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Knots are an essential part of sewing because they keep your thread in place and prevent it from slipping through the fabric. But when it comes to embroidery, knots are so much more: They’re as essential as the different kinds of stitches

Embroidery knots add decoration and detail and allow you to translate your creative vision onto the fabric more precisely. If you’ve mastered the embroidery basics and are looking to up your game, get familiar with knots. Here are 10 essential embroidery knots to know about. 

Types of Embroidery Knots

embrodiery llama
Llamas may be South American, but this one is rather French (knotted, that is).

Some types of embroidery knots are simple, and even beginners won’t have much trouble with them. Others are more complex and may take some practice. Have a piece of practice fabric fixed into your embroidery hoop to try different types of embroidery knots before adding them to a piece you want to display. As with all things stitching-related, it’s often easier to learn by seeing someone else doing it, so check out some tutorials online if you prefer learning visually. 

Start at the Start

Embroidery for Beginners: The Basics

1. Embroidery Starting Knot

An embroidery starting knot is just any way you start off your piece of embroidery. The simplest way is to form a regular knot at the end of your thread and push your needle from the back of the fabric to the front, so that the knot sits at the back and isn’t visible from the front. 

Alternatively, you can start off your piece of embroidery using the waste knot/away knot, detailed below.

2. Waste Knot/Away Knot

The waste knot and the away knot are different names for the same thing, also sometimes called away waste knots. These knots aren’t decorative and are actually cut off when you’ve finished working. Their purpose is to avoid bulky starting and finishing knots at the back of the fabric, which you might want to avoid in certain types of projects. 

To work with a waste knot, knot your thread normally, and thread it through your fabric (knot facing up on the right side) a few inches away from where you actually want to sew on the canvas. Then, move your needle over to where you want to sew and embroider normally. Once you’ve finished your embroidering, you can cut off the waste knot so it doesn’t show.

3. French Knot

crescent
A crescent of French knots.

French knots are one of the most common types of decorative knots you’ll come across in easy and intermediate-level embroidery projects. French knots are small raised bobbles of thread that are commonly used to add “dots” to a piece of embroidery and are common in embroidery depicting floral subjects

French knots are formed by inserting the needle up through the back of the fabric and winding the embroidery floss around the needle a few times before reinserting the needle in the same place it came out of.

4. Colonial Knot/Figure 8 Knot 

letter D
The letter D here is made with colonial knots.

Skillshare embroidery instructor Dana Batho states that many people find the colonial knot (also called the figure 8 knot) easier to do than the French knot. They are pretty similar and are often used interchangeably with French knots, although colonial knots are a little smaller. 

Colonial knots are formed by pushing the needle through the back of the fabric and then twisting the thread around the needle in a figure-8 type configuration before inserting the needle back into the fabric.

5. Gordian Knot

You may have heard of gordian knots in a non-embroidery context. A “gordian knot” is a proverbial term that refers to a difficult problem that can be solved through a bold action. Legend has it that on his march through a town named Gordium, Alexander the Great slashed through a complicated knot that secured a chariot to a pole instead of trying to untie it. 

In embroidery, a gordian knot is also known as a braid stitch. It’s usually formed in chains that end up looking rather like braids, hence its alternative name. It’s a bit fiddly to make, so it’s better suited to intermediate-level embroiderers.

6. Chinese Knot

Also called the Peking knot, blind knot, or forbidden stitch, the Chinese knot is common in traditional Chinese silk embroidery. It can either be left open with an unfilled center, like a circle or an O, or enclosed, looking more like a flattened French knot with a tail. It can also be done individually or in rows. The Chinese knot is another more advanced-level knot.

7. Turk’s Head Knot

knot
Source: wikimedia
A Turk’s head knot made with rope.

The Turk’s head knot is also called the sailor’s knot, and you might see it made from thick rope and cord as well as from more delicate embroidery floss. Interwoven strands form a closed loop. In embroidery, the Turk’s head knot tends to be more enclosed than the rope example in the picture above and can be used in place of French knots or colonial knots.

8. Bullion Knot

flowers
The pink flowers here use bullion knots.

The bullion knot is also called a bullion stitch because it’s part way between a stitch and a knot. The bullion knot is formed by pushing the needle up through the back of the fabric and winding the thread around the needle a few times before inserting the needle back down through the fabric.

9. Ghiordes Knot

all you need is coffee
The orange pom pom on the hat is a ghiordes knot. Student work by Letizia Rivolta for The Art of Embroidery: Adding Dimension and Texture To Your Work.

The ghiordes knot is also called the turkey stitch (not to be confused with the Turk’s head knot above!). It’s formed by knotting a series of loops of thread onto the fabric, which are then cut to the length you want to create a textured pile. It’s a fun way to add texture and three-dimensionality to your embroidery.

10. Danish Knot

pattern
Source: instagram
Danish knots via @hellohoorayblog

Danish knots are a pretty type of triangular-shaped raised knot. They stand alone rather than come in rows, like some other knot types. They’re formed by following a small triangular outline (or imaginary outline if you don’t want or need to draw on your fabric). After stitching a small line along one side of the triangle, you thread your needle under this stitch a couple of times. Follow the instructions here.

What’s Knot to Love?

Embroidery is a fun, relaxing craft that can leave you with beautiful art that you can display or gift to friends and family. It’s a traditional craft that’s been around for centuries, but because it’s so versatile you can modernize it in your own ways. By learning a variety of more advanced knots and stitches, you can turn a piece of fabric into an amazing canvas to represent any kind of subject you could dream of. Have fun!

Modernize Your Embroidery

Painting with Thread: Modern Embroidery for Beginners