How to Make French Knots

The time has come the Stitcher said, to talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and French knots made with strings…

What can I say? I am nothing if not one to take liberties with literary quotes.

One popular way in which stitchers Make It Yours is by substituting beads for French knots. It’s a great idea, one I chose it for The Trail Home. However, I learned that some stitchers choose beads because they can’t make French knots. Oh no! Let’s see if we can unravel the mystery of French knots.

  • Step one in making a French knot.

    Step 1

    To make a French knot, bring your needle and thread up through the fabric where the knot belongs. I grasp the thread with my non-stitching (left) hand 1-2 inches from the fabric, and hold the thread taut.

  • Wrapping thread for a French knot, Step 2, by Funk & Weber Designs

    Step 2

    I wrap that 1-2 inches of thread twice around my needle tip and insert the tip back into the fabric.

    I don’t go down the same hole I came up through. Rather, I go over a thread intersection or poke through an Aida square. Going down the same hole I came up allows the knot to slip through the fabric more easily.

  • Return the wrapped needle through the fabric. Step 3 of How to Make a French Knot.

    Step 3

    With the needle tip heading back down through the fabric, I use my left hand, which still holds the thread 1-2 inches up from the fabric, to tighten the wraps around the needle. I think this is important! Keeping the wraps taut helps make them tidy. Of course, your needle eye has to pass through the wraps, so they can’t be too tight. Adjust the tension accordingly, but keep the wraps snug.

  • A completed French knot

    Step 4

    Gently pull the needle and remaining thread through the wraps, and tighten the knot. I pull the thread slowly so that it doesn’t tangle before it gets through the wraps.

    Some people place a fingernail on the wraps just as the needle eye passes through, thus holding the wraps onto the fabric while the rest of the thread snakes through. I don’t find this necessary, but it might work well for you.

Isolated French Knots

Silent Night, Let There Be Night Stitchling, by Funk & Weber Designs

Silent Night cross stitch from the Let There Be Night series. The stars are isolated French knots. See Orion?

If you’re familiar with our Let There Be Night Stitchlings, you know several have isolated French knot stars. What a pain, eh? If you carry the white thread behind the black fabric, chances are it will show through. So what do you do?

  • Knot thread tails on the back side and clip short. A knot on the back side?! Horrors! Bah humbug. I’d choose a knot on the back side over droopy or wandering French knots on the front side.
  • Use beads attached with thread the same color as the ground fabric.
  • After all other stitching is done, sew a piece of thin cotton fabric, the same (or similar) color as the ground fabric to the back of the work. Stitch French knots through the two fabrics and carry the thread between stitches. The backing fabric will hide the carried lengths. Caution: Wrinkles in the backing fabric will show when the piece is mounted, so no wrinkles allowed.
  • Instead of French knots, stitch crosses over a single thread intersection. Use a single strand of white floss in the needle and make three stitches on one diagonal (/ / /), then top those with three stitches on the other diagonal (\ \ \). This gives the appearance of using three strands of floss for the cross. Then, tie a tiny knot on the back side. If you use three strands of floss, the knot would be bulky. By using a single strand, the knot is unobtrusive. You could dab the teensiest bit of glue on the knots with a pin before cutting the tails very short.
  • How about a pinhead stitch?
  • And lest you think I’ve lost any of my Nuttiness…. Warning: If knots on the back side horrify you, you probably shouldn’t read this idea. Ready?

    Forget the backing fabric, forget back side knots, throw caution to the wind, and carry that white thread long distances across the back. You rebel, you! Then, on the back side, slip a piece of scrap paper temporarily between the carried thread and the fabric. Ink the carried thread with a black, archival-quality scrapbooking marker. I have no evidence to support this, but my hope is that the qualities that make these markers endure in the scrapbooking world, will carry over to the embroidery world, and the ink will not eat away the fiber. It’s been several years since I tried this, and my models are holding up fine. I can’t tell and I don’t remember which one or ones I did this way. Caution: The ink “bleeds” through the cotton floss, so don’t ink too close to your knot, or the ink will turn your knot gray. You want the color on the back side only! (And remember to remove the scrap paper when the ink is good and dry.)

What tips do you have for stitching French knots, stitching isolated French knots, or French knot hacks?

Let There Be Night Pattern Collection

Let There Be Night Cross Stitch Pattern Collection by Funk & Weber Designs

This e-book contains all eleven of the Let There Be Night Stitchlings.

Want to exercise your newly developed French knot muscles? Our most popular patterns are now available all together in one convenient e-book! Save the patterns on your hard drive or a thumb drive and print only the pages you need. Use scrap paper then fold the pages, mark them up, let the kids play with them; you can always print another copy.

Better still, buying the whole collection is cheaper than buying the printed patterns individually: Instead of paying $66 for eleven pattern cards, you can get all eleven patterns for just $45. Yay!

  • Silent Night
  • Arctic Night
  • The Night Before Christmas
  • Antarctic Night
  • Looner Night
  • African Night
  • Dead of Night
  • Night Howl
  • Lovely Night
  • Night Lights
  • “Bearly” Night

Practice your French knots, exercise creative French knot hacks, and stitch a series of cool silhouettes that you can swap in and out of a single frame or tuckable pillow. Did I mention all the patterns are the same size? And that the collection includes seasonal designs for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and more? Now’s a great time to go get ’em!

2 Responses to “How to Make French Knots”

  1. Roselyn Tuerffs

    If you want great knots, forget the French method and make Colonial knots.
    Foolproof and perfect every time!
    Roselyn Tuerffs

    November 24, 2012 @ 3:51 pm
  2. Jen

    Great suggestion!

    November 24, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

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