly butchered chicken, and the blood covered feathers. (My cousins only told be to go play on the freeway at 5 o’clock)!

  122. Well – I am from UK and never heard of “chicken scratch”! I have heard of gingham embroidery….
    mind you most of the gingham embroidery I have seen has been using the pattern to produce a shirred or smocked embroidery.

  123. Kelly B. and others voiced my sentiments exactly. So, please, enough talk, try “chicken scratch”, you’ll like it. It is fun to do and bright and cheery. The idea that there is so much history behind all the forms of hand needlework, is an indication that all peoples wanted to embellish their every day clothing, or homes or for gift giving. My Grandmother taught me to embroider at age 5 and today, if not available in person, there is Mary and others who continue to teach us. Thank you.

  124. Well, I think I am with you on this one. To me, chicken scratch is embroidery on gingham, following the lines of the woven blocks (not free-style embroidery on gingham). I have an old apron worked in chicken scratch that is not white only, it also used the color of the gingham, in this case orange.
    Candlewicking when first created was all white because that is the color of a candle’s wick! American colonial stitchers had to use what they could get. And now you can get candlewicking thread in colors. It is still the same technique.

  125. Embroidery should evolve. My objection to “chicken scratch” is that in the design pamphlet (American) that I have the reason for the name is that a farmer looked over his wife’s shoulder as she was working this technique and said “looks like chicken scratches to me”. This may have been a compliment, but from experience, these interloper comments by the ignorant are rarely compliments. Also no one has mentioned the connection to Teneriffe Lace or Teneriffe Embroidery which uses the same basic stitches but is much more expressive with needle lace weaving between the motifs to fill designated spaces. I like the more complex Teneriffe designs so use that name and also like snowflake lace or gingham lace.

  126. The first time I have seen the addition of extra colours in this work, which we were introduced to as Australian Cross Stitch. I think it looks extremely attractive and feel it should have the all embracing title of just Gingham Embroidery.

  127. If you are trying to copy a historic artifact of course you want to use the materials and techniques used historically but if you are using stitch pattern or technique and modern materials for a project of your own devising you should not be limited by the “period police” and their narrow view of the world. I am sure that if the embroiders of the 10th century had access to all the variety of colors and fibers of DMC they would have used them.

  128. Gosh, This is a slippery slope. Techniques such as Blackwork were done in black, red or gold. I have used other colors but I still go back to black in general. If I use other colors I refer to blackwork patterns but I won’t call the work blackwork. I love Hardanger in white. It is my preference. I have designed Hardanger in colors and still call it by that name as the stitches remain the same. People seem to prefer color these days. I liked your patterns and we are going to try some of them in my embroiderer’s guild. I would call them a chicken scratch variations due to the additional colors and stitches (or your gingham embroidery) but I wouldn’t call them strictly chicken scratch. We have so many threads and colors today, why not use them!

  129. I just want to embroider! I like looking at things and making it my own. Does the name actually matter. Your post taught me a stitch that I haven’t seen in a long time and want to try! Thanks for teaching me chicken scratch or whatever anyone wants to call it!

  130. I commented on this a while ago and had voted on Gingham Embroidery. After reading the discussions I think I would amend it to Chicken Scratch vs Traditional Chicken Scratch. As someone (actually several people) have the same comment about Hardanger. Hardanger was white on white (no wiggle room). Now most of the Hardanger designs are NOT white on white. Most are colored and are still called Hardanger and now are combined with other techniques. So have at it with whatever colors and call it Chicken Scratch!

  131. I’ve seen plenty of gingham aprons worked in the depression era with more than one or two colors of thread. Women used what they had, and if they had more than one or two colors and wanted to use them, they did. Also, I firmly believe depression-era women would laugh in our faces at the idea that we must limit our color choices in a time of relative plenty on the basis of the limited resources of the depression.

    Whatever you choose to call it, whatever colors you choose to work it in, it is still one of my very favorite types of embroidery. Thank you for your very interesting site!

  132. Hi. I learned to call it chicken scratching from my grandmother, who did this type of embroidery all the time. I don’t remember how many colors of thread was used, but I do remember it was always on gingham. In my mind, it was an inexpensive material … Mind you, I’m not saying cheap as in quality, but affordable … And I thought the name for the craft had something to do with the fact that the stitches were done on the gingham. This, obviously, has nothing to do with a written down history, but a ‘older child/younger teenager’s concept of the craft. I thought it was so pretty. My grandmother would do this type of embroidery on gingham aprons she made.

    In reference to changing things that once were and have been changed … this is a parallel and not referencing embroidery …What happens to making clothes by hand stitching or hand quilting? Should we sell our sewing machines and go back to always stitching everything by hand because historically that is the way it used to be done?

    I am not trying to be argumentative or putting anyone down. I am trying to point out that every craft has another way to do something and there is also a chance that in different parts of the U.S. or even different countries, their historical way of doing a particular craft could be different from what we think is the very first way it was ever done.

    Here’s a great big yea to all of us crafters out there!

  133. I’m a teacher. Today is dress like a grandparent day. While it’s fun looking at what my students came up with to dress like their grandparents, it made me think of my own two grandmothers. Grandma Dora always wore pastel polyester double-knit pantsuits. I’m fine with that particular style never returning, even though Grandma Dora was wearing the cutting edge of senior fashions. But my Grandma Sadie always wore aprons over her house dresses–those aprons were chicken scratch embroidery of her own making. I remember one that was turquoise gingham with red and white cherries on it–and white smocking at the waist. One had a kitten embroidered on the pocket with a ball of yarn that spilled out and joined the trim on the hem. Her chicken scratch embroidery was also on the handmade curtains in the kitchen. Her creativity didn’t stop at chicken scratch: she had a witch she made to ride on top of her broom while she swept, a quilted cat covered her toaster, and many crocheted hangers kept her sweaters from creasing. (And ours, as she often gave these as gifts) I searched for a site with patterns after thinking about her and found yours. Do you have any idea for how I might find some highly whimsical patterns like Grandma Sadie’s?

    1. Hi, Kelley – Sometimes, these types of chicken scratch patterns you’re describing were made up as the stitcher went, if she was really proficient at gingham embroidery. And sometimes, they came out in magazines and pamphlet, etc., for popular needlework at the time. I don’t have a source for them, but your best bet would be to look up things like “vintage chicken scratch patterns” or “vintage gingham embroidery patterns” and so forth. You might check places like eBay and Etsy, too. Hope that helps!

  134. I totally agree with you Mary. Surely the evolution of embroidery has come about by people trying new and different things. New and different ways to go about particular stitches and techniques. I’m a great one for trying different things and putting my own slant on things. Imagine if no one ever experimented, would we still be stitching with pieces of bone and stripes of gut. Maybe we just need to do as you have done and put some historical context with our tutorials to show the evolution of the technique. At what stage it changes to a totally new technique, who knows, but this has initially been derived from the Chicken Scratch basis or one of the variety of different names given to it and in the spirit of not losing the technique all together, if we keep the name with it that won’t happen. Just how I think!

  135. 10 years later let me comment I can’t stand the name chicken scratch because to me it seems fake farmhouse vibe. And it’s just ugly. Gingham lace is what I like to call it. As for introducing new techniques, how would needlework evolve without it? Unless you’re cosplaying the Great Depression or something like that.

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