Basic Sewing question--thread

ClareBroommaker's picture

This is so basic! In hand sewing with 100% cotton thread, I keep getting tangles. I know part of the problem is that I start with as long a thread as possible. I pull off the spool a thread twice the length of my arm so that it is doubled over most of its length when I begin. My reason for doing that is that I only have to make one knot for all that thread, and I do not waste thread making more knots with multiple pieces of thread. However, that length makes it more prone to tangling. Sometimes I try dampening the thread to smooth it so that it is less snaggy. And I try to go slow and really pay attention to whether I'm about to cause a tangled knot.

Is this why quilters put wax on their thread?

Is there any way I can keep using really long pieces of cotton thread and avoid tangles? Some little trick?

David Trammel's picture

Not sure about wax but I can remember when I sewed renfair and scifi convention costumes, that long lengths of tread when sewing would sometimes tangle and knot up. Sometimes I could untangle them, other times I just tucked the tangle under a seam.

The big advantage I see with shorter lengths, is that should a thread break, it won't unravel a long section of hem. Modern sewing machines are one continuous thread, and sometimes unravel quite a bit. The down side is you are making alot of knots

As for knots at the end to secure the thread, I always used a slip knot. I would push the needle through and back in, and then through the loop of the slip note. Pull it tight then make a knot with the two halves of the thread. That always seemed to secure my stitches well.

I've got two sewing machines downstairs I need to get out and get cleaned up. My mother has a large industrial machine I could probably get if I asked. I've been wanting to do a set of retractable sun shields for my garden, that deploy from my roof eaves. Kind of like the ones in the Coliseum seen in the movie "Gladiator".

While we here in St Louis are under a Winter storm watch, with an expect 6-10 inches of snow this weekend, I'm starting to believe that climate weirding is about to get bad in the Summer months. I'm going to start seeds next weekend, and plant very early this year, which almost guarantees a late frost for me, lol.

Beeswax helps with that problem, yes. There are other products, but I've not tried them.

Serinde's picture

I do a lot of hand sewing with various sorts of needles and threads. If you are simply mending something, you shouldn’t need to bother with waxing your thread at all. I would guess the solution is much simpler: every second or third stitch, simply let your needle hang. Your thread is tangling, I’d guess, because you are twisting the needle as you stitch (we all do it). By letting your needle hang, you allow the thread to regain it’s own tension and natural twist.

Do you also get lots of slip knots? That’s common, too. Stick the point of your needle through the loop (to hold it), and then gently pull on one of the side threads. One will move and one won’t. Pull the moveable one, take the needle out of the loop and voila! No slip knot. (Along with a very satisfying ‘snick’.)

ClareBroommaker's picture

Okay, I'll give that a try. The slow thing I've been doing is to push the threaded eye all the way down to the fabric where I finished some stitches and then pull the free length of thread through my fingertips to untwist the length. Then I have to slide the needle back up the thread to where I need it. This pretty much works, but is slow, when I am already very slow at my stitches.

Ooh, and I know what you mean by that very satisfying "snick". Ah.

My guess is that you are loading the needle with a lot of short stitches at once: ply,ply,ply,ply,ply,ply,DRAAAWWW.
Lots of friction created that way.
You could take up fewer stitches and draw more often, especially at first.
Or you can draw after Every. Single. Ply: a slow process, but has its own rhythm.
You could take longer stitches, smaller than basting but bigger than those neat little ones.
You could try using a bit of chalk to slippery-ize the thread.
I expect waxing will help: I've never done it as a habit.
A hexagonal chunk of beeswax was included in an old style expanding sewing box I bought long ago--now I know what it must be for!
Possibly a tiny bit of hand cream, butter, cooking oil, vinegar or petroleum jelly would do the trick.

ClareBroommaker's picture

There are times when I pull the one draw to one ply. It seems best when I want a strong seam. You're right, though, a do a lot of multiple plys before a draw. Definitely when I'm darning a hole, and definitely when I'm attaching knit fabric to elastic, as when I'm repairing underwear. All of my sewing is repair work so I do a lot of both these actions.

I have a chunk of wax that my grandmother gave me 30+ years ago when I was making a quilt for my baby. Still have it, but haven't tried it. Chalk sounds like a possibility, too, thanks.

I saw a TV show decades ago (I was young!) and the expert said that when hand sewing your thread should never be longer than hand to elbow. I keep the thread short, and pull the needle away all the way after every stitch.

When I am sewing, patching, or mending, I load up five different needles at once, already doubled and knotted. Then, when I get to the end of Needle One’s thread, I deploy Needle Two, tie off One’s double end onto Two’s starting end and keep on sewing. You can get pretty far along with five needles-full of thread. By the time I need to reload the magazine (so to speak), my sewing fingers need a rest break anyway.

Ditto on this advice. There is a wonderful proverbial story about the tailor and the devil who have a competition of who can stitch a seam faster. The tailor agrees and the devil loads his needle with a super long length of thread think that all the re-threading of needles is what is slowing the tailor down. They both start stitching and of course the devil's thread knots and tangles and the devil has to spend too much time in unknotting and untangling and the tailor with his short lengths of thread just zips ahead with no knots and tangles and of course wins the race.

I do a lot of embroidery and have taken many classes. In very few techniques is a really long thread called for. In some techniques you can't stitch with a very long thread at all as it becomes damaged very easily by going in and out of the fabric.

You also want to look at the size of your needle and it's eye to see if it is appropriate for the tread you are using. They do make a difference and of course letting your thread unwind will also make a difference.

Details, details, but they make all the difference.