Stitch of the Month
May 2006: Facing bullion knots without fear and loathing!
by Kathy Fenchel
Bullion knots have a bad reputation among many needle artists.
They have been known to cause fear in the heart of the most experienced stitcher, and are avoided at all costs! We all own books that have wonderful
illustrations describing the technique . . . but they donít always provide much
help. This month I am going to approach the execution of a bullion knot
using a different method. No pictures! I have a mantra that I use when I
am teaching the bullion knot technique. It is almost always successful.
Maybe it will work for you!
Simply put, a bullion knot is basically a length of thread that has been
wrapped around itself. Think of the extension cord that is in your stitching
bag. The technique that you use to store it, wrapped around itself to create
a neat appearance, is actually a primitive bullion knot! Who knew?
The following directions, if followed in order, should enable you create the
perfect bullion knot.
There are a few prerequisites:
- Practice making bullion knots with a light colored #5 pearl cotton,
a #22 tapestry needle, a laying tool, and 18-ct. canvas.
- Make sure that your hands are cool and you do not have any hand
cream on them.
- Your practice canvas should be anchored with a frame weight or in a
floor/table stand so that you have both hands free.
- The assumption is that you are right-handed. If you are left-handed,
just substitute left for right, right for left and clockwise for counter
clockwise in the following directions.
- The distance between point A and B is the length of the knot. For
purposes of this exercise keep this distance to about a half an inch.
OK, letís get started!
- Thread your needle with an 18" piece of #5 pearl cotton. Position
the needle so that you have a tail that is about 1-1/2" long.
- Knot the other end of the thread. Pull the needle through to the
back of the canvas so that the knot is on top and then bring the needle
back up to the top of the canvas about three inches away from the knot.
This is point A.
- Put your needle back into the canvas about 1/2" above point A.
This is point B. Pull the thread almost all of the way to the back of
the canvas, leaving just enough slack on the top of the canvas so that
you can hold it to the side with the back three fingers of your left
hand. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch the thread just above the
area where it has left the canvas at A.
- Bring the POINT (about 3/4") of your needle back up at A.
Hold the eye of the needle under the canvas with your right hand. The
slack should still be in the back three fingers of your left hand and
you should begin wrapping the needle in a counterclockwise motion by
rotating the pinched thumb and forefinger over the top of needle (as if
you were stirring a pot of soup). As you need more thread to wrap the
needle it will feed from the slack in your back three fingers. At the
same time you will need more room on your needle to add more wraps,
gently push it up, just a little, from the back of the canvas with your
Things to remember while you wrap:
Once you have enough wraps, which for purposes of this exercise
should be about 20-24, bring your right hand to the top of the canvas
and grasp the point of the needle with your thumb and index finger. At
the same time let go of the thread that you have been holding with your
left hand. The wraps will NOT escape because your right hand wonít let
- Control the angle of your needle with your right hand. The section
of the needle that is being wrapped should be perpendicular to the
- Do not try to ďstrangleĒ the needle by wrapping too tightly. The
wraps will not stay on the needle because you have pulled each one so
tightly that it seems as if you are going to compress the steel! All
this does is put an excess amount of tension on the thread which gives
it more spring!
- Control the wraps by pulling back on the short length of thread that
is stretched between the needle and the point where you are pinching it
with you thumb and index finger. This is the point where you are in
control. If the wraps look like they are planning an escape, pull back a
little as you wrap, but do not be tempted to compress the needle!
- The wraps should be loose enough so that you can slide them up and
down the needle so that they look like a barber pole. If your wraps
donít slide, than release some of the tension by relaxing the area
between the needle and the point where you are pinching the thread.
Take a deep breath . . . now let it out and RELAX!
With your right hand, pull the needle straight up into the air. Use
the thumb and forefinger of your left hand to wiggle the wraps off of
the needle as it is being pulled straight up. DO NOT worry about their
Once the entire needle is exposed, continue pulling straight up
until all of the slack in the thread that had been in your right hand
(in your back fingers) disappears. At the same time gently support the
wraps with your left hand.
Once all of the slack is taken up, take the needle to the back to the
canvas at point B.
Your bullion may not be picture perfect at this point. Donít worry!
Slide your laying tool, or an additional needle, under the bullion knot
and gently lift it. At the same time, pull down with the thread that is
hanging below your canvas at point B. Gently establish an up and down
motion. All of the wraps will fall into place . . . simply because they
have nowhere else to go! You have created a beautiful bullion knot! To
end the knot, simply bury the thread in another area of your stitching,
or make a tiny L stitch right under the knot.
You will find that you have to practice step ten simply to learn how to
control your tension and to see how the thread moves on itsí core. To
make longer bullions knots, increase the distance between A and B. Use a
longer needle such as a doll makersí needle. There are also special
bullion needles available in many needlework shops
in lengths 5-9" long. Once you feel confident making
bullions, you may find a need for such a dangerous tool! To make a
thinner bullion, use a thinner needle. You can make a bullion knot with
one strand of silk and a beading needle!
Experiment. Neon Rays make beautiful bullions. Kreinik Metallic Braid makes a
very nice bullion but you have to wrestle with it a little. Try blending
two or three contrasting strands of thread in your needle for an
Practice is the key to mastering your thread. Bullion knots are not hard
once you have mastered the technique, but working conditions sometimes
enter into your success or lack of it! Itís best to begin with pearl
cotton simply because it is the easiest to work with. Light colors are
easier to use because they are generally smoother. This is because the more
dye that a thread has to absorb, the harder it is on the fibers of the
thread. They break down microscopically and cause the thread to be a little
coarser. Humidity, sweaty hands, and hand cream also affect the thread's
behavior. The thread absorbs moisture and does not move as smoothly. And,
finally, your mental health has a lot to do with the appearance of your
bullion knots. Stressful days make tight knots! RELAX!
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