This rounded stitch, which is used in needlepoint, embroidery, and other techniques, is worth mastering.

By Alexandra Churchill
October 01, 2020
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Wendy Hollender

In needlepoint and embroidery techniques, the French knot is a stitch that you will learn for decorative projects. Unlike background stitching, what distinguishes it as a stitch is that it adds dimensional depth and texture to an otherwise flat canvas. For this reason, it's best used as an accent; think: flowers in a garden, decorative embellishments to a monogram, or a lamb's wooly coat. (This is similar, but not to be confused with, the colonial stitch.)

Start with your canvas, needle and thread. (In embroidery, a milliner needle is ideal here because the shaft is the same width as the eye, which makes it easier to pass through the knot.) Pull your threaded needle up through the bottom of the canvas. Then, holding onto the thread with your non-stitching hand and close to the canvas, wrap it around the needle once (for a small knot) or twice (for a larger knot); avoid wrapping more than twice or the result will be a lopsided knot.

Pull the needle partway down into the canvas, close to the spot where the needle came to the front but not into the same hole. Keep the thread pulled taut so that it wraps snugly but not so taut that it prevents the needle from drawing through the knot. Towards the end, let go of the thread and it should smoothly loop into a French knot on the right side of your work.

Practice this stitch on a small sampler, using needles of type and size appropriate to the canvas. As you stitch, move your stitching hand from the back of the fabric to the front of the work as needed and experiment with tension—tighter tension will result in tight, compact knots; looser tension results in soft, loopy knots. French knots are notoriously difficult to unwind, so if you make a mistake, it's best to simply cut away the unwanted knot and retry with a new length of thread.

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