The History and Technique of Candlewicking and Whitework

What is Candlewick Embroidery?

Candlewick or whitework is an embroidery technique using white thread on white fabric; hence the alternate name, whitework. Large knots, known as the colonial knot, are embroidered using heavy thread such as Perle cotton or crochet yarn.

The fabric is most often heavy weight cotton or linen embroidery fabric. Candlewicking was often found on bedspreads or pillows. This type of embroidery is easy to learn and quick to stitch.

Candlewick History

It is believed that whitework or candlewicking originated in America by the women who traveled westward. Their wagons and pack animals would not be used to carry niceties or anything more than the essentials.

Thread and other sewing materials were very limited on the prairie, but because candles were critical to the settlers, they did have supplies to make them.

The women found that the cotton wicking fiber could be used for sewing, and this is why this embroidery is most often called candlewicking.

Even though this cotton wicking was available, it was costly and in limited supply.  Because of this, the technique of candlewicking used colonial knots sewn closely together to create outlines.

Colonial knots are very similar to french knots, but they use less thread and are sturdier and not as delicate, holding up to heavy use and repeated washings.

Satin stitches or other embroidery were not used to fill in space, and all of this resulted in less thread being used and wasted on the back of the fabric. The outlining left much of the fabric open and unstitched. Whiteworking Sample Closeup

How to Candlewick

You will need the basic supplies of heavy-weight cotton fabric, embroidery floss or crochet yarn, a sharp needle with a large eye, a pattern design to follow, and an embroidery hoop. The hoop is vital to keeping the fabric taut and will help you to make uniform stitches without the fabric puckering.

The difference between the colonial knot and the french knot is that the former has a twist in the thread or yarn, making it a heavier knot.

To create a colonial knot, bring your threaded needle up through from the back of the fabric. Wrap the yarn around the needle towards the back.

Next, you will wrap the yarn around the needle to create a figure 8.  Pull the yarn taut and then push the needle back down through the fabric very near the hole that the needle came up from when you started the knot.

Candlewicking Today

This nearly forgotten embroidery work is now becoming popular with needle workers.  The more modern designs use many of the traditional embroidery stitches, such as straight stitches, satin stitches, and the tufted stitch.

Also included is crewel work, and candlewicking now shows a wide range of colored embroidery floss. Whiteworking Closeup 2

It is still found on bed covers, but it is now used in a wide variety of projects such as pillows, seat cushions, and decorative art. If you are interested in free candlewicking and whitework projects, we have many!

Below you will find many links to books, projects, and more history of candlewicking or whitework!

The History and Technique of Candlewicking and Whitework

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 Beginner's Guide to Mountmellick Embroidery

Beginner's Guide to Mountmellick Embroidery #ad

by Pat Trott - Paperback - Published 2002 Affiliate Link to Amazon


Candlewicking #ad

iron-on transfer patterns for hottest "new" form of embroidery: birds, butterflies, boats, florals, little boy, little girl, pineapples, geometrics, more. Complete instructions, stitch diagrams, list of necessary materials and more. by Claire Bryant - Paperback - Published 1994 Affiliate Link to Amazon

 White Work : Techniques and 188 Designs

White Work : Techniques and 188 Designs #ad

Thorough guide to elegant form of contemporary embroidery, with illustrated instructions and patterns for 20 stitches, plus 188 embroidery patterns keyed to those stitches. by Carter Houck(Editor) - Paperback - Published 1983 Affiliate Link to Amazon

A-Z of Whitework

A-Z of Whitework #ad

Over 1,000 step-by-step photos illustrate the creation of this beautiful traditional white-on-white embroidery which has inspired needlecrafters for centuries by Country Bumpkin - Paperback - Published 2015

Basic Candlewicking

Step-by-step instructions on how to do candlewicking The Spruce Crafts

Candlewick Design

Create your own candlewick pattern. Here is a brief explanation of how to do it. Threads Magazine

Candlewick Know How

Candlewick embroidery is considered a whitework technique, so typically it’s stitched with white or natural thread on white or natural fabric. Learn more about this technique in this post. Global Fabrics


Brief description and information on candlewicking. Bella Online

Candlewicking Embroidered Table Runner PDF

Learn candlewicking with this free table runner pattern. JOANN

Candlewicking Embroidery Tutorial

Candlewicking can give any item a vintage look. Learn the candlewicking embroidery technique here. Joyous Home

Colonial Knot

Colonial Knot

A colonial knot stitch is a simple hand embroidery stitch that creates a cute little bump. Watch our video and read our concise photo tutorial with step-by-step instructions to learn how to make the colonial knot. Staff

How to do Candlewicking

This tutorial will demonstrate how to candlewick. WikiHow

Mountmellick Workshop

An on-line tutorial of mountmellick stitching. JMD Designs

Pillow - Colonial Knot Ring Pillow

Free candlewicking design. Caron Collection

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