Embroidery is a nearly perfect craft: It's relaxing, it's creative and there aren't too many rules. But some guidelines can help take your needlework to the next level. And one of the most basic is to avoid knotting your thread.
Here's why: Knots can turn certain stitches into tangled messes. They can ruin a framed piece of embroidery or embroidered linens by adding tiny bumps and stray threads. Or they can unravel over time, especially if you wash your embroidered pieces, wiping out all your hard work.
It's impossible to thread a needle without knotting, you say? Not at all! Here are three quick ways to make sure your stitches stay in place — without unsightly lumps and bumps.
With Two Strands of Floss
Avoiding a knot when you use two strands of thread is fast and SO easy.
1. Cut one long strand of floss and fold it in half.
2. Thread the cut ends into the eye of the needle, with the folded end last.
3. Push your needle from the back to the front of the fabric as you normally would, only don't pull the thread all the way through. Leave a small loop on the back of the fabric.
4. On the front of the fabric, make a stitch — but before you pull the needle and thread through, turn the fabric over again and pass the needle through the loop. (See the photos above and below.)
5. Pull the needle through the loop and tighten the thread. This will create a chain stitch around the working thread.
6. Turn the fabric over and continue stitching. Your thread is secured to the back of the fabric with no knot in sight!
The photo above shows a stem stitch made with this method.
This technique works with any type of thread and any number of strands. The trick: You start off with a knot, which you'll eventually cut off. (That's why it's called a waste knot!) You secure your stitches with a few preliminary backstitches.
1. Thread your needle normally and tie a little knot at the end of your thread.
2. Push the needle down the front of the fabric, a couple of inches or so from the pattern's starting point. The goal is to leave a knot on top of the fabric.
3. Make a tiny stitch on the design line about an inch away from your starting point (and away from your knot), pulling the needle from the back to the front of the fabric as you normally would.
4. Now make two or three tiny backstitches, working toward the starting point of your design.
5. Once you have a few tiny backstitches on the design line, bring your needle to your starting point, and start stitching toward the knot.
6. Stitch right over those little backstitches as if they weren't even there. Your embroidery stitches will cover them up.
Don't worry about what's going on at the back of the fabric. You'll be stitching through the threads on the back as you progress toward the knot — and that's okay! Just think of it as extra security.
7. When you get near the knot, pull it up and snip it off. The rest of the thread will go through to the back of the fabric. But your stitching won't unravel, thanks to the tiny backstitches, which act like anchors.
This is what the beginnings of both type of stitches look like. The line on the left is the two-stranded method; the line on the right is the waste knot with tacking stitches.
Both threads are perfectly secure, and neither leaves a little lump on the back of the fabric.
With Isolated Stitches
When you're embroidering isolated stitches, like single French knots, avoiding unsightly traveling lines and tails can be tough, especially when you use dark thread on light fabric. No worries — we've got you covered here too.
1. Start with a waste knot at the top of the fabric. Then push the needle through the front of the fabric at the exact spot you want your French knot.
2. Make a tiny stab stitch by pushing the needle through the fabric, then pulling it back up through the same hole.
3. Make another tiny stab stitch across the first one, as if you're making a cross stitch.
4. Pull these stitches tightly so they're flat, but not so tightly that they bunch up the fabric.
5. Stitch a French knot right over this tiny dot. To make a French knot, pull the needle up through the back of the fabric, wrap the thread once or twice around the needle, push the needle right next to the hole and slide the knot down the needle. Hold the thread firmly in place while you pull the needle through the fabric.
6. Now you have a perfect French knot right over the stab stitch dot.
7. Turn your your fabric over and run the needle underneath the stitch right behind the French knot.
8. Pull the needle through until there's a small loop in the working thread. Pass the needle through the loop in the opposite direction, then cinch the loop around the working thread.
9. Snip both threads — the thread from the waste knot and the working thread — close to the back of the French knot.
While this method definitely slows you down as you stitch a row of French knot, it's the best way to secure your thread.
Once you practice these no-knot techniques, they'll become second nature. But if these methods drive you crazy, go ahead and make as many knots as you want. The only real rule of embroidery is to enjoy it.
Learn More Now
Get everything you need to know about embroidery, including tutorials for common stitches and tips on choosing the best supplies, in our free Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery.