Embroiderers through the centuries have turned to the chain stitch, especially when creating folk art. The stitch was a popular choice, for example, among Jewish mothers who embroidered Torah scroll binders to commemorate the births of their sons in 17th-19th century Eastern Europe. The embroidered chuppah scene above, created with chain stitches, is typical of scenes found on the binders. The Hebrew letter lamed above was also made with chain stitches.
It’s is a great stitch to know because it’s simple and it’s versatile: you can use it to trace lines as well as fill objects. And it creates a wide line and a filled area more quickly than many other stitches.
We used the chain stitch for the Shalom pillow in the Sew Jewish book and included an explanation of how to make the stitch. It’s just one of a collection of basic techniques included in the book for beginning sewing enthusiasts. Because the chain stitch is so useful, I thought we’d share the explanation here on the blog, too.
Add your own links to the chain of Jewish sewing tradition!
How to embroider the chain stitch:
Bring the needle up through the fabric on the right side of the line to be embroidered, A.
Hold the thread down with your left thumb, above and the to the left of A. Insert the needle close to A and bring it up a stitch length away, at B.
Pull the needle through to create one loop in the chain. The needle should pass over the top of the trailing end of the thread, as in the diagram, so that the stitch will form the shape of a loop. As you finish the stitch, don’t pull the thread so tight that you lose the chain link shape.
To make the next stitch, insert the needle inside the first link, near B, and bring it up again another stitch length away, at C. Continue, starting each new stitch inside the previous loop. Keep the stitch length even as much as possible.
Anchor the last loop with a short straight stitch.
To use the chain stitch to fill an object, start by embroidering the object’s outline. Then embroider another line of stitches just inside the outline. Continue with more lines of stitches, each line inside the previous one, until the design is filled.
Maria Bywater is the author of Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She teaches hands-on Judaica sewing workshops.