How to Do Candlewicking

How to Do Candlewick Embroidery
Mollie Johanson

What is Candlewick Embroidery?

Get ready to learn all about candlewicking, how to make Colonial knots, and download a free candlewick embroidery pattern! This classic whitework embroidery technique has a very distinct style that involves stitching primarily with Colonial knot stitches. Traditionally, it's done with natural-colored cotton thread on muslin fabric, and both the materials and the stitches most likely are related to how this embroidery method got its start.

While it's difficult to find a full history of candlewicking, it is an American embroidery technique. In the early days of the United States, and especially during the Westward Expansion, fine embroidery threads were unlikely to be plentiful. They also wouldn't have been especially practical! But it's believed that because the cotton threads used for making candle wicks were easy to acquire, they became the material of choice for those who wished to add some embellishment to quilts and more. 

Beyond stitching with actual candlewick, this embroidery style uses Colonial knots, which may have been created for this very purpose. Colonial knots are tighter and more sturdy than their cousin the French knot, which makes sense for use on items like quilts, which can see a lot of wear. The Nordic Needle also did some research on differences between these two types of knots and found that Colonial knots use far less thread than French knots. If supplies are scarce, that's a big selling point!

Candlewicking Supplies

As with other types of embroidery, candlewicking requires a hoop and embroidery needle, as well as accessories like embroidery scissors and pattern transfer tools. You can purchase candlewick embroidery thread that is similar to true unwaxed wicks, but it's not necessary. You can use regular stranded embroidery floss or perle cotton, and even sashiko thread, which is what you see in this tutorial. For fabric, unbleached muslin is traditional, but you can also work with linen. 

Candlewick embroidery is considered a whitework technique, so typically it's stitched with white or natural thread on white or natural fabric, but that doesn't have to be the only way to do this technique. Feel free to use color in your candlewicking, either by matching your thread and fabric in a bold color, or by working with a whole rainbow. It's a perfect way to make this method more modern!

Make a Backwards C
Mollie Johanson

How to Make Colonial Knots

To make a Colonial knot, start by coming up through the fabric and then making a backward "C" around the needle with the working thread. 

Loop the Thread Over the Needle
Mollie Johanson

Next, bring the working thread over and under the tip of the needle. The thread should look a bit like a figure 8.

Insert the Needle in the Fabric
Mollie Johanson

Insert the needle in the fabric, close to where the stitch started. You can go back in the same hole, but for looser weave fabrics, this can cause the knot to pop through to the back.

Pull the working thread to tighten the knot around the needle.

Finish the Colonial Knot
Mollie Johanson

While holding the working thread taut, bring the needle and thread all the way through the fabric to form the knot.

Work each Colonial knot the same way, keeping them tight and consistent. 

Candlewick Embroidery in White Thread on Natural Linen
Mollie Johanson

Candlewick Embroidery Patterns

There are lots of candlewick patterns to choose from, including some free designs or vintage transfers. Many have a traditional style and often they combine Colonial knots with back stitch and some satin stitch. You can also use simple designs for standard embroidery and stitch the lines with a row of knots instead of an outlining stitch.

Candlewick Mandala Embroidery Pattern
Mollie Johanson

To get started, you can download this free candlewick embroidery pattern. A cross between a flower and a mandala, it's easy and relaxing to stitch. 

Print the pattern so that the design measures about five inches across. Use your favorite transfer method to mark the design on your fabric and place the fabric in a hoop. Work with pieces of thread that are about as long as from your elbow to the tips of your fingers to prevent tangling. 

You can start with a waste knot and weave the ends later or just knot the end of the thread and start stitching (we promise it's okay!). All that's left to do is simply stitch a Colonial knot on every dot in the pattern.

What are you waiting for? Grab some supplies and get started with your candlewick embroidery right away!

Close-Up of Candlewick Embroidery in White on Natural Linen
Mollie Johanson

Updated by Mollie Johanson.