How to start and finish embroidery stitches

26 June 2020
Learn how to start and finish your embroidery stitches with ease with the waste knot method, the looped method and the finishing stitch. 

Wondering how to start and finish embroidery stitches? We’re here to guide you through the process of starting and finishing your stitching projects with a few different options.

Getting off to the right start with your stitching 

Neat stitching on the front of your embroidery can easily be let down by untidy threads on the reverse. What happens on the back may not be anywhere as pretty or interesting, but knots can cause unsightly bumps and loose threads can show through as unwanted shadows. Getting a great finish just takes a little self-discipline and a bit of know-how…


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How to start an embroidery stitch with knots

A simple knot may seem like the obvious choice. However, once you’ve trimmed the thread, tail knots can come undone, the end unravels and spoils all the time and care you’ve poured into your embroidery. So, what’s a better approach?

The waste knot method

This method of starting does involve a knot, but it’ll be removed once the end of your thread is secured by subsequent stitching. There are two styles – both start by making a large knot in the end of the thread.

Away knot

  1. Take the thread through from the right side of the fabric about 5cm from where you want to begin stitching. 
  2. Bring the needle back through to the surface at your start point. 
  3. Once you’ve worked three or four stitches, you can snip off the knot and weave the end into the stitches on the back of your work. 
  4. Secure the starting end with a hitch knot. Snip off the excess thread, leaving a tail of approximately 3mm or 1/8in.


In-line knot

  1. Take the thread through from the right side of the fabric, but this time do so either on the stitching line or within the shape you are filling – but a small distance from where you want to start.
  2. Now work two or three tiny seed or back stitches towards your start point. These will secure the thread.
  3. Start stitching and once you reach the knot, simply snip it close to the surface of the fabric then continue to stitch.

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How to start an embroidery stitch without knots

The looped method


This only works if you are using an even number of threads. It’s tidiest with two strands. 

  1. Start by cutting a double length of stranded cotton. 
  2. Fold in half and thread the looped end through the eye of your needle, pulling it through so it forms the end of your thread. 
  3. Take your needle through the front of your fabric, leaving a 2.5cm/1in loop on the surface. 
  4. Bring your needle up in the area to be stitched and very close to the loop. 
  5. Catch the thread through the loop, tighten and anchor by going back down through the hole just made. 
  6. Tug on the reverse so you end up with a small straight stitch on the front. Continue with your chosen stitching.

Top tip! If you make this a whole stitch length it becomes a great way to start running, split and stem stitches almost invisibly.

How to finish an embroidery stitch

The finishing stitch

You have a couple of options:

  1. You can use a similar principle to finish your thread by working a few tiny stitches in an area that will be covered by subsequent stitching. Bring the thread through to the front and cut close to the surface of your fabric. 
  2. Alternatively, on the reverse weave the thread into completed stitching, use a hitch knot to secure and cut leaving a tiny tail.

Top tip! If working several sections in the same colour, avoid trailing the thread between them. This can tug the fabric or leave shadows. So use a fresh length of thread for each section and secure before moving on to the next.

If you want some great pointers on using stranded cotton, then check out our guide to hand embroidery for beginners.

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