Several people have posted about having problems with French Knots, and I've devised a few tricks for them, so I thought I would post a tutorial. I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if anything is unclear, or if you have suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, this is a right-handed tutorial, and I don't know how to reverse it for lefties.
There are 11 steps, but don't let that intimidate you. French knots are easy -- I just wanted to show my process in as much detail as possible! It takes me about 3-5 seconds to make a knot this way.
1) If you are using a multi-stranded thread (like DMC floss), separate every strand and put the number of strands you need back together before threading your needle. Do this even if you are using all the strands -- it *will* help prevent tangles.
2) Put your fabric in a hoop or frame -- I don't have luck making knots without one, and I don't think my method would work very well without one.
3) Pull your thread to the front side of your work (see below), in the place where you want to make a knot. It's helpful to feel the back to make sure the thread didn't get tangled up as it went through the fabric.
4) Grab the thread with your left hand, as shown below. The thread should form a triangle, with one point in the fabric, one point in your left hand, and one point in the needle. Notice that the long edge of this triangle is at the top of the picture, away from your body. This is important -- it's more likely to tangle if the long edge is toward your body.
5) Keep a good amount of tension on the thread with your left hand. You don't want to pull so hard that you strain the fabric, but it should be tight. Do not move the thread! Use your needle to go around the thread -- all the action is in your right hand.
6) When you've got the number of wraps around the needle you want, pause and push them close together with your left thumbnail. This helps to keep things neat. I usually use 4 wraps for 2 strands of DMC floss -- sometimes more for big knots, or less for little knots.
7) With your right hand, maneuver the needle down through the fabric, while maintaining the tension with your left hand. Also, you need to hold the thread in your left hand close to the fabric, angled away from your body. I usually do not go back down through the same hole -- I go down just a little bit next to it.
8 ) Push the needle through the fabric until just the eye is poking up above the fabric. Let go of the needle with your right hand, and...
9) ... drop the thread from your left hand and immeadiately plant your thumb over the little bit of needle that is still poking up. Don't delay in doing this, you want the tension to stay in the thread so that it doesn't get loose.
10) Hold your left thumb in place, and reach around the hoop with your right hand and pull the needle through. I often use a needle-puller for this because it can sometimes be hard to get the needle through. The needle-puller shown below is really the "point-gripper" from my Boye Needlemaster set (http://www.wrights.com/products/catalog/boyeline/7312_lg.htm
-- these are knitting needles). You could also use one of those plastic things that are used to help open jars -- just cut it down to a comfortable size.
11) Pull the thread all the way through, and you're done! You should have a cute, neat little French knot on the front.
There are two secrets to making this method work: good tension in steps 4 through 8, and using your thumb in step 9.
Now, can anyone explain to me how to make satin stitch smooth? Mine always looks lumpy and messy.
Edited to add detail to step #7.