Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (39) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Knotty, but Nice: French Knot Snowflake Experiment


Amazon Books

So, you know all these counted cross stitch snowflake and folky designs I’ve been working on lately? The whole point of them was to give me something to do with my hands when I’m not really up to doing something super intense, like goldwork or silk shading or anything that requires me to sit at a frame for an extended period of time.

With these quick little cross stitch projects, worked on Christmas red pre-finished cotton table napkins, I can hold them right in a little hoop, in any chair I want to sit in, with minimal supplies at hand. They’re completely relaxing to work, thanks to the monotony of the stitching, and I can easily listen to a good book, hum along to some relaxing music, watch a movie, or even visit with friends, without worrying about making mistakes or having to concentrate too hard on the stitching part of things. They’re also extremely easy to tote places, for stitching on the go.

At the end of this article, I’ll link to all the previous articles on this subject, along with the free patterns. For now, though, I want to share with you a brain storm I had the other night and that I’ve tried out a little bit, but that needs a little more tweaking.

To start with, let’s compare two counted embroidery charts.

Counted Cross Stitch Snowflake

This is your typical counted cross stitch chart for a snowflake variation. It’s “ok” – I think the flake needs a little tweaking, but it’ll do fine for now.

With a counted cross stitch pattern like this, the filled block marks where you stitch an x. Simple concept!

Well, one night, while I was diligently stitching multitudinous x’s, I wondered about switching the stitch to French knots. Why knot? I thought.

But then, when I thought about the pattern, and I thought about the way I was getting the grid onto plain-weave fabric (I used this method, employing printed Sticky Solvy), I realized that the method would make it somewhat difficult to produce really straight lines with French knots.

So, pondering, I came up with a slightly different chart. It looks like this:

French knot snowflake pattern

I figure, if stitching French knots, if the knot is stitched on the intersection of the printed grid, then it would be much easier to make sure the knots were aligned nice and straight.

And so, I set about testing the theory.

I printed a 14 count grid on Sticky Solvy (see the links below for a printable 14 count grid) and then, using a water soluble pen, I marked the French knot snowflake pattern above onto the grid, so I don’t have to refer to the pattern. I just marked a plain little dot on each intersection, just like the pattern indicates.

Then, using coton a broder #25 in bright white (B2500) and a size 7 milliner needle, I set about stitching some French knots.

I didn’t get very far…

French knot snowflake

Nope! Not very far at all.

I stopped because the concept needs some troubleshooting.

In my mind, the problem is the Sticky Solvy. Yes, I know – blame it on the materials instead of the stitcher! It sounds like a copout or a flimsy excuse!

I’m not saying this can’t be done on the Sticky Solvy. But it’s not easily done on the Sticky Solvy.

One thing I’ve noticed about Sticky Solvy is that, the smaller the embroidery needle you use, the easier the stuff is to work on. With the larger milliner needle, it picked up a bit more Sticky than usual. And you really can’t work French knots successfully if your needle is gummy.

So, one option is to try a smaller needle with the French knots.

But you know what else I don’t like? Because French knots don’t give you good coverage – small French knots spaced apart like this are a little airier than cross stitch – you can’t really see the effect of the knots on the fabric, because the interfacing is in the way.

French knot snowflake

And, of course, to turn the spotlight on the stitcher, too, my French knots are not really consistent in size, which I think they should be, when working a pattern like this.

Ok, yes, I’m going to blame that on the Solvy, too. I know! Shame on me! But really, it’s harder to work French knots – and lots of ’em – through this type of interfacing, and keep them really consistent.

So, while I was pondering this whole thing, I came up with another idea, and it has to do with getting the design or the grid onto the plain weave fabric in a way that makes sense and that would allow for stitching lots of consistent French knots, keeping them aligned well.

I’m going to tweak that idea, and I’ll show it to you down the road, when I test it. I’m afraid it adds another step or two the project set-up, which is something I wanted to avoid with these particular projects, but if any of you are keen on the French knot approach, I think it’s worth exploring. So, more on that, once I figure it out to my satisfaction!

