Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hand Stitchery: Chicken Scratch Embroidery!

Today's Cutting Corners tutorial, sponsored by Riley Blake Designs, brings you more GINGHAM fun!  We'll try this simple vintage embroidery technique to create a lovely lacy overlay effect.  Then I'll give some directions to make a darling little pincushion!

Course Supplies:

  •    Cotton Gingham Print with squares measuring 1/4"
  •    Small embroidery hoop
  •    Size 7 or 8 Crewel Embroidery needle
  •    Embroidery floss
  •    Specs (an essential part of my supplies these days!)

Course Instructions:  "Chicken Scratch" was a popular embroidery technique during the 1930's and 1940's, used to embellish gingham clothing and home decor items. Here is a sample of one of my grandmother's table toppers.

Star Topper - Chicken Scratch Embroidery
Also known as Gingham Embroidery, Depression Lace, Amish Embroidery, even Tic-Tac-Toe Embroidery among others, this technique uses just a few simple stitches to embellish gingham checkered fabric and give the appearance of a lace overlay, depending on the placement of lights and darks.

Stitch Details
The charm of Chicken Scratch embroidery is that just a few basic stitches create this beautiful lacy effect.

Stitch Diagram
*  Double Cross Stitch. Stitch a basic cross-stitch x, then stitch a plus sign + over the x.  Follow the same sequence each time for a consistent look.  This is the usual stitch to outline a motif.

or --   Straight Running Stitch  Used to anchor the woven circles or ovals.

o   Woven Circle or Oval Stitch  =  Circle around twice for a finished look.

** Stitches are usually worked over the darkest squares using light thread, or in reverse with darker thread over the white squares.  Tinted squares are usually where the straight running stitches are made to support woven circles or ovals.  This is the usual sequence:  Double Chain Stitch, then Running Stitches, then Woven Circles.

OK, ready to try?

Press and square up your fabric.  Our sampler today will require a 6" square.  Hoop the fabric, careful not to distort.  For our tiny sampler, we will not even need to mark it!

Use 3 strands of a 6-strand floss (use 2 strands for 1/8" gingham).  Knot the end, or work in the tail, your choice.  For my purposes, I'll tie a knot.  Measure in about 1-1/2" from the edge to start the motif.  Select a dark square near the center, and begin.

Double Cross Stitch.
We'll be working horizontally from left to right.   Unlike cross-stitch patterns, we will complete each stitch one at a time.

1) Bring the needle out at one corner of a dark square.

2) Return the needle to the opposite diagonal corner for the first stitch of the (x), then bring the needle to the opposite corner, traveling horizontally.   Pull thread taut.

3) Take the thread to the opposite diagonal corner to form the second stitch of the (x).  Bring the needle out halfway between upper corners of the square.

4)  Insert the needle directly below the x, then bring the needle out halfway between the top and bottom left corners of the x to begin the second half of the plus (+).

 5)  Lastly, insert the needle opposite your last stitch, forming the cross bar to complete the plus sign (+), and bring the needle out at the top center of the adjacent tinted square.

 6)  Complete the first Running Stitch by inserting the needle at the lower center of the tinted square, coming out at the upper left corner of the next dark square, ready to repeat the process.

Repeat steps 1 - 6, completing 7 Double Cross Stitches, with a single vertical running stitch between each dark square.

Straight Running Stitches.
7)   At the end of your row of stitches, insert the needle into the adjacent tinted square below the last double cross-stitch.  Create horizontal running stitches by traveling beneath each white square and coming out at the edge of each tinted square.

 8)  At the last running stitch, the needle will travel to the upper left corner of the dark square below to begin another sequence of Double Cross-Stitches and vertical Straight Running Stitches; steps 1-6.

Back side.

Woven Circles.
1)  Bring the needle up through the fabric at the point of one of the running stitches along the edge of a white center square.

2)  Loop the thread beneath each of the other three running stitches around the square. 

3)  Loop around again and take the needle through the back at the same point it came in.Travel to the next white square and repeat the process.

 NOTE:  You will need an odd number of Double Chain Stitch pairs in order to have an even number of Woven Circles.

Now that you've perfected your technique, use your little sampler to make a cute project!   Repeat the pattern two more times, skipping a white row between patterns to make our little Chicken Scratch Pincushion!

Trim your square about 1" beyond the embroidery.  Cut a second square for the backing, 1/2" smaller in length and width.  Cut 2 corresponding pieces muslin for lining.  Layer embroidered square and muslin wrong sides together, baste edges together with zig-zag stitch or serging.  Baste remaining muslin piece to wrong side of backing.  
Place basted pieces right sides together; muslin on the outsides, and PIN at the corners.  Pinch a little pleat along each side of the pincushion top which will form a dome, then  pin in place.  Stitch around three sides.  Clip corners and turn.   Fill with rice, silica sand or other filler.  Add a drop of lavender, if desired.  Stitch opening by machine or by hand.  So sweet!

I'm really enjoying trying out these vintage techniques on the RBD ginghams! (see the Smocking tutorial HERE).  Next time, we'll get back to "Gathering", and explore some shirring techniques with elastic!  

Have you made anything with gingham?  Have you tried chicken scratch embroidery?   I think my next project will be to make a little topper of my own, along with some gingham cloth napkins with a Spring motif. Yes.  Then maybe Spring will come!

Happy Sewing!

Find more of my Sewing Basics Tutorials and fun projects right HERE.  
And even more terrific projects and tutorials and little Snippets from the Sewing Room HERE.


  1. Your pincushion is adorable. Thanks for the link to the tutorial. I may have to try it, I used to cross stitch a lot, and I love gingham.

  2. Oh my - I can remember learning this when I was in 4-H - used it on our pockets and across the hem of our aprons we made.

  3. We used to do this when we were children. It was so fun.

  4. Wow! this was really fun to see. Now I know what your super talents come from ;). Thanks for sharing!

  5. very pretty and how good to have these pieces down a good while ago

  6. I saw Chicken Scratch at my Grandmother. But that was a long time ago. I use to cross stitch a lot. I have started doing embroidery. I have some gingham. I should give this a try.

  7. I did learn how to do this at camp....yours is beautiful..I don;t think I ever mastered it quite as well as you

  8. Hi Deonn,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment. I thought I'd check out your blog, too. See what you are up to.
    Love that you shared the Chicken Scratch embroidery. Grandma and I used to work on these together. She made oodles of them into aprons for family and the church bazaar. It was only aprons, but lots of different designs. Love the pin cushion!
    Thanks for dredging up the lovely memory for me.

  9. You are very talented. I've tried this a several time and my embroidery stitches now start to look quite like yours. Many thanks for the tutorial.


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