What is a Chain Stitch?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A chain stitch is a basic stitch common in crochet, embroidering, lacemaking, and other decorative arts. The term comes from the similarity of the stitch to a chain link pattern. Learning to make a chain stitch is relatively easy for even the novice craftsperson. Its looped design can be helpful when forming leaves, flowers, or any curved or sinuous shape.

Chain stitches are a vital part of many crochet patterns.
Chain stitches are a vital part of many crochet patterns.

To make an embroidered chain stitch, basic requirements are a needle, base fabric, and thread, yarn, or ribbon. This process may be facilitated by using an embroidery hoop or frame to stabilize the fabric. In addition to keeping the fabric flat and taut, an embroidery frame can also prevent thread from going places accidentally; many a hoop-less embroiderer has stitched embroidery to his or her pants by mistake.

For an embroidered chain stitch, the steps are as follows:

  1. Pull the threaded needle through the fabric, from bottom to top.
  2. Place the tip of the needle at the spot where it has just emerged.
  3. Stick the tip of the needle down through the fabric,
  4. Pull the needle back up through the fabric a short distance away, making sure to loop the thread under the needle as it comes back up. This will be the starting position for the next loop.
  5. Pull the thread through the stitch, making sure not to make it too tight, as this will leave the chain invisible.
  6. Repeat.

For those who prefer visual references, most embroidery or basic sewing books can provide illustrated examples of each step and the finished product. Video descriptions are also available online, and may be extremely helpful to watch. By seeing each step performed perfectly, a new embroiderer can get a feel for the size of the stitch needed and the precision of each step.

Crochet chain stitches will look much the same, but are accomplished using crochet needles and yarn as materials. Unlike embroidery, crochet does not usually use a base fabric; instead, the yarn becomes the fabric as it is stitched together during the crocheting process. Chain stitches in crochet are one of the most basic techniques, and may serve as an introduction to many more complicated techniques.

A chain stitch in crochet follows this pattern:

  1. Create a slip knot in the yarn over one needle, being sure to leave a short tail of yarn following the knot.
  2. Taking the yarn in the hand opposite the needle, wrap the yarn around the needle from back to front, just in front of the knot loop.
  3. Take the knot, slide it over the top of the new loop, and off the needle. Pull to tighten if necessary, but most stitches should be kept fairly loose.
  4. Make another loop of yarn over the top of the needle, pull original loop over it and off the needle.

Whether used for embroidery or crochet, chain stitches are a vital part of the vocabulary for both crafts. Easy to master, the chain stitch can be helpful in creating curvy designs or strong, crocheted blankets. Mastering chain stitching is an important part of both crafts, and should be practiced to increase skill and muscle memory.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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