More Information and Stitching Patterns

In the meantime, here are the links to all the articles on these snowflake and folksy designs, worked in counted cross stitch on plain weave fabric, in case you’d like to explore some similar stitchery:

Folky Flakes for Holiday Stitching – in which I peruse some methods for working counted cross stitch on plain weave fabric, and supply you with a free design for pretty snowflakes stitched on a corner.

Counted Work on Plain Weave Fabric – in which I discuss another method of getting a grid onto plain weave fabric (using Sticky Solvy), and supply you with a printable 14-count grid to download.

A Second Folky Flake – free pattern

Deer & Tree Folk Christmas Stitching Pattern – free pattern, plus the finished piece, un-ironed!

Other Updates!

A big hearty THANK YOU to all of you for your ongoing support, for all the friendly and encouraging emails, cards, and messages I’ve received from you while I’m in a little bit of a transition here, from what I thought was normal, to a (temporary) new normal.

I’m not quite able to reply to everyone personally – oh, I wish I could! But be assured, I’ve read your notes, they’ve been awfully encouraging and helpful, and I appreciate them more than you know!

If you’re new to Needle ‘n Thread and you’re curious, you can read about my latest adventures in my Thanksgiving letter.

While I promise not to make this website a personal one with constant updates, at the same time, many people have begged me to update everyone now and then. So, in the future, I’ll do the same thing I did on Thanksgiving and link to a letter, so that those who want to know how things are going can read it, and those who would rather not get involved, don’t need to. That’s the only fair way I can think of striking a balance.

In the meantime, I’m plugging along well. I started chemo this week. I’m sticking to my motto: Don’t let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can. It’s a good motto for any aspect of life, and it works exceptionally well here!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are, and I’ll see you around next week!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(28) Comments

  1. We so often only see the successful experiments, so I take off my hat to you for showing the less successful stages that come before. Of course I also take my hat off to you for experimenting instead of focusing solely on medical procedures, good for you!!

  2. Thanks for everything Mary. I am inspired by your needle work skills and I am trying to get 1/8 th of your ability. I think of you often and remember you in my prayers. Take care. Get your rest as you need because there is plenty of
    Mary Corbet inspiration to keep me and many others sewing for quite some time.
    Judy Kocsis

  3. Ooh, now I’m curious to see how you figured out the French knot dilemma. I set aside a French knot project because I was not getting some of those little knots properly aligned. I was going to cheat and connect them with stem stitch or back stitch and pretend that was what I intended all along!

    Excellent motto, by the way. Mine was, “Don’t let the (insert somewhat offensive word here) get you down, but take a nap when you need it.”

    Perhaps not the most inspirational motto, but it worked for me!

  4. Pretty please, Mary, I really want to send you this tiny gift. I know it will make you smile, and it will give me great joy to know that I’ve given back a small thing in thanks for the amazing resource of your website. This small gift – and many others I’ve made and given to people I care about – would never have been made if not for your website and inspiration.

    So if you could send me your snail mail address, I’d be very appreciative and I PROMISE to not abuse it!


    1. Hi, Holly! Thanks for your note – you’re most welcome to use my snail mail address. It’s actually at the bottom of every newsletter I send out, so it’s pretty public! Here it is:
      115 W Mission Street
      St. Marys, KS 66536

      Looking forward to it! 🙂

  5. Hi Mary,

    I love both French knots and snowflakes. Combining the two is a great idea! I’m eagerly waiting for your follow-up post.

    And I’m even more interested in hearing about how you are doing. We’ve never met, but I have come to appreciate your humor and “can do” attitude, in addition to your wonderful embroidery skill. Also, you are such an encourager. I hope that everyone’s love for you is an encouragement to you!

  6. Try this tip for French knots.

    This is for when you are using S-twist thread, such as floss:
    Place the eye of the needle in your right hand.
    Wrap the needle counter clockwise by bringing the thread under the needle from the back and over the top.
    Place the needle tip in the fabric near where the thread came up.
    Tightly pull the thread counter clockwise so it falls down on the fabric. (If you do a back and forth motion, make sure the last motion is counter clockwise)
    Hold knot and thread down with left finger.
    Pull through with right hand.

    The key to a great French Knot, I’ve found, is in the pulling down counter clockwise that tightens it down.
    Good luck!
    All the best to you.

