How Do I Start and End a Thread?

Weaving the Thread Tail
Weaving the Thread Tail. © Cheryl C. Fall

Question: How Do I Start and End a Thread?

I've heard knots are bad in a project. How do I start and end a thread without them?


When putting time and effort into an embroidery project, it's always good to do the best work possible so that you end up with the best results possible.

Knots are really not necessary in any embroidery project because you can secure the ends of the threads in other ways.

What's more, knots can make the back side of a project untidy and bumpy and you can often feel them on the front side of the piece. Knots usually have a bit of a tail, which can show through on the front side of an embroidered project.

Worse yet, knots can actually be harmful to a project, as they can unravel with use or laundering. As a result, precious stitches are lost over time.

So how do you start? Surprisingly enough, you start with a knot — but it's not a permanent fixture in the back of your embroidery. Rather, a temporary knot makes it easy to start your stitching without risk of pulling the thread through, all the while securing it in place and keeping your work tidy.

There are two basic temporary knots used to start embroidery. These are the away knot and the waste knot.

Both versions start with a knot at the end of the embroidery thread. An away knot works with virtually all embroidery stitches, while a waste knot is best work with a stitch that has the potential to cover the tail as you stitch, securing it in place.

Satin stitch and cross stitch are two good examples, as both of these stitches cross the tail of the knot on the back side of the work.

An away knot is worked 3 to 5 inches away (hence its name) from the area where the embroidery begins. The knot is clipped after working the embroidery, and the tail is then woven through the stitches on the back side of the fabric in the same manner as you weave the tail when ending a thread (shown above).

A waste knot is secured as you stitch, with the knot trimmed away after the tail of the knot is sufficiently covered and locked in place.

All of this said, if you do use plain old knots to start and end your embroidery, the embroidery police will not come after you. It's okay to use the method that you're most comfortable with. Just consider how a piece will be used and how those knots might end up looking from the front.

When you start a length of thread with a temporary knot your project will wear better and look better, so it's worth the extra few moments of stitching time to start off with the right knot.

Updated by Mollie Johanson