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When the Thread Tangles (And It Will)

When I got cancer in 2003 there was no shortage of advice, most of it from people who’d never had cancer and most of it in the vein of “you’ve got to fight with everything you have.” I came away from the experience having learned that I don’t solve problems that way.

That brazen frontal attack on problems may be the right way to knock down barriers for another type of person. She might willing to go into battle  in clinical trials and experimental treatments  or visualize the cancer cells as hapless soldiers she runs over with her sheer psychic power.

But I didn’t need to rev my emotional engine further with anger, bravado and adrenaline. I was already emotionally cranked up with worry, fear and un-answerable questions. I needed to breathe.  A the Kinks sang in “I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter,”  “I can roar like a lion or sting like a bee but I’ve got rabbit blood in me.” As opposed to ferocious predators, my way of meeting challenges is “…having done all (I) can do, (I) stand.” (Ephesians, 6:12, NIV).

In your sewing, how do you react to problems, challenges or barriers? 

THE PROBLEM: So you’re halfway through an intricate hand sewn embroidery pattern for an heirloom garment. The thread tangles in the back.

  • OPTION 1) Swear, stab the needle into the middle of the design, throw down the hoop in disgust and start all over again;
  • OPTION 2) Try to jerk out the tangled thread with sheer force and scissors or;

  • OPTION 3) Breathe. Resolve to handle the problem in a deliberate manner, coming from a place of calm determination.

Trust me, OPTION 3 works a whole lot better.


First, flip the problem on its head!

Turn the embroidery to the back side and gently pull out each thread in the tangle. I find that if I pull the needle off the thread I can use the back (eye) end of the needle to get into the tangled “nest” of threads to pull at each individual thread. If there is a knot at the heart of the tangle you can insert the eye end into it and often you’ll disengage the knot. 

Sometimes there is ball of lint at the heart of the problem. When you see it, pick it away from the threads and the knot may come undone at this point.

When you’ve untangled your knot, pull all your strands even with equal tension, cut the ends to even everything up and rethread the needle. This would be a good time to take a break from your work. When you return you’ll find a tidy project ready to go. 

However, if you have the materials and the temperament, you might indeed want to try OPTION  1 and start all over again. Either option will work better than sheer force!

Sewing can be be a pleasant hobby with unique results. If you are patient enough, or willing to learn some patience, here are some tips to prevent the dreaded tangle in hand embroidery.

  • Old thread is usually brittle and dry. Also, tiny dust specks can gather as you pull the thread through the cloth, forming the beginning of a tangle. So use fresh six-strand embroidery thread. 
  • Divide the thread into the appropriate number of threads for strands for the weight of the cloth you are embroidering. Typically, two threads are separated from the six-thread strand for standard embroidery. You may add another strand for a fuzzier or thicker effect but you’ll have more to untangle if you run into trouble. 
  • Use a thread length no longer than 15 inches. While it may be tempting to thread the needle fewer times by using a longer thread, there is more potential for kinks and knots with a longer thread.

I’ve been cancer free for 15 years now. My surgery and chemotherapy were difficult but my greatest support came from the prayers and support of family and friends who gave me space to heal in my own way. I found that Biblical meditation, long soaking baths using minerals and essential oils and eating lots of healthy foods helped me.

People who see the beautifully embroidered collar on your blouse won’t know there was a tangle on the way any more than people who meet me know how I met my cancer challenge. In the end, its just a different kind of determination and courage. 

Reduce Back Pain and Love to Sew Again

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Sunrise through my window.

Silence in the house. Steaming coffee by my side, my journal in my lap. My shoulders are relaxed and my mind is starting to bubble with ideas, strategies and enthusiasm for the time I have ahead of me.

I’m ready to sew.

An hour later, just as I’m buzzing along with the brrrrrr of my Berrrrrnina, I  feel the shoulder ache begin. Do I stop? Do I stretch? I do not. I sew and sew like some kind of crazed so-and-so and pretty soon I look like this:


This goosenecked scrunch is not a good look and it isn’t a good feeling. Here are some ways you can avoid the pain and sew (or write, or paint or cook) for as long as you want.

  1. Invest in proper equipment. Yes, that may mean a monetary outlay. If your passion is sewing or writing, you probably do it in a chair and that chair has to provide certain specific benefits. While your local sewing shop will gladly sell you an adorable chair specifically designed for sewing, you can also get an armless office chair for less than $50 and spend the difference on fabric. Certainly it’s your call. If your passion is cooking or woodworking you probably stand and your investment may be in a shock absorbent gel mat  you can stand on while you work.  A proper workstation is crucial to enjoying your hobby without pain.
  2. Do as I say, not as I do! Take some short breaks. Even a quick stretch or walk around the house will shake out the kinks.
  3. If it’s your back that hurts, its probably your belly that’s the problem. No, I’m not saying you need a snack. You probably need to get on a regular exercise program that targets the core muscles deep in your abdomen. Try a free video exercise approach like Holy Yoga. When you’re toned, your muscles will support your back properly instead of letting you slip into bizarre postures. That goosenecked scrunch pictured above overextends the muscle group under my shoulder blades. They get painfully inflamed and I get grumpy.
  4. Take a day off. A complete twenty-four hours away from your passion does a lot to improve your relationship with it. May I suggest a Sewing Sabbatical on a regular basis? You will end up with more joy and less back pain in the long run.

Sew True

A day hemmed in prayer seldom unravels. Anonymous