Starting Threads with a Loop

Our exploration of ways to start threads when cross stitching or otherwise embroidering now comes to the Loop Start, or what might be called the Cow Hitch Start.

So far, this appears to be the favorite thread-starting method amongst readers here, who are mostly cross stitching, I think, but I use this even less often than I use waste knots. I’ll explain why in a bit. First, let’s go over how a Loop Start is done.

  • Loop Start for Cross Stitch and Embroidery

    Thread the Needle

    To thread our needle, instead of cutting our floss 18 inches long and stripping out 2 strands, we’re going to cut our floss 36 inches long and remove just one strand.

    Fold the strand in half and put the eye of the needle over either the 2 ends or the loop in the center of the thread.

    We will stitch with 2 strands, but they will be connected. If you want to stitch with 4 strands, use 2 lengths of floss. If you want to use 1 or 3 or any odd number of strands, use another start method.

  • Take the needle through the loop to secure thread

    Secure the Thread

    Take the needle down through the fabric from the top where the first stitch will be, but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Bring the needle back to the top for the first leg of a cross stitch.

    Take the needle through the thread loop, and pull it snug.

  • This makes a secure cow hitch

    It’s a Cow Hitch!

    This makes a cow hitch, and it’s nicely secure; no pulling the tail through when you put a little tension on the thread as can happen when threading the tail under previous stitches, and no knot to create a bump on the back side.

    Yeah, yeah. It’s on the front, and we want it on the back, so…

  • Pull the loop to the back side.

    Pull Loop to the Back

    Put the needle down through either of the holes you’ve already passed through, and—voila!—the loop is on the back side.

    Proceed with stitching, la la-la la-la…

Benefits of the Loop Start

  • It’s very secure. No tails pulling through.
  • No lumpy knot.
  • Good for isolated stitches.
  • It can be executed from the top of the embroidery. No need to flip the piece over, which can be a pain if, say, you’ve got your hoop clamped to a table. (I had no idea how much of a problem flipping a piece over is for some of us—and by “us,” I mean “you”!)
  • What else? Pipe up in the comments, and I’ll add other benefits here.

Drawbacks of the Loop Start

  • Head-to-foot orientation of threads.
  • Even number limitation.

The biggest gripe I hear about this method is that by looping a long strand, each of the 2 strands is “going a different direction.” Think about it: The snipped head and the snipped foot are paired side-by-side.

“Why is this a problem?” you ask.

Well, like some fabrics and carpets (think: velvet, think: shag) threads have a nap. You know what happens when you rub your hand across a velvet couch or vacuum a shag carpet: If the threads aren’t all laying the same way, it’s visible; you end up with lines on your couch or in your carpet.

Threads have a nap, too. The fibers naturally lay a certain way, and if you rub them the opposite way, say, as you pull them through the ground fabric, you might disrupt the natural flow and cause the thread to look fuzzy.

Try this: Strip out a single strand of floss. Pull it from top to bottom between your thumb and forefinger. Look closely: Does it look smooth or fuzzy? Now flip it on its head and pull it through your fingers again. How does it look now? The same or smoother or fuzzier? If you notice a difference, you’re seeing the nap in the fiber.

By using 2 strands, paired head to foot, one might look fuzzy when pulled through the fabric. If there’s a sheen to the fiber, laying them in opposite directions will alter the look of that sheen.

However, all this said, I’m going to ask you: Do you notice a nap? I did an experiment.

Thread Nap Test

Can you tell a difference between the top and bottom stitching? One uses a Loop Start; the other uses a Buried-Tail Start. Does thread nap make a visible difference to you?

Can you tell which of the two stitched bars above uses a Loop Start? Does thread nap make a difference when using two strands head-to-foot?

I used the Loop Start on the bottom bar. I can convince myself that I see a slight difference on the zoomed-in, blown-up picture, but I do not see any difference in the real stitched McCoy. This is DMC thread. Wool, I suspect, might produce a different result. I think wool has more of a nap. I’ll try it when I get home to my stash. When using DMC, which is a staple for cross stitchers, I think the nap issue is minimal.

