How to Do the Chain Stitch in Embroidery

An Essential Looped Stitch You'll Use Often

Chain stitch embroidery
Miss Pearl / Getty Images
  • 01 of 05

    How to Work the Chain Stitch

    Working the Chain Stitch
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce

    The chain stitch is one of the most important stitches in embroidery. It is a looped stitch that can be worked along a curved or straight line. It is a stitch you will use all of the time.

    Once you learn the basic chain stitch, you can begin to explore variations of the stitch. These include the single or detached chain, lazy daisy, heavy chain, square chain, feathered chain, cable chain, zigzag chain. and many more. The chain stitch also makes a nice filling stitch.

    Chain Stitch

    To work the basic chain stitch, complete the following:

    1. Bring the needle up through the fabric at your starting point.
    2. Insert the needle again at the starting point, and bring the tip up through the fabric a short distance away.
    3. Place the working thread behind the needle, and pull the needle through the loop.

    Repeat this process to make additional stitches. End the length by making a small, anchoring straight stitch at the end of the final loop to secure it in place.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Changing the Thread

    To change the thread while working this stitch, do not end the thread by making an anchoring stitch in the final loop. Instead, use the following method:

    1. Hold the final loop on the surface of the fabric, and weave the tail of the first thread through the backside of the stitching on the wrong side of the fabric. The remaining loop should be similar in size or a bit larger than the existing loops.
    2. Weave the new thread through the backside of the stitch on the wrong side of the fabric. Bring the needle up at the position where the next stitch should begin.
    3. If needed, tug the tail of the first thread to reduce the size of the loop on the front side, making sure all loops are the same size.
    4. Continue working the chain stitch as normal.
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  • 03 of 05

    Reversed Chain Stitch

    Working Reverse Chain Stitch
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce

    The finished result of reversed chain stitch looks exactly the same as a standard chain stitch. It is the method that is different, and many people find it to be much easier.

    Essentially, it's like starting at the opposite end of a line of chain stitch. If you've ever chain stitched the standard way, you may have experienced accidentally pulling out a whole string of stitches. That will never happen with the reversed chain stitch.

    To work the reversed chain stitch, complete the following:

    1. Start with a small straight stitch along the line you will be stitching.
    2. Bring the needle up one stitch length away from the straight stitch (point 1). Slide the needle under the straight stitch and back down where the needle came up.
    3. Bring the needle up again, one stitch length away from the end of the previous stitch (new point 1). Slide the needle under the previous stitch and go back down where the needle came up.

    Repeat this process. When you are finished with the row of stitching, there's no need to do anything special to finish it off.

    Use this stitch anywhere you would use basic chain stitch. You could also use this method for twisted chain stitch or even detached chain stitch.

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  • 04 of 05

    Tips for Chain Stitch

    Chain Stitch Example
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce

    The chain stitch is very easy, but a few tips will help you along the way:

    • As you work this stitch, pay attention to the twist and direction of the thread. You could end up working a twisted chain stitch without intending to.
    • When you're working the reversed chain stitch, try using two colors of thread in a single line. Thread two needles with floss and alternate colors with each new stitch.
    • Add an extra dimension to your chain stitching by layering it with a backstitch or running stitch. After you've worked the chain stitch, go back over it, either filling in the centers of each "link" or taking a stitch over the point where each "link" joins.
    • Another way to add something extra to your chain stitch is to wrap or weave a second color of thread over a line of the finished embroidery.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Working the Chain Stitch as a Filling

    Working Chain Stitch as a Filling
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce

    Chain stitch also makes a terrific filling that works up quickly to create solid blocks of color in your embroidery.

    To work the chain stitch as a filling, stitch multiple rows close together, spacing them so that no fabric shows between the rows. You can make the rows of stitching all go the same direction, or alternate them so they create a patterned texture.