Chain Stitch Embroidery: History and Facts About Antique Singer Chain Stitch Machines

Chain Stitch Embroidery has been around for a long, long time. If you’ve ever seen work made on a Singer or Cornely machine, you’ll probably notice how different and unique the embroidery looks. Here are some historical facts and interesting details about the medium.

antique singer chain stitch machine

The History of Chain Stitch Embroidery

Chain stitch embroidery was historically used for work-wear, embellishing garments, and western wear. (Not to be confused with a chain stitch made in hand embroidery!) Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of information online about this type of embroidery. The machines were made by Cornely and Singer. The particular machine that I use started being manufactured around 1911. It uses a hand-crank to steer the machine/stitches, and it was first used with a treadle table. For those who don’t know, a treadle table is operated with a foot pedal. The foot pedal is pumped, which in turn rotates a wheel to operate the machinery, as these types of tables don’t use any electricity. These days, steering a chain stitch machine is still controlled with the hand-crank, but most people use electric motor to power the machine.

Pictured below, a well known tailor named Nudie embellished western clothes with chain stitch machines.

Chain Stitch Embroidery has a very unique look to it; very different from current day machine embroidery.

A Love for Old Things

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with everything old that has a story to tell. Antiquing, thrifting, and finding little gems from the past are some of my favorite activities to do in my free time. I started seeing chain stitch embroidery on Instagram, and fell in love. Hand embroidery will always be my first love, but I began to feel the need to branch out and try something new. I thought on it for awhile, keeping an eye out online and in vintage shops. Chain stitch machines are not easy to find and they take a lot of work to refurbish. I came across a machine on Ebay months later, and took the plunge.

Learning Curves

As with any old piece of machinery, it has it’s quirks and I’ve had to learn A LOT through trial and error. I absolutely love the process of learning how to use it and making things with it. There is no machine in present day that looks like the finished product that these machines produce. Whenever I make patches and embellish clothes with my machine it feels like going back in time and holding a piece of history in my hand. I’m so happy that I decided to learn this lost art!

If you’d like to learn even more, below is a cool page with information about vintage and antique singer sewing machines that I found very interesting

The Singer Model