How to stitch: French knots

French knots have a reputation of being a bit tricky. But I also know plenty of embroiderers who love them! I’ve found a couple of simple tips that make them nice and easy, so if you’ve been struggling with this stitch read on…

How to stitch

Bring your needle up where you want your knot.

Holding your thread taut, twist your needle around it near to where the thread is coming out of the fabric.

I could have said twist your thread around your needle, which is probably more accurate. But the motion I make feels more like I’m twisting my needle around my thread! 🙂

A twist of thread around my needle in preparation of stitching a French knot.

Put your needle back into your fabric close to where your knot began. But not through the same hole.

Before pulling your thread through, keep it pulled taut around your needle and slide your knot down to sit next to your fabric.

Needle in fabric with knot held taut around the needle and next to the fabric.

Now pull your thread through, while continuing to hold your thread taut for as long as possible.

Your French knot is complete!

6 French knots worked in blue crewel wool.

I recorded a short video of me stitching a couple of French knots as I think it’s useful to be able to see this stitch in action. Please forgive the poor focus in the first few seconds, I’m still working out the best way to video my stitching!

Top tip

The best tip I have for French knots is to make sure you’re always tightening your knot around your needle and sliding it down to your fabric before pulling your thread through. Plus, continuing to hold your thread as you pull it through.

Doing this is how I managed to start stitching consistent and neat knots with ease.

It might take a little while to get into the swing of it. But once you do, I think it makes for a nice and easy rhythm of stitching.

How many twists in a French knot?

During my Royal School of Needlework (RSN) certificate studies, I’ve been told to only ever use one twist of thread around my needle. So that’s what I’m now in the habit of doing!

However plenty of embroiderers twist their thread around their needle a couple of times, or more. Which will create a larger knot.

Unless your work is going to be assessed by the RSN, I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way. So go with whichever gives you the effect you like best.

However if you find that some of your knots are looking a bit loose or uneven, then I’d suggest using just one twist. As I find this makes it easier to get a consistent tension.

Varying the size of your French knots

While you can use more twists to create larger French knots, my preference is to use multiple strands of thread.

I find this easier to stitch as the more twists there are, the harder I find it is to get them all consistently tight around my needle. Plus I think the multiple strand approach creates a nicer looking, evenly round knot.

I did a little sampling to show you the different looks of the knots as your number of strands or number of twists increases. On the left, the knots are all stitched with 1 twist and go from 1 strand to 4 strands. While on the right, the knots are all stitched with 1 strand and go from 1 twist to 4 twists.

French knots arranged in 2 columns - on the left the size increases by increasing the number of strands of thread. On the right the knots using an increasing number of twists.

By the time we get to 4 strands or 4 twists you can really see a big difference! With 3 or 4 twists I was really having to take care that the twist loops didn’t start to get unruly. Confirming my usual choice of using multiple strands when I want a bigger knot.

Another advantage of using multiple strands is that I can use different shades of colours of thread in my needle. I like the effect of using a lighter and darker shade in my needle as I think the contrast helps to draw attention to the texture of the stitch.

French knots in use

As French knots are more 3 dimensional than many stitches, they are great for adding texture to your embroidery. Especially if you go for the multiple strands approach.

To really go to town with the texture, try mixing different sizes of knots.

If you use a single strand and single twist, they are great for adding fine details to your work. For example small eyes or little berries and seeds.

I also like using them as a filling stitch as I like the texture they create. You could stitch them spaced out for a seeding stitch. Or right next to each other to create a solid fill. I combined a bit of both in this sample:

French knots stitched clustered together in the bottom left, then more sparsely around the edges.

In this flower that’s part of my RSN Jacobean crewelwork piece, I used a single strand of yellow for the French knots at the end of the stamen. Then two strands of brown for the knots in the centre of the flower. I used different shades of brown in my needle to add to the textural effect.

A crewel embroidery yellow and purple flower.

Since French knots are small, stand alone stitches, they give you the option for adding quite fine details with shade or colour when using them as a filling. Think the pointillism art style – where from a distance it looks like a regular painting, but get up close and you see that the image is made up of lots and lots of dots!

How do you feel about French knots? Are you in the love them or hate them camp?

I used to find them quite tricky, but now really enjoy them, so I promise it’s worth persevering!


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