Candlewicking, a classic whitework embroidery technique, has a distinct style that involves stitching primarily with Colonial knot stitches. In the early days of the United States, especially during the Westward Expansion, fine embroidery threads weren't plentiful—they also wouldn't have been especially practical. However, because the cotton threads used for making candle wicks were easy to acquire, they may have become the material of choice for those who wished to add some embellishment to quilts and other sewing projects.
This embroidery style uses Colonial knots, which are tighter and sturdier than their cousin, the French knot, which makes sense for use on items like quilts, which can see a lot of wear. Colonial knots also use far less thread than French knots. If supplies are scarce, that's a big selling point!
Candlewick embroidery is considered a whitework technique, so typically it's stitched with white or natural thread on white or natural fabric. However, it doesn't have to be—feel free to use color in your candlewicking, either by matching your thread and fabric with a bold color or by working with a whole rainbow.
Equipment / Tools
- Embroidery needle
- Embroidery scissors
- Pattern transfer tools
- Embroidery floss
- Unbleached muslin or linen fabric
Make a Colonial Knot
Start by coming up through the fabric and then making a backward "C" around the needle with the working thread.
Bring the Work Thread Over and Under
Next, bring the working thread over and under the tip of the needle. The thread should look a bit like a figure eight.
Insert the Needle
Insert the needle in the fabric, close to where the stitch started. You can go back in the same hole, this can cause the knot to pop through to the back in looser-weave fabrics. Pull the working thread to tighten the knot around the needle.
Form the Knot
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 Patterns
There are plenty of candlewick patterns to choose from, including some free designs or vintage transfers. Many have a traditional style and often 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.
To get started, 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 5 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.
Start with a waste knot and weave the ends later, or just knot the end of the thread and start stitching. All that's left to do is simply stitch a Colonial knot on every dot in the pattern.