Friday, 6 January 2012

Chicken Scratch Embroidery

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
An elderly friend, knowing I do hand-sewing and embroidery, asked me if I knew anything about Chicken Scratch embroidery. She'd inherited a half-finished set of quilt blocks, with the patterns, but couldn't figure out how to read them. I had to admit I'd never heard of Chicken Scratch, but told her I'd go online for her and see what I could find out.

I was fascinated. It's a very simple embroidery technique - composed of double-cross stitches (an "x" worked on top of a "+", making a little 8-pointed star), horizontal and vertical running stitches (called bars), plus circles and ovals formed by weaving the thread under the bar stitches - worked on the grid created by the base material, any color gingham (aka checkerboard plaid). Stitched with white thread - the stars on the darkest squares, the bars on the medium colored ones, and the circles around the white squares - it makes ordinary old picnic cloth look like it's been covered over with lace (hence another name for Chicken Scratch: Depression Lace, as in the Depression era).

I found and printed out this informational downloadable PDF file for my friend. It explains how to do it, how to read a pattern, and includes a free pattern. If you Google the term, you can find images of other chicken scratch handwork. It would be easy to design your own shapes, too, using graph paper. 

In a nice little bit of serendipity, not long after I'd done all this I came across a couple of chicken scratch pillowcases in my favorite thrift store. After New Year's, I like to change my decor over to a red and white theme. It makes my home feel bright and cheery, warm and cozy during these short and cold winter days. Now that I've got some indoor craft time available, I'm going to cut those two pillowcases apart, duplicate the stitchery pattern on the two back pieces, and make a set of four placemats for my kitchen. The center diamonds are worked in a combination of dark red and white threads. Although I prefer the look of the all-white ones, I'll go ahead and match what's there. It would look better, though, if the dark double-x's were worked on the white squares. And I'm already thinking about playing around some more with the technique - maybe a white heart worked on the bib of a yellow (light blue? hmmm) gingham apron, just in time for Spring?