3 Quick Ways to Start Embroidery Threads without a Knot

Hand embroidery is a terrific hobby for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of rules involved in it. Embroidery is one of those pursuits that allow the crafter a lot of freedom for creative expression, without the hindrance of a lot of rules.

There are guidelines, though, with embroidery — little hints and tips that will help you create embroidered masterpieces that look good and that withstand the test of time.

embroidery-no-knots-06

One guideline that you’ll most likely come across early in your stitching adventures is the no-knot one, which tells us that we shouldn’t start our threads with knots that are left on the back of the embroidery.

There are several reasons for this guideline:

  • Have you ever stretched and framed a piece of embroidery flat, only to find little lifted bumps on the front of the work, thanks to knots? I have!
  • Have you started a thread with a knot on the back and tried to stitch a chain stitch or a French knot in the same spot, only to find your thread in a mess because it ran through a knot on the back of the embroidery and pulled the whole thread out of whack? I have!
  • Have you ever embroidered something meant to be laundered, started your threads with knots, and after laundering the item, found that the knots loosened and released over time? I have!
  • Have you ever tried to finish the edge of an ornament or needlebook or other item, and found it impossible to put your stitches right where you wanted to, thanks to the presence of a knot? I have!

So there are many reasons why needlework instructors often encourage stitchers not to use knots.

But isn’t it complicated, to start an embroidery thread without a knot? Not at all!

Here are some quick ways to begin embroidery threads securely, without leaving knots on the back of your work!


No knots with two strands

It’s pretty common for stitchers to use two strands of floss in the needle at one time when they stitch, and this method of avoiding a knot is not only super-fast, but it’s super easy!

Keep in mind, though, that it only works when you’re embroidering with two strands of floss in the needle.

1. Instead of cutting two separate strands of floss, cut one very long strand and fold it in half.

fold the working thread in half

2. Thread the cut ends into the eye of the needle so that the folded end is the end of the thread.

thread both cut ends into the needle

3. Take your needle and thread from the back to the front of the fabric, like you normally would, only don’t pull all the way through. Leave a small loop on the back of the fabric.

enter the fabric from the back and leave a small loop on the back

4. On the front of the fabric, take your first stitch forward, but before you insert the needle and pull through, turn the work over again…

move forward a stitch length on the front

…and make sure that the needle is passing through the loop on the back of the fabric.

take the needle down into the fabric and inside the loop left on the back

5. Pull the needle and thread through the loop and tighten the loop up. This will create a chain stitch of sorts around the working thread.

tighten the stitch so the loop tightens around the working thread on the back

6. Turn the work over and stitch away, confident that your thread is secure on the back of the fabric — without a knot!

continue stitching until the line is completed

A finished line of stem stitch will look like this on the back of the fabric, using this method of starting a thread.

back of the fabric, without a knot

No knots with any thread

The first method above is quick and easy, but it’s somewhat limiting. It only works when you’re stitching with two strands of floss, after all.

The method below works with any kind of thread, with any number of strands.

Yes, you’re right! That’s a knot in the photo! In this case, the knot is called a waste knot, because we’re eventually going to cut it off.

1. With this method of starting a thread without leaving a knot on the back of the fabric, thread your needle as you normally would and tie a little knot at the end of your thread.

thread the needle as normal and knot the end of the thread

2. An inch or so away from where you want to start your embroidered line, take your needle and thread down into the fabric from the top, leaving the knot on the top of the fabric.

take the needle down into the fabric an inch or so away from the starting point for the embroidery

3. Moving down your design line towards your starting point, bring the needle and thread to the front of the fabric and take a tiny backstitch over one (or two, at most) threads in the fabric.

move towards the starting point, making two or three tiny backstitches along the line

4. The goal here is to make two or three tiny backstitches on the design line, working toward the starting point of your embroidery.

the backstitches should pass over just one or two fabric threads

5. Once you have two or three of these tiny backstitches worked on the line, bring your needle and thread to the front of the fabric at your starting point, and start stitching towards the knot.

bring the thread to the front at the beginning of the design line

6. Stitch right over those little backstitches, as if they aren’t even there. Your line of embroidery stitches will cover them up.

