For stitchers, the knotted stitches are extremely important. Let’s look at a few of the knots that we all know and "love".
The French Knot
Today is Valentine’s Day, so I will start with the French Knot since the French are notorious for their flirting and have a reputation of being more romantic. (If you want to quickly learn some romantic phrases in French, check out this website!)
Research really didn’t answer my burning question of why this stitch is called the "French knot". What is known is this stitch 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 ply used by the stitcher. The knot is created by taking usually one to three wraps of thread around the needle and then going back through the fabric near where the needle came up through the fabric. Here is a design by Jean Mann that she taught at Nordic Needle where I did attempt French knot flowers. They don’t look too bad if you don’t look too close!
I am not ashamed to tell you that I am "knot challenged". At our annual retreat, a couple of excellent stitchers took on the challenge to teach me how to do a proper French knot. That would be one that actually has the knot where it is supposed to be. The top has a nice little indent in it, making it look a little like a rosebud. Mine tend to look more like a wilted rose with a bit of extra thread hanging out. After some patient teaching, I was able to make a fairly decent knot. If you are also "knot challenged" Mary Corbet has an excellent video tutorial to help you make a beautiful French knot.
The Colonial Knot
The Colonial knot may be best known for its use in Candlewicking. This stitching technique is attributed to the women who helped settle America. Like the stitchers before and after them, they wanted to create linens and household decorations for their homes. However, the supplies available to them were very limited. The fabric was unbleached muslin and the thread was actually the thick cotton threads intended to use as candle wicks, hence the name Candlewicking. These women took these plain items and turned them into works of art! We will cover this technique in a future newsletter, and I bet you will be amazed at what can be created from almost nothing. If you want a sneak preview, we carry two Candlewicking kits: Garden Expressions and Floral Silhouette.
The Colonial Knot has also been called the Figure 8 Knot, because of the way the thread is looped around the needle. I have used the Colonial Knot in my Brazilian embroidery, but the knot is smaller than a French knot because you don’t have as many wraps. Again, Mary Corbet has a great tutorial showing you how to create a perfect Colonial Knot.
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 so they resemble a string of pearls or lines of knots can be layered like bricks. This stitch has many different applications and is really quite pretty. It is a very important stitch for German Schwalm, which we talked about in the German Schwalm newsletter.
Here is a resource on German Schwalm including the coral stitch:
The Bullion Knot
This is one of my most favorite stitches to do! Now I know that doesn’t make sense when I said I am knot challenged. However, when I first learned the stitch, I don’t remember hearing "knot" mentioned. One of the first classes I took here at Nordic Needle was Brazilian embroidery and the pattern was "Grandiose Mum" by Threads in Bloom. Sharon had it designed in oranges, which I am not fond of, so I changed it to pinks and purples. (No surprise there!) This pattern will either make you a lover or hater of Bullion knots. The smaller mums were made of bullions with maybe 50 wraps while the larger mums had over 200 wraps in each bullion in order to make them long and spindly. Here is a corner of the design showing several the bullions in various lengths.
At our retreat, we have a Stitcher’s Showcase where everyone can bring a piece of their work to show. My first year, I took my version of the Grandiose Mum. As we were going through looking at the beautiful pieces, a voice behind me said something about that being her pattern. I hadn’t put it all together that Sharon at the retreat was the same Sharon from Threads in Bloom. (I was a fairly new employee and my first retreat so that’s my excuse!) I wasn’t sure what she would say about me changing the colors and the quality of my work, but she was very complimentary. (Thank you Sharon!!)
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.
Before we finish today’s newsletter, we need to look at one more type of knotted stitch…the reason we ended up talking about knots today…
The Chinese Forbidden Stitch
One of the stories about why it is called the forbidden stitch is that young ladies were forbidden to do the stitch because it will ruin their eyesight. There are several knotted stitches found on Chinese embroideries including the one we know as the French knot. However, the knots were stitched close together to form a solid design. Another distinction is that the knot is usually made with only one loop around the needle making them rather flat. It has been called the seed stitch because of how small it is. Can you imagine how many knots it would take to fill in a small area? One of the existing examples of this work is in the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum. This is an embroidered tassel with over 100 seed stitches per square centimeter! One centimeter is about 0.4 inches. Unfortunately there is not a close up photo of the work, but when you look at the photo you can see how solid the surface appears. No wonder it was a strain on their eyesight. Not only would it be a strain on my eyes, but a challenge to my patience!
Using a bead 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. Several readers have asked for a newsletter on attaching beads and sequins to embroidery and canvas projects. So, stay tuned for a newsletter on this topic later this year.
For more information on knotted stitches, you can check out these resources:
- A-Z of Whitework
- A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2
- Royal School of Needlework Embroidery Techniques (1949)
Tying it all together…
I wanted to be able to bring all these techniques together and give you a Valentine as well. So, I came up with this surface embroidery pattern reminding me of a hand-made Valentine.
Let me tell you about the cool product I am using to mark my pattern. This is a brand new set of pattern marking pens that disappear when you heat the fabric with something like a hair dryer, or even holding it over the top of a toaster!! Here is an example of how it works.
The pattern was drawn onto trigger cloth with the markers, then I stitched one-half of the design on the right side. The pattern was completely repeated on the left side, but we heated the far left of the design, which has disappeared.
I love working with these new pens! One really nice feature is the ability to erase your line if you make a mistake drawing it on. Just use the special eraser on the end of the pen. The pens write really smooth also, no more stopping to let the pen catch up which creates "chicken-scratch" lines. This new set has eight colors so you can identify your stitches or your thread by the color. The Heat Removable Marking Pens are $27.50 for the set of eight pens. They are also available as single 0.7mm pens in black, red, or blue for $3.75 each. Roz will be featuring these awesome new pens in an upcoming newsletter!
VINTAGE VALENTINE DESIGN
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 I 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.
- And because it is the Year of the Rabbit (Chinese New Year) I tried to include some Rainbow Gallery Angora thread around the flowers, but it didn’t work as well as I planned, so I left it out.
You will need some needles also:
- 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!
For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:
“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”