How to: long bullion knots

Sometimes the needle we use is the difference between success and failure. It certainly made a big difference in the ribbon embroidery I did last week. For the stitches in this flower, the right needle was absolutely critical. You can see from the photo that the needle I’m using is long – over 2 inches/5cm. It’s a milliners needle. Can you guess what stitch I’m referring to? Yep, bullion knots!

Once I figured out that using a milliner’s needle made doing these knots so easy, I’ve had no fear of bullion knots. Before that however, they were just awful to work. What’s the big difference between needles? A needle is just a needle, right? Nope, it isn’t. A milliners needle is the same thickness from eye to tip whereas most other needles taper from the eye to the tip. Since the needle creates the knot, acting a bit like a mold for the thread, it’s important that it be an even thickness.

To begin a bullion knot, bring our thread up at point A. This is where the bottom of your knot will be when it’s finished. Bring the needle through to the back of the thread at point B, where the top of the knot will be when it’s finished.

Now bring the needle up again at point A but do NOT bring it all the way through the fabric. The needle now will be the mold for the thread loops that will create the knot. Because the knots I’m working for this flower are going to be very long, I used a long needle. I need lots of room for lots of twists around the needle. It’s important before you begin to wrap the needle to bring the thread up to the front side of the fabric so it’s ready for you to wrap it around the needle.

Begin wrapping the thread clockwise around the needle. Don’t pull it too tight against the needle as you wrap. For these long knots I wrapped about 25 times around the needle. Check to see if you’ve done enough wraps by carefully laying the needle against the fabric to see if the wraps are long enough.

When you have completed the wrapping of the needle with the thread, it’s time to slide the wraps off of the needle and onto the thread. Make sure that the wraps are slightly loosened by rolling them between your thumb and finger. When you begin to pull the needle upwards, if it feels stiff or difficult, STOP and loosen the wraps a bit more. If it’s too tight you will end up with a big mess!

As you pull the needle out of the wraps and the thread through the wraps, your are transferring the wraps from the needle to the thread. It’s the thread inside the wraps that keeps all the wraps in place and forms the bullion knot. Continue to pull gently on the thread until the tip of the long row of wraps slides down to meet the fabric.

Now insert your needle back into the fabric at point B, pulling all the thread through to the back and anchoring your bullion knot to the fabric.

Ta da! These long bullion knots were to make a slight curve in the middle of the flower. To ensure that they stayed curved, I made one small stitch to hold the middle in place.

Alternating the colors of the thread in the middle makes a good combination of color and texture. If you look closely you can see that I still have some practicing to do before I get my knots all the same thickness and nice and smooth. The amount of tension in the wrap makes a big difference and that’s very difficult to keep even from knot to knot, especially when making such long knots. Some are clearly better than others but, as an experiment, it was successful and looks as I imagined it would.

To finish the flower, I added wrapped backstitch and French knot stamens to the top and continued the buttonhole stitch around the bottom of the flower to meet at the stem.

What do you think? Do you have any tips on long bullion knots for us?

10 thoughts on “How to: long bullion knots

  1. I love the bullion knots and really appreciate the tip about the needle. I am going to get some and give it a go. The colours work really well together. I really like what you have done.

  2. It looks great, Kathy – truly effective! I’ve never really got the hang of bullion knots myself, but Yvette Stanton (White Threads) provided a tutorial and a list of tips and tricks on her blog about a year ago.

    I keep intending to make some effort to learn to do bullions properly, but it will have to wait until I have a reason for doing them!

  3. That is so cool! I would never have thought to make the center of a flower that way. Thanks! I think I need to brush up on my bullions.

  4. Kathy, whenever I read your posts at lunch time, it makes me want to leave work, go home and stitch. Thanks for this blog. It’s so inspiring to me. Thanks for reminding me that bullion stitch is quite versitile in possible applications!

  5. Great tip on using the milliner needle Kathy. I like bullions, especially on your flower but whenever I try one it just looks like a little worm. 🙂

    • Oh Sharon! You crack me up! Little worms!!! I don’t think that can be right!
      Lin, I ALWAYS want to go home and stitch – lunch time or not! Glad to know I’m inspiring you!
      Liebe Grusse,
      Kathy

  6. Lin, if you want to see what bullions can really do have a look at A-Z Bullion Knots from Country Bumpkin – there are flowers, flowers and more flowers of course but also teddy bears and animals of all sorts. I think you would love it.

    Kathy, I like this flower very much but I don’t recognise it. Can you tell me what it is please? I know I should like the colours since they are the ones athletes in my country wear, but green and yellow isn’t my favourite combination but your flower looks great.

    • Hi Christina,
      It isn’t a flower that I know – it’s a fanciful flower from my imagination! Just look at the crewel work flowers and trees from the past and you will see all kinds of things that don’t exist in nature! As embroiderers, we can create nature with fabric and thread. This is one of my faovirte things about stitching designs that don’t dictate what each shape should be but instead give the embroiderer the freedom to be creative and even fanciful!
      Liebe Grusse,
      Kathy

  7. How Lovely! If it weren’t a made up flower, I’d call it a Lily (I’ve seen Elizabethan Lillies that are similar).

    I love the bullion know centre and the coloured sepals!

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