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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Stitch Fun! Knotty Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch


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Stitch Fun is a series of hand embroidery tutorials that concentrates on stitch combinations, composite stitches, and more obscure hand embroidery stitches. The purpose of the series is exactly what the name implies: to have fun playing with embroidery stitches!

To get the most out of the Stitch Fun tutorials, it’s helpful to know the basic stitches that make up the composites. For example, today we’re going to look at the buttonholed cable chain stitch accented with bullion and French knots. Throughout today’s tutorial, I’ll link to other tutorials here on Needle ‘n Thread that cover the basic stitches you need to know.

If you know the basic stitches, putting them together to create a composite stitch is no big deal! In fact, it’s… it’s…. (wait for it!)…

It’s Fun!!

So, let’s start! Here’s today’s Stitch Fun tutorial, the buttonholed cable chain stitch with knot accents.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Now, isn’t that little line of buttonhole circlets just the neatest thing in the world? And the best thing about it? It’s pretty easy to work! Even though there are several steps to this composite stitch, it works up quickly.

If you’ve been hanging around on Needle ‘n Thread for while, you might remember a previous Stitch Fun tutorial for the scalloped buttonholed chain stitch. This is pretty much the same concept, only the cable chain stitch produces a nice line of rounded eyelet-like parts all connected together.

In this tutorial, I’m stitching on Alba Maxima linen. As the tutorial progresses, we’ll chat about threads and needles.

Don’t be afraid to try whatever threads you want to try with this stitch. Experiment! I’m thinking the stitch would look terrific in all white threads on a natural colored linen. It would be a fun way to mimic eyelets and to stitch lace-like accents.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Begin with a line of cable chain stitch. The line can be straight or curved – the stitch works well either way.

If you need a refresher, feel free to check out my video tutorial for cable chain stitch.

I worked the cable chain stitch with #5 perle cotton in a standard green, using a #3 crewel needle.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Once your foundation line of cable chain stitch is ready, switch your needle to a tapestry needle (long eye, blunt tip) for the buttonhole stitch. The blunt tip of the tapestry needle will help you avoid snagging thread and fabric as you work the buttonhole stitch.

For the buttonhole stitch, I’m using four strands of overdyed cotton floss from Colour Complements with a #24 tapestry needle.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

To begin the buttonhole stitch, bring the needle and thread to the front of the fabric just under your first straight stitch at the top of your cable chain stitch line.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Working over the loops on the left side of the cable chain stitches, and working from the top of the line down towards you, buttonhole over the left loops down the line.

Don’t pick up any fabric! Just work the buttonhole right over the cable chain stitch loop.

If you need a refresher on the buttonhole stitch, feel free to take a look at my buttonhole stitch how-to video.

I found I could fit about five buttonhole stitches on each loop. The number of buttonholes you can fit on each loop will depend on how large your loops are on your cable chain stitch and how heavy your buttonhole thread is.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

On each loop, it’s helpful if you pull the first buttonhole stitch a little snug, and then work the middle buttonhole stitches on the loop a little looser, and then work the last buttonhole stitch on the loop a little snug again. This will help achieve a nice rounded shape to each loop.

Don’t crowd the buttonhole stitches on the loops. If you crowd the stitches on too tightly, your buttonhole stitches will ruffle up.

You don’t need to end the buttonhole with each cable chain stitch. Once one side of a cable chain is filled, just step down to the next cable chain and continue the buttonhole stitch.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

When you get to the end of the left side of your cable chain stitch line, take the needle and thread to the back of the fabric just under the last anchor stitch on the cable chain.

End off the thread on the back by weaving it under the stitches and cutting it, and start a fresh thread.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Bring the needle with the new thread to the front of the fabric, angling up from underneath the same anchor stitch where you just ended your first thread.

Now you’re going to work the right side of the cable chain stitch.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

To make it easier to work the right side, turn your work 180 degrees, so that you’re working down the line of cable chain stitch again.

Left-Handed Stitchers

For left handed stitchers, buttonhole from the end of the line (nearest you), working up the right side of the cable chain stitch away from you, and then turning the work to cover the other side. Your needle will point from left to right, rather than right to left.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

When you reach the end of the second side, take your needle and thread to the back under the first stitch, and finish off the thread.

At this point, you’ll have a little line of rounded buttonhole scallops.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

You can now accent the rounded scallops with knots, to dress up the line.

For example, using a contrasting color of thread (in this case, four strands of overdyed threads in rustic reds), you can work bullion knots over the intersections of the scallops.

If you need some help with bullion knots, watch my bullion knot video tutorial – it really is the easiest way to make bullions, especially if you’re working in a hoop!

For the bullion knots, switch to a milliner needle (also known as a “straw needle”) if you have one – it will make bullions so much easier to work! A #5 milliner works well with four strands of floss.

Buttonholed Cable Chain Stitch with Knots

Instead of bullions over the intersections, you might opt for a nice, plump French knot in the center of each little buttonhole circlet.

