Chain Stitch v.s. Lock Stitch – Pro’s & Con’s

Chain Stitch

The Infamous Chain Stitch

The infamous chain stitch. What’s all the fuss about?  Why do some make such a big deal out of it while others could care less?  Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter answer here. The easiest way to go through the advantages and disadvantages of chain stitching and lock stitching is probably to do just that in point form.

Chain Stitch

Chain Stitching


Chain Stitching - Process (wikipedia)


  • More authentic and original
  • Results in nicer fading pattern around denim bottoms
  • Better “roping” effects (i.e. twisted, rope-like look at denim bottoms)


  • Difficult to have done (since chain stitching must be done on Union Special machine since chain stitching can only be done on a special sewing machine)
  • Tends to unravel
  • Only noticeable on the inside (i.e. after you cuff)

Other (if you decide to Chain Stitch)

Lock Stitch

Lock Stitch

Lock Stitch


Lock Stitch - Process (wikipedia)


  • Stronger stitch
  • Much cheaper
  • More accessible of a service


  • Aesthetically more unnatural (however, this vary between denim, material, etc.)
  • Less appealing to some due to weaker “roping” effect

Additional Resources

Stay Raw!



A long-time denim enthusiast, Chad has spent the last year between a pair of Allevol and Naked & Famous jeans. In addition to contributing to, he also keeps busy with Sporting Charts.

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  • Yakrian

    Just for the record, Chain-Stitching does NOT have to be done by a Union Special…There are many sewing machines out there that can chain-stitch. The reason Union Special machines are coveted is because they are the original machines to have automated the process and, like narrow looms, were used to create many pairs of what are now considered vintage jeans in the USA.

    • Chad

      Apologies Yakrian – the article has been revised. Thanks for letting us know and helping us get the facts right!

  • Jonny

    How much legend it is about the Union Special 43200 and how much truth…
    Who knows…
    A lot of people who actually have it or have a pair of jeans hemmed on it, do appreciate it.
    Word is indeed that the roping effect of it is much stronger, not just compared to lockstitch but to other chain stitch machines as well.
    It’s not a big stretch to imagine that even though two different models have the same method, chain stitch, do produce a different look.
    The way I heard it, the US 43200 produces a roping effect in an almost 45° angle through its characteristic  way to push and pull the fabric.
    Well, it’s nerd stuff, for sure.
    But so you can meet other denim nerds and make tons of friends!
    Win- Win.
    Besides, when you buy a 43200 and it generally is in working condition- you can go places.
    For one you don’t have to find out which other sewing machine might do the job even just okay.
    And also, you can offer a hemming service and promote it based simply on using the Union Special 43200.
    Oh, and might even be a good investment- I don’t see them getting any cheaper really, rather even more expensive.
    I don’t consider myself a denim nerd, not compared to some of the Union Special owners anyway, but the roping effect of the 43200 does catch my interest indeed.
    I definitely like the roping it produces too, yet if other chain stitch machines can produce an at least decent roping effect I might go for that-  simply because it’s much cheaper, simpler to get and most likely just as well in terms of quality.
    Unfortunately the 43200 has gotten pretty expensive due to its legendary status and the myth about it does probably exceed reality, but see above for the upsides to it.
    Some places around the globe offer hem service on the 43200 for about 20€, I think that’s still a fair deal.
    Just my 2 cents at this early stage of learning to sew :).

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  • Matt Renna

    Seems to me bobbins are a big factor here.  Chainstitch; no bobbin (big advantage in time saving).  Lockstitch: requires bobin.  I’m guessing this is why the chainstitch would have been utilized traditionally?

  • Jenn

    Does anyone know if ANY chain stitch machine will cause the roping effect?  I’ve seen some cheap children’s machines that are solely chain stitch and have thought of dropping the forty bucks so that I could hem my denim with a chain stitch, but I hesitate because the reviews of them are generally poor.  I’ve even seen “hand models” that are chain stitch and operated by squeezing the machine in your hand like a stapler.  I have no idea if any of these work to create a roping effect and would like to get some advice from the experts before I buy something totally useless.  Thanks!!

    • Anonymous

      do you happen to have links to any of these?

      • Jenn

        Acually I do.  Here’s a simple chain stitch machine on Amazon.

        The hand “stapler-like” one is on eBay.  Here’s the listing info:
        Mini sewing machine chain stitch cloth selffeeding P1 (#280640646405)

        Thanks! :-)

        • Anonymous

          cool! thanks, Jenn.

  • Sarah

    Hand chain-stitch.

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  • WardXmodem

    Isn’t the chain stitch the “easy to pull out” stitch? NOT the double locked one shown in the graphic? One comment says the chain stitch doesn’t require a bobbin, but if that’s true it would imply the thread goes through the material, is held for the next stitch, and so on, so only one thread is used.

  • risandi pradipto

    It is such a nice article. it makes me understand better, and appreciate more. I’m glad now knowing what’s behind that “roping effect”. Keep up the good work.

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