Chicken Scratch

Also known as: chicken scratch embroidery, depression lace, snowflaking, amish embroidery,  gingham lace, tic tac toe embroidery, hoover lace

embroidery sample: chicken scratch

About chicken scratch
Chicken scratch embroidery is a very simple form of embroidery done, traditionally, over gingham fabric. Gingham fabric is a checkered fabric, making the counting of stitch easy. This infusion of a few stitches over such a fabric gives a very sophisticated look. At the first go, it seems like a lot of time and energy was spent in bringing about such an ‘appliqued lace’ effect.

This form of embroidery is used to decorate different household items like, pillows, cushions, aprons, jar lids, table cloths and mats, and even bookmarks. The cloth with smaller checks (8 squares per inch) are used for smaller projects like book marks and pin cushions. The bigger squares (4 squares to an inch) is used for bigger projects like  table cloths.

This embroidery is believed to have originated in America during the early years when the new settlers came in. This information, however, remains unclear. It is said that as the settlers moved to newer places, the embrodiery also got newer names. An interesting fact is that during the Depression, ladies made gowns from gingham fabric and declared their stitchery as hoover lace.

With so many names that this embroidery is known with, it is also mistaken with  Teneriffe Lace, which is a bit more complicated form of embroidery.

Chicken scratch today
These days, chicken scratch is taken up with new interest amongst the needle enthusiasts. A lot of experimenting with the color of threads used, the fabric, and even the stitches is happening, probably giving way to a new kind of chicken scratch embroidery altogether, than the traditional one.

Gingham fabric is replaced with aida, or even weave fabric. The color of thread is not chosen to give only a lacy effect, but a different one. Even the stitches used have expanded.

Stitches used
Traditionally the following stitches are used on gingham fabric. But, these days, it is not confined to these alone.

1. Running stitch
2. Cross stitch
3. Double cross stitch
4. Woven oval
5. Woven circle

Transfering designs
The designs are first marked on a graph sheet. Usually each design would have its own key, decoding the type of stitch to be used. The design can then be directly stitched on to the gingham fabric, taking each square in the graph sheet as each square on the fabric.

Thread, fabric and stitch tips
A variety of looks can be created using a couple of stitches. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before beginning the lessons:

1. You can use a single color of thread or many.
2. It is common to use light colored thread over darker fabric and vice versa.
3. When two colors of threads is used, one is usually white and the other is the darker than the darkest cell in the fabric.
4. Generally, six strands of cotton floss or perle cotton #5 is used.
5. Be sure to follow the same sequence while doing double cross stitch.
6. It is advised to stitch the outline of the motif patterns first, before filling the inside.
7. The general sequence of stitch to be followed is – cross stitch and double cross stitch, running stitch, woven circle and woven ovals. This, however, remains a matter of convenience.
8. All stitches are either done over the white cell or the darkest cell. The tinted cell (i.e. lightly colored cell) is usually left alone, except for straight stitches to support woven circles or woven ovals.

The lessons will give you an overview of how to do chicken scratch using the traditional gingham fabric and the above mentioned stitches. When chance permits, I will demonstrate a few ‘new’ stitches over aida fabric too.

Lesson 1: border design using white thread over gingham fabric
Lesson 2: heart motif using different colored threads over gingham fabric

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36 Responses

  1. Sandra Ireland Google Chrome  SAMSUNG SM-G361F/G361FXXU1AOF9 Build/LMY48B) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) SamsungBrowser/3.3 Chrome/38.0.2125.102 Mobile Safari/537.36 says:

    Hello Sarah, I am new to your website and enjoying it immensely! I found your tutorials easy enough to follow and the photos that accompany it. But like everything else it takes practice. How do i approach it as a beginner? I am on a tight budget too. What would be the best project to start with? I have recently attended a new craft meeting near where we live and the lady showed us some samples of Chicken Scratching and I said I would like to learn in the New Year. I would like to get in some practice before then.

    Thank you for a wonderfully illustrated website.

    Sandra (Kilkenny, Rep of Ireland)

    • sarah India Google Chrome Windows says:

      Hi Sandra,
      Wonderful to hear from you.
      If you are absolutely new, you can begin with some easy stitches from the straight stitch family. Chicken scratching will be easier if you practice these stitches. Since stitching in straight lines would be boring, I would suggest you just pick up an easy pattern or design (just the outline and not complicated). Practice the stitches over the outlines and enjoy the outcome!
      Hope this helps! Let us know how your chicken scratch classes are coming out to be. 🙂

  2. Rena United States Mozilla Windows says:

    Can you please tell me where I can find a good quality 1/4 inch cotton gingham check fabric?

  3. fatema India Safari  Android 4.0.4 Micromax A110 Build/IMM76D says:

    Hi sarah,
    Thanks a ton for your website. For last few years I had completely put down my needles and hoop,,now again I am motivated to start something not done earlier.will surely share my work with u once I complete,
    Thanks once again..
    With all best wishes…
    Fatema S B

  4. Priscilla United States Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you so much for your web-site! I learned how to embroider as a young girl but have not done it since & now I want to start again! I love this chicken-scratch tutorial. Where can I find thick cotton gingham fabric. I’d like to make some
    cute kitchen towels.

    • Sarah United States Google Chrome  Redmi 5 Plus) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/72.0.3626.121 Mobile Safari/537.36 says:

      Wonderful, Priscilla. Do share your works here. Maybe you can try the hobby store or the thrift store to practice embroidery on.

  5. Bhanu Jamaica Safari Mac OS says:

    was browsing for kasuti designs and came upon your blog. completely forgot myself as I started reading about chicken scratch. It seems so interesting to work with Gingham fabric and so simple too. The designs look very beautiful. I am so excited that I cant wait to try this. My brain is already buzzing with the different things I can use this embroidery on. Thanks so much for sharing this great skill.

    Could you please tell me where I can get patterns for chicken scratch.

    Thanks again.
    Best regards from the British Virgin Islands

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