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Embroidery Hack

So I’ve been doing a little embroidery lately (which is an odd statement from She Who Doth Not Embroider, but it’s true).  And then…. loopies.  Grrrrr!

Loop left after removing knot from back of embroidery.
This. I hate the this.

That is the loop that’s left over after you gently tease a knot out of the back of your embroidery.  If you’re like me, you were cursing the whole time.  So then what?

Now, the right answer is to unpick your embroidery back to the original sin, make the loopy go away, and accept your penitence redoing your work.  If you’re a normal-ish sort, you try tugging at successive stitches hoping you can work it out without unpicking.  When you realize you’ve locked your stitches quite thoroughly, you begrudgingly unpick because that is The Right Way To Do It(tm).

If you’re a strong believer in doing things the right way, congratulations!  You’re a better creature than I.  If I was planning to show you the right way to do things, I wouldn’t have called it a hack.  ;)

The thing is, I’m not convinced I seriously enjoy blackwork, so I’m not convinced I want to unpick it just so I can redo it.  There’s no part of me that’s thinking, “Great!  I’ll have had practice this time!  I’m sure I can do it even better!”  No.  Uh-uh.  I mostly like embroidery once it’s done, not so much while I’m doing it.  I enjoy the spacial problem-solving challenge of blackwork, but I generally feel like that’s solved by the time I’ve found the errant knot.  Unpicking three full letters does not appeal.

So, if you’re ready to embrace the Wrong Way, it goes like this:

Loop left after removing knot from back of embroidery.
This loop is too short to do anything with directly. Curse you, foul useless loop!
Passing a threaded needle through the loop.
Thread a needle with a short bit (6-8”) of thread. I’m using orange. Pass the threaded needle through the offending loop in the embroidery.
Double threaded needle.
Double thread the needle by putting the tail end of the needle thread back through the eye. The new thread is now looped around the extra embroidery thread, and both ends are through the eye of the needle.

This is the hardest part of this entire operation.  Maybe it’s because I prefer needles with smaller eyes, maybe it’s because I used a shorter bit of scrap thread, maybe it’s because I did both immediately after teasing the gosh darn knot out, while trying to get pics.  I dunno.  I cursed a lot.  What can I say?  Embroidery doesn’t turn me into a peaceful, zen-loving human being.

Beginning to whip through the backs of stitches.
Now use your new “guide thread” (orange) to whip your offending loop through the existing stitches on the back of the work.

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m treating this like a proper thread-end in blackwork.  Except it’s a loop, and I need to use a leader to work with it.  It’s cool.

When the thread is completely buried, snip the leader and remove.
Finished hack, from back.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not too obvious…. You’ll never notice it from the front.

Honestly, the back of my blackwork is kinda crap anyway.  Hijynks like this just help me hide the bits where I missed a thread.

It’s a funny thing – I loved embroidery when I was little.  Like, 5-7 years old little.  I think I loved it because it was a way to create something pretty.  (I did a lot of cross-stitch with kittens. I even counted instead of using pre-printed.). Then one of my favorite great-aunties (miss you, Aunt Gin!) showed me how to embroider “correctly.”  No knots.  The back should look as good as the front.  Take out your mistakes and do it over until it’s all right.  Heard that before?

My Italian great grandmother had a different approach: she tied knots so things would survive washing.  (She did a lot of pillowcase embroidery.)  I have no idea what the back of her workings looked like. Quite sensibly, she lined her work so no one ever saw the back.  Almost a century later, the pillow cases mom inherited are still fine.  They’ve gone through washing machines for decades.

As a teacher that I dearly respect once said, “Well, that’s what the lining’s for: to hide all the shitty bits.”  I’ve spent decades hating embroidery because, no matter how much I loved my great-auntie, I couldn’t live up to the standards that were being set.  It was like … work.  If you have the same hang-up, I propose a new attitude.  If the back’s a mess, find a way to make the ugly go away: hide the weird, or, barring that, drop a lining in.

Did it get done?  Great.  Embroidery accomplished.  ;)


  1. Anna-Carin Betzén
    Anna-Carin Betzén October 25, 2017

    Glad to see you posting again!

    Clever trick – I’ve only dealt with shorter loops, so I stitched them to the back of the embroidery using an extra thread that I tied off afterwards.

    • missa
      missa October 25, 2017

      Good to be posting by again! I’ve missed seeing and writing and connecting with awesome people! :)
      Thanks for sharing your trick – that’s much better for shorter loops.

  2. Eve Studd
    Eve Studd February 2, 2018

    Oh I love your approach, what a blessing. Sewing at school was a nightmare for me, even now I’m a natural dyer and regard myself as a non-sewing type but sometimes it’s necessary. You’re keeping me sane!

    • missa
      missa February 2, 2018

      Glad to help, Eve! :) The struggles are so real sometimes. I *tried* natural dying (for about 15 minutes in the late 90s), and I *wanted* to love it… Maybe if I’m ever in your neck of the woods I’ll try again at one of your workshops.

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