Cross Stitch Basics: Chicken Scratch Embroidery

Stitch between the lines with chicken scratch embroidery

embroidery and all necessary for this hobby. Thread scissors embroidery Hoop in a wicker basket
Dmitrii Balabanov / Getty Images

It's likely you have come across chicken scratch embroidery some time in your life. There are many aprons, pillowcases, or curtains with a chicken scratch design on it. It was a very popular style from the 1930s to the 1950s. You may also see the design on vintage baby clothes.

What Is Chicken Scratch Embroidery?

Chicken scratch embroidery is a traditional embroidery style that is regaining popularity. It shares many stitches in common with cross stitch, but the fabric used for chicken scratch is typically gingham fabric.

Another name for chicken scratch embroidery is Amish embroidery, depression lace, or snowflake embroidery. This is mainly due to the design the stitching makes. They look like lace or snowflakes along the gingham fabric. This style of stitching a very cheap version of creating a lace look for less. That is why you will see it on the edging of material.

The reason that chicken scratch is used mainly on gingham is that during the depression, gingham was a very cheap fabric. It is also easy to follow as a guide for cross stitches. Any size or color of gingham may be used.

Supplies Needed for Getting Started

Stitches to Know

  • Double Cross Stitch, also known as Smyrna Cross Stitch
  • Running Stitch
  • Woven Circle Stitch

Getting Started

Before stitching, determine the count of the gingham fabric using a ruler. Then, cut the fabric to the desired size. Chicken scratch is usually done with two colors of floss. White floss and floss the same color as or slightly darker than the color of the fabric is typical. Experiment with using different colors as you desire. When stitching the design, the white floss is stitched on the colored gingham squares and the coordinating colored floss is stitched on the white squares. Refer to the pattern chart for guidance on stitch placement and color.


  • The number of strands of floss you will need will depend on the size of the gingham fabric. Experiment on a scrap of fabric to see what looks best.
  • Unlike cross stitch, you may want to use a knot to secure the floss when stitching.
  • Complete each stitch as you go when working the design.
  • Watch stitch tension or the fabric will become puckered.
  • Use a hoop to help with maintaining the proper fabric tension.

Free Chicken Scratch Practice Patterns

There are so many designs and patterns for chicken scratch embroidery, including hearts, flowers, and borders. While the traditional chicken scratch is done with all one color, usually white or red gingham, in today's cross stitch world many are using different colors such as purple flowers with green leaves weaved into the white monochrome border. The wonderful thing about using gingham is that you already have a grid to follow for your stitching. The various stitches work around the gingham pattern. 

Chicken Scratch Repairs and Ideas

Chicken scratch embroidery is also an excellent way to save a fabric or a design. You can repair the fabric as you usually would with a few simple stitches and then stitch a chicken scratch pattern over that repair. This not only gives the repair added strength but also covers up the repair in a beautiful way. This is a great idea for dresses or jeans with holes. You simply can add a gingham patch and then chicken scratch embroidery on the patch itself. It will create an adorable retro feel. It can also be used to create the illusion of lace on a dress or give kitchen towels a cute retro look.