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!

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Related Articles

Starting Threads with a Pinhead Stitch
Starting Threads with Waste Knots

2 Responses to “Starting Threads with a Loop”

  1. I felt like the loop was the answer to my prayers, my brother’s best friends mum showed me how 🙂 My mum and Grandma just held the thread and stitched along over the top. Or did some of the other technques

    April 1, 2014 @ 6:52 pm
  2. Ease of use is a big plus, and just holding the thread on the back takes both dexterity and practice. Ultimately, of course, it’s good to know all the tricks so we can pick and choose.

    April 1, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

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