Stitch Anatomy – the French Knot

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

French knots are the bane of many a needleworker’s existence, but they’re actually very easy to make, once you understand the mechanics of working this pretty surface embroidery stitch.

The origins of the French knot’s name are a bit obscure, as this knot has been used throughout history around the world. My best guess-timate is that this pretty little stitch was used quite a bit in French embroidery, and while not truly “French”, the name stuck.

It’s a bit like French fries – which actually originated in Belgium!

French knots are made by gently wrapping thread around the needle once or twice (once for a small knot, or twice for a larger knot) and then inserting the needle into the fabric, creating a knot-like stitch on the surface of the fabric.

French knots are very versatile and can be used individually, in clusters like I’ve shown here in this tiny little hydrangea-like blossom (with last week’s detached chain stitch used for the leaves), or worked along straight and curved lines.

When selecting a needle for working French knots, select a needle that has a longer eye that can accomodate the thread (I have used DMC Color Variations thread in size 5 pearl cotton – colors 4190 and 4040).

The eye of the needle should not have a defined “bump” near the eye, but instead should have a shaft that gently tapers to the end.

A gently-tapering needle prevents the thread from getting hung up at the eye while pulling the tail through the knot – which often results in the knot pulling through the fabric to the wrong side.

In this example, I have used a size 26 tapestry needle, but you can also use an embroidery needle.

To make a French knot, bring the needle up through the back of the fabric at the location where you wish to place the knot.  The needle is now ready to wrap.

Wrap the thread around the needle once for a small knot, or twice for a larger knot – but never more than twice, as this forms a lopsided knot.

In the example shown here, I have wrapped the thread twice to make a larger knot.

The thread should hug the needle gently without being tight or too loose. A good way to test this is to slide your needle up and down a bit.  If you have trouble sliding it, the wrap is too tight, and if the thread loops overlap each other, the thread it too loose.

Holding the tail of the thread, insert the needle into the fabric close to your original exit point.

Do not use the same hole as your exit point or you’ll likely lose your knot to the back side of the work.

As you pull the needle through the fabric, allow the tail to slide through your fingers, keeping the thread straight with a slight tension.  Release the tail as it approaches the knot, and pull the tail through. You will now have a well-formed French knot.

Remember, this stitch is actually easy to work, and practice makes perfect!



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4 Responses to “Stitch Anatomy – the French KnotComment RSS feed

  • Annie
    August 31st, 2011 10:02 am

    Size 5 pearl cotton? Maybe it’s easy with that thread. But 2-strands of DMC floss on 32 count linen over-2 threads? Not so much.

    • admin
      August 31st, 2011 12:08 pm
      Author's Reply

      I normally use 2 strands of floss on 32 count as well, and don’t have any isues. Pearl in size 5 was used here to make it easier to photograph.
      I’ve found that it’s usually the needle causing the problem. Try using a needle with a slimmer eye – it usually does the trick!

  • Jason @ Gold Work embroidery
    September 1st, 2011 2:40 pm

    I’ve done French knots before with a bit of a hit or miss success rate, but since reading this I’m up to 100%.

    Thank you very kindly

  • Shelley
    September 2nd, 2011 6:15 am

    I don’t understand everyone’s frustration with these? They are really simple (maybe because I have been stitching since I was 5?) I started with crewel embroidery & now also do cross stitching.

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