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Brief Terminology of Chenille and Chain Stitch Embroidery

This week, my friends and I are going back in time. Going to jump way, way, way back to 1850, stop for a malted at the local soda shop in the 1940s, and more. What could be interesting about something that has been around for so long? Of course, you can do chain stitch and chenille embroidery!

The faux chain stitch and chenille embroidery have been getting a lot of attention lately. These are both made, along with a myriad of other stitches, by Cornely Machines, first invented in the 1850s! This story is bright and interesting, with patents and a talented female workforce. These were the first embroidery machines, like your Janome or Brother’s great-grandfather. Without the ideas of some creative people, you wouldn’t be able to make shirts and projects that go in the hoop. So, let’s get to know the Cornely Embroidery Machine right away.

The Bonnaz and Cornely machines have a long history.

Women's working with Cornely machines in 1942
Women’s working with Cornely machines in 1942

Antoine Bonnaz was born in Versin, France, on December 17, 1836. His family had made guns and other machines in the past. As a child, he didn’t have to go to school. To pass the time, he played with machines and made things like a wooden clock by cutting all the gears at once.

In 1800, Joseph Jacquard made the loom, and in 1825, Barthelemy Thimonnier made the first sewing machine.

Antoine got a job as a mechanic in a silk factory because he was interested in these machines. As he worked with the people who did hand embroidery, he couldn’t help but think of ways to make a machine do what they did by hand. In 1863, he got a patent for his machine called “couso-brodeur,” which means “sewing embroidery.” It was based on Thimonnier’s sewing machine, but it also fixed some design problems. After he got his patent, he sold it to the Parisian company Hurtu et Hautin, which was known for making cording machines and later bicycles and cars.

With that history in mind, the star of our show, Ercole Cornely, is about to come on stage.

Ercole Cornely, who lived in Paris, bought the patent and improved it by making a hook-shaped needle that could make a line of chain stitches. These were the first machines that could make a chain stitch that looked like it was done by hand on a tambour frame. They did this quickly and accurately. They were easy to use and could be used at home or in a small workroom. As the machines got better, it was hard to tell the difference between machine stitching and hand stitching.

Cornely also made improvements to the original designs. He made machines that could make chenille (also called a “moss stitch”), braiding, taping, and other designs. The machines were very popular and really gave women a chance to start their own business, since almost all of the people who did hand embroidery before the machines came along were women. This meant that you or I could buy a machine and use it at home to make bed sheets, decorate clothes, and do other things.

How the Cornely Embroidery Machine Can Be Used

uses of cornely embroidery machine

The Cornely machine can do a lot of different things. You could walk into a house and stand on a rug made by a Cornely machine, put your embroidered umbrella in the stand, take off your embroidered hat, and hand over a luscious embroidered coat. There was no place where some of these stitches couldn’t be shown.

These machines are very strong. They can stitch through leather, vinyl, wool, and felt, and they can also work just as well with silk or cotton bobbins. They are surprisingly simple machines, and anyone who knows how to use them can take care of their maintenance.

One of the things that makes this machine stand out is that it is moved by hand. Under the machine is a handle that lets the person running it move it around. How does it work? The fabric is held in place with your left hand, and the handle is turned with your right. If you want to go to the right, you turn the handle to the right. Make a circle with the handle. When you use an embroidery machine, you are basically “drawing” with it.

There is, of course, a very steep learning curve, and it can take a very long time to get good at using these machines. But let’s look at some of the Basic Cornely “A” machine’s basic stitches.

Using a Cornely embroidery machine to make a chain stitch

Using a Cornely embroidery machine to make a chain stitch

We have talked about chain stitch, but what is it really?

If you crochet, you know that you put your hook through a loop of yarn, hook the next piece of yarn, and pull it through the first loop. Chain stitch is exactly that! It’s a hook that goes through the fabric, grabs a loop of yarn (Cornely embroiderers often call anything from a thread to heavyweight “yarn”), and pulls it to the surface. The machine’s round foot, which is protected by a rubber ring, will move forward and press down while the foot drags the fabric forward, slightly positioning it for the next stitch. If you want to see this in action, there are many videos of it on YouTube.

