clear navigate_before

Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch icon
Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch

Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch main image

This corded needlelace stitch is formed by working pairs of detached buttonhole stitches into a knot, the first is worked normally and the second is reversed to form a mirror image.  Unusually, these pairs are worked into the pair on the previous row (most needlelace stitches are worked into the spaces between the stitches on the previous row).  For a modern version of this stitch, see fancy buttonhole filling stitch.

The name ‘lark’s head’ refers to the structure of the knot, which dates from the 1st century CE and has many uses from sailing to surgery.

We are indebted to Jacqui Carey for her work in identifying this stitch in extant Elizabethan pieces, and diligent documenting of the working method.  See the References sections for details of her books which describe this and many other Elizabethan stitches.  N.B. the names used are descriptive names assigned by Jacqui Carey as historic records do not give us the names by which they were known.

Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch is generously sponsored by Rosalind Grant-Robertson for my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Higgs née Wheeldon


This needlelace stitch is worked from bottom to top.  The first row of this stitch is worked as a foundation row into the fabric (steps 1-4); subsequent rows are worked into the stitches of the previous row.
This stitch works best in a metallic thread or gimp.  You may find it easier to change from a crewel to a tapestry needle after the first row.


Bring your thread up on the left hand edge, slightly up from the bottom of your design area and take it back down on the bottom edge, slightly in from the left.  Pull through, leaving a small loop on the surface.


Bring your needle up fractionally to the left of the diagonal stitch and pull through, then take it down slightly to the right of where it just emerged, to make a horizontal stitch.  Leave your horizontal stitch slightly slack.


Bring your needle up on the bottom edge, slightly to the right of the diagonal stitch.  Slide it under the stitch you have just made from bottom to top, tighten your horizontal stitch and pull through.  This forms your first stitch.


Take your thread down on the bottom line, slightly to your right and repeat steps 2 and 3 to continue working the stitch.


When your row is finished, take your needle down on the right edge and bring it back up a short distance above.


Lay a long, cording thread across your design area, taking your needle down on the left edge.


Bring your needle up on the left edge, a short distance above the cording thread.


Work a detached buttonhole stitch into the horizontal part of the stitch on the previous row, taking your thread under the cording thread.


Throw your thread so the working thread loops below your stitching. Then work a detached buttonhole stitch from top to bottom, take your needle under both the cording thread and the horizontal part of the stitch on the previous row.


Pull through to complete the knot (you may need to tighten the first half of your knot first).


Continue working stitches in this way.


To anchor your final row, take your needle down through the fabric and back up between working each knot.


The finished stitch.

Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch method stage 14 photograph

The reverse of the stitch.

Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch

Structure of stitch

Embroidery Techniques

Identifying Elizabethan lark’s head ladder stitch

This stitch can be identified by the size of the knots (they are actually two stitches worked together and pulled tight), the symmetrical nature of the knots and the fact the knots are worked into the knots on the previous row, rather than the gaps between them.  These features mean that the knots form raised, vertical lines.
There is minimal thread visible on the reverse: the stitch goes through the fabric when it starts and ends, and along each edge, but the majority of the stitch is on the surface.


  • Jacqui Carey, Elizabethan Stitches - a guide to historic English needlework (2012) , p.124