Another potential head-to-foot issue occurs when using variegated or hand-dyed threads: The colors of the 2 strands won’t be the same. That’s only a problem if you want the colors to be the same. In fact, turning one thread over to mix up the colors is a technique I recommend for a tweed look. (Nap, schmap!)

However, I have a different objection to the Loop Start: It works only if we’re using an even number of threads, and I typically use three strands for cross stitching.

Two strands of floss vs. three strands for cross stitching

The top two bars use 2 strands of floss; the bottom bar uses 3 strands.

When I started stitching, I used the recommended 2 strands of floss for 14- and 16-count fabrics. Then I tried 3 strands and decided I liked it better. As you would expect, there’s more coverage with 3 strands, and you know me: I love colors that scream, so of course I like a more saturated look. That’s why I rarely use the Loop Start when cross stitching. Well, that and I didn’t learn about the Loop Start until I already had my thread-start groove.

Then there’s using single strands of pearl and specialty threads. Here, again, the Loop Start isn’t my first choice.

Can you think of any other drawbacks to the Loop Start?

As with all stitchy techniques, if it works and you like it, use it!

This is still not the last word on starting threads—no, siree! There are at least two more methods we’ll explore. I know one of them but have to look up the other. Page 18 or 20, our guru, Marion, says—I don’t remember which. Trouble is, the book’s at home and I am not. I’ve adopted a number of Marion’s tricks, so I’m eager to take a good look at this one!

Section break

Related Articles

Starting Threads with a Pinhead Stitch
Starting Threads with Waste Knots

Learn to Make Pearl Cotton

Or pearl silk. And a variety of other way-cool pearl-like fibers.

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Hand-made, multi-colored pearl cotton.

Do you know that you can make pearl fiber?

And do you know it’s totally easy and big-time fun?

And do you know that once you get the basics down, you can go all kinds of Nuts with it to create some wildly interesting, fully functional fibers?

Well. Now you do.

I’m going to teach you how to do this cool new thing by doing a cool new thing myself: host a live Nutty event. I’ve been attending webinars for ages. A few years ago, I presented at the Bookmark Collectors’ Virtual Bookmark Convention. Last year, I began holding webinars for my Alaska writing group. Now, I’m inviting my stitchy friends to join me (Why? Am I coming apart?) for some real-time, real-useful fun.

November 16, 2013
8:00 a.m. Alaska Time

Sign Up Here
That’s 12:00 noon Eastern
5:00 p.m. London
6:00 p.m. Oslo
1:00 a.m. Perth (Sorry, Australia, New Zealand, and other folks who will be sleeping.)

Please double-check my time conversions.

Why Make Pearl?

  • Pearls are great fibers. They’re used for all kinds of stitching, including blackwork, Hardanger, needlepoint, cross stitch, and more.
  • They’re more twisted and thicker than six-strand floss which makes them stronger, which makes them good for finishing edges, which tend to get more wear, tear, and general abuse.
  • It can be hard to find pearls to match other fibers. Most hand-dyed, overdyed, and painted six-strand fibers don’t have matching pearls.
  • It can be hard to find pearls in a wide variety of colors and sizes. You might get white, black, ecru, and red in size 5 at big box stores, but what about medium-light, bright-dark, ultra-very turquoise-red in sizes 3, 8, 12, or 16? What if what you really want is size 10? No one even makes that, do they? But you can. Suh-weet!
  • When I travel, I don’t take bags and bags of fiber. I take six-strand floss and have it plus every size pearl.
  • And the most important reason, the only one anyone needs: It’s fun!
Hand-made pearl and pearl-like fibers

From delicate silk pearl to perfect-for-klosters pearl to wild and wonky pearls–you’ll be able to make them all!

What’s This Fabulous Event and Info Going to Cost?

Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bupkiss. This one’s on me, kids. I really, really, really want you to come ’cause it’s going to be fun and this is a great technique we should all know.