You don’t need to pay too much attention to what’s going on on the back of the fabric. You’ll most likely be stitching through the threads on the back as you progress towards the knot — and that’s OK! Just think of it as extra security.

7. When you arrive near the knot, pull up on the tail of the knot, to pull it away from the surface of the fabric. Then snip right next to the surface of the fabric to remove the knot.

stitch towards the knot as normal, covering up the backstitches, then cut the knot

Once you snip the thread close, the rest of it will bounce to the back of the fabric.

Up close, this is what the beginnings of both lines of stitching look like. The line on the left is the two-stranded method; the line on the right is the waste knot with tacking stitches.

on the back of the fabric, the lines begin without knots

Both threads are perfectly secure, and neither involves a little lump on the back of the fabric.

begin with a knot on the top of the fabric and make two or three tiny stab stitches in the area that will be embroidered

Waste knots and small tacking stitches like those described above work in pretty much any stitching situation, where you can cover the little stitches up with your embroidery.

So whether you’re stitching on a line or filling in space, this is a secure way to start an embroidery thread.

In the photo above, I’m going to fill that small dot with satin stitch and then outline part of it with stem stitch. To start my thread, I began with a waste knot on top of the fabric, inside the little dot, and I took three tiny stab stitches inside the dot, too.

Then I cut the knot off and worked the embroidery over the stab stitches.

embroider over the area, covering the stab stitches

And there’s the filling, with no stab stitches visible, and no knots on the back.

No knots with isolated stitches

It’s a little trickier to avoid knots or even traveling threads on the back of the fabric when embroidering isolated stitches like single French knots.

But when you’re working on a lighter colored fabric and embroidering with dark thread, traveling lines and tails from knots can be unsightly from the front of the embroidery.

So here’s how to avoid using knots with isolated French knots, while avoiding traveling dark threads between the knots.

1. Begin with a waste knot on the top of the fabric once again and then bring the needle and thread to the front of the fabric right where you want your French knot to be.

make a tiny stab stitch in the fabric where you want to work the isolated stitch

2. Make a tiny little stab stitch over one thread of the fabric (or two, if you’re using a very fine fabric).

work another tiny stab stitch over the first, like a tiny cross stitch

3. Crossing over the first stab stitch — as if you’re making a tiny cross-stitch — work another tiny stab stitch.

work the isolate stitch over the tiny stab stitches

4. Pull these stitches tightly enough that they sink flat to the fabric, but not so tightly that they distort the fabric or pull on the fabric threads.

the French knot worked over the stab stitches

5. Now, work your French knot right over this tiny dot, bringing the needle and thread to the front of the fabric on one side of the dot, wrapping the thread around the needle for the French knot, and taking the needle and thread to the back of the fabric just on the other side of your stab stitch dot.

pass the needle and thread under the stitch on the back of the fabric

6. Pull the thread through, and you have a perfect French knot sitting right over the stab stitch dot.

pass the needle through the loop of thread and pull through

7. Turn your work over, run the needle underneath the stitch right behind the French knot…

trim the threads close on the back of the fabric

…and pull through until a small loop is left in the working thread. Pass the needle through the loop in the opposite direction that you passed under the stitch, and then cinch the loop around the working thread.

8. Snip both threads — the thread from the waste knot and the working thread — close to the back of the French knot.

finished line of isolated French knots with no knots on the back

While this method definitely slows down the stitching of French knots, it’s a sure way to stitch an isolated French knot securely onto the fabric, without leaving heavy knots on the back of the fabric and without trailing dark threads behind the fabric, between the French knots.

And, while these methods may seem long and complicated at first, I promise that all the methods demonstrated above are secure and easy ways to start threads without using knots in practically any stitching situation. Once you get used to these methods, they become second nature and you’ll delight in the fact that you can start your threads quickly and securely without having to worry about leaving knots on the back of your embroidery!

Don’t let no-knots deter you!

All that being said, if you really prefer to begin your embroidery with knots and the whole idea of changing your methods would put you off embroidery forever, don’t sweat it! Use a knot!

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