The Waste Knot


When I was taught to cross-stitch, my teacher told me never to use any knots even when starting a new piece. Knots were the cardinal sin of embroidery. Knots created bumps and funky pulls in the fabric, and no matter what they were disallowed in needlework (this excludes the technique of the French knot, but that’s not the topic today).

In the method I learned, I would pull my needle through for the first stitch and hold about a half-inch of floss in my fingers. Then, when I pulled the floss through the back, I would make sure the thread was underneath, or captured by, the new stitch. This caused the thread to secure itself with back-stitching and everything laid flat ~ neat and tidy, just the way it should be. Like so…

But do you know how many times when I was learning I would lose that first stitch because nothing but my fingers and the unsecured floss was holding the stitching in place? How many times I have lost my stitch as a skilled stitcher? About a million. And when you lose your initial stitch because “there are no knots in cross-stitch,” you can get a little frustrated.

The waste knot technique doesn’t leave a knot in the end design though. It is only in place long enough to secure the thread in its proper place (buried underneath the back stitching); then it is cut away and discarded. I don’t end up pulling out stitches because I missed catching the thread on the backside or the floss slid through my fingers. The end result is I cut the knot off, it looks the same as if I hadn’t used a knot, and I save two-five minutes with every stitched line. Bonus!

And for those who want to learn to use the waste knot, a little tutorial.

There is a variation of the waste knot called the away knot that you can use if you don’t want to cut near your stitches. In this method you still count away from where you want to start, but put the knot a line or two away (up or down) from where the stitching will be. I don’t use it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

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