Chain stitch is a looped stitch, worked one after the other in a line, forming stitches that look like links of a chain.
There are more than 15 variations of this simple stitch. Check out the post on the variations of the chain stitch here. You can do chain stitch with specialized sewing machines as well as by hand embroidery. This post will be talking about the hand-stitched chain stitch embroidery
The chain stitch is not as simple and easy to do as other surface embroidery stitches, say a stem stitch, especially when you are doing continuous lines but the versatility of this stitch makes it a favorite hand embroidery stitch – both as an outline stitch and as a filling stitch. The beauty of the chain stitch is that as a single line it gives a lot of texture to the outline. As a filling stitch, the width of the chain stitch can fill the design pretty easily. The single chain stitch looks like a small petal and this appearance is a beauty when it is filling a design.
In India, chain stitch embroidery work is known by the name Zalakdozi and is an exquisite art form adorning bedspreads, accessories, shawls and other garments. The chain stitch is also known as Tambour stitch or Point de Chainette. The chain stitch embroidery is one of the most important elements of the most exquisite Kashmiri work – you would have seen this work in the famous pashmina shawls from this region.
Hungarian embroidery has a similar chain stitch embroidery work – In this, the Hungarian braided chain stitch is used in a similar fashion
Which needle to use with chain stitch embroidery
The artisans use a special needle called the aari needle to do the embroidery quite effortlessly. The needle is also called a Tambour needle and the fabric is stretched on a large hoop. The artists gather around and do the tambour stitch all over the fabric. Even beads and sequins are attached using the chain stitch made this way.
But this is for big and elaborate works. You can do this embroidery on your clothes stretched on the small hoop you have, quite adequately using an ordinary needle. I use a chenille needle – You need a needle with a big eye so that the whole 6 strands can pass through it. Chenille needle is suitably sharp to go through the chain stitches ( when you make continuous chain stitches you have to start from the inside of the previous chain stitch and you need a sharp needle for this) along with a large eye.
What Thread is used in chain stitch embroidery
You can use wool thread for a nice texture or the ordinary embroidery floss or silk thread depending on the effect you are looking for. You can also use 2 strands of perle cotton thread which is a thicker thread. If using embroidery thread you may need to thread the whole 6 strands for filling stitches, though for delicate chain stitch embroidery you can use lesser strands.
Some tips for making your chain stitch embroidery look good
The thread colors used for chain stitch embroidery are mostly vivid tropical colors.
For more colour combinations for your embroidery work check out this post on 15 color combinations.
In chain stitch embroidery work the chain stitch is used as both the outline as well as the filling stitch.The outline is done first and then the filling stitch is made in rows starting from the outside
Different colored threads are used for the outline and filling, resulting in a work of beautiful dimension. Sometimes contrasting colors are used , sometimes shades of the same colour are used.
Make sure that you do not pull the thread too tight or too loose. The correct tension is very important in making even chain stitches.
Try to avoid tangles by cutting only about 18-20 inches of thread length. More than this and you will have tangles when you work the stitches. This works for me. With silk thread take only about 12-inch length of thread.
The more number of strands you use, the thicker the chain stitch line. But this creates an almost chunky stitch, especially in a smaller work. If you reduce the strands you get more fine and refined embroidery. Choose according to the purpose of the project. I like to work with 3 strands for a balanced chain stitch
5 simple motifs/designs commonly used in chain stitch embroidery
1 Hibiscus flower
Hibiscus is a motif that is used a lot in chain stitch embroidery. You may know these flowers as shoe flowers. They are vividly colored and a beautiful motif to embroider. My hibiscus flower pales a lot in front of the real hibiscus flower as you can see in the picture; if I had used lesser strands of thread maybe it would have looked more refined.
They are very easy to draw ; I bet the most drawing challenged can draw these flowers easily enough freehand
Birds are a regular motif in most of the designs of chain stitch embroidery. You can find parrots, peacocks and other exotic birds scattered throughout the chain stitch designs.
I tried to embroider a peacock but this one looks more like a hen, but as the hen is also counted as a bird, I might as well call it a hen and rest it at that.
3 Paisley pattern
Paisley pattern is the most used motif in chain stitch embroidery. Check out the post on paisley pattern for more details about its origin and the post 10 ways to embroider a paisley for details like how to draw a paisley motif and some other ways to embroider the paisley motif
4 Floral design with vines
Chain stitch embroidery designs are always very busy with lots of vines, branches, trees, flowers etc.
If you want a fabric to be fully embroidered with chain stitch embroidery simply draw a lot of these vines and branches and add flowers.
5 Symmetrical motifs of grass stalks
This is a stand-alone motif which is worked with chain stitches. You can use this motif, spread out in measured intervals on fabric if you do not fancy the busy look of the regular chain stitch embroidery.