Chicken Scratch Embroidery 101: My favorite thread

fav thread (2)

This post will go over the types of embroidery thread I have used to stitch Chicken Scratch embroidery, and why. If you interested in reading more about the gingham fabric I like to use for this type of embroidery, be sure to check out this post.

The next part of the discussion is- what type of thread to stitch with? Of course we can use whatever type of thread we like. But the vintage pieces I have collected these past several years have given me a great starting point. These pieces may or may not have been stitched with whatever thread was available, who really knows? I have experimented with different embroidery threads and have found some work better than others to give me the overall look I’m hoping for.


The orange piece pictured above is a great example of a vintage piece I have. It is an apron, one of about 5 I currently have (and I only plan on buying more if I find an absolutely amazing one). All the ones I have, including this one, appear to be stitched with 6-strand embroidery floss. In this one all the stitches are done with 3 strands, which is what I prefer to use in my own pieces. There are a few reasons-


  • I like that using 3 strands on a 1/4″ gingham grid allows the individual stitches, like the smyrna cross stitches in the orange piece, to show up nicely. Within each square, you can see some stitch detail. Stitching with all 6 strands would make the individual lines of the smyrna cross hard to see, and the overall stitch motif would lack detail.
  • Stitching with 3 strands covers most of an individual gingham square color… but not all of it. And I like that a bit of the background color shows through. I think it adds some color depth to the stitch pattern. Stitching with all 6 strands would cover more of the gingham square and the pattern would change and become more dense.
  • I like that stitching with 6-strand embroidery floss gives a flatter appearance on the surface of the piece. When I stitch with 3 strands, the individual strands tend to lay side by side, with not alot of extra surface texture. This is a look I prefer, and it feels more like the vintage pieces I have.


These details may be hard for the uneducated eye to see. But I can definitely tell the difference, and have come to love the look of 3 strands.


The image above is from my 31 day daily practice class over on Creativebug (31 days of learning Chicken Scratch embroidery!) and I used 6 strand embroidery floss separated into two sets of 3 strands for all of the patterns.


I designed my first Chicken Scratch Embroidery Block of the Month quilt back a few years ago and had a wonderful group of stitchers participate! Together, we experimented with different threads and different ginghams that we could get our hands on (pesky pandemic and supply chain issues). In the photo above, I tried stitching part of the pattern in Size 8 Perle Cotton thread. (The colored stitches are my favorite 3 strands of embroidery floss, and the white areas are stitched with the Perle cotton.)


In the end, I decided I did not like the look of the Size 8 Perle cotton. This thread doesn’t “flatten out” over the gingham the way my preferred thread does, which I tend to like the look of. Instead it stays twisted. This type of thread also wasn’t quite as good at hiding any stitches that weren’t exactly perfect, and overall didn’t feel as forgiving.


A few of us also tried using Size 5 Perle cotton, which is the white thread in the pattern above. I personally wasn’t a fan of that either, I didn’t love the twisted look of the strands, and it was definitely bulkier than I wanted.


Interesting to note, the pattern above is also stitched on a gingham grid larger than 1/4″, which we were also experimenting with in that same BOM. I think the overall look is just not as neatly stitched as 1/4″ grid. We were kind of sad about that because there were some beautiful colors in that larger gingham.

Silk embroidery thread

Even though I have a preferred thread, I am still experimenting. I’ve tried wool embroidery thread, but the texture against the cotton gingham felt too fuzzy and I also just personally don’t like stitching with wool thread. I just received some 7 strand hand dyed silk thread (pictured above) that I’ll be trying to see if I like that. I think there’s potential! I could see myself liking the sheen of the thread. I will report back.


And of that 6-strand embroidery floss category? I LOVE variegated thread! There are so many types of variegated thread- ones with short color changes, and ones with longer color changes. I love them all and use them whenever I can. I carry the Cosmo Seasons variety from Japan in my shop, and I also carry DMC . Both are beautiful quality and color selection.


I also love to stitch my Chicken Scratch embroidery in very contrasting colors from the base cloth. I like for the stitching to show up! I have all my favorite colors stocked in my shop.

Hope this provides some insight into this beautiful and fun vintage hand stitching. I encourage you to try it if you’re looking for something new and fun to expand your hand stitching skills with!

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