French Knots are like marmite for cross stitchers. Some love them, some loathe them. Personally, I love them! Or, at least, I learned to once I practiced enough and (more importantly) started learning to be less of a perfectionist for my own good! No two of my French Knots look the same, but you know what, that's fine!
While they don't crop up often in cross stitch patterns (certainly not as much as the straight stitch or back stitch), when used French Knot's can be really effective to create a more 3D effect. For example, it seemed the perfect way to portray the softness of the cute little ice creams in the A Seaside Rendezvous pattern while also making them a real feature.
If you've come across a pattern with French Knots on, they may seem daunting at first, but I promise once you've done a few of them it becomes second nature. It's one of those skills that you learn best through practice!
What is a french knot?
A French Knot is an embroidery stitch that creates a little bobble of thread on your work which is created by knotting the thread on the front of your work... intentionally this time!
How do you do a french knot?
Just a note before we start, I've written these instructions to be as detailed as possible so you know exactly what your hands should be doing at all times and to make french knots easy... so it may seem like there are lots of steps, but actually once you get used to doing them, they won't seem that faffy!
1. Bring your needle and thread up through the fabric where you would like your knot to be (in cross stitch this is usually at the closest hole in the aida (fabric), but can be in-between if needed).
2. Put your project down onto a table or your lap so you can use both hands.
3. Use your non-dominant hand (NDH) to hold the thread with moderate tension a couple of inches from the fabric.
4. With your dominant hand (DH), bring the needle to rest on the front of the thread approximately half an inch from the fabric.
5. Holding your needle still, keep the tension on the thread with your NDH as you wrap the thread around the needle as many times as required (I usually wrap 3 times when doing French Knots on aida).
6. Put the tip of the needle (not the whole thing) back into the fabric close to where it originally emerged, but NOT into the same hole.
7. With just the tip of the needle in, pull the thread tighter with your NDH and you will notice the 'wraps' slide down the needle until they're against the fabric.
8. Without losing the tension, pin the thread down to your hoop/frame with the thumb of your NDH so you can use that hand to pick up your work.
9. Using your DH, slowly pull the needle all the way through the knot and the fabric, only letting go of the thread from your NDH when there is no more thread to go. (TIP - if you can't get the needle through the knot at this point, you're holding the thread with too much tension - loosed off slightly.)
Top Tips for french knots
Firstly, I know there are a few of you that stitch in-hand without a hoop/frame. Well, even if this is the case, I would absolutely recommend you use a hoop or frame if you are stitching French Knots. It makes handling everything easier, as well as make it easier for you to be able to control the tension of the thread enough to result in a tidy little knot.
Secondly, varying the size of a French Knot can be really effective, for example, within the Spring At Whitley Abbey pattern, French Knots are used for a few of the Daffodil's trumpets by the pond, so to give a sense of distance, you could make the French Knots bigger for the daffodils 'closest' to the viewer (ie on the bunch on the left), and smaller for the daffodils 'furthest away' (ie on the bunch on the right).
So how do you do that? Well you can adjust the size of your French Knot in two ways... with more 'wraps' of the thread around the needle, or with more strands of thread. However it's useful to note that the fewer wraps you use, the tidier the French Knot. I would personally recommend using no more than 3, and instead, if you want a bigger knot, use more threads. Here you can see how the knot size and shape differs dependent on the number of thread strands used, and the number of 'wraps' used.
Now, go practice what you've learnt and please take it easy on yourself when you first start. I promise you they won't all look perfect, but that's fine!