  7. I like the idea of a French knot snowflake but I would give up on the sticky stuff and use an even weave or linen of some kind. Perhaps when it’s done and you remove the tissue stuff and then stand back, it may look wonderful. That happens a lot with stitching in general. 🙂 Everything looks better 6 feet away. LOL But keeping all the knots in perfect alignment and size is something outside my skill level. I would go back to the first pattern, cross stitch it and add some beads in the open blocks for sparkle. Or just use a sparkly thread.

    I think of you daily, pray daily and would like to encourage you in this journey without being intrusive. I just don’t know how to do that without clogging up your blog. Just know that you are on my heart.

  8. Hi, Mary! I like the idea of French knots as snowflakes. Not to get too off-topic, I got my tummy patted by my surgeon at the Reno VA and headed home in “severe” weather yesterday. I headed home with no knowledge if I might be turned back at the pass. Rain turned to snow on Spooner Summit, 7146 feet between Carson City and South Lake Tahoe. Chains or snow tires mandatory. A truck spun in front of me. Then I followed the one other car going to Tahoe, 20-30 mph. And I noticed that while it was indeed snowing, it was not flakes! It looked like powdered sugar on the trees. Then the wipers were going like crazy. Just that it was coming down in French knots — not flakes! Not little crosses! I think you are saying that you feel better and better and while the improvement is lovely, I think it will take a while to feel on top of the world, but how marvelous is the recovery each day — getting out of a chair easily, thinking more clearly. And not to overdo. Sometimes it’s time for nightie, herb tea and bed. Best wishes to you!

  9. Mary, for most printers there is a window in the Advanced options that should allow you to adjust the ink density. If you don’t have that option you can go to one of the popular websites that will allow you to make up and download your own graph paper, with you deciding the grid size and color and choosing an ink that would still show up on your fabric without allowing the ink to make a mess of what you are doing.

    A few alternatives that you might want to try would be to use flouche or one of the pearl cottons and/or a somewhat smaller grid.

    Our prayers are continuing for your recovery and your ability to stitch your way through this period in your life!

    Huge hugs are also being sent to you.

  10. Very interesting! I’m enjoying the different ways you are demonstrating on creating these snowflakes, Mary.
    Thanks for the personal update — I’ve been wondering but didn’t want to bother you. Be assured prayers and thoughts are still being made for you.

  11. Happy Holidays, Mary! ALWAYS good to “hear” from you (blog). I always find it easier to be “consistent” with colonial knots instead of French knots — probably because you pull UP to tighten them instead of down through the fabric….. just a thought I had while reading about your knotty flakes. You are in my thoughts — and they are GOOD thoughts (!) — and wishing you the best wishes in getting through this next little “phase” that is your life! XO

  12. Dear Mary

    I’m late to day I had a visitor. I really like French knots and I like the French Knot pattern that you created and I think it’s worth exploring further, I can’t wait to see how you tweak it, I’m sure it will look great. I’m glad you able to still embroider I do like your positive saying and I am thinking of you and send Good Wishes at this time. After all these years I didn’t realise your home address was on the bottom your Newsletter. I hope you have a great weekend and take lots of rest.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  13. Hi Mary. I’m so happy I found the update on your latest adventure. I know you don’t want to make this website personal, but we, your readers, feel like we know you, are friends, and are concerned. I agree with you that your first diagnosis was a blessing. I’m putting you on my daily prayer list (it grows each day), asking for strength and healing for you. Thank you for all you do here. I’m especially enjoying your latest cross stitch adventures as that is what I do most. I’m hoping to venture into more embroidery soon.

  14. I’ll bet this pattern would be lovely worked in clear seed beads, or clear with silver lining the holes. Thanks for the patterns, Mary. I love your motto!

  15. I think french knots are my favourite stitch …I ,d also like to see a little bit of some real snow flakes..they are SO beautiful . Thinking of you ! Daisy : ) X

  16. Greetings from the south of England. I have enjoyed your blogs for many months now, it is wonderful to hear from an “extreme stitcher”. I love the way you share the way you explore, test and follow up ideas. I can happily spend time following links through your website and watching videos. Yesterday I had Christmas Dinner with a group of Embroiderers that I lead and it brought home to me (not that I needed reminding) what a warm and supportive community stitches can be. You often write about this so I thought it was time to send good wishes.

