To knot or not to knot, that is a question that often seems to be heavily disputed in the embroidery world! One of the first things you want to know when you first begin embroidery is, of course, how to even begin. What are the proper ways to start and end your embroidery stitches? How do you secure your thread?
This post will answer all your questions about starting and ending off your stitches efficiently. I will go through a few different ways to do so, since certain stitches might require different methods.
Let’s begin with the famous question of whether or not it’s proper to start embroidery by knotting your thread…
To Knot or Not
When I first started learning embroidery a few years ago, I primarily turned to books to teach myself how to stitch. Most authors whose books I thoroughly enjoyed frowned heavily on the practice of using knots. But then again, others saw nothing wrong with it and told you to just go ahead and secure your threads with knots if that’s what your heart desired. After all, when all is said and done, no one looks at the back of embroidery, right? Who’s to know or care?
The Case For Knots
The truth is, it really depends on what you’re embroidering and what purpose the final piece will serve. Generally speaking, knots are less secure than the other methods I’m about to show you. They come undone easier, and if your piece is going to be washed repeatedly, you run the risk of having your beautiful stitches come undone.
They also add unnecessary bulk, and if you like the back of your embroidery clean, they make everything look messier. However. Sometimes a knot is just easier and makes sense. Sometimes you want to go a little faster, and sometimes you might get a little lazier. I’ll be the first to admit that I do that 😉
If you’re just practicing your stitches on a fabric scrap, or you know your piece will stay in the hoop and the back will be finished with another piece of fabric, then I really can’t blame you for wanting to use knots. I think they’re perfectly acceptable in certain cases, especially if you’re framing your final work.
How to Start With a Good Old-Fashioned Knot:
Begin by gathering the materials you will need for embroidery – you can find more information on that in this post. Prepare a piece of fabric and mount it in your embroidery hoop. Then, thread an embroidery needle. I used 3 strands of navy Anchor cotton floss for this tutorial.
Leave a tail of 3”-4” hanging from the eye of the needle (the eye is the hole where you thread).
Form a knot at the end of your main length of floss (not the tail). Pull to tighten, and snip off any excess thread.
Bring your needle up from the back of your hoop at the point where you want to start stitching. The knot will remain at the back of your work.
How to Start Embroidery Stitches Without a Knot
In the interest of showing you the “proper” way to start and end embroidery stitches for those pieces where knots at the back aren’t your best bet, here are some alternative ways to get started:
1. The Waste Knot
For this one, you will actually begin with a knot again, following the same instructions as above. However, instead of bringing your needle up from the back, you will do the opposite. Draw the needle from the good side of the fabric so that the knot rests on the front.
Make sure that the knot is away from where you want your first stitch to be. If you have a guideline marked on your fabric, you want the knot to be slightly away from it, not on it.
Make two very small stitches along your guideline, in the spot where you want your first stitch to be. They should be small enough so that your first stitch will entirely cover them.
Bring your needle up from the back just behind the first tiny stitch, and make your first actual stitch. For this tutorial, I’m doing a simple line of backstitch.
Take a few more stitches, and once you feel that it is secure, go ahead and snip the knot. Lift it gently with one hand and cut with the other.
The front is now all neat and tidy and you can carry on stitching!
Note: You don’t want to place the knot too far from your intended line of stitching, or you’ll end up with a dangling tail on the backside.
How To End Your Stitches Without a Knot
To finish off a line of stitching, simply flip your hoop to work on the backside. Run your needle just behind the stitches you’ve already lain. I usually weave it three or four times before snipping the end.
And there you go! Nice and secure, no bulky knots!
2. Starting with a Long Tail
Certain stitches make it easier than others to forgo knots altogether. With this method, you start by bringing your needle up from the back, leaving a good tail of around 1”-1 ½” long at the back.
The idea with this one is to catch the tail as you go along. Hold on to it with one hand as you take your first stitch so it won’t slip away. The next time you come up from the back, as you take your second stitch, make sure to catch the tail underneath it. As you pull your thread tight to lay the stitch, it will start securing the tail.
Repeat these steps a few more time to ensure the tail is really anchored, checking the back of your work to make sure you’re catching it.
If you left a pretty long tail, you can eventually just snip it off once you feel it is secure, or you can keep catching it at the back until it is fully anchored.
Front will look all nice and tidy 😊
Finish off the same way as illustrated in the waste knot method, by weaving the thread through the stitches on the back.
3. Starting With Anchoring Stitches
Alternatively, you can also make a few anchoring stitches to secure the thread when you start instead of catching the tail behind your first few stitches.
As shown before, cover the anchoring stitches with your first stitch. Continue stitching, catching the tail if you want, or snipping it if you feel it is secure enough.
Finish the thread by weaving it behind the stitches on the back, the same way as before.
4. Anchoring “X” Method
This method is probably the fastest and easiest way to start embroidery, but it can end up leaving visible anchoring stitches on the front. It’s better suited for larger stitches or if you’re filling an area.
Working on the backside of the hoop, take a teeny-tiny stitch where you want your first stitch to lay, or inside a shape you will be filling. Catch only a fiber or two of the main fabric. Pull through, but not all the way. You want to leave a very small tail, only a few millimeters long.
Going back to the wrong side, take another tiny stitch just behind the first one, at an angle to form a little cross or an X.
This is what it will look like on the front. It is a bit larger and can be harder to disguise with outline stitches, but it’s perfect for filling and for certain isolated stitches like French knots and lazy-daisy.
Here I’ve worked some French knots, and the first one sits right on top of that little anchoring cross, completely hiding it.
How to End Your Stitches
Since French knots are often isolated, this method works really well to secure them. To finish off the thread, flip to the backside, and weave your needle a few times among the stitches.
You can see that I dragged my thread across a little, and while this isn’t always recommended, it’s perfectly fine for working isolated stitches that are still close to each other. Since the threads are a bit loose though, I recommend looping your needle through your working thread to make it extra secure. I also like to run the needle behind the back stitches once more before snipping off.
It technically counts as a knot, but it gives me peace of mind that the stitches won’t come undone. You could also end the same way you began, with the little X, but make sure that it’s not visible on the good side. This can be tricky sometimes, depending on what stitch you’re working.
Best Way to Start & End Stitches if You’re Filling a Shape
I find it much easier to start embroidery if I’m covering an area rather than outlining, because any anchoring stitches/tails are sure to be hidden and extra secure.
To begin, you can either use the waste knot or the hanging tail method. You’ll want the waste knot or the thread tail to be inside the shape. When you place your two anchoring stitches, they don’t have to be as close together as I’ve shown before. As long as they are inside the shape you’ll be filling, you’re good! They can also be bigger since they will be fully covered.
I’m using the waste knot method here, and after working a few long and short stitches, I just snip off the knot.
When you’re ready to end, flip to the back of your hoop, and simply run the needle through a few stitches. If you’re working long & short or satin stitches, they will be nice and tight and your thread end won’t be going anywhere anytime soon (unpicking these stitches is the worst, they are so secure!).
If you’re switching colours or simply re-threading, you can begin again the same way you ended. Flipping to the back side, run your needle behind the stitches once or twice, until you can safely pull without the tail coming undone.
Repeat until your shape is filled to your satisfaction!
And here we are, these a few ways you can safely start and end your embroidery stitches with no worries 😊 This turned out to be a longer post than I thought for what seems like a small thing, but these are the steps that will hold everything securely together, so it is important. And I just had to give my two cents on the whole knot-or-no-knot business 😉 I do hope this post was helpful to you, and if you know other methods of starting and ending embroidery that work well for you, please share them in the comments!
Happy embroidering my friends, and until next time!