Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fear Not The French Knot

There are very few stitches in the embroidery world which inspire as much fear, trepidation, and hatred as the dreaded French Knot.  So many of us find them so frustrating that we avoid them at all costs!  But fear not my stitchy darlings.... once you get the hang of this handy little stitch I promise you'll be finding excuses to include them in your projects.  In the embroidery world (especially in cross-stitch) we always talk about avoiding knots in our work... so putting one in intentionally can be a little scary.

French Knots aren't that difficult, I promise.  But they do require a little practice.  If you've struggled with them (or avoided them completely) in the past now's the time to hoop up some extra fabric and give them another go. 

I found that the best secret to French Knot success is to use two hands and allow yourself a manageable length of floss - not too short and not too long.  I like to leave them until last in my project - not just because they require my full attention, but because hooping over top of them will ruin all your hard work.

Okay... take a deep breath, free up BOTH of your hands (I balance my hoop on my knees), and let's get started.

The size of your French Knot is determined by two factors - the number of threads you're using and the number of times you wrap said thread around the needle.  The more strands and the more times you wrap it, the fatter your knot will be.  In cross-stitch I tend to use a singular strand and wrap it around the needle two times.  This makes a nice tidy, tiny knot.  If you're just starting out and using a practice piece of fabric you might want to choose two strands of embroidery floss because the fatter the knot the less chance of pulling it through the hole in the fabric and ruining the stitch.

Bring your needle up through the fabric (from the back) in the place indicated by the pattern.  Here I'm dotting the "i" in the line of text.  Pull the length of floss all the way through.

I'm right-handed so I hold the needle in my right-hand the length of floss in my left.  If you're left-handed all you need to do is reverse that. 

Wrap the length of floss around the needle.  I like to wrap two or three times - once isn't enough and four is too many!  Here I've wrapped it twice.

Still holding on to the length of floss with your left hand, insert the tip of your needle back in to the fabric at the same hole you came up through.  Don't let go of the floss with your left hand!

With your left hand gently pull the wrapped floss down your needle until it sits against the fabric.  This ensures the knot is neat and tidy against your stitching. 

Once the knot is settled against the fabric, draw the needle through SLOWLY with your hand right while maintaining your hold on the floss with your left hand (I hold the floss down close to the knot with my left thumb).  I think the secret to French Knot success is controlling the floss so it doesn't tangle.

Holding the floss down with your left hand creates tension in the floss, which allows you to control the process and place the knot precisely where you want it.  By drawing the floss through slowly you minimize the chance of your floss tangling and knotting somewhere where you don't want it.  I think this is the stage where a lot of people make mistakes with their French Knots because they're not controlling the process.

As you draw the floss through you can see the knot forming.  I keep my left thumb controlling that floss for as long as possible.  Once you've got your floss pulled almost all the way through you can release with your left thumb.  Resist the urge to tug sharply on your floss as you reach the length of it - not only does that tighten the knot you've just completed and make it smaller, but you risk pulling it through to the backside of your project.  I think pulling to tightly is the mistake people make most often. If you go slow and gentle with your draw through you'll do just fine.
And that's it!  I swear, it really is that easy!  And just in case you like to see things real time, like I do, I even made a video for you to watch.  Just ignore the sound of traffic in the background and the fact that I really need a manicure! :D

I know you can do this.  It really isn't as hard as you might think and the satisfaction of mastering this new skill is worth the effort.  I love French Knots - I love the way they look, I love the process of stitching them.  I hope you'll learn to love them too.


  1. Brilliant!!! I am terrified of french knots, but you make them look so easy to do! Thanks so much for this wonderful tutorial! Next time I need to do one, I will be more confident! ^_^

  2. I've never heard of going back through the same hole you came up in. This would mean you have to make sure your knot is large enough so it doesn't pull all the way through the fabric. I always go back right next to the hole where I came up in - which means poking through the threads a bit if you're working on Aida, for example. That way the knot is still where you want it, but you're actually knotting *around* something, which helps hold it in place and form better.

  3. I hated french knots to the point where I would completely avoid them until my aunt gave me a fabulous trick - use beads instead. Yes, you could say that I am missing out by not learning about french knots, but the beads can add depth to a project and texture to a project. That's why I use them!

  4. Thanks a lot! it's very helpful :) I was wondering what color you use for their skin? all of the colors seems to be a little reddish and make them look sunburned.

    1. We use DMC 754 - it looks pinker on the computer monitor than in real life

  5. That's a great way of doing it!! My frech knots used to look kind of loose, but i think i missed the holding part at the end. And btw, you have a really cute accent!! Don't worry about it!! ;)

  6. This is fantastic. Do you know how many web pages i have read on how to do this, and how many tantrums my partner has had to put up with! And i read this thinking just another web site where i get no where, and as if by magic, i can do French knot after French knot after.. You get the idea! Thank you so much.

  7. Thank you! Your video is the only one I could find that explained how you fasten it on the back side! Success!

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for this. I've been making bizarre loopy French knots that resemble tse-tse flies, and couldn't figure out why -- here, I wasn't pushing the loops down the needle to start the knot before pulling it through. I may have given up entirely if not for your incredible explanation! Thank you so much!!!

  9. Your video was great!! I've been trying to do this stitch for ages and I finally got it! Thank you :D