  17. First of all I absolutely love your blog. It makes my heart sing to see all the lovelies that you do and it encourages me to create myself. Secondly, will be sending prayers your way for a speedy recovery. I went through breast cancer earlier this year and, while I did not have to have chemo, I did have radiation. I am now in remission and am truly thankful for my wonderful family and support network. We’re all here for you Mary. Keep your chin up, you can beat this!!

  18. Stickiness and French knots sounds like trouble! So does anything that involves pulling threads away or tearing off films or paper. Even if you double-tie them, they are rather fragile things.
    I’ve done counted French knots successfully on evenweave fabric: if you want lines, you need to work them as you would a quarter cross stitch – ie over one intersection in each group of four. If you choose a thread thickness that makes them just touch on that spacing, they line up quite well.
    But if you are working on non-evenweave fabric, I’d suggest that you plan your snowflakes on an isometric grid, and give them 6 points. Not just because I like snowflakes to be ‘right’. The knots sit together far more neatly on that triangular grid: it’s the natural packing pattern for circles, as well as for ice crystals. (You can download free printable grids from several sites – try searching for ‘isometric graph paper’.)
    I’d then prick my pattern and pen-mark through the holes as the simplest way to transfer the knot positions to the fabric.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what you have chosen to do with your flakes.
    All the very best with your continuing recovery, Mary. Don’t work too hard!

  19. Hi Mary,

    After reading the comments I have to giggle and say you’ve taught us well. A few years ago I don’t think your readers would be saying “use beads”, “try floche” on the french-knot question. Proof we do learn and your posts are not in vain! I wonder if transferring the design with good old fashion transfer pencil might be a simple approach to the “knotty question” or printing on transfer paper/iron on. For dark colors I suppose the handy white pencil would work, or perhaps ‘eyeball’ the pattern and go free-hand? No doubt, you’ve something more ingenious to share with us. I’ll be glad to see your results as I don’t care for cross stitch…

  20. I’m wondering if this pattern might translate well into Sardinian Knot stitching!

    Great motto! I also like Liz Ns motto about not letting poop get you down but take a nap when you need too. Dealing with chronic illness, I took up embroidery as a hobby that I could do more often when I’m feeling my worst.

    Heal fast and heal well!

  21. First I have to say is I just found your site via Pinterest and love it!!

    I am an avid counted cross stitcher. I actually am unable to a project with a printed pattern! I love to stitch onto linen and if you look very carefully, you can count the threads. You cross over two threads to make a stitch.

  22. I am curious to learn more about Sticky Solvy so will watch for further updates from you. I don’t think it would be practical for my crazy quilting applications mainly because using water on some of the fancy fabrics is not advisable.
    Thoughts are with you Mary as you go through this journey in your life. Blessings on you.

  23. I love the way you tackle these problems! Both the embroidery ones and the personal medical ones, but I’m thinking here mainly of the embroidery ones. I’m sure many of us have wondered idly “What if I used French knots?” but you, Mary, you go and TRY it, and figure it out, and try something else if the first method doesn’t work perfectly and so you are an inspiration! I’m agog to learn how you’ve solved this …

    On the other matter – I do hope the chemo doesn’t make you feel too ill. Like others I have been wondering how you’ve been doing, and praying, and I DO understand that you don’t want to turn the blog into a personal diary, but we all love you and want to know how you are …

    Hugs from England …

  24. Hello Mary,

    Have you seen Teresa Layman’s Miniature Knotwork designs? They are tiny rugs…1100 knots per sq in with a Colonial knot or 2000 with a French knot. So tiny and detailed…She has converted some of them into cross-stitch. I think she has a snow-flake one. The design is printed on cloth, and you fill in with each color with Knots! So appealing, but requires patience..Your experiment reminded me that I have 3 of her tiny designs that I have never worked on, even tho’ I purchased all of the threads.. Anyway, I thought you might be intrigued. Thanks for your web-site. I love to see what you are working on…gives me inspiration.

More Comments