People either love or hate bullion knots but I am in the love them camp! They are one of those hand-embroidery stitches that can be tricky to work so if you have trouble with them do take time to read my tips.
Tips before you start Bullion Knot stitch
The main problem associated with working bullion knots is that people use the wrong needle. I suggest you try milliners or straw needles. Why these particular needles? Most embroidery needles have an eye that is wider than the shaft of the needle, which means any stitch that wraps the thread around the needle often runs the risk of getting too tight to pull the thread through.
Milliners or straw needles have an eye and shaft of the same width, which makes sliding the wrapped bullion knot along the needle easy. Try it, as it does make a difference!
Where do you get Milliners needles? Specialist needlework shops will or should stock them. If you are not near a needlework store, you can buy Milliners Needles online (this is an affiliate link which means if you shop here I get a small commission but that is not why I recommend them!)
Another tip is to wrap your thread in a clockwise direction. For most threads, this will mean you will follow the natural twist of the direction in which it was spun. If your thread untwists as you wrap your bullion, it means the thread was spun in the opposite direction to most threads on the market. This would include some rayon threads. In this case, wrap your bullion in an anti-clockwise direction.
Simply put, wrap clockwise most of the time but if for some reason this untwists your thread wrap anti-clockwise.
If you have trouble with stranded threads getting a tangle, try a twisted thread like cotton perle #8 0r #5.
Some people get a little tense and wrap too tight. Then, while still on the needle hold the bullion between thumb and first finger and gently rub the bullion back and forth in your fingers to loosen the wraps slightly before you pull the needle through.
Also, stretch the fabric in a needlework hoop or frame so that you have both hands free to work the knot. If you need advice on wrapping a hoop and what size to choose, skip over to this tutorial on how to bind and use an embroidery hoop.
When you start to use bullion knots in your embroidery, start with a simple 4 or 5 wrap bullion. Then, as you master those, add more wraps.
Bullion knot is also known as bullion stitch, caterpillar stitch, coil stitch, grub knot, knot stitch, post stitch, Porto Rico rose and worm stitch.
How to work Bullion Knots
Bring the thread from the back of the fabric and insert the needle a short space away, pointed towards the place that the thread emerges from the fabric. The distance between these two points determines the length of the knot.
Wrap the thread around the needle five or six times. Do not cross the wraps on the needle, instead, make sure the thread coils up the needle. The coil of thread on the needle should be the same length as the distance between where the needle emerges and exits the fabric.
Pull the needle through the coil, while holding the coil between your first finger and thumb. See the photo below. This grip of the coil will keep the bullion knot smooth and prevent it from knotting in on itself. Pull the working thread up and away from you.
As the coil tightens, change the direction that you are pulling the thread and pull it to towards you.
If the bullion bunches or looks untidy pass the needle under the bullion and rub it up and down the length of the bullion to smooth the coils out. Stitchers call this ‘rubbing the belly’ of the bullion.
When smooth, take the needle through the fabric at the point where the thread first emerged. The coil of thread — which is the bullion knot — should now lie neatly on the surface.
There are many applications for this stitch. For example, the body of this praying mantis is made up of Bullion knots.
You can also make hand embroidered bullion roses. I worked these in wool.
When you combine bullion knots in floral sprays, they can be very effective. In this sample, I tucked them between the forks of Alternating Up and Down Buttonhole
Bullion Knots are ideal to tuck into the fork of feather stitch and its varieties.
Here is a small seam I covered with feather stitch on Block 77 on my I Dropped the Button Box Quilt. I added Bullion Knots across the top of the bar. I created both the feather stitch and the bullions using cotton perle # 5 thread.
Crazy quilters love this stitch, as it can add texture to a seam or band of embroidery.
Here bullions of 25 wraps surround beads. You can see the block where this detail sits here on Crazy Quilt Block 78
Bullion Knot is one of those hand embroidery stitches that is fun and interesting. Once mastered, they are fun. I know they do take a little practice but they are well worth learning and enjoying!
Experimenting with different threads can be expensive. You would normally have to buy a whole skein of each type of thread. My thread twisties are a combination of different threads to use in creative hand embroidery. These enable you to try out stitching with something other than stranded cotton. For the price of just a few skeins, you can experiment with a bundle of threads of luscious colours and many different textures.
These are creative embroiders threads. With them, I hope to encourage you to experiment. Each Twistie is a thread bundle containing silk, cotton, rayon and wool. Threads range from extra fine (the same thickness as 1 strand of embroidery floss) to chunky couchable textured yarns. All threads have a soft and manageable drape. Twisting them around a needle makes experimental hand embroidery an interesting journey rather than a battle. Many are hand dyed by me. All are threads I use. You may find a similar thread twist but no two are identical.