How It Works

Here’s the way it’s gonna go down:

You sign up. Even if you can’t attend live—say, because you live in Perth, and it’ll be the middle of the night, and you’ve got two small children or cats who won’t understand that mommy/daddy needs to sleep all day Sunday—even if you can’t attend live, register anyway. I hope to record the spectacle beautifully executed performance and party, and if that works, for a limited time, you’ll be able to check it out at a reasonable hour of your choosing.

So, Step 1: Sign up.

Step 2: You’ll get a reminder from our software provider,, one day and one hour before the debacle smooth-sailing event.

Step 3: You’ll follow the link in the reminder email to the webinar room where you’ll join the mayhem fun. Come in your pjs if you’re just getting up, or bring your dinner if it’s that time for you.

Tech Tips

  • There will be video and audio (we hope), so a wired connection is best, i.e., it is best if you are plugged in to your router or modem rather than using a wireless setup.
  • There will be a chat box in the lower left corner of your screen where you can type questions for me and notes to other participants.
  • Our friend and fellow Nut, Karen, will be online to help monitor the chat and answer tech questions. We’ll all be figuring this out together, so please be patient and kind.
  • Come a little early to get a feel for the room and find the chat box. I’ll open the room fifteen minutes before launch so we can get settled.


All right, what I have forgotten? You can bring some six-strand floss if you want to make some pearl right there in real time.

Got questions? Ask away!

Still haven’t signed up? Well, go do it: Sign up now! That one’s for you, Cassel! 🙂

How to Cross Stitch on Dark Fabrics

Bearly Night counted cross stitch by Funk & Weber Designs

Bearly Night. Pandas in the moonlight.

We have a number of designs stitched on black fabrics and two stitched on dark blue fabrics:

Some people claim they cannot stitch on black fabric, others complain that it’s hard. Here are some things that I do to make cross stitching on dark fabrics easier.

1. Have Good Light

This is sometimes a challenge for me. While caretaking, I usually had nothing but propane lights. I rearranged furniture so I could sit directly under one. One year, I papered the wall around my light with butcher paper to help reflect the light. The wall beneath was dark brown and it absorbed what little light there was. (That’ll make you think twice before putting faith in my decorating tips, eh?)

Maybe your dark-fabric project is one you work on only during daylight hours, maybe during your lunch break. Maybe it’s a summer project for when you can actually work outside.

2. Light Above, Light Below

In addition to good light above your work, light below the work illuminates the holes where your needle goes. Now, you don’t want the lower light shining up in your eyes, but any indirect light is good. Daylight from a window does the trick. But that doesn’t work so well at night, which I would guess is when many of us stitch. I sometimes sit with a desk lamp at my feet.

3. Have a White Background Behind Your Work

A white or light-colored background behind the dark fabric also helps distinguish the holes between fabric threads. This could be a pair of light pants, a piece of paper, or an afghan on your lap.

The Neighborhood - planets counted cross stitch by Funk & Weber Designs

The Neighborhood cross stitch pattern.

4. Use a Magnifier

If the above tricks don’t allow you to stitch joyfully on dark fabrics, consider investing in a magnifier, if you can. Those things are amazing! Being able to see the fabric more closely helps you distinguish the different threads. I still don’t own one (surely I’m not the only one!), but I will one day.

5. Choose Different Fabric

If black fabric is impossible in your eyes (pun intended), consider changing fabrics. I saw a gorgeous Silent Night stitched on 10-ct blue Heatherfield (Wichelt). Still dark, but large, and thus easier to see. Maybe a larger count will do the trick for you.

Try substituting Aida fabric for linen.

Or perhaps a different color is what you need. I saw Silent Night stitched on white opalescent fabric with brown overdyed floss. Who’d have thunk? Wild, eh? The opalescent fabric gave a snowy feeling and the brown stitches made me think of old-fashioned sepia photos. I wish I had taken a photo of that.

6. Reverse Stitch

Our Nut, Linda, from SC, solved the dark fabric problem by “reverse stitching” Night Howl. That is, instead of using white fiber on black fabric, she used black fiber on white fabric. You can see Linda’s alteration here.

