How to prevent thread tangling and save your nerves

How to prevent thread tangling

Imagine, coming to your workplace having all your favorite thread and fabrics lined up in front of you, this wonderful art is taking you away from the routine of your daily life, you get in the rhythm of stitching and forget about all the troubles when suddenly... THAT happens. The perfect embroidery session is spoiled by an ugly knot on your thread! Ugh.

I don't think there is any stitcher who doesn't hate the knots on a thread. This is plain frustrating! And it's cool if you can untangle it easily, but when they are too messy and huge, or they happened long time ago on your backside and you noticed it late... That is so not fun.

I think the best way to fight with this problem is to take precautions on early stages. Like starting from the moment you prepare your thread for embroidery.

Deal with the skein the right way


Do you also end up with huge knots when you try to release thread from a floss skein? Does it tangle in one big sorrowful mess? Yeah, we've all been there. Actually, there's a very simple trick to how to avoid it completely.

How to prevent thread tangling

As DMC cotton floss is the most widespread thread choice across the whole world, let's take a look how to deal it the right way. There is a little secret to releasing the thread from a DMC floss skein effortlessly without creating a mess out of it. You need to find a tail at the end of the skein that has the long number tag (see the picture above).

If you pull it gently, the thread won't kink up and you can safely organize it the way you want. As you releasing the thread the skein doesn't deform so you won't have to deal with a nest of thread.

Releasing the thread in this painless way is quite important because when it tangles in knots it wears the thread down and it sort of “memorizes” this knotted position.

After you released the thread from the skein you can either wind it round bobbins or use any other way of storage. Actually, having thread hanging is one of the best ways to store it, as it loses the “waviness” it acquires while being in the skein and straightens up.

Find your perfect thread length


The thread length is often the crucial factor when it comes to thread tangling and if you fix this problem, it can be the main game-changer! The formula is simple. The longer the thread the more possibilities for the thread to twist on itself. The shorter the thread – the less prone it is to kinking up.

But there is one more factor to consider. If you cut your thread too short, you will waste more of it on beginning and ending manipulations. From another side, they used to say in the old days - “long thread is the sign of a lazy stitcher”. Well, you know, because lazy stitchers don't want to begin and end thread too often ;)

I have to confess – I am a lazy stitcher. I like to stitch. I like the process of creating. I don't like having to start and end my thread over and over. Especially when I just found my groove and the thread ended. But that's just me, and other stitchers might find these manipulations especially soothing :)

So, my personal perfect length is about 50 cm (~20 inches). I actually measure it with my elbow. I take the end of the thread with my fingers then make a loop around my elbow and hold it again with my fingers. Previously I used to cut thread right at the place I caught the thread with my fingers the second time (which would be equal to 2 elbows). But I noticed that it tended to kink up. So, I started cutting the thread shorter - somewhere at length of 1.7 of my elbow. That worked better for me.

You will certainly find people saying that you have to use such length or such length. But I think it all depends on you and the way you stitch. So, try different lengths and find the golden one, which works perfectly for you. And before you find it, if your thread keeps tangling, measure its length and try to cut it at least 10 cm (~4 inches) shorter.

Separate the strands


Continuing with the theme of thread preparation, I'd like to mention the benefits of separating individual strands from the floss. It is natural when you embroider with a single strand of thread on your needle. But sometimes, you might want to use 2 or 3, or all 6 strands of floss in your embroidery. In this case, separate them first individually and only then bring them back together. Even better – turn some of them upside down.

For example, you need to have 2 strands of floss in your needle. You cut the thread in your perfect length (see the previous point) and now, separate all 6 strands, take two of them and match them in such a way, that the end of one strand would be next to the opposite end of the other strand.

What does it give? After being stored next to each other continuously, the 6 strands become “united” and twist and move in the same way and direction. When you separate them and turn them upside down, they become more independent and the possibility of them tangling together becomes lower.


Do the thread gymnastics


Embroidery thread likes good care :)

When you take the thread in your hands, stroke is with your fingers. Do it gently, with love – your fingers should not be like a press. Imagine that you are petting an animal. This helps to straighten the thread, decrease the “waviness” that it memorizes after being in a skein or around a bobbin for a long time.

After completing some part of your embroidery put the needle away and let the thread hang freely. You can stroke it again with your fingers, or just leave it to have rest by itself. Some stitchers do it after every 5-10 stitches. I just set myself some goals like “when I finish this or that part”, “when I come to that point”. You might do that every X minutes (put any number instead of X). Whatever you like. But do it regularly – doing it 2-3 times for one piece of thread would be nice. Your thread needs a good rest – it gets tired after being pulled through the fabric again and again, and the more you let it rest and untwist on itself, the less likely it is to tangle.

If you notice that your thread started twisting on itself, you can glide your needle along the thread all the way to the ground fabric. And glide it back to the fingers. And then back to the ground fabric. Note, that the eye of the needle should be wide enough that the thread is “free” there and not jammed, or this exercise will only wear the thread down. Actually, the thread should never be too constrained in the eye of the needle. There are some tips on hand embroidery needles, that might help you to find the one that will match your thread.

Final teeny tips:


  1. When you hand embroider, don't be in a hurry. If you have a limited time, then don't set yourself too big of a goal. It's better to complete a small part but in a neat way, than to cover a big area with awkward stitching, right? When you stitch in a fast tempo it also increases the likeliness of thread tangling.
  2. Keep the track of your backside. Follow your stitches on the backside with one of your fingers (usually middle or ring fingers). This will help you detect a forming knot in the right time and eliminate it before it is too late.
  3. There are special goods for thread care in the market. Namely, beeswax and thread conditioner (by Thread Heaven). Both of these make the thread stronger, sturdier, reduce static electricity and prevent tangling. I, personally, don't use it, but it helps some stitchers, so you can give it a try. I would like to warn about beeswax, though – it can stain the fabric and thread.
  4. Try stitching with two hands. I don't find it convenient to do when you stitch in a hoop, but if you have a larger frame that can stand upright or which can be fixed to the table, then try it out. One of the factors that makes the thread twist in a certain direction is because we use the same hand all the time. If you stitch using both of the hands, this might decrease the thread tangling.

Lastly, most the thread knots are loops that twist on themselves so they can be removed quite easily – put the needle inside the loop and pull it upwards or swing a little. 

However, sometimes, embroidery thread can create real messy “masterpieces” when we are not attentive enough. I hope these tips will help you prevent these disasters!

Do you struggle with thread tangling? Did you notice some regularity in this problem? Or maybe you already found the “cure”? Share your secrets! :)


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