clear navigate_before

Open chain stitch icon
Open chain stitch

  • Square chain stitch
  • Roman chain stitch
  • Small writing
  • Big writing
  • Ladder stitch
Open chain stitch main image

This is a variation on chain stitch where the stitches are wider than the standard variety.  The loop of each stitch is pulled wider which can result in a squarer appearance, hence one of its alternative names of square chain stitch and ladder stitch.

For a stitch which is visually similar to a whipped version of this stitch, but is worked differently, see sinhalese chain stitch.

The first known example of open chain stitch dates to the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), found in excavations in Outer Mongolia.  Since then it has been used across the world: it featured in 16th century English blackwork; and is used extensively by both the Hausa people of Nigeria, and in Rabari embroidery from Kutch in India. It was used in 19th century Oman to decorate trousers; and embellishes garments in Kalotaszeg, a region which spans Romania/Transylvania.

Open chain stitch is generously sponsored by Elizabeth Ellers



Bring the needle up on the right hand side of the stitch area and take it down at the same level on the left hand side, leaving the thread loose.


Bring the needle back up on the right, below the first stitch and through the loop. Do not over tighten the loop just yet.


Take the needle down through the loop, level with where the needle was just brought up, again leaving the thread loose. The first loop can now be tightened to form the first open chain stitch.


Bring the needle up on the right hand side, through the next loop, keeping it in line with the previous open chain stitch.


Again take the needle down on the left hand side, through the loop to form the second open chain stitch. Continue working from right to left, creating as many open chain stitches as required.


Make a small holding stitch over the last open chain at the bottom right hand corner.


Make another small holding stitch at the bottom left hand corner.


A completed line of open chain stitch.

Open chain stitch

Structure of stitch

Embroidery Techniques

Related Stitches


  • Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.42
  • Mary Thomas, Jan Eaton, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (Revised Edition) (1989) , p.44
  • Schuyler Cammann. (1962) 'Embroidery Techniques in Old China', Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America pp.16-40. Available at:
  • W.G. Paulson Townsend, Louisa F. Pesel, Walter Crane, Embroidery or the Craft of the Needle (1907) , p.131
  • David Heathcote. (1972) 'Hausa Embroidered Dress', African Arts pp.12-19+82+84 (10 pages). Available at:
  • Judy Frater. (1999) 'When parrots transform to bikes: social change reflected in Rabari embroidery motifs', Nomadic Peoples pp.31-49 (19 pages). Available at:
  • Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood. (2017) 'Embroidery from the Arabian Peninsula', Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies pp.239-251. Available at:
  • Sheila Paine, Embroidered Textiles - Traditional Patterns from Five Continents (1990) , p.58