If you like a pattern, don’t let the fact that it’s on dark fabric scare you away. These tricks make it easier to stitch on dark fabric, and if need be, you can alter the fabric and/or materials to make the pattern work for you.

What Do You Suggest?

Do you have other tips for stitching on dark fabrics? Have you altered a pattern that was originally stitched on dark fabric? Tell us about it. Send your stories, tips, tricks, and brilliant ideas to mail {AT} funkandweber {DOT} com.

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.

Our most popular patterns are now available in digital form! 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, write on them, let the kids play with them; you can always print another copy if you lose or destroy the first.

Even better, we’ve put all eleven patterns together in a single file. How convenient!

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

This Let There Be Night e-book contains all eleven of the Let There Be Night Stitchling cross stitch patterns.

  • 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

If you’ve ever wanted some or all of these patterns, now’s a great time to go get ’em.

A Tootsie Pop Treat

I thought the phrase “It’s two, two, two treats in one” was from an old Tootsie Pop marketing campaign, hence the title of this post and our own campaign. However, a quick search suggests it might have been a Certs thing instead: two mints in one, a candy and a breath mint.

If that’s the case, this title is a smidge less clever and relevant, but still within the reaches of my tricksy brain. I will not call this “A Certs Treat.” It doesn’t trip off the tongue as gaily, and Certs are almost never a Halloween treat, as Tootsie Pops and this treat are.

So there.

Here’s the Deal

Our treat is two, two, two treats in one: a picture e-book and a pattern.

Jack O' Lantern e-book and Halloween cross stitch tag

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Buy the e-book, The Jack O’ Lantern Tree, for $2.99 at Amazon,
and get the Jack Tag pattern free!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You do NOT need a Kindle to purchase or read this e-book. There are free apps that allow you to read it on your computer or smart phone. I know. I have the app on my computer.

The Story Behind the Stitchery

Linda's sketch and my stitched piece: Our free Halloween cross stitch pattern

From sketch to stitched.

My friend and Ari’s Garden business partner, Linda Stanek, is the author and illustrator of this book. The story went through our critique group a number of times, so I contributed my two cents to the text.

For years, I’ve encouraged Linda to illustrate—she’s always considered herself primarily a writer—and she has finally done it! Personally, I think her illustrating talents are as strong as her writing talents.

I wanted to help promote her book and asked if I might convert one of her illustrations to a cross stitch chart. She agreed. Unfortunately, because of the details and curves of the illustrations, the resulting design was bigger than I had in mind to do.

So I gave Linda a sheet of graph paper and limitations on curves and asked her to chart a Jack O’ Lantern just two inches or so wide. We decided the finished product would be a tag for a treat bag or a necklace with a Jack face that glows in the dark, like the Jack tree in the story.

Linda follows instructions as well as I do. She freelanced and added the bat, assuring me that I could disregard it if it didn’t mesh with what I had in mind.

Since I love the art and surprise of collaboration and didn’t really have anything in mind anyway, it meshed just fine, and I proceeded to add my two cents with some loop-de-loops and (my beloved) wonky-eyelet spider webs. As always with embroidery, the combination of simple elements yields an interesting piece of needlework. We’re both tickled with it!

About the Book

When Old Jack feels the chilly air, he knows it’s time to create the Jack O’ Lantern Tree. Calling on his fellow pumpkins to participate, their first attempt fails. But wise Old Jack urges cooperation and kindness, and the next attempt yields the desired result: a tree filled with light and good wishes for all. Inspired by the “Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular” at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island, Stanek’s pastels on textured paper lend a misty mood to the rhyming text.

About the Pattern

The design is stitched on 28-ct Cashel Linen “Shadow” from Picture This Plus, using Gentle Art Simply Shaker Sampler Threads for the jack o’ lantern. I used the “blob” stitching method for a realistic, as opposed to striped, look. You can learn the blob stitching method with our overdyed threads tutorial.

We also use Kreinik’s Glow-In-The-Dark thread for Jack’s eyes and mouth so that they will glow when the lights are out.

We use Rainbow Gallery’s Sparkle! Braid for the loop-de-loops which will reflect light.