This is my favorite option, because the centered French knot helps round out the shape of the stitch even more.

So that’s it – the buttonholed cable chain stitch with knot accents. Now go have some fun with it!

Any questions, comments, or suggestions? Feel free to have your say below!

Stitch Fun is a tutorial series here on Needle ‘n Thread. You can find all the Stitch Fun articles listed in the Stitch Fun Index, with the most recent articles first in the list. You can also find over 75 video tutorials for hand embroidery stitches, along with a stitch dictionary arranged from A-Z, with links to all my embroidery stitch tutorials by name. If you’re dying to try some of the stitches you’ve learned, you’re welcome to make use of the many free hand embroidery patterns on Needle ‘n Thread, too!


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(38) Comments

  1. What a fabulous textual stitch I have never seen that one before you are so clever!
    I am really pleased I have recently found your website.

  2. This is GORGEOUS, Mary! You come up with some of the best composite stitches.

    I do have a question about the Buttonhole. I saw on heritageshoppe.com that what we typically call the butttohole is actually a blanket stitch. I remember as a Girl Scout ( in the mid ’60s) learning this as the Blanket Stitch. Any comments?

    1. True, technically, but it’s also called the buttonhole stitch. The distinction is made in most books by calling the “real” buttonhole stitch the tailor’s buttonhole.

  3. I love this scalloped buttonhole cable chain stitch Mary. It will be used on my CQ project. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  4. Oh Mary! I love it! This one looks like so much fun. I think I have a t-shirt that I bought on sale and stuck at the back of the closet to embroider on. This around the neck and sleeves would be all that it would need. I just have to choose colors.

  5. I LOVE this–and I especially love your choice of threads. It is very festive. I would never have thought to use a different thread for the buttonhole stitches, let alone 4 lengths of it in one needle. The effect is great!

  6. This is an awesome stitch, Mrs. Corbet! I like it more with the French Knots rather than with the Bullion Knots. I may very well try this sometime soon.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    Sarah 🙂

  7. Dear Mary

    A very pretty stitch, I love the combination of the Cable Chain and the Buttonholed stitch blended with either a Bullion or French Knot which blends in beautifully, a lovely stitch all round. I do love the Stitch Fun series with all the different composite stitches which make such, well, Fun stitches. I will use this as I really like the buttonhole stitch. Thanks for sharing this composite with us and for your tips and techniques on how to combine the stitches.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. Double wow! Now I have to start something to use it. After 50 yrs of basic stitches (and 50 of them) that I use, you are really stretching my repetiore! Love it.

  9. Mary, that is so gorgeous! I had the idea that instead of a French knot, I’d do that raised cup stitch, and then put a bead inside. Add some sparkle, and do it on some snowy dinner napkins, or mabe a table runner, or maybe both! The greens you used for the buttonhole stitches are a fabulous choice. I hope DMC has something close, so I can mimic your work. Thanks for giving us this example today of Fun Stitches!

  10. What a timely article! I’m doing a crazy quilt square and have been stuck in making any progress. I’ve been trying to figure out what stitch to do next in one of the sections. This is PERFECT!! Thank you!!!

  11. Good morning Mary,
    What an inspiration you are! Love this combination of stitches which I would not have thought to do.
    Thank you for sharing with us

  12. Hi Mary nice to see a Take a Stitch Tuesday stitch appear in your stitch fun series. We had some fun with it buttonholed cable chain earlier in the year as part of the challenge

    1. Hi, Sharon! Thanks! I must’ve missed it – I’ll have to take a look and see what everyone came up with. I worked this up as a take off from the regular buttonholed chain I did in 2013. I was trying to figure out how to get a more rounded look, and then I thought, duh…use a rounder chain stitch! The more I play with buttonholing on stitches, the more it becomes feasible to do it in so many other stitches, too. Buttonhole stitch is so wonderfully versatile!

  13. Now that colour grouping and garland-like curve is truely inspirational for stitchers this Christmas. Thank you, Mary.

  14. G’day Mary,
    Excited to see this combo. A few years back I kept a piece out of a magazine that was this combo but just the button hole on one side and that was all. It looked nice. I looked for the copy one time when you were doing a ‘how to do that stitch’ post. Have never come across it. I thought it was just one stitch but realise now it’s a combo. Wonderful.
    Done in softly over-dyed muted tones, it could look delicately lacy.
    Thank you,
    Cheers, Kath.

  15. I love this stitch – it is so pretty and I can think of so many uses and places to add it.

    thanks for sharing

  16. Sencillamente espectacular, muchas gracias, es una felicidad entrar a su blog día a día, me ayuda a seguir adelante con mis bordados, a pesar de los intensos dolores en las manos, gracias,

  17. Lovely stitch I have a plain White linen blouse and am thinking of embellishing the cuffs with embroidery. Might use this stitch. But then I’m spoiled for choice with your excellent tutorials. Thank you

  18. Thank you a thousand times Mary Corbet. Your videos and tutorials are invaluable for learning new stitches. <3

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