How to start and finish your embroidery threads: The waste knot method

For years I’ve been of the belief that knots and embroidery are a big no-no. Other than French knots of course! That was until I was shown the waste knot method for starting and finishing threads on my first Royal School of Needlework day class.

Mind blown.

The waste knot method is for sure the easiest and fastest I’ve come across. Let’s jump straight into how to do it.

Starting threads with a waste knot

First, thread your needle and tie a knot in the other end of your thread. I find it helpful to leave a bit of a tail to my knot, say 1 or 2cms.

Take your needle down into your work so that your knot is on the right side.

Bring your needle back up a short distance away and work a small stab stitch.

A stab stitch is just a very small stitch. I aim to make my stab stitches as small as I can. They don’t have to be super small. Just small enough so that they’re not visible when you stitch over them.

Image showing the waste knot on the front of the fabric and the stitching of the first small stab stitch.
Stitching a stab stitch – if you look closely you should be able to see just a small space of fabric between my needle and thread.

Work another one or two stab stitches nearby to secure your thread.

Image showing waste knot on the front of the fabric, two stab stitches and the thread ready to start stitching.
My stab stitch to the right of the knot is so small you almost can’t see it!

Then snip off your knot. I find this is easiest to do if I pull the end of the knot up so that my thread is taut. It’s then easy to snip off the knot close to my fabric.

You’re now ready to start stitching.

Holding the waste knot taut while snipping it off close to the fabric.

How to finish threads with the waste knot method

We won’t use an actual knot when finishing our threads, but the process for finishing threads is very similar.

When you’re ready to finish off your thread, work 2 or 3 stab stitches in an area or on a line that will be later covered by stitching.

Then bring your thread back to the front of your stitching and snip it off close to your fabric. As before, I find this easiest if I hold my thread taut with one hand and carefully snip with the other.

Image showing embroidery thread being snipped off close to the fabric after securing it with some stab stitches.

You’ll occasionally run out of nearby areas or lines in which to finish off your thread. In this case, turn your work over and weave the end of your thread in through the backs of your stitches to secure it.

Waste knot top tips

Make sure your stab stitches are within an area that you’re going to cover with stitching so that they won’t be visible. This can be within an area that you’re going to cover with a solid filling or along a line you’ll be stitching over.

The same applies to your waste knot and finishing length of thread. Although these will be snipped off, they can leave a small tuff of visible thread.

I generally work my securing stab stitches in a backstitch style order (rather than running stitch) so that I’m more likely to pierce the thread on the reverse, making the stitches even more secure.

To check that you’ve worked enough stab stitches and that they’re secure, pull on the end of your knot before cutting it off. If you can start pulling your thread back through the fabric, your thread isn’t secure. So work more stab stitches until you can’t pull your thread through.

If you have other stitching nearby, please take care when snipping! I learnt the hard way by cutting into some of my actually stitching when I was near the end of my RSN Jacobean crewelwork piece. Oops!

When weaving in, make sure your needle doesn’t come through to the front of your work at all. I like to weave my thread in at least two different directions to make it extra secure.

Why not use knots

I always like to understand why I should, or shouldn’t, do something.

So in case you’re like me, let’s go over why using a knot on the back of your work is generally not a good idea.

There are 2 main reasons I’m aware of:

  1. Your knot could come loose or even undone over time. How frustrating would it be after all your hard work to have your embroidery stitches start to come loose? Best not to risk it in my opinion.
  2. The presence of knots on the back of your work can create visible bumps if you mount your embroidery. Depending on how you finish your embroidery this may not be relevant. But I’d prefer not to limit my options.

Why use waste knots

Let’s contrast those nays with some yeas for waste knots:

  1. This method creates a nice and secure start and finish for your embroidery threads.
  2. You don’t add extra bulk to your work.
  3. I find it quicker and easier than any other method I’ve come across.

The reason this method is quicker for me is that I don’t have to turn my work over. This is especially time saving when I’m working on a larger slate frame.

For an added bonus, the waste knot method really comes into its own if you are working on a large piece of embroidery with other people. It would be pretty disruptive to your fellow stitchers if you kept turning the work over. But with the waste knot method, you are (nearly!) always working from the front, so everyone’s happy.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial useful and that I’ve convinced you to give the waste knot method a go! Check out my other tutorials here and be sure to let me know if there’s something in particular that you’d like me to cover.


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