Finally, I finished the piece with the oh-so-useful Overcast Backstitch Finishing Method.

Get Them Both For $2.99!

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  • Go to Amazon and order The Jack O’ Lantern Tree. You’ll get an email invoice.
  • Forward that invoice to me at mail [AT] funkandweber [DOT] com,
  • and I will send you the Jack Tag pattern pdf as an email attachment.

If your mail system rejects attachments or sends them to SPAM, heads up. Be sure to check your SPAM folder and maybe put Funk & Weber on your white list.

Happy Halloween reading and stitching!

This offer is good through October 31, 2012.

You Asked For It, You Got It!

Some of you have asked to purchase the Jack Tag pattern by itself, without buying the e-book. You don’t have a Kindle, and you don’t want to download an app. I hear you.

I am happy to announce the Jack Tag cross stitch e-pattern is now for sale in our shop.

Thanks for asking!

Using Specialty Fibers in Embroidery

Needlework Nutshell Reader Question
One of a kind fibers – how to use them? How to know if you’ll have enough of the fiber to work into a project and not end up with a tad left over. Or what can you do with those tads left over?

I love reader questions! And I mean loooooove. I encourage you to send them anytime. You can use the contact form here or send them to mail AT funkandweber DOT com.

This came in a newsletter survey, so I can’t give credit to the asker, but hi, Nut, and thanks!

How to Use Specialty Fibers

I’m interpreting “one-of-a-kind” as “specialty.” There are limited-edition fiber colors—often six-strand cotton and silk—as well as fuzzy, furry, nubbly, metallic, glow-in-the-dark, wired, etc. fibers made out of all sorts of strange and interesting materials.

Limited-edition colors can be used like any other fiber of its kind, but you want to make sure you have enough to complete your project because getting more might be difficult. (See the section on figuring quantity.)

Other kinds of specialty fibers—the wild, weird, wooly, wired, and what-not ones—are generally used in small projects (buttons, broaches, earrings, bows) or as accents in larger projects.

  • Turban shell - What in the World pattern by Funk & Weber Designs

    What in the World? Pattern

    For example, I used a Kreinik metallic in the turban shell in the center of the What in the World? pattern. It gives the shell that iridescent shimmer that real shells have. You can’t see it in the picture, but I love how this came out with the Kreinik fiber.

  • The Great Outdoors - Funk & Weber Designs

    The Great Outdoors Pattern

    I used other Kreinik metallics in the water flowing out of the canteen P and the fire W in The Great Outdoors pattern.

  • Twilight Treasures - Funk & Weber Designs

    Twilight Treasures

    We used Kreinik glow-in-the-dark fiber for the lighted cabin windows, moon, and fireflies in the Twilight Treasures pattern.

In these cases, the specialty fibers are used to represent something in particular: iridescence, the shimmer of water and fire, light. Fuzzy and furry fibers are often used to depict animal fur. They might be used to accent entire animals or just parts of animals (a lion’s mane). I can imagine a fuzzy fiber trimming a hood or coat. Rainbow Gallery has a white fuzzy fiber that’s actually called “Santa’s Beard.” Huh. Can you think of a good way to use that one?!

But specialty fibers don’t have to be used to depict realistic things; they can be used just as their cool selves in a doodle.

Paperclip bookmarks using specialty fibers - Funk & Weber Designs

Long-time Nuts may remember these paperclip bookmarks. Specialty fibers are used here just as their cool selves and just for fun. Metallic and rayon ribbon, Fuzzy Stuff, metallic braids, overdyed pearl, and more.

I consider bookmarks and bracelets small projects, and these are great places to use cool fibers simply for their coolness.

Determining Quantities for Specialty Fibers

Our Nut friend asks how we know if we have enough fiber for a particular use without having a tad left over.

Ha! If you can figure this one out, I know a lot of embroidery kit-makers who will pay you for the answer.

The best you can hope for is an estimate that doesn’t leave you short. Having a tad left over is a good thing if only because it beats 50% of the alternatives.

