Let’s Talk About… French Knots

I’ve avoided speaking about French Knots for years. If people ask I simply say people aren’t bothered; it’s either something you want to do or something you want to avoid. But that’s not actually correct. In reality; I just suck at them!
I was recently doing a lesson, trying to get kids into cross stitch, and one kid asked me to show them how to do one. Inside I was screaming. Here I was, pretending to know what I’m doing, and I had just been thrown down a challenge by someone half my height.
That’s when I decided; it would no longer beat me. Today, we look into French Knots and what all the fuss is about.

Why Do People Hate Them?

So let’s start with the facts; people hate French Knots. There are two basic camps here, those that have tried once and failed, and those that have tried and tried again and still fail. The similarity there; everyone fails. And that’s why French Knots suck.
Unlike cross stitches, which fit into set widths and lengths (assuming you’re using an evenweave), French Knots are wild beasts that sometimes come out huge, sometimes tiny, sometimes loose, and sometimes tight. French Knots are…messy. But that doesn’t mean that isn’t OK. Sometimes, this can be why you stitch with French Knots.

Cherry Blossom Cross Stitch by Peacock & Fig (source: peacockandfig.com)

When To Use French Knots

In the example above Peacock & Fig have used French Knots to populate blossoms on a tree. Well, look out the window (or google one depending on the time of year you’re reading this), cherry blossoms aren’t all equal. Some are big, some are small, some are loose and some are tight. By picking the right time to use a French Knot you can actually use the knot’s unorganized nature to your advantage.
Many patterns often ask for French Knots here and there as finishing touches. And whilst we all want everything to be perfect, designers know that French Knots are like this. They only place them where they can be messy, where it works for them to be like that. So next time a pattern calls for a French Knot; give it a try. A messy French Knot might be exactly what the doctor designer ordered.

How To Do A French Knot

I’m not going to beat around the bush here; I’m not the best person to be telling you how to do a French Knot. But youtube is our friend!

In short, French Knots are actually a twist in a thread that can’t come unraveled. Twist it around the needle twice, stick it into the fabric, and you’re done!


But that doesn’t mean it’s actually that simple.
Shout out to Mary of Needle’nThread for her excellent resource on French Knot tips, as we delve into some tips on how to actually make a successful French Knot.

Number of Wraps

Firstly, consider the number of wraps.
In short, the higher the number of wraps you use, the bigger the knot will be. This seems simple, but if you use a throwaway bit of fabric to test the knot before you stitch it, you can see how your knots are coming out today. Too tight and small? Do some more wraps! Too loose? Fewer wraps. This way you can adjust your French Knots on a day-to-day basis.

French Knot Tip – Loops (Source: needlenthread.com)

Leave A Space

Next, think about the space. By his we mean the amount of space between the ‘up’ thread and the ‘down’ thread. Make sure it’s as tight as possible without being in the same hole. By reducing this space you’ll make sure you’re French Knot holds close to the fabric, and doesn’t flop around everywhere!

French Knot Tip – Keep The Space (Source: needlenthread.com)


Finally, let’s talk about tension. This is by far the hardest thing to talk about, as it’s all about feeling. Those of us who knit as well as cross stitch, might find this part a little easier, but the tension is very important.
But don’t get hung up on it. The first thing people do when they’re worried about tension is tighten right up. This is actually going to cause you issues.
Instead, think about the two rules of tension:
1 – It has to be tight enough that the wraps don’t come loose
2 – It has to be tight enough that the thread doesn’t knot when you don’t want it to (especially when pushing back in)
Those rules actually give you a lot of leeways, it’s not about making it super loose, or super tight, it’s about having it taught enough to not come loose or knot up. If you’re worried, you can always be too loose, and retry the knot.

French Knot Tip – Tension (Source: needlenthread.com)

Use A Different Needle!

If you’re still struggling, and you intend to do a lot of French Knots, a new needle might be what you’re after. Milliner needles are sharps, with eyes the same size as their shank. This means the “tug” you have to give just before the knot gets set doesn’t happen anymore. That tug, is often where the issues occur, messing up your tension and making the knot too tight/loose.
You will have to get a specific size for your thread, but variation packs cost a few dollars and will have the one you need 99.9% of the time.

The Easier Alternative: Colonial Knot

Still stuck? Then let me welcome you to the Colonial Knot. This initially seems very similar to a French Knot, but the whole problem of tension goes way, making this a MUCH easier knot.
They don’t look the same, it must be said, but they look very similar. Where a French Knot is more circular, a Colonial Knot is a little more oval. This means that if you want to do pupils on an eye, the Colonial Knot might not be suitable, but it’s perfect in every other situation!

Still hate French and Colonial Knots? Well, we don’t blame you. Maybe think about buying some beads instead as a replacement?
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Rich

    Thanks so much! I’m of the tried and tried and tried and still failed school of French Knots. I’ve skipped lovely patterns because they called for French Knots. I’ve never heard of Colonial Knots but I’ll definitely give them a try and I love the idea of using a bead instead of a knot (I’m just learning to knit with beads). You’ve done me a great kindness — thanks again!

    1. LordLibidan

      Glad I could help! 😀
      Kudos on learning French Knots, I know a lot of people avoid it for as long as they can!

  2. Ashley

    I just completed a Christmas stocking for a client that had french knots using metallic thread. What a nightmare!

    1. LordLibidan

      Metallic french knots? Why would someone do such a thing!?!