Starting Threads With Waste Knots

I admit it: When I start the first thread of a project or start a thread in a new, empty area where there are no previous stitches under which to bury a thread tail, I usually just hold the thread at the back with my finger, and work it under the first few stitches. For some stitchers this is a frustrating hassle that leads to poorly anchored and/or messy thread tails. There is an easier, tidier way, and it’s called a “waste knot.”

Waste knots are temporary anchors that hold the thread securely and taut while you get the first stitches placed and until you have a way to bury a short tail. At that point, you cut the knot off the working thread and either trim or bury the tail.

Two kinds of waste knots cover most of our stitching needs: In-line waste knots and away waste knots. Use an in-line knot if you’re making a row of stitches. The knot will be in line with the row so that you bury the tail when you make the first stitches. Use an away knot when you’re making isolated stitches or something other than cross or tent stitches that won’t secure the tail in the first few stitches.

In-line Waste Knots For Starting Threads

  • In-line waste knot start

    Secure the Knot

    Tie a substantial knot (think: big and messy) in the end of your thread and insert the needle on the front of the fabric about two inches down the row you’ll be stitching.

    I’m making a row of cross stitches, from left to right. I place the knot down the line to the right and carry the thread across the back to the first stitch. I make the first four stitches, half crosses which I’ll complete on the return journey.

  • The back side of the knot and first stitches

    Stitch Over the Thread Tail

    As I make the first stitches, I stitch over the carried thread on the back side. This anchors the thread tail. Three or four stitches are enough to secure the thread.

    This is the back side, so the knot is now on the left on the other side of the fabric.

  • Cut the in-line waste knot.

    Cut the Knot

    On the right side, pull the knot up from the fabric and snip the thread beneath it.

  • Trim the thread tail close to the anchoring stitches.

    Trim the Tail

    On the back side, trim the tail close to the anchoring stitches. You want to trim close so bits of thread aren’t pulled to the front on subsequent stitches. Sharp embroidery scissors make it easy to cut close.

Away Waste Knots for Starting Threads

  • A knot some distance away from a wonky eyelet.

    Secure the Knot

    Tie a substantial knot in the end of your thread and insert the needle on the front of the fabric about three or four inches away from where you’ll be stitching. You want the extra thread length because you’ll need to thread the tail into your needle to work it under other stitches.

    I placed my knot in the lower left corner then made a wonky eyelet. It’s not the easiest stitch under which to secure a tail.

  • Cut the away waste knot

    Cut the Knot

    On the right side, pull the knot up from the fabric and snip the thread beneath it. Or cut the thread from the back side. Whatever you prefer.

  • Wrap the tail around the eyelet center, under the threads.

    Secure and Trim the Tail

    For the eyelet, I wrap the tail round the center hole, under the stitched legs. For added security, I split a couple of fibers with my needle and work the tails through the split. This just adds a little resistance so the thread is less likely to be pulled out.

How’s that for easy and tidy?

Once you’ve got stitches on the ground fabric, you can start new threads by threading the tail under a few stitches on the back.

If you’re making an isolated stitch that really doesn’t allow for burying a tail, a pinhead stitch may be useful.

So how do you normally start threads in empty areas? Do you use waste knots, or are you more likely to wing it as I do?

4 Responses to “Starting Threads With Waste Knots”

  1. Steve

    Instead of using 2 threads I use 1 folded in half and then stitch throug it to anchor my 1st stitch.

    March 18, 2014 @ 3:52 am
  2. Ah, yes, the anchored loop–or cow hitch. That can be very handy when stitching with two threads or any even number of threads.

    Beware threads with a nap, though, and variegated colors. Test first and see if you like the look. DMC claims their threads don’t have a nap, and, frankly, I’ve never been able to see a difference. Sometimes we reverse one or more strands of hand-dyed and variegated colors on purpose to get a more a mottled look. It’s all good, just be aware!

    March 20, 2014 @ 7:13 am
  3. Linda

    I hold the thread and anchor it by stitching over it. I feel waste knot wastes that little bit I may need in the end

    April 1, 2014 @ 1:11 am
  4. Wasting thread material is definitely one of the drawbacks of waste knots. Good point. I’ll include that in the final draft. Although, to be fair, in-line waste knots can be placed just a few stitches away from the start, minimizing this issue. There will be more waste with an away waste knot; that’s all there is to it.

    There’s always a bit of struggle between getting the most out of our materials and stitching ease or convenience, eh?

    April 1, 2014 @ 5:37 am

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