Twisted chain stitch
- Charles II stitch
This line stitch has a twisted, rope-like effect as the uppermost threads on each part lie diagonally across it. It is worked in a similar way to chain stitch with two crucial distinctions: each loop of the chain is twisted, and the needle is taken down outside of the previous loop. Some authors take the needle down slightly wide of the design line; others tuck it slightly under the stitch just made for a sleeker look.
The stitch was evidently in use in the 17th century, as it features on a partlet (a garment used to fill in a low-cut gown), currently held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is worked in silver-gilt thread to form the narrow tendrils which protrude from the quintessentially Elizabethan plant stems.
Victorian authors indicate that the stitch was also known as Charles II stitch “not that he embroidered with it himself; but it is found in work of the time of Charles II” according to Art-needlework for decorative embroidery from 1879, although we don’t know of any examples from this era.
The stitch seems to be the forerunner of rope stitch (variation): the RSN’s 1880 Handbook of Embroidery by Letitia Higgin shows an elongated version listed under both names where the needle is taken down half way along the length of the previous stitch, and slid underneath the loop so the stitches overlap. By 1885, Higgin shows a more contracted version (again using both names) which is very similar to the modern version of rope stitch, and by 1898’s Corticelli Home Needlework the stitch is no longer being called twisted chain stitch and has become the modern version of rope stitch. Twisted chain stitch seems at some point to have contracted so that both sides of the chain are of similar length.
The image to the left shows (top right to bottom left) the 1880 version of twisted chain stitch, the modern version with the end tucked under, and the modern version with the end protruding.
The stitch can also be worked as an isolated stitch, either singly or in groups.
Leave a loop on the surface as if you were working a standard chain stitch, and then take your needle down outside of the loop, just below the design line and slightly forward of where your needle came up. Your working thread should cross itself.
Bring your needle up inside the loop, slightly above the design line and a stitch-length ahead. Tighten your loop against your needle.
Structure of stitch
S. F. A. Caulfeild, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.195
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.42
LH. 'Art Needlework (Jan 1885)', Art Amateur pp.46-7.
Letitia Higgin, RSN Handbook of Embroidery (1880) , p.28
Mrs L Barton Wilson et al, Corticelli Home Needlework (1898) , p.19
Constance Cary Harrison, Woman’s handiwork in modern homes (1881) , p.43
Eliza Mary Ann Savage, Lucretia Peabody Hale, Art-needlework for decorative embroidery (1879) , p.10
'Elizabethan partlet', Victoria and Albert Museum. Available at: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O319537/partlet-unknown/ (Accessed: 20 July 2023)