I’ve made kits for over ten years. Unlike most stitchy folks I know, I actually enjoy making kits. But I’ve struggled—and continue to struggle—with determining fiber quantities. Everyone does.

The reason is that different people use different quantities for the same number of stitches. I stitch fairly tightly; someone who doesn’t pull stitches as tightly will need more fiber than I do. I tend to leave teeny-tiny tails for running under threads on the back. It’s a pain in the tookus, but it’s what I do. Others leave longer tails. And then there are mistakes. Many fibers that have been ripped out to correct a mistake cannot be re-used.

All of this means that different people require different quantities of fiber to stitch any given element. As a result, I do a number of things to decide how much fiber to allow for a certain element in a design.

  • I keep track of how much fiber I use in my model. I cut lengths of fiber (usually 18 inches) and make a mark on a sheet of paper every time I load my needle. I find this incredibly difficult to do—it’s easy to forget to make a mark when I’m stitching, stitching, stitching away—so I cut several lengths and also note how many of those I’ve used to double check my marks. Frogging and changing my mind about a color doesn’t make keeping track any easier, I assure you.
  • Over the years, I’ve come up with a formula that seems to work fairly well for figuring how much fiber is required for cross stitches using six-strand floss. I can tweak it for specialty fibers and other kinds of stitches, but I have less confidence in those results. Still, I always do the math to see how it compares with my own usage.

    My super-secret, incredibly helpful formula is as follows:

    1.2 x Number of Stitches / 200 = yards needed for 2 strands of floss.
    1.8 x Number of Stitches / 200 = yards needed for 3 strands of floss.

    Remember, that’s for cross stitches using 6-strand floss. Other kinds of stitches will use different quantities. I add a little extra for cross stitches in specialty fibers because metallic ends fray; I work with shorter lengths; I tend to stitch more loosely with ribbons; etc.

  • When measuring fiber for kits, I am always generous in my measurement: eighteen inches becomes nineteen.

What To Do With Fiber Leftovers

The words “What do you do with…” are like chocolate, B vitamins, Christmas Eve, and a good night’s sleep rolled into one. They egg me on as much as “Betcha can’t…” and “On your mark, get set….” And they warm the cockles of my heart like soft puppy noses and standing on mountain tops overlooking wide open spaces.

Those words are poetry and music.

This unidentified stitching Nut is not the only one who wants to know what to do with leftover fiber bits. Harriet has also posed the question; although, she specifically asks about those itty-bitty tail cut-offs, those things many of us call “orts” and collect in collapsible origami boxes, hollow acrylic balls, and bags.

Aside: Originally, orts referred to food bits left over from a meal.

I gladly embrace those words as a challenge, and I will make it my business to explore what I’m calling Ort Art. (Yep, I just like saying that—like a seal.) My hope is to come up with enough ideas to warrant an e-book, but you’re looking for an answer now, so here are a couple of thoughts that I hope will tide you over.

I know some people put their orts out for birds to use in their nests. I don’t do this. I’m a little concerned about the chemicals used in fiber dyeing and the different unnatural fibers being harmful in some way. I prefer to err on the side of caution and let the birds fend for themselves.

  • Garbage Ornament - decoupaged fiber orts

    Garbage Ornaments

    I’ve played with Garbage Ornaments, using decoupage to adhere orts to cardboard cookie-cutter shapes and Styrofoam balls.

  • Multi-fiber bookmark tails - Funk & Weber Designs

    Bookmark Tails

    I like to use longer lengths—those tads left over—for bookmark tails.

    Gather fiber odds and ends.
    Ever so slightly braid them together.
    Pull a couple so they’re a bit longer than others.
    Tie them between two bits of embroidery.

    Voila! You’ve got yourself a book thong or a bookmark with a dangling charm.

There. Will that hold you until I can play with some more ideas? Stay tuned for more on Ort Art along with answers to other questions and the usual Funk & Weber who-knows-what else.

In the meantime, how do you use specialty fibers, and what do you do with your leftover fiber and orts? We really want to know. You can leave your answers in the Comments or send them to me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com.