The French knot is a deceptively easy embroidery stitch. It has a reputation of being the enfant terrible of embroidery stitches, but it is undeserved. It is sometimes mistaken for the Colonial knot but we think the French knot is more elegant, n’est-ce pas?
The French knot has served many purposes in embroidery for centuries. If you visit a textile museum, you will quickly see how this small, simple knot has been a staple of design in art work, clothing, crafts, and in many more places. In addition to arts and crafts, French knots can be found on aprons, sheets, table cloths, and quilts. In the mid-twentieth century, French knots came out of the domestic closet and started to appear more widely in the fashion and art worlds. This elegant knot never goes out of fashion.
Take a few minutes to learn the French knot and you will have a new design element that can be used in many creative ways in your embroidery work. Do not only look to modern design influences. Observe the fine craftsmanship of ancient embroidery and silk robes in Chinese courts and quilts in Persia. Admire the petit point of the 17th and 18th French courts. How often do you see the French knot? You should now be inspired to use this popular knot in your designs.
How to Make the French Knot
There is no need to be intimidated by French knot embroidery. The knot is easy to make. Once you start using it, you can gradually apply more complex design concepts. The three easy steps are: bring the needle up through the material, loop the thread one to four times around the needle, and then draw the needle back through the material.
These instructions are for the right-handed. For those of you who are left-handed, switch the roles of the hands.
- Position your embroidery hoop so you can comfortably work with both hands.
- Bring the needle up through the material.
- With your left hand, pinch the thread taut.
- With your right hand, place the needle parallel to the fabric over the insertion point and in front of the thread (Your left hand is behind the needle).
- Wrap the thread around the needle once or twice (or even three or four times) in a clockwise position.
- Pull the long tail of the thread tight with one hand.
- Reinsert the needle in the material beside, but not in, the original insertion point.
- Gently pull the needle down through the fabric and watch your French knot form.
The size of the knot is determined by two factors:
– the number of loops you make, that is whether you make one (small), two (big), three (bigger) or four (even bigger) loops around the needle
– how tight the thread is, that is whether you hold the thread tightly (small) or loosely (big)
French Knot Designs
Single French knots are commonly used as flowers and polka dots. A French knot on its own looks like a flower. A series of single knots spaced evenly out creates a polka dot design.
A Fill-in Stitch
French knots can create bolder and stronger forms than lighter stitches, similar to the effect of rug hooking with thick wool. You may have a form you want to be more pronounced and a central focus of the image. Or you may want the overall look of a thick stitch. French knots are also used to make cluster designs. A popular pattern is to start with a light or dark color and gradually change the gradation as you stitch a wider circle.
The thick French knot forms major lines and often contour lines in design. It is used in many patterns. These elegant knots provide elegance to embroidered lace patterns.
French knots are used to make many flower designs. Draw the shape of the flower you want to design and fill it in with the size and color of the French knot you have chosen. One large dark rose knot in the middle with smaller lighter knots surrounding it will form an elegant rose shape. Your lilacs will look so real you can smell their sweet perfume. Try a bouquet with green leaves and different coloured flowers. Trees and shrubs can look thick and lush. Add a few small yellow knots to your strawberries.
On parts of the body, hair and eyes can be done using the French knot. On animals, sheep and poodles look like they naturally grow French knots.
You have likely owned a sweater with French knots. One of the most elegant and enduring sweater designs is composed of small French knots in pearly white, light mint green, yellow and rose. French knots are often part of lace designs. French knots make perfect accents on clothing – dots on neck and shirt collars, frills on a dress. And they make great tassels.
Recycle your wardrobe with French knots. Do you have a favorite shirt that has become boring? Or perhaps it has a small stain. Stitch on a French knot design and put the shirt back in your wardrobe. Dress up an old dress with a few French knots. Have you redecorated and a few pillows look out of sorts? French knots may be the perfect way to add color and tie items into the décor.
If you are in a creative and whimsical mood, Showcase Memories With a T-shirt Quilt. Stitch you and your spouse on your wedding day. Real photos can be transferred onto shirts and used as patterns. Your husband likely had more hair back then, and you still had long curly locks. French knots are perfect for hair. Stitch animals on t-shirts. Children love to feel texture, and will enjoy petting the furry puppy on their shirt.
If you want to add elegance to your crafts, add French knots to pin cushions, wedding bouquets, a stitched and illustrated poem, a sachet, or a pillow. A few pearls or beads can provide a finishing touch. Taking a few hours to learn Pearl and Bead Stringing online can greatly enhance your designs.
For many more creative French knot ideas, visit the French knot page on Pinterest for lots of inspiration, and some good examples of the French knot stitch. Visit textile museums and observe how the French knot was used in earlier embroidery work. There are many elegant patterns that are worth re-creating. Make a commitment to recreate and revive at least one embroidery pattern. Admiring the fine craftsmanship of others will help you improve your skill.
French Knots and Texture
You can easily control the height and thickness of the knots by making them large or small, or tight or lose. With embroidery, you are not confined to a flat surface. Use texture in the creative process. Darn a rolling field of lavender. Create a cherry blossom tree in full blossom using different shades of pink. Start with tall knots in the centre. Stitch the blossoms in a circular pattern, gradually making the knots smaller. Your child will enjoy cuddling with the fluffy animal on her pillow. Think up other 3-dimensional embroidery ideas.
Be creative. You may even want to create your own patterns. Enroll in Creating Art Basics and learn drawing techniques, color theory and design elements. Learn to work with the color wheel and color schemes. Play with texture. This online course includes a yarn texture design exercise, which will allow you to experiment with textures before picking up your needle and incorporating new design elements into your embroidery.