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The Square Chain Stitch

According to my handy-dandy stitch dictionary, this is also called the “open chain stitch” or “Roman chain stitch”. This is a nice, relatively simple, geometric decoration. Because it has a straight edge, you can work it right on top of a machined hem to hide the machine stitches. (I believe in cheating.)

beginning the stitch
Begin by pushing a needle with a knotted thread up from the back of the fabric.
second step of the stitch
insert the needle directly above where the thread comes through the fabric, and pass it diagonally behind the fabric. Push it up in line with the original thread and wrap the thread beneath the needle.
completing the first stitch and beginning the second
As you're pulling your first stitch through and taut, immediately begin taking the second. Use your needle to catch the loop of the first stitch (forming the final corner of the square), and take another diagonal stitch beneath the fabric. Again, wrap your thread under the needle as it emerges.
repeating the stitch to create a row of squares
Lather, rinse, and repeat.
preparing to end the stitches
This is all great, but what do you do when you want to stop? First, start a final stitch.
securing the first corner with a tiny stitch
take a tiny stitch across the first corner of the square, and pass the needle under the fabric to the second corner. Catch the thread loop with the needle.
finishing the stitches
Take a tiny stitch across the second corner, and push the needle through the fabric.
hiding thread end
In back, tie off your thread. I tie mine around an existing stitch, so nothing shows on the right side. I have a hem here, so I'm taking a big stitch inside it. When I cut my thread, the tail will be buried and hidden.

I think I learned the thing about tying the thread off over another thread from an aunt (great or just normal, I can’t recall). I’m just as positive that another aunt taught me that there were no knots in embroidery, ever. I don’t claim to be an embroideress, but I do think stitches are less likely to pull out if you tie off your threads, so I do.

Also, you can see the back of the stitch here – it’s a series of diagonal stitches. This is nifty, because it’s hiding my stitch line in front and binding my seam allowance in back. Two jobs done with one stitch – I love that!


  1. Beth
    Beth January 28, 2011

    Thanks, Missa!

    This is cool. I “don’t do embroidery!” … it’s the constructions stitch when I herringbone stitch my hems.

    Herringbone stitch take a LONG time and eats thread (7 times the hem length … yes I did the xy-plot). This square stitch should take 4.414 times the hem length and might be faster. Hooray!!!

  2. missa
    missa January 28, 2011

    Thanks for the math, Beth! I never even thought to sort out how much thread a stitch would use, but now that you mention it, it’s a darned good idea!
    There’s a really neat hand hemming stitch I learned in from my couture teacher. I use it a fair amount because it’s super fast and easy. It’s a running zig-zag that secures the turning of the hem to the lining (or whatever) of the garment. The trick is that it’s a series of little back stitches, so it looks like a weird kind of cross stitch. I’m sure this has a name. I’m equally sure that I knew it at one point. It’s just ‘that hem stitch’ inside my head…. Anyway, it’s really fast once you get a rhythm going, and it doesn’t eat thread.

  3. Beth
    Beth January 29, 2011

    Yes, “that hem stitch” is MUCH faster. Thanks for the reminder.

    I only thought to check the thread needed because I had done a quarter of a people-sized hem and used a LOT of decorative thread. I didn’t want to run out.

    The “herringbone” stitch I used was denser than the one most online stitch dictionaries describe. The hem is turned to the outside and the raw edge is almost completely hidden by interlacing diamonds while the back looks like a double row of modern topstiching. I can’t find an online picture that’s quite right. If you scatter-plot these (x,y) pairs, you’ll get the idea.(0,2)(1.5,0)(0.5,0)(2,2)(1,2)(2.5,0)(1.5,0)(3,2)(2,2)(3.5,0)(2.5,0)(4,2)(3,2)(4.5,0)(3.5,0)(5,2). Just for completeness, the square chain stitch (x,y) pairs are (0,0)(1,0)(1,1)(0,1)(1,0)(2,0)(2,1)(1,1)(2,0)(3,0)(3,1)(2,1)(3,0).

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