Knot at all Definitive

29th March 2019

By Nancy Williams

Knots. They’re controversial to say the least. At the needlework convention, Beating Around the Bush, last October I heard frequent discussions about how to start a thread – to knot or not to knot. Different tutors had different views and about the only thing that everyone agreed on was that there was no definitive answer. So, what do you do?

Hazel Blomkamp’s complex stitching (source)

For anyone who has had the pleasure of doing a class with Hazel Blomkamp or owning one of her books, you will be familiar with her statement ‘This is the 21st Century, you are allowed to start with a knot’. Indeed, Hazel’s stitches are so detailed and often so complicated that the last thing you are concerned with is whether there is a knot on the back of your work. It is enough to get the stitch correct on the front!

Nicola Jarvis at Beating Around the Bush

But doing a class with Nicola Jarvis, I was surprised when she instructed us to use a small knot on the back when we were attaching beads. This was for strength. As beads are heavier than thread, it is important to provide that additional insurance against them falling off.

Great embroidery minds have wrestled with this problem endlessly, as it is inextricably linked with the whole ‘back of the work should be as neat as the front’ argument. Mary Corbet wrote a wonderful article on this back in 2017. She suggested that where the back of the work is going to be visible, such as when you are stitching a table runner or tablecloth, of course it is important to keep the back immaculate. But within reason.

Then there are those stitchers out there who produce reversible embroidery, and I know I’m not alone in wondering what it would be like to be able to reach those heights. For the rest of us, we can strive to be as neat as possible, and hope that Auntie Ethel doesn’t immediately turn over the table runner before even glancing at the stitches on the front.

To satisfy Auntie Ethel (and our own quest for perfection), waste knots and pin stitches are absolutely the best choice.

But what if your piece is going to be turned into a cushion, quilt, stool top or framed?

Having looked at all of the opinions, and even through my own stitching experience, I’ve realised that every circumstance is different. Does it need to sit perfectly flat, for instance when it is laced on a mount board? Then perhaps a knot might not be the best choice. Is it going to be padded, like a cushion? Then perhaps it doesn’t matter. But there are other considerations, which are equally as important. These include your own level of skill, the time you have available, and, probably most of all, your own enjoyment or stress level.

Our needlework is supposed to be a pleasure. We undertake it for our mental health and relaxation. If the stress about producing a perfect back with no knots is overriding the mental health benefits of the art, is it worth it? There is no embroidery judge in the sky who is going to sort us out according to whether we used a knot, or we didn’t. So, I believe we should simply start a thread in a way that makes us happy. What do you think? Email us at

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