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How to Prevent Thread Tangles in Hand Sewing

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No matter what kind of sewing you like to do, there are times you must use a hand needle and thread. It could be for something simple, such as sewing on a button, stitching an opening closed, or tacking a strap in place. Or, you can move up the hand-sewing food chain to beautifully intricate techniques, like hand embroidery or hand quilting. Learn our favorite tips to help eliminate knots and tangles, and keep those stitches flowing smoothly.

Whether you’re a pro or a novice at hand sewing, you’ve probably noticed how easily thread can twist back onto itself and become knotted, tangled or both. When this happens, after the cursing subsides, it becomes almost impossible to effectively finish your stitching. In some instances, you may have to completely start over because the thread breaks in the middle of your work as a result of your attempts to remove the knot!

We’ve outlined our favorite products to use and the tips to try to tame those tangles.

Fave products

Beeswax

A commonly used product you may have spied in your mother's or grandmother’s sewing box is beeswax. It’s traditionally found in the shape of a circle, often in a circular plastic case with notches on it so you can easily pull the thread through the beeswax before sewing (which you should do two to three times to properly coat the thread with wax).  

The beeswax coating provides added strength, resistance to static cling, and helps allow the thread to slip through the fabric and prevent tangling. In addition, you can wrap your beeswax-ed thread in a scrap of fabric (preferably muslin), a paper towel, or just plain paper and then iron the thread. This ironing process will melt the beeswax onto the thread for additional strengthening. The one negative to beeswax is that it can stain your fabric. And, some people find it too sticky. As we always say, test first!

You can find beeswax at most local sewing supply stores. We found it online at Amazon as well as other retailers.

You can also find blocks of pure or natural beeswax,"which some experts say is the only way to go. We found a nice selection of this natural beeswax at Laney Honey.

Thread Heaven

A popular alternative to beeswax with many sewing experts is Thread Heaven. This is a thread conditioner and protectant that comes in a little blue box with a hard gel-like square inside, into which you press the thread as you pull it through. It provides all of the same benefits as beeswax, such as strengthening, anti-static, and tangle reduction. 

Thread Heaven treats the thread so it doesn't discolor, and the product does not stain after laundering or ironing. It protects against UV rays, resists mold and mildew, reduces thread drag, and has a whole host of other benefits you can read about on the Thread Heaven website. Their site also has step-by-step instructions on how to properly apply it... even though it's really pretty straight forward.  

Those who use this product rave about its benefits and ability to keep thread from tangling. You can even use a tiny dab on the eye of your machine needle to help reduce static as the thread passes through the eye of the needle. It’s readily available at sewing supply retailers and on the Internet at Amazon and others

Home remedy

At Sew4Home, we understand everyone has a budget. So, when we’re researching a subject, we like to also look for ways to use household items you may already have on hand. We learned many quilters use dryer sheets to help prevent static cling and tangling when sewing by hand. Simply run your thread between the layers of a folded dryer sheet a couple times to try this trick. Here again, we strongly recommend trying all the various options we’ve discussed to see which works best for you, your specific project, and your thread type. 

Hand sewing thread versus regular thread

Many thread companies make specific thread for hand sewing, which is already treated or coated to help reduce static, tangles and knotting. You can check out these options at a local sewing supply retailer and compare how they feel in comparison to the regular threads you use in your machine. 

NOTE: Do NOT use hand sewing thread in your sewing machine. It's okay to use machine thread for hand sewing, but don't do the other direction as hand sewing thread may not have the tensile strength to work in a machine.

When it comes to thread, you can dive right into the deep end and soak up tons of information about types, twists, finishes, and more. There's a lot to know about this sewing staple! You'll soon learn certain types of threads are more susceptible to static and tangling. The Superior Threads website has an extensive Education section that will increase your thread knowledge exponentially (and possible increase your chances of appearing on Jeopardy!). We also have a Sew4Home article overview on selecting the right thread for the job; it was put together with help from our friends at Coats & Clark. 

Other hand sewing tips

Always thread the end you've actually cut from the spool into the eye of the needle. 

As you hand sew, pull the thread in the direction you are sewing. 

Hand quilters will roll the needle between their fingers as they stitch in the opposite direction of the twist of the thread.

Cut you thread into lengths no longer than about 18" to 20". Some people have offered a non-tangle tip of not cutting your length of thread from the spool until after the eye is threaded. 

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

Section: 

Comments (25)

Allison said:
Allison 's picture

I think that threading the needle before cutting the thread from the spool is meant to make sure that the twist of the thread is going the right way. One way is an S twist and the other is a Z. I'm not sure which way this threading method makes it and it even may vary by thread company. I think this is the reason for the tip to drape your thread over the needle end of the machine after putting the spool on the spool pin but before running it through any thread guides. If the thread makes a nice curve you go ahead and thread the machine but if it twists on itself a bit you reverse the spool on the spool pin. It's the same theory, I think, for smooth stitching by hand without knots--the S or the Z twist thing .

Wendy Rainbow said:
Wendy Rainbow's picture

I am doing hand embroidery on the window screen in my home.  This was something I came up with after a freind walk right through the screen.  I am applying wax to the string, but basic candle wax.  I have heard that it should only be beez wax or the thread conditioner and regular candel wax is bad.  Others say candle wax is just fine.  What do you think?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Wendy Rainbow - candle wax is not our favorite, which is why we didnt list it above. I know some people use it in a pinch, but it isn't as smooth and doesn't coat as well. 

margarita martinez said:
margarita martinez's picture

gracias por el tip lo aplicare de hoy en adelante miles de bendiciones sra sally m

Ripley21 said:
Ripley21's picture

The thing I've found most helpful is to pull the thread through rather slowly, watching the thread as you pull.  You can see if it's about to form a knot and de-tangling before it's knotted is much easier than undoing an actual knot.  If I get in a hurry and start pulling fast, it always knots; so slowing down actually saves time... for me anyway.  And I use beeswax or Thread Heaven or a dryer sheet, whichever I have handy at the moment.  I've even used a candle. I'm looking forward to trying Valerie's tip for knotting the two ends separately when sewing with doubled thread.

Thanks for all the great tips and projects, I look forward to the newsletter each week.

Janette Wells said:
Janette Wells's picture

I have a selection of waxed quilting threads (Mettler) that I always use when handstitching the binding on my quilts - it is crisp, a delight to use, doesn't tangle and I often grab it to stitch on buttons and other small hand sewing jobs. Thread heaven is a wonderful product as well.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Janette Wells - Another excellent tip. We love it when visitors share their knowledge and experience. Thanks!

Katinka said:
Katinka's picture

I am new to sewing. I've tried ironing thr treat and it worked for me. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Katinka - thanks for sharing your tip!

Valerie S. said:
Valerie S.'s picture

When sewing with a doubled thread for extra strength, do not knot the two ends together - it will twist badly.  Knot each end separately then line them up before yoi begin to sew!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Valerie S. - Haven't heard that tip before! Thanks for sharing it with us. 

wekebu said:
wekebu's picture

I have to roll the needle often because the thread will start to twist. I've often wondered if it's because I'm a lefty.  Does the thread twist incorrectly for me or do I naturally roll the needle and have to unroll to counteract that?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ wekebu - I hope some of our left-handed friends will weigh in, but I can't think of a reason why that might make the thread twist ... the movement is the same. I do wonder if you are just slightly rolling the needle as you stitch without even noticing you're doing it. You might also try a shorter length of thread.

EllenmsB said:
EllenmsB's picture

The 4th last sentence says "Always thread the end you've actually cut from the spool into the eye of the needle."; then the last sentence says "Some people have offered a non-tangle tip of not cutting your length of thread from the spool until after the eye is threaded."  Are these two sentences says the opposite thing?  Or am I reading them wrong?

Thank you for all the wonderful tips and patterns.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ EllenmsB - Thanks for your question. It is two different things. The first sentence is just the recommendation that a cleanly cut thread is the easiest to put through the eye of the needle. The second sentence is referring to the practice that some people have of first threading the eye (snip a bit for a clean end). Then once threaded, cut the length you need from the spool -- rather than cutting the length first and then threading. The weight of the spool helps keep the thread from tangling while you thread the eye.

EllenmsB said:
EllenmsB's picture

Thank you for clarifying what was typed.  I was sure it was two different things.  

Do you know which is the preferred end to knot?  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ EllenmsB - I don't think there's a prefered end to knot. If you're using a single strand, I think simply knotting the opposite end to the end you threaded through the eye is fine. Of course, if you're using a double strand, you're knotting the ends together. Happy stitching.

Jay said:
Jay's picture

Love the link to the education section - that's amazing! I love finding this stuff here, I never go away without a new idea or piece of information. I've made so many of the things from here as gifts and they go over so well. I made an eye mask and toiletry bag for a friend who was going for a longish hospital stay and she said every time she looked at it she felt less alone :D

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jay - What a lovely gift! So glad to hear you're learning a lot!

Bobbi said:
Bobbi's picture

as well as sewing I adore beading, both beaded appliqué and beaded jewellery. For yew elderly making I can be working with thread as long as 2m. There is no way I could do this without thread heaven

Loves to Sew said:
Loves to Sew's picture

I just hemmed two pairs of slacks for a lady and was hating the twisted thread, wish I had this article last week.

I will try the dryer sheet idea as I am on a tight budget and live in a very rural area.

Thank you so much for this article.

Denise D. said:
Denise D.'s picture

Thanks for sharing a great tip.

I used beeswax many years ago but never liked how sticky it was or how it stained some fabrics.

Then I tried Thread Heaven a few years ago and have been using it ever since for all of my hand-sewing (quilt bindings, applique, hemming, etc.). It really does work well. I find that the thread glides more easily through the fabric and tangles are kept to a rare minimum.

Thanks for all of your tips and tricks. They are part of my daily reads.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Denise D - always happy to help  Thanks for being a daily reader!

Sally M. said:
Sally M.'s picture

The saying goes: "you learn something new every day."  With this article, I did.  I remember back in the 60's my mother using beeswax to make the thread stronger but I didn't actually know it will prevent tangling when handsewing. I've never heard of Thread Heaven, nor did I know tthere is thread specifically for handsewing.  Thank you Sew4Home, today's lesson was enlightening.  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Sally M - It's great to learn new things. We're always discovering fun stuff!

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