Chain stitch can be used for many things, from sailor caps with your name stitched across the brim at a fair to fancy lace curtains on netting with cutwork. The art is using stitches and rich colours to draw attention to the parts you want to stand out. The difference between looking at the surface and holding it up to the light is amazing.

Chain stitching doesn’t only come in white. Of course, the thread used in a Cornely machine is as colourful as the rainbow, and all of the threads you use on a commercial machine can also be used with a small needle. Usually, a heavy weight 12wt cotton or wool thread is used.

Chenille

Chenille

Chenille is different in a few ways. It was once called “moss stitch” because it looks like fluffy moss. Instead of pulling a loop through another loop, it pulls that loop up and then moves on to the next stitch. Chenille needs to be packed tightly to fill even the smallest spaces, and it is usually only used for fills. It needs to be treated on the back. Usually, people would glue the back, but when packed tightly, the stitches that overlap lock in the stitches underneath. The top side can be left with loops, trimmed, or sometimes even brushed out to look like wool.

Chenille is made from either 12wt wool yarn or cotton, and it is usually not washed. Chenille is usually found on “old school” patches on biker jackets and “letterman” jackets. At the moment, it is popular for things like pillows, clothes, etc.

Cornely Braiding and Taping Embroidery Machine

Braiding and taping are basically the same thing. The Cornely B machine has a tower that holds a spool of Rice Braid (like shoelaces) in different weights or Soutache, which is a corded braid of two cords held together with a continuous figure 8 of silk or rayon thread. The tape or braid goes through a hollow tube that replaces the regular needle bar. When it comes out the bottom, it goes through a special foot that lets the needle stitch onto it.

As with plain yarn, the machine’s ability to turn and “draw” makes it easy to make beautiful patterns. Taping and braiding are most often seen on military uniforms, dresses from the Civil War, and couture dresses from the 1940s and 1950s.

Cornely Embroidery Machine for Twisting/Cording

In later versions of Cornely’s design, there were machines that could twist a cord or thread around the main thread to make beautiful textures. You could make beautiful designs by changing the texture or thickness of the added cord.

The Cornely embroidery machine has other stitches.

We could go on and on, but know that almost all of Cornely’s machines could do both the basic chain stitch and the chenille stitch. Each machine that came after the A machine had one or more extra features, such as sequins, beads, twisting, rope stitches, double stitching, and stitching with the design under the machine bed. They could have 1, 2, or 3 needles 

going at the same time. If you look at a Couturier, you can see just a small part of the creative ways this machine can be used.

Faux Chenille

Faux Chenille

You won’t believe it, but your machine can make a “fake” chenille stitch. Even though it isn’t looped in the usual way, the texture looks nice as a decoration. Check out the video below to learn more about how to combine this effect with others.

Faux Chain Stitch

With fake chain stitching, you can make a motif in the shape of an arrow. If you search for “Wilcom Hatch Embroidery Facts” in our Facebook group, you’ll find easy ways to make a motif and use it as a “line.” Here is a great example of how Linda Rayburn used a motif and heavy thread to make a great fake chain stitch.

Threads

When you stitch on your own machine, you might want to use a heavier thread. There are many choices, but a 12wt Cotton, Rayon, or Wool thread is a good one. Remember that you need at least a 10/16 needle for these.

Conclusion: what you can do with chenille and chain stitch embroidery

Well, I’m sure our trip from 1860 to today has worn you out. We’ve talked about a lot, so let’s go over some of the things we’ve talked about.

Cornely machines are very cool because they can easily stitch through leather, vinyl, wood, felt, and silk or cotton.

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Kelvin is the founder and CEO of 360Affairs, a content creation company. He's been a content marketer and SEO expert for over 5 years and writes for different platforms on blogging and website strategy.
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