How to Reduce Knots and Tangles in Your Work

Unlike railroading and using a laying tool, reducing knots and tangles in your work does not call for learning new skills....just for remembering to do some things.

Let the Needle Dangle

The first way to reduce knots each stitcher discovers automatically: let the needle dangle from the back of the work.

Turn the Needle the Other Way

Another way to discourage tangles is to counteract the unconscious twist we give the needle. Do this by twisting the needle in the opposite direction. If you're right-handed, it's likely you twist your needle clockwise. (Left-handers probably turn it counter-clockwise.) By looking at which way things untwist when you let your needle dangle, figure out which way you're turning the needle. Either as you pull the needle up or sink it, give it a quarter-turn in the opposite direction.

Moisten the Floss

Moistening the thread really works wonders for eliminating knots and tangles. I think it's the one single thing you can do to reduce these problems. Get yourself a hunk of clean sponge (I like an "artificial" sponge, such as is often found as a packing material). Moisten it and squeeze out almost all the water so that it's damp but not sopping. Put it in a plastic container like a little box or a film can. (You can also just lay it on a plate!) Pull out one strand of floss from the 6-strand length (this is called stripping) and run it over the moist sponge. You can do this as a single operation. Set the thread aside to dry (30-60 seconds in normal home humidity). You will see that moistening the thread is like ironing it. When it's flatter and straighter, it's less likely to kink up.

Don't stitch with moist floss! Let it dry first!

Note: I prepare all 6 strands of my floss at the same time, recombining them in whatever number I need (for me, that's usually 2). I'm careful to keep the same cut ends together so I can tell which way the grain of the thread runs and thread my needle with the "blossoming end" in the eye. Also, when I thread up the last of my prepared floss, I fix the next batch so it'll be dry when I'm ready for it.

Use Shorter Lengths

Stitching with long lengths also invites tangles. I know the books all say 15-18" lengths, but I've found that if I stitch with about 12" lengths, I have far less aggravation from uninvited knots. Using shorter lengths also means that I run out of thread before it starts to get fuzzy and produce stitches without sheen.


Another factor you might not have thought about is tension: -your- tension. When you stitch and you're all pent-up with stress, it's easy to get tangles and knots. Also when you hurry. The obvious solution is to relax and take your time. Have a cup of tea before you pick up your needle. Or, try this: as you breathe in, imagine you're gathering up all the tension into a ball in your chest; as you exhale long and deeply, pretend you're sending all these troubles out of your body. Do this several times. I know it sounds kooky, but it works for me, and maybe it will help you, too!

copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.

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