Getting tied up in knots is NOT what you want to do as you learn this very useful embroidery called the French knot stitch. The French knot can look rather challenging, but like everything in life, following simple instructions and practicing will always give you the perfect result. This tutorial will show you how to do a French knot as well as some variations.
French Knot Embroidery Tutorial
What is a French Knot?
A French knot is an embroidery stitch that looks like little 3-dimensional knots. It can be used for flower centers, seeds, eyes, and dots. The French knot is created by twisting the thread around the needle and then pulling it through.
What Can the French Knot Stitch Be Used For?
French knot stitch is very useful for little bits of texture that can be added to any embroidery design. They can cluster together or stand alone. Their bobble effect makes them ideal for designs of small furry animals and my favorites - starbursts and dandelions.
French knot embroidery lends itself to small flowers in clusters, such as lavender or flowers seen from a distance. Here are French knots placed in the center of a lazy daisy stitch. The little knots look like pollen when done in yellow.
In the below photo, I have used the French knot stitch to create a fireworks effect. A similar design can be done to look like dandelions. All you need to do is add a few more knots towards the center.
Supplies to Make a French Knot
- HOOP - Have your fabric held securely in an embroidery hoop, as this will make it easier to get nice tight knots. Bamboo or plastic frames are cheap, and you only need a small one as you can move it around your fabric.
- NEEDLES - The needle should match the fabric and thread thickness. Read my article on hand sewing needle types. Regular embroidery needles are the most common for making French knots. A milliner needle may also be used since it has a consistent thickness along the shaft.
- MARKING - You can make the French knot stitch positions with a pencil or removable fabric pen. This is one of the simplest embroidery stitches, so marking is not as essential as for other styles.
If you are new to embroidery, then read my how to embroider article for lots of tips on supplies and basic stitches to get you started.
Best Thread for French Knots
The most commonly used thread for embroidery is embroidery floss. For French knot stitch, it is best to use all 6 strands as it will result in a chunkier knot. You can vary this, of course, if you have the patience to do really fine work.
How Many Strands Do You Need for a French Knot?
You can use from one to six strands to make French knots. The more embroidery floss strands you use, the larger your knots. Experiment with different numbers of embroidery thread and see which look you like.
How to do a French Knot, Step by Step Instructions
Here are the step-by-step French knot instructions for beginners:
Step 1 - Needle to Top
Start the French Knot with your needle and thread coming up from the back of the fabric. Leave a ‘tail’ of thread hanging behind under the fabric that you will work in later, or work a backstitch to hold the thread to keep the stitch secure.
Step 2 - Twist the Thread
The start of the knot requires two hands to get the tension and spacing right, so be prepared to use one hand to hold the needle and the other to hold the thread.
Put your needle in front of the thread you are holding on the right side of the fabric. You will be winding the thread to make the knot, but if you wind from the front, the knot will not retain its shape.
Wind the embroidery floss around the needle two or three times. Then, wind it on with your non-needle hand. If you are right-handed, this will be your left hand.
Keep the thread taut as you wind it, and keep the needle still. The more times you wind, the larger the knot.
Step 3 - Insert Needle Back Down
Keep the coil of wrapped thread around the needle taut as you insert the needle into the fabric. Insert the needle close to the original entry point.
IMPORTANT: Do not go back into the same original hole because your knot will unravel.
Step 4 - Pull Through
Your non-needle hand is holding a length of floss. Pull that length of floss down towards the tip of the needle This will pull the coiled thread down the needle, and as it tightens, it makes a little bundle of thread bunched at the bottom.
The coil of thread should be firmly at the bottom of the needle next to the fabric. Pull the thread right the way through the fabric to the back.
You have now made your first successful French knot!
Embroidery French Knot Troubleshooting & Tips
Here are some handy tips if your French knots are not looking as perfect as you would like:
- Try fewer wraps around the needle. Using 2 or 3 wraps usually gives the best results. If you want larger or smaller knots, vary the number of strands in your embroidery floss instead of the number of wraps.
- When inserting the needle back down into the fabric, it is important not to go into the same hole as you came up from. There should be a small gap.
- When pulling the tip of the needle down through the wraps, do so slowly, holding the wraps over the needle.
Variations of the French Knot Stitch
You can vary the size of the knot by the number of times you wind the thread around the needle. Look at how the number of wraps affects the size of the knot. You can also vary the size by using more or fewer strands of floss. I used all 6 strands in my samples. A single strand of floss will give you tiny little knots.
Start the next stitch close by for a filling stitch or in the pattern of your choice, using the same techniques. French knot stitch can be used to add texture and interest to a cross stitch project.
French Knot Patterns
1. Making Flowers with the French Knot Stitch
The French knot stitch looks great for flower centers made with the lazy daisy stitch. This simple flower uses the chain stitch to anchor the ends of the petals. Leaving a larger circle in the middle will leave you plenty of space for the French knot stitch in the center.
You can also create a beautiful flower garden by stitching a variety of French knots in different colors. Each French knot can represent a flower or a cluster of flowers, and you can arrange them to form a charming garden scene.
2. Fireworks French Knot Patterns
For a festive pattern, stitch an explosion using French knots. You can use various colors to represent different lights and add a bit of stitching to show the tails they make.
French Knot Stitch FAQs
Why Does My French Knot Pull Through?
If your French knot is pulling through it can be due to a number of reasons including:
- Loose tension: You need to make sure your wraps are a consistent tenion. If they are too loose they will unwrap. Always hold the thread taut.
- Needle size: Ensure your needle is not leaving holes in the fabric where the knot can pull through.
- Insufficient wraps: If you haven't wrapped the thread around the needle enough times, the knot may be too small and pull through the fabric.
- Open weave fabric: If your fabric weave is too open the knot could pull through. Use a denser fabric.
French Knot vs Colonial Knot
French knots are very similar to colonial knots, and most of the time, they can be used interchangeably. Colonial knots are often a bit bigger and rounded than French knots.
French Knots vs Bullion Knots
Bullion knots are larger and longer than French knots. Instead of being round, they are long and the thread is wrapped around the needle many more times.
French Knots - In Conclusion
The French knot stitch adds lovely detail and accentuates your embroidery. The French would say this stitch is ‘tres bon’ - very good!
French Knot Stitch
- Embroidery Needle
- Embroidery Hoop
- Embroidery Floss
- Knot the thread and bring the needle up to the right side of the fabric at (1).
- Wind the embroidery floss around the front of the needle 2 or 3 times. More winds will produce a larger knot.
- With the coil still wrapped around the needle, insert the needle close to point (1) at (2).
- Pull the needle out underneath.
MORE EMBROIDERY STITCHES
- Blanket Stitch
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Stitch
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- How to Embroider
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knot Stitch
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch