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  • Kat Waskett

5 tips to reduce knots and tangles in your cross stitch thread

If there is one question that probably every cross stitcher has had at one time or another it's "how do I stop my thread from knotting and tangling?"

Well, the short (and not very helpful) answer is you don't. It's one of those things that will happen from time to time when you cross stitch. In fact, I can't believe it didn't make it onto my 10 things that make me cross about cross stitch!

But if you can't wave a magic wand and stop your thread from ever tangling and knotting then can you at least reduce the chances of it happening?

For sure. And I'm going to give you my top 5 tips on how to do just that...

1. Use shorter lengths

I like to use quite a long thread so I minimise the number of times I have to stop and start. In fact, I'd love to use even longer lengths but the reason I don't is that the longer you stitch with a piece of thread the more it gets 'wear and tear' on it as it is pulled through the holes. This can make it a little more 'fuzzy' and more likely to tangle and knot.

So, shorter lengths = smoother thread and less tangles. It's a delicate balance!

I tend to use 1 metre of thread and double that over so I have 50cm of working thread length. Whatever length you use, if you get frequent knots then it might be time to try a shorter length.

2. Let your thread 'unwind' every now and then as you stitch

This is such a quick and easy tip so no excuses for not doing it! As you stitch it is likely that the strands of thread will become twisted and this will not only cause your stitches to lie less neatly, it will also increase the risk of tangles and knots. You might not think it but this is even the case if you are using just 1 strand of thread; it can still twist!

The most common way to avoid this is to let your needle hang down every now and then and watch your thread untwist. Then you are good to go again.

But I have a major problem with this...I really don't need another way to drop my needle (which actually IS in 10 things that make me cross about cross stitch)!

So, I use a different method and whilst I can't be the only person who does this, I haven't found anyone else who does it yet (please tell me if you do!).

I hold up my thread by the loose ends and gently push my needle back down the thread all the way to the fabric then I run the thread between my finger and thumb until the strands are untwisted, then I pull the needle back up again to where I want it. Now, there is a downside to this because it could also increase wear and tear on your thread as you run the needle up and down it, but I prefer that to the risk of a dropped needle. It's also an easier method to use when you are getting close to the end of a thread.

3. Don't re-use thread that you've unpicked

We are back to the wear and tear issue here, because thread you have stitched with and then unpicked will already be less smooth, even if you unpick super carefully and slowly.

If you have limited thread and worry you may not have enough then save the piece to use at the end if you have to. Otherwise just take a deep breath and bin the thread!

4. Go slow

It is so very tempting to try to stitch as fast as possible because we all want to get in as much stitching as we can right? I am 100% guilty of this. But if you are struggling with frequent knots in your threads then it is worth slowing down a bit and pulling the thread through the holes a little more slowly. This can definitely help to reduce knots, which will save you time overall...and frustration too!

5. Condition your thread

The tendency to tangle does seem to vary between thread brands, although not everyone seems to agree on the brand they find the best in this regard! I do often find that unbranded threads in some kits can be especially bad and sometimes you can see and feel how rough they are compared with DMC or Anchor threads.

It also seems to happen more with certain colours of thread and this may be related to the dyes used as they can leave some threads smoother or rougher than others.

If you find the thread you have seems a little rough or you are getting a lot of knots when using it you can use thread conditioner to smooth out your threads.

There are a couple of different types of thread conditioner from branded synthetic products such as Thread Heaven (sadly now discontinued but some people, including me, still have this) and Thread Magic, to products made with 100% beeswax. I don't often use my Thread Heaven but if I have some rougher threads (or metallic threads) then it really does work wonders. I simply pull each individual strand of thread through the block twice, smooth it through my fingers a couple of times and off I go!

I have never tried beeswax so can't comment on how well this works.

Are thread conditioners bad for my threads?

Some sources suggest that synthetic thread conditioner can affect thread fibres and hasten their deterioration over time. However, I don't know that this has been proven and they really can be helpful so felt it was fair to include them here. I just limit my use of Thread Heaven to really rough threads and metallics; I just don't find I need to use it all the time with my usual DMC threads.

It seems that 100% beeswax is not known to affect thread fibre stability over time BUT I have read that it can cause threads to become darker, lose their shine and their 'springiness' and even to be a bit sticky so I can't say I'm tempted to try this.

On a similar note, I have seen recommendations for running your thread through a make up sponge dampened with water or through tumble dryer sheets to get the same result. I have never tried these techniques so can't really comment although I would have concerns about the effects of the chemicals from the tumble dryer sheets on threads over time.

Another option may be to switch the threads in a kit for DMC/Anchor ones but unless the kit gives you the recommended colours this could be a long winded process to try to colour match them all.

One final tip...

Ok, so that's my 5 top tips that I am sure will help to reduce those pesky tangles but stick with me because I do have one last tip to share.

The reason this isn't in my top 5 tips is because I honestly don't know if it really works or not but it's one I've come across a few times and I find it interesting.

When you pull out 2 strands of thread you can reverse one of them so that the 2 strands are now lying in opposite directions to each other. This will happen automatically when you use the loop start method, and I will say I don't get knots all that often so maybe there really is something to this!

Until next time...happy (and relatively knot-free!) stitching,


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