Do you cringe when you see the word “knot” in stitch instructions? If so, you are not alone. The knots aren’t hard to make, yet they may make us nervous. Why? Perhaps it is because of the definition:
- a fastening made by tying a piece of string, rope, or something similar.
- a tangled mass in something such as hair
There it is! We spend most of our stitching time trying to avoid that “tangled mass” in our projects. Would we embrace these stitches if they had names like French Twist, Palestrina Pearl, or Coral Cord? Perhaps, but it is too late now. So, instead let’s embrace the knots and learn how to make them on purpose!
The French Knot
This is the most common knot used in basic embroidery, it can be found in needlework around the world, and has existed for a very long time. Much of the time the knot is used to fill in an area where other stitches won’t fit. Brazilian embroidery often uses the knot to create the fine greenery of a bouquet. It is a versatile stitch because the size of the knot can be adjusted by the type of thread and number of strands used by the stitcher. The knot is created by wrapping the thread around the needle and then going back through the fabric near where the needle came up through the fabric.
A topic of debate is how many wraps should be made to constitute a French Knot. Some say only one wrap, like Marion Scuolar in her Advice Is… book. Others say only two wraps. What we do know for sure is that adding wraps actually makes the knot taller and less stable. To make your knot larger, add more strands of thread or use a thicker thread.
The Pekinese stitch is now thought to be what was once called the Pekin Knot or Chinese Forbidden or Blind stitch. Young ladies were forbidden to do the stitch because it would strain their eyesight due to how fine the stitching was. The knots were created with thin filaments (much finer than a ply) and used to completely fill in an area. In the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum there is an embroidered tassel with over 100 Pekin stitches per square centimeter, about 0.4 inches.
If more than two wraps are used, it is now a Bullion knot. This is a popular knot especially in Brazilian embroidery, such as the Grandiose Mum.
A milliners needle is required for making bullions because the eye is the same size as the shaft. It makes it easier to slide the wrapped threads off the needle. Different size needles are used for various thread sizes, so an assortment is helpful. To make really long bullions, you need a set of bullion needles. If you want to try making bullions, the Rolled Rose Bouquet Brazilian embroidery kit is a good first project.
Carol Leather has a great step-by-step tutorial on her website showing how to make bullion knots, and then shows you how to create a rose and a strawberry.
You want your French knots to be uniform. They should be round with a dimple on top. It does not matter whether you have your needle in front of the thread or behind the thread when you make your wraps. What is important that you do it the same way every time.
Lastly, do not put your needle down the same fabric hole you came up. Move over one or two fabric threads.
The Colonial Knot
The Colonial knot may be best known for its original use in a Colonial technique. This stitching style is attributed to the women who helped settle America. With limited supplies, they stitched with unbleached muslin and the thick cotton threads intended to use as candle wicks, hence the name Candlewicking. These knots are lovely for filling stitches as well and have a different look than a French knot.
The Colonial Knot is also known as the Figure 8 Knot because of the way the thread is looped around the needle. The size of the Colonial Knot is dictated by the number of strands used and weight of the thread.
The Palestrina Knot
This knot is known by many other names such as Old English knot stitch, twilling stitch, pearl stitch, and double knot stitch. This knot is attributed to Italy where it is used in an embroidery style of the same name. These are not single knots, but rather created along a line. It is a great stitch for outlining and can be a lot of fun.
To make the knot really stand out, use a solid thread like pearl cotton or Kreinik braid. This stitch is worked along a journey. You can vary the look by changing the spacing of your knots.
The Coral Stitch
The Coral Stitch is another stitch that incorporates a knot along a continuous line of thread. The knots can be made really close together to resemble a string of pearls. Rows of coral stitches can be layered like bricks. This stitch is created right to left. Any thread can be used. The size of the thread will determine the knot size.
The coral stitch is a very important stitch for German Schwalm. Learn more about German Schwalm.
Here is a stitched comparison made with floss and pearl cotton in the several knots we have discussed, using different amounts of strands and wraps (where applicable).
Using Beads Instead
So, what if you want a knot but just can’t (or won’t) do them? You can often substitute a bead for the knot. There are many different bead attachment methods to help accomplish this, plus it allows you to add a bit of extra sparkle without having to wrestle with making knots with metallic threads.
Here are some great knotted stitches references:
Knots create unique and textural designs and can be beautiful all by themselves. Here are some great ideas to practice getting your knots on!
Kari created this Assisi-inspired project with French knots. The outline was created by tracing around the sewing machine cookie cutter.
Or you could create a monogram with knots as the background, the focal point, or both! Knotty monograms are great and quick gifts. These were stitched with Bella Lusso wools, Kreinik metallics, and finished in mini hoops.
The type of thread you use to create your knots makes a big difference as well. Kari is working on The Colours of Summer silk ribbon embroidery kit that features French knots in both floss and silk ribbon. Take a look at the beautiful differences.
Perhaps now when you see one of these knot stitches in your next project, you will be excited to get started.
Free Knotted Pattern
This design was made to bring all these techniques together.
Here are the materials you will need to stitch it as shown, but feel free to make changes!
The Vintage Valentine Design was stitched on white Trigger cloth. The design is 5.5" square, so be sure to add enough for stitching and finishing.
The stitched and threads used were:
- For the lace edge in Blanket Stitch and French knots around the heart – DMC Color Variations Floss #4170
- Stem Stitch for the outlines of the heart – DMC Color Variations Floss #4180
- Spider Web Woven Roses – Watercolours #190
- Leaves and Coral Knot vine – DMC Color Variations Floss #4050
- Bullion Roses – Iris #040
- Baby’s Breath with beads – Mill Hill Frosted Beads #62048.
You will also need some needles:
- Embroidery (Sharps) such as Piecemakers Embroidery Assorted
- Milliners for the bullion roses such as Piecemakers Milliners Assorted
- Beading needles such as John James Size 10
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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