Traditional embroidery in chain stitch on a Kazakh rug, contemporary

Chain stitch is a sewing and embroidery technique in which a series of looped stitches form a chain-like pattern.[1][2] Chain stitch is an ancient craft – examples of surviving Chinese chain stitch embroidery worked in silk thread have been dated to the Warring States period (5th – 3rd century BC).[3] Handmade chain stitch embroidery does not require that the needle pass through more than one layer of fabric. For this reason the stitch is an effective surface embellishment near seams on finished fabric. Because chain stitches can form flowing, curved lines, they are used in many surface embroidery styles that mimic "drawing" in thread.[4]

Chain stitches are also used in making tambour lace, needlelace, macramé and crochet.

In Azerbaijan, in the Sheki region, this ancient type of needlework is called tekeldus.


Detail of an embroidered silk gauze ritual garment from a 4th-century BC, Zhou era tomb at Mashan, Hubei province, China. Rows of even, round chain-stitches are used both for outline and to fill in color.

The earliest archaeological evidence of chain stitch embroidery dates from 1100 BC in China. Excavated from royal tombs, the embroidery was made using threads of silk.[5] Chain stitch embroidery has also been found dating to the Warring States period. Chain stitch designs spread to Iran through the Silk Road.[6]


Machine embroidery in chain stitch on a voile curtain, China, early 21st century
Open chain stitch from Kalotaszeg, early 20th century

Hand embroidery

Chain stitch and its variations are fundamental to embroidery traditions of many cultures, including Kashmiri numdahs, Iranian Resht work, Central Asian suzani, Hungarian Kalotaszeg "written embroidery",[7] Jacobean embroidery, and crewelwork.

Machine sewing and embroidery

Chain stitch was the stitch used by early sewing machines; however, as it is easily unravelled from fabric, this was soon replaced with the more secure lockstitch. This ease of unraveling of the single-thread chain stitch, more specifically known as ISO 4915:1991 stitch 101, continues to be exploited for industrial purposes in the closure of bags for bulk products.[8][9]

Machine embroidery in chain stitch, often in traditional hand-worked crewel designs, is found on curtains, bed linens, and upholstery fabrics.


Hand variants

"Drawing" or outlining in basic chain stitch

Variations of the basic chain stitch include:

Hand stitch gallery

Machine variants

Machine stitch gallery

Formation of a simple chain stitch using a looper
Formation of the double locking chain stitch


  1. ^ "Chain Stitch Family". Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  2. ^ Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (March 1992). ISBN 0-89577-059-8, p. 32-33
  3. ^ Gillow, John, and Bryan Sentance: World Textiles, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, 1999, ISBN 0-8212-2621-5, p. 178
  4. ^ Gillow and Sentance: World Textiles, p. 178
  5. ^ Mary Schoeser (2007). Silk. Yale University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-300-11741-7. Retrieved 15 January 2013. from the same dates comes the earliest evidence of chain stitch embroidery, worked with silk threads
  6. ^ Catherine Amoroso Leslie (2007). Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-313-33548-8.
  7. ^ Gillow and Sentance: World Textiles, p. 178-179
  8. ^ Union Special, Closing Machines BC100 and 80800 (PDF), p. 2, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19, retrieved 2009-05-26
  9. ^ American & Efird, ISO Stitch Terminology (PDF), p. 1, archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-26, retrieved 2009-05-28
  10. ^ a b 1902 Encyclopedia

Union Special Portable Chain Stitch machine internal mechanism 2200 Portable bag closing machines

See also