When I am teaching French knots, it in variably comes up – either by me or a student – that some people maintain that French knots should only ever have one wrap. The idea is that if you need a bigger knot, you use a thicker thread. I don’t subscribe to this point of view, because the traditional Mountmellick embroidery that has been passed down to me includes French knots with up to eight wraps. (Yes, you read that right!)
If teachers want to insist that French knots should only have one wrap, that is fine with me. That may be the traditionally correct way of doing it – who am I to say it is not?
However, when some of them start saying things like, “a French knot should only ever have one wrap; any more and it is a bullion knot”, that’s where I MUST take exception. This is so patently untrue!
Let’s think about the construction of these stitches.French knots: If you work one, and then look at the back, you will see that the thread leads up to the knot, goes through to the front, creates the knot and then comes back through to the back at the completion of the knot. NONE of the workings for the knot are visible from the back of the fabric.
Bullion knots: If you work one, and then look at the back, you will see the thread leading up to the knot. It goes through to the front, does some magic and then comes BACK to the back of the fabric. But we’re not done yet. That thread appears as a straight stitch on the back of the fabric, then returns to the front at the beginning end of the stitch. On the front, it works its magic with the other part of the thread which is already on the front of the fabric, and then returns to the back AGAIN.
The difference? There is a small stitch on the back of a bullion knot, and there is not on a French knot.If you don’t believe me, get yourself a good stitch dictionary (I’d suggest either The Right-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion or The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion!) to make sure you are doing both knots correctly, and do some of each.
If you want to make your point even more blatantly, work bullion loops instead of bullion knots. (Bullion loops are worked as an overwrapped bullion which has a short stitch length and many more wraps than are necessary for that distance, causing the knot to “explode” out as a long loop.) Bullion loops cover less distance across the fabric, making them notionally closer in style to a French knot.
However, if you turn them over to the back, you will still see that French knots have no stitch on the back, and bullion knots do.
THEY ARE DIFFERENT.
Can we put to bed the idea that a French knot with multiple wraps is a bullion knot now please? And of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.