The One Hand Embroidery Stitch I Cant Live Without

french knots by jane lafazio
French knots and other hand embroidery stitches decorate
Jane LaFazio's quiltlets.

pokey boltonAll these new TV shows about fairy tale characters in the contemporary world casting spells and carrying out age-old vendettas has me thinking: If an evil fairy/stepmother/witch cursed me so that I was left with ability to create only one hand embroidery stitch, what would it be?

I wouldn't have to think very longin that split second before the wand flicked its malevolent sparks my way, I'd choose the French knot.

There are several reasons why I'd pick the French knot over, say, the buttonhole stitch (which is so useful for edging) or the backstitch (which can create lines).

First, the French knot gives you a lot of textural bang for your buck. French knots literally rise above the other basic embroidery stitches, popping right off the fabric.

Second, you've heard the term "connect the dots"? Well, you can make a series of French knots close together to form a line or map out a shape, like a constellation.

french knot hand embroidery stitch
How to make a French knot like the ones dotting Jane's flower.

Third, French knots stitched close together will fill in a shape and provide shading, especially if you vary the thread colors.

Fourth, French knots are very organic. Depending on the color, size, and placement, this embroidery stitch can serve as a lone blossom, a scattered field of flowers, or the honeycombed center of sunflower.

Fifth, they're just so much fun to make. I love winding the fiber around the needle, piercing the fabric, and then pulling the thread through to create that perfect little knot. The motion is so relaxing and satisfying.

Here are some tips for making a French knot.

1. The general rule is, don't wind the thread or fiber around the needle more than twice. If you want a bigger knot, use a thicker thread.

2. After wrapping the thread, place the point of the needle right next to the place it came up from, rather than back in the same hole. That way, the knot will stay anchored on top and not slip right through to the back of the fabric.

3. To add dimension to your French knots, use a variegated thread.

Pick up just about any back issue of Quilting Arts and you'll probably find at least one French knot somewhere within the pages. But one of my favorite articles is Jane LaFazio's piece on embroidered quiltets in the October/November 2009 issue. There, she shows the versatility of the French knot, as well as several other embroidery stitches like the blanket stitch, backstitch, and more.

What's your favorite hand embroidery stitch, and why? Could you limit yourself to one? Tell me about it in the comments section below.


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9 thoughts on “The One Hand Embroidery Stitch I Cant Live Without

  1. Oh Wow I never thought about one stitch I liked above all, I just love handstitching, it is very calming to me. I just finished a piece that is made up of nothing but french and colonial knots, it was all done using one strand of floss, everyone is asking what I will do with it and I don’t have an answer to that yet, but when I get a good idea I have it waiting 🙂

  2. I have to admit that French knots are also my favorite. Maybe it’s because the name is so fancy. It’s the stitch I use the most by far in my artwork. It just gives a lot of texture. Stitch On, Cindy Dubbers

  3. While I use buttons and beads of varying sizes to get the same textural interest in my pieces, I would have to agree that the French knot is incredibly useful, especially if you use different gauges of the same color thread to vary the stitch size. Even “eyelash” yarn with all of those little threads hanging off of the ply
    can be used to have a fuzzy knot if you only wrap twice like you suggested.

  4. I’ve loved the French knot since my grandmother taught it to me many, many years ago. I also use it sometimes to attach small bits of fabric or even soft paper to a piece.

  5. I much prefer the colonial knot to the french knot as it offers more consistency in size. Most of my embroidery students have found the colonial knot easier to learn and manage. As to having a favorite stitch, my favorite is whichever one I’m doing at the moment. Each stitch has its own charm.

  6. I would have to say that the satin stitch is the ONE stitch I could not be without but all by itself it wants, no – needs- the supporting casts of many other stitches. So that said I would have to go along with the french knot as the best supporting stitch. It adds texture, intrest and does double duty looking like a bead!

  7. Asking me to name my favourite stitch – the one I couldn’t live without is like asking me to name my favourite child! I love them all with equal passion especially the more difficult ones that have taken time and practice to master. I had been embroidering for a loooong time before I could make a French knot work so maybe that wouldn’t be my most favourite.