Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Pull Here. No. Don’t. Aaargh.


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We’ve all used them at some point in our needlework lives.

They’re called “pull skeins.” And if you pull in the wrong place, you’ll be pulling your hair out in frustration before too long!

Embroidery Floss Pull Skeins

Ooooh. It looks enticing, doesn’t it? That little end of floss sticking out there – it’s just begging to be pulled! Right?!


Believe it or not, that’s the wrong end of the floss to pull. How do I know? Because I pulled it!

It was beckoning. It was obvious. It was the Only End in Sight. And so, I pulled.

Ideally, that’s what’s supposed to happen with a pull skein. You should be able to pull on the exposed end of floss on a new skein, and pull the thread you need from the skein without a hitch.

Most commercially produced stranded cotton flosses (DMC, Anchor, Cosmo… and plenty of others) are packaged and sold as pull skeins. Some non-divisible cottons are sold as pull skeins (like the thread above – coton a broder #25 “cutwork” thread). Many stranded silks are sold the same way. Some wools and some blends also come in pull skeins. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the pull skein is probably the most common way that hand embroidery thread is put up and sold.

Embroidery Floss Pull Skeins

Would you believe that the photo above is what happened after pulling the right end of the floss?

Of course you would! We’ve all carried on Mammoth Wars with the Pull Skein, whether we pulled the right end or not. Haven’t we?!

Sometimes, even if you pull the right end from the skein, somewhere deep in the bowels of the thing, a mess will ensue. Some twisted thread will attack and capture every thread around it. And the pull skein? It will pull apart into an ungodly conglomeration of discombobulated thread-mess.

It is the Nature of the Pull Skein. It was invented specifically to carry on like this.

Embroidery Floss Pull Skeins

How to Handle a Pull Skein

When facing a pull skein, think of it as going to war. Not a war of violence and death, though. A war of wits and patience and endurance. Steel yourself up for the experience of conquering the pull skein – and of conquering yourself, if you don’t conquer the pull skein.

Always approach a pull skein with caution. Do not barge in on it, do not surprise it, do not pounce upon the unsuspecting thing. Go slowly. Pick it up. Let it become familiar with you. If it gets used to you, after all, it may not bite you.

After you’ve strategically studied the thing and located a loose end of thread, begin talking in soothing tones to the pull skein. Tell it what you’re going to do with it. Tell it what you expect it to do for you, in return.

You might sound something like this:

Ooooh. There you are. You sneaky little thread end. Now, very gently (this won’t hurt at all), I’m going to grab onto you, and slowly pull you out of your warm and comfortable skein. As I start to pull, I want you to cooperate. Don’t tangle yourself up – just come on out to momma…. that’s right… nice little schnookywookem.

Little terms of endearment along the way might help.

But really – no, seriously – the point is this: when you discover a thread end, pull it very slowly. If the opposite end of the skein starts to pull inwards, you’ve got the wrong thread end. Go look for the other one!

When you finally locate the “right” one (for some inconceivable reason, it will be much harder to find than the wrong one), pull gently. Never yank the thread out quickly. It’s worth taking that extra split second to work slowly, than to pull quickly and end up with a tangle inside the skein.

Embroidery Floss Pull Skeins

When you do end up with a tangle (because you will, at some point, end up with a tangle), don’t keep pulling on the thread to try to get more out! This is where you have to conquer yourself! You might be eager to get on with your stitching, and you might just need one more 18″ length… but in the long run, it’s always better Never to Rush a Tangle.

Once you notice the tangle developing, stop doing what you are doing! Follow the line of thread to the tangled area, and find the thread that is causing the tangle. If you’ve pulled your thread into a tight tangle, it will be more difficult to untangle it without frizzing up or damaging the thread.

Now, I know a lot of people claim that there’s a trick to finding the “right” end of the pull skein:

It’s always located near the long tab on the skein!


It’s always located under the short tab on the skein!

Trust me. There’s no always to a pull skein. The pull skein has a mind of its own. It is related to the wire clothes hangers that get tangled up in your closet – second cousins once removed or something.

If you handle the pull skein gently, with respect (and throw in a few cootchy-cootchy terms along the way), it will perform for you. If you handle it roughly, with haste and no consideration for its fibrous feelings, it will drive you mad.

Ah well. For me, it’s a short trip. Oh, the things we go through, to embroider!

What’s your experience with pull skeins? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Any comments? Any hints you’ve learned along the way, for handling pull skeins? Do you pre-cut your threads before you start a project, so you don’t have to deal with the skein? Do you wind your threads on those little plastic card things? Or do you just handle the skein and make it work? Feel free to share your insights below!


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(120) Comments

  1. Dear Mary I always wind my pull skeins aroungd a a plastic- or cardboard bobbin. Then I sort them according to colour and place them in a plastic boxes with compartments in which these bobbins fits very nicely. It saves space and keep them tidy. When I start a project, I take all the threads I need and put them in another box. Once the project is finished, the different colour threads go back to their original boxes. I work mostly with stranded cotton, one strand at a time, so I only cut one strand off, of the required length. This is the only way I can work.
    Lots of love, Elza Bester, Cape Town.

  2. I don’t even bother trying to find the “right” end … I pull the papers off, open the bundle up onto my hand and and wind it onto a card since that is the way I also store the thread (DMC that is) – I don’t let it lure me into a battle πŸ™‚

  3. With DMC – I always thought the right end is the paper end with the the printed number code and try that end first. I use the bag system for my threads and just put them in there when I pull the wrong end and have to rewind!

  4. wow. I loved this. I hate pull skeins and always wonder what the secret is, because sometimes they behave, sometimes they don’t! Just knowing that it shouldn’t pull in the opposite side is incredibly useful! I heard a rumor that there is someway to unfold a DMC floss pull skein so that it can be cut and knotted like a regular skein…haha, I hope that makes sense.

  5. Mary,
    Love your write-up on your experiences. Never tried cajoling it.
    This is why I usually end up cutting the skein into lengths or wrapping it on bobbins. It depends on the item and the project.
    I can remember when “Pull skeins” of yarn worked. Not recently. And I don’t see why I should have to buy a $100 winder to fix what the manufacturers have broken.
    (I’m going to picture you talking to your skeins, and smile, from now on.)

    1. Hi Joanne,

      While reading about this issue we all have, it occurred to me that so many of us just break down and buy those little paper bobbins the thread manufacturers sell….hmmm, perhaps there is logic in their madness of how they wind up those little skeins. Now we are buying bits of paper for ridiculous amounts to wind the thread onto to keep it tidy. More profit for them, maybe. Regardless,I’ll keep winding onto paper bits since I can’t work with a huge tangle.
      Mary, thank you so much for all you do, and your ecclesiastical pattern book is FABULOUS! (yes, I screamed that last part!!)

  6. LOL!! You know, there is a certain satisfaction (temporary) when you just yank the whole darn mess out. So there, snarl! However, reality immediately sets in and, well, you beautifully described it.

    I have a dear college friend who introduced me to a secret society — the IPIO — which is the Innate Perversity of Inanimate Objects. The coat hanger reference triggered that thought. Next to Horizontal Gravity (where things get broader as they get older) the IPIO is the bane of my existence.

  7. Dear Mary

    Thanks so much for this post I can never ever pull the end without the thread getting tangled and I end up taking the whole skein apart. It’s very annoying especially if you just want a bit our of thread to finish of a piece.Ahhhhhhh I will take your advice and be nice to it!!!!

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. I never leave them as pull skeins!! If you take both pieces of paper off, and “open” the skein, it is usually just a circle of thread. From there, it can easily be wrapped around a piece of cardboard, an empty thread spool, whatever is handy, or those little plastic cards made just for this (why doesn’t the thread manufacturer put it on one of those cards in the first place? Because this way they can sell little cards, too!!)Mark the number of the color, and you’re good……no more tangles

  9. Oh, those dastardly pull skeins. I have the plastic “thingies” and a folder with draped skeins with a looped knot like fringe, both are not great. I rarely get the right end and end up un-knotting. I like the little balls as long as they are not pulled from the middle. Doing any hand work is a test of your patience and attention span, so “de-notting” is just a a part of the test. Your topic this a.m. was light hearted and funny for something so frustrating. Thanks.

  10. Thanks for an entertaining note! I appreciate your sense of humor, and you have some wonderful insights throughout your postings.

    1. Yes, I’ve used them, once upon a time – someone gave me a set as a gift. But I actually just use the thread straight from the skein. No extra expense, no time in re-situating it… I don’t mind pull skeins. If we lived in a perfect world, though, all embroidery floss would be sold on round spools! πŸ™‚

  11. Thankyou Mary!

    I thought I was just incompetent when it came to pulling floss from its skein. Everytime I end up with having to unravel