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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. 

5 Sewing Time Management Strategies

A time management strategy makes sense for a sewist because it makes more time for sewing. And who doesn’t want that?

Finding time to sew means you are wearing or using what you produce when you want it. It means you might have a few gifts ready for before the holidays. Yikes! If you teach, it means there’s no last minute scramble before the students walk through the door.

First, do you recognize yourself in one of these time management styles?


I sewed this way for years. I bought a specific amount of fabric to make a specific outfit, began to sew and didn’t stop until it was done. I bought no other fabric until that project was finished. Then I tidied the sewing space and didn’t start anything else until I was prepared to finish it.

PROS: This is a powerful and focussed way to Get. It. Done. This simple strategy is very zen, calming and gentle on the mind.

CONS: Now that I have more skills, more fabric, more tools and more time, I don’t like to restrict myself to the one-at-a-time method because it doesn’t allow for sudden inspiration. More on this below.


I count between a dozen and fifteen projects in various states of completion in my present sewing life.

  •  ongoing projects to stock my Etsy shop.
  •  a tee-shirt quilt project for which I’m gathering materials
  • a fitting muslin for a ball gown I’ll wear later in the year
  • a plastic chest that holds my students’ works in progress
  • seasonal sewing/craft projects to be refreshed
  • patterns/fabric yardage hanging in my closet to sew for my own wardrobe.
  • Oh, and the entire “Wyatt’s Legacy” line of heirloom gowns and accessories.

PROS: I seldom run out of things to do or materials with which to do them. When a new idea strikes, I record it in Freedcamp then make a prototype or simply go ahead and create it.

CONS: When you have this kind of supply and stock situation, it has to be organized, stored, labelled and replenished. Because materials don’t last forever, you have to keep track of time (when did I buy this?) as well as materials. You can Google Craftybase and see what inventory programs come up. Though inventory isn’t time management, lack of inventory management will will eat your time if you don’t know what you’ve got and where to find it.

Day Planner

The Franklin Covey Day Planner time management system has been around for decades. Within its pre-printed pages you can record the details of your projected days and weeks in infinite detail.

PROS: If you do it right, the Day Planner provides a snapshot of where you are and where you are going. If you do it right, projects don’t fall through the cracks and they are prioritized in a way that makes sense to you and your values.

CONS: This applies to all the tracking systems, really. You can easily could lose yourself the details of recording the details. It takes time and dedication to plan, record and track projects.

Planners Exploded! Bullet Journals

I believe this is still the newest kid on the time management block. I’m experiementing with it myself, but frankly it feels more like a new hobby than management. I especially like it as a place to record ideas as mentioned above–those projects that pop in your head when you’re working on something else.

PROS:  Fancy lettering and lots of pens, pencils and stencils–what’s not to like? This is a natural for creative souls.

CONS: With no pre-sets, each person is re-inventing the calendar wheel. Whereas other systems teach their clients how to use symbols and processes the Bullet Journal invites you to explore the internet and your own creativity to invent your own. To begin at the beginning:

Project Management Software

Project management is what we’re talking about here. Conveniently enough, I’m married to a project manager and he’s taught me


because he’s an engineer and I’m a normal person and we do not speak the same language. So everything I know about project management, I learned in church. Seriously, I fill different roles in different church service areas and I found the best way to keep track has been cloud-based project management software.

Freedcamp  is an Australian company that’s been keeping me organized for several years. They have a great help department (remember they’re on the other side of the world from North America, so I’ve had phone appointments at 7PM). There’s a ton of competition in the cloud-based project management arena but again, the folks at Freedcamp have treated me well for several years and I highly recommend their product and service. (Nope, I’m not compensated in any way by their organization.)

The No-Plan Sewing Plan

So you CAN just wing it and sew what you will when you will.


Absolutely no time spent on planning. Walk into the store (with your magic bottomless credit card), pick a pattern, buy all materials and go home and sew. If you decide to make something else on the way home, download a PDF pattern and hope you have enough tape to put 17 rows of tiles together before you have to go to work. Or just drape your mannequin and start slashing and pinning fabric. Man, it’s great to be creative!


It’s rare to finish a project well or timely under these conditions. If you’re doing your whole life this way, you probably don’t have time to sew anyway. Quickly conceived projects are often as quickly abandoned. You can watch your sewing motivation whoosh out the window when a massive mess of half-done projects are staring you down at the sewing room door.

How do you fit your sewing into your life? Are you drowning in WIP’s (works in progress) or are you cruising serenely through your planned projects? May I gently suggest you get a plan?

Making yourself the boss of your time is extremely empowering. You may even find that time management is your sewing superpower.

I’d love to hear how you are the boss of your own time or how you’d like to get there. Leave me a comment!



1st Official Sewing Class

I did something yesterday I’ve never done. I attended an actual sewing class presented by human teacher in a classroom setting. I bought a Bernina in large part because I have a local dealer six miles from my house; since I’m a rural person, the nearest city, which has Husquevarna and Brother dealers, is more than 30 minutes away. Yesterday, as I drove the ten minutes to Pohlar Fabrics, I was glad I’d made the local choice.

The class came with my purchase of a Bernina B580. This is my last machine, my retirement machine, my dream machine. To be precise, it’s a sewing computer with a touch screen (that can be set to different pretty colors!) and a USB port. And more.

Never one to shun a learning opportunity, I’m really excited to learn all this instrument can do. I’ve been treating it as a workhorse since I got it in November and it’s been purring along, doing whatever I ask of it: sewing suede, gliding over five layers of denim, embroidering silk and blind hemming. Yesterday we got from a basic zig-zag to automatic buttonholes. I had done all of that but picked up more than a few tips and tricks to make things more efficient.

I did check with my teacher and found that it doesn’t do any other kind of housework. I asked when I bought it, but I’m going to keep checking to see if it gets a housework update through that little USB port. Because it never hurts to ask.

Mama's Got a Brand New Bag

Much to my surprise, my vacuum didn’t come with on board accessory storage. That kind of sucks (sorry about that).  So I spent a pleasant morning constructing a simple sack with an extra long handle. It carries the upholstery brush, crevice cleaner and whatever that other little thing is. When the vacuum isn’t in use I just tie the bag to its handle. While I’m using it, I have the bag over my shoulder, messenger style.

Next up, a bucket bag from the Craftsy platform.  (If you sew, knit, crochet or do any other kind of craft, including baking cakes and working with media such as glass, you need to go to and drool look over all the cool classes. I’ve really enjoyed each one I’ve taken. Some of them are free.)

The free Bag Making Basics class,  led by Kristin Link, resulted in the little bucket bag.  I used fat quarters, which made it very cheap to construct.

Then I decided I needed a purse. My good leather one is just a tad small in the zipper to accommodate my iPad. Since my iPad doesn’t actually grow out of my right wrist, as my husband claims, I need a way to carry it.

Enter the Bow Tucks Tote designed by Peggy Sturges of Quilts Illustrated at

After what I considered a triumph on my wool herringbone and suede tote, can you blame me for making the second one? Since I’m working with spring and summer fabrics I made this vibrant little number to help me blast into a spring in which Emerald Green is the Pantone color of the year. Wouldn’t want to miss that!

After using a soft fusible fleece in making the black and white bag, I experimented with Stiff Stuff from Lazy Girl Designs at It’s an amazing sew-in interfacing and it made the second bag a very different creature from the first. When you untie the bows on the sides the fabric springs open to reveal that extra space. Boing!  We’ll see if I survive the spring with a bag with attitude. Of course, I have more than a little of that myself…here’s me, working on the art of self-portraiture via  self-timer. Me

Doll Derriere

I used a Liberty Jane pattern to make these jeans. I added the monogram on the back pocket for my granddaughter Rose’s doll. (Now I wonder if there might be a market for monogrammed jeans!)  They have regular front and back working pockets, are made with new denim (this isn’t a recycling project) and they’re have the deep gold colored double needle topstitching in all the expected places. You can see that line of single topstitching in the rear view that suggests a little of the yoke that distinguishes jeans from plain denim pants. The jeans are actually held up by elastic so little hands can pull them on and off.  And oh my gosh, they’re just so cute!

*A Person Who Will Remain Nameless was checking out my new camera and wanted to know why I had taken so many pictures of an American Girl doll’s butt. Didn’t notice the darling jeans I had sewn, just thought I had turned into some kind of doll pervert. Good grief.