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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Those Frenchies

French Knots, that is!

I've always been fascinated by fancy stitches. A few years ago I wandered - quite by accident - into a real live embroidery museum/store/classroom. I picked up a beautifully-colored, laminated card with about 100 embroidery stitches detailed on it. I began practising as soon as I got home. I can't remember what stitches I did succeed at right away, but I can tell you the one stitch that eluded me - the French Knot.

I was soon to find I'm not alone in being unable to master this "petit rien." Almost everyone I asked for help from rolled their eyes and said "I know - it's AWFUL! I've been trying for years and never got it yet!"

A few souls actually knew how to do them. One of my quilting Pals knew how, and she showed he how once when we were both at a quilting retreat together. I must have sewn half a dozen of them. It was thrilling, seeing those beautiful, tight little dots appear one after the other. Of course, I needed more practise, but now I knew I had licked this thing, and I'd be able to practise at home.

Mais non. That didn't happen. One single day after coming home, I found myself unable to do a French Knot. I couldn't remember how my Pal had told me to do it. The diagrams all looked alike, and none of them produced a knot. Mostly they produced tangled threads or perfect plain stitches, and after another hour or two of struggling, they produced fury in me, and I packed it up.

Every so often when I was doing some fancy quilting I'd try again to do the French Knot. I'd drag out my card of embroidery stitches, or one of the many books I own on stitching, and have a go at it for an hour or so before giving up. The French Knot had, for me, a certain "je ne sais quoi" that simply refused to cooperate with my inept attempts to (groan) tie it down.

This evening, however, I succeeded in sewing French Knots. Two rows of about 20 each - I took no chances this time that I'd forget. And when I get home from work tomorrow I'm going to do two more rows. They were uneven at first. I did five winds of the thread, instead of just three, around the needle, because they did seem small… But eventually I got the hang of it, went back to the requisite three windings and voilĂ ! There were at least 25 perfect French Knots, the right size, lying the correct way against the quilt, looking as lovely as I had ever imagined. Formidable!

Got to hand it to those Frenchies - they can sure do some lovely things with thread. If you want to know what did the trick, here it is, written out, but it'll sound like gobbledegook, because there really is no way to communicate this skill in written or drawn form. It is a skill that must be physically seen to be learned.

So, you have your thread coming through to the front of the piece. What the diagrams don't show you, and what my quilting Pal told me, was that now you take a very tiny stitch - just two threads wide - and don't even go through to the back of the work if you're doing a quilt. Don't pull the needle all the way through - pull it till the eye of the needle is about to go through the work. So, you have all the thread on the top of the work (from the first stitch) and your needle stuck through two threads, almost pulled all the way through but not quite.

Now you slide your thumbnail along the bottom of the needle till you are holding the eye of the needle firmly with your thumbnail. With you other hand, you take the thread - the main one - and wrap it three times around the front part of the needle. Still holding the eye in place with your thumb, carefully slide the three loops down the needle till they reach the eye.

Now gently grab the loops with the thumbnail that was holding the eye and carefully slide them down till your thumb rests firmly against the eye and the work. Using the other hand, pull the needle completely through and continue pulling all the thread through till it stops. At that point you can lift your thumb and see the lovely loops all lying against the work. All you do now is put the point of the needle really close to the knot and take a stitch to 1/4 inch away.

That is how you sew a French Knot.

Bonne chance.

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