Waste knot, want knot

Most stitchers I know are not enamoured of fastening on and off (and some, like me, therefore choose to use threads that are far too long and by doing so cause themselves more problems than if they’s just fastened on and off a bit more often…) Still, it has to be done, and recently I’ve been thinking a bit more about the various methods I use to fasten on and off, and what determines which one I choose.

First of all a confession. I use knots. At the back of my work. Drum me out of the Society of True Embroiderers if you like, but if I’m stitching a small project that will go into a padded card, standard knots will do me just fine (for fastening on, that is; I fasten off by weaving under previous stitches). Sometimes I use them in larger projects too, if I know the end product is going to be padded, and is not going to be handled or washed or generally fiddled with. So that’s the first method I use, and it is by far my favourite because it is quick and easy.

Knots at the back of my work

Quick and easy partly because I use a method for knotting the end of the thread which I learnt from my grandmother, and which I’ve only recently found out is known in English as a quilter’s knot or a tailor’s knot. Note about the pictures: I realised too late that the needle I’m using has a curved tip – I grabbed the first one that was about the right size and forgot that this was the one my husband bent for me as an experiment to use for ribbed spider’s web stitch. It makes no difference to the knot, but just in case it looks a bit odd in some of the pictures, that’s why smiley.

Anyway, on to the knot. Thread your needle, then place the end of your thread on the needle’s eye. Place your thumb over it to keep it secure, then wrap the thread around the needle a few times. Push the wraps down the needle towards the eye so that you can pinch them with your thumb and forefinger, then very gently pull the needle through, and you’ll end up with a knot at the end of the thread. In effect you’ve just made a French knot without the fabric! Incidentally, the length of the tail after the knot depends on how much the thread overhangs the needle in the first step; I tend to put the very end of the thread onto the eye and so have practically no tail at all, but too little and it may undo itself. On the whole, however, this seems to be a perfectly secure way of making a knot.

Place the end of the thread on the needle's eye Place your thumb over the thread to keep it secure Wrap the thread around the needle a few times  
Push the wraps down the needle towards the eye so that you can pinch them with your thumb and forefinger Gently pull the needle through Pull until a knot forms at the end of the thread The completed knot

However, most books on embroidery will tell you that it is better not to have knots at the back of your work. They may come undone, they may cause lumps and bumps, you may catch them with your needle – and so they advise a knotless way of fastening on. These often start with a knot, but it’s a knot that will get snipped off later, hence its name “waste knot”. Knot your thread, then start by taking the needle down somewhere along the line that you’ll be stitching so that the knot sits at the front of the fabric, then come up at the start of the design line and start stitching towards the knot. When you get to the knot, you can snip it off – but first check the back of your work! With stitches like stem stitch, the stitches at the back may not actually be covering the tail leading to the knot…

Take the needle down somewhere along the design line Work your stitches in the usual way towards the knot When you come to the knot, snip it off But first check that the thread is secured at the back...

This is why a waste knot works best with stitches where the thread at the back of the work are at an angle to the tail you are trying to cover, rather than going in the same direction. The pictures below show a line of Palestrina knots being worked towards the waste knot; as you can see the stitches automatically secure the tail because of the way they are positioned.

Using a waste knot with Palestrina stitch The stitching at the back crosses the thread tail After a few stitches you can snip off the waste knot The tail is secured at the back

When the waste knot method is not ideal, you can use the away knot. This is like a waste knot a long way away instead of on the design line. As before, knot your thread, then start by taking the needle down a good distance away from your starting point (the tail needs to be long enough to thread comfortably in a needle). Work your stitches in the usual way, and after four or five stitches cut the away knot. You now have a tail at the back of the work.

Take the needle down a good way away from your starting point Work your stitches in the usual way Snip off the knot You now have a tail at the back of the work

Thread the tail, then weave the needle behind a few stitches at the back as though you were fastening off. Snip off any excess thread and continue stitching.

Thread the tail Take the needle underneath a few stitches at the back of the work Take the needle underneath a few stitches at the back of the work Snip off the excess

And finally the method which uses/wastes the least thread of any no-remaining-knot ways of fastening on: anchoring stitches. This is the method they teach at the RSN, and which I’ve been using throughout my Jacobean Tree of Life. It has the advantage that you can start and finish at the front of the work so you don’t have to flip your hoop or frame – particularly useful when working with a cumbersome slate frame on trestles!

Knot your thread, then take the needle down either on the design line or in a nearby area that will be covered later. Work two or three tiny stab stitches (taking the needle straight up and down), then bring the needle up at the starting point. Work a few stitches according to the design, the snip off the knot. To fasten off (not shown in the pictures), work a few tiny stitches snuggled underneath your “proper” stitches or again on a line or in a shape that will be covered, bring the needle to the front and cut the thread.

With the knot at the front make a few tiny stitches on the design line, Come up at the starting point, and after a few stitches snip off the knot

On the whole this works really well, but I have on occasion found myself pulling the thread through if I snipped the knot too quickly, especially with a slippery thread like silk; so if at all possible work a few stitches before cutting the knot.

There are other starting methods out there, like the pin stitch, but these are ones I find myself returning to most. If your favourite fastening on/fastening off method isn’t mentioned here, do champion it in the comments!

Ways of starting (II)

In my last post I looked at the waste knot and the away knot as a method of fastening on your working thread. Here are two more methods, or to be precise two methods plus a variation. The first one I’m sure you’re all familiar with; it’s the one I’ve been using ever since I started doing cross stitch and I’m not even sure it’s got a name. I call it the Tail method because you start by bringing the needle up through the fabric, leaving a tail at the back of the fabric (picture 1). Then start stitching, making sure you over the tail as you go (pictures 2 & 3). All three pictures show the back of the work.

Fastening on with a tail (1) Fastening on with a tail (2) Fastening on with a tail (3)

A great favourite of mine, and a great one to keep your back tidy, is the loop start. It only works when working with an even number of threads or strands, unfortunately, but when it works it’s very neat. It can be worked in two ways, one of which is even cleverer than the other! Both start by doubling your strand or strands and threading the needle with the cut ends (picture 1, below). The difference is whether the loop is left at the front or the back of the fabric. If you leave it at the back (that is to say, you bring the needle up for the first stitch as usual) you need to turn your work over to catch the loop. With the "front loop" method everything happens at the front of your work.

To begin, take the needle down the fabric at the beginning of your stitch, where you would normally bring the needle up. Don’t pull it all the way through but leave a loop at the front of the fabric. Then bring the needle up at the other end of the stitch (picture 2). Take the needle through the loop (picture 3) and pull the thread right through (picture 4). Take the needle down the same hole in which you came up, making sure you catch the loop (picture 5). Pull the thread right through, so that the loop gets pulled to the back of the fabric. Voilà, one anchored stitch (picture 6).

Fastening on with a loop start (1) Fastening on with a loop start (2) Fastening on with a loop start (3)
Fastening on with a loop start (4) Fastening on with a loop start (5) Fastening on with a loop start (6)

I suddenly realised there is another method which I use quite often but haven’t mentioned yet – and I haven’t got pictures of it either, but I hope a verbal description will be clear enough. This method only works if you’ve already done some stitching, and I tend to use it in Hardanger to fasten on the perle #8 for the bars and filling stitches after I’ve worked the Kloster blocks. At the back of the work I take the needle behind one or two Kloster blocks, ending up near where I want to start stitching; then I loop the thread round the last of the stitches that I’ve passed under. This anchors it very effectively.

If I’ve missed any really efficient ways of fastening on, do let me know – I always like to learn new methods!

Ways of starting (I)

As I was stitching one of the Guildhouse course models (the silk sampler) I got distracted into thinking about ways of starting a thread. Most instructions I have read over the years tend to say breezily "fasten on your thread" before moving swiftly on to the much more interesting matter of how to work the design or stitch. I will admit to doing so myself in Mabel’s chart packs, although in a good number of the stitch diagrams I do add something like "fasten on behind a Kloster block", and the diagram will show where; and of course in the Beginners’ Kits I specifically describe how and where to fasten on. But generally speaking, it is left to the stitcher to decide what method she or he will use.

And there are quite a few methods on offer, some with variations. You probably know several of them already, but I thought it might be helpful to have them all described. I’ve even produced some pictures! In fact I’ve produced rather a lot of pictures, so I’ll show the Waste Knot and the Away Knot today, and the Tail start and Loop start in the next post

The Waste and Away Knot methods are really two variations on a theme: both involve a knot that sits at the front of your work for a bit and is then snipped off and discarded. Several sites refer to the Away Knot as the Away Waste Knot, showing that they regard it as a type of waste knot. So what is the difference?

Let’s start with the waste knot. This is particularly useful if you are going to work a number of stitches in one direction. Tie a knot in the end of your thread and take the needle down the fabric a little way away from where you will start stitching (picture 1), making sure that you will be stitching in the direction of the knot. Work your stitches (picture 2 – I’m doing some fairly raggedy satin stitch). Picture 3 shows the back of the work, covering the thread. When you reach the knot, pull it up a little and snip it off. The cut end will disappear into the fabric, and you can continue stitching.

Fastening on with a waste knot (1) Fastening on with a waste knot (2) Fastening on with a waste knot (3)

But what it you’re stitching a few random French knots, or a stitch where there is very little thread at the back of the work so you would have to keep turning over your work to check that you are actually covering and anchoring the thread? Well, you could try an away knot. It starts in the same way, with a knot at the end of your thread – but this time you take the needle down about 4"/10cm away from where you will start stitching, and in the opposite direction to where you will be going (picture 1). Start stitching; I worked a number of French knots. At the back of the work you can see where I travelled from French knot to French knot, and you can also see the thread stretching to my away knot (picture 2). Now snip the knot at the front of the fabric, turn the work over and thread the needle with the loose end. Take the needle under some of the stitches to secure the thread (picture 3).

Fastening on with an away knot (1) Fastening on with an away knot (2) Fastening on with an away knot (3)

One note of caution about the away knot – it is very easy to underestimate the length of thread you will need to be able to comfortably secure it later, and few things are more exasperating than threading a cut end that turns out to be too short to work with. 4" is really about as little as you can get away with! This does make it probably the most wasteful method of fastening on, and so it is unlikely to become anyone’s default method, but it’s a useful one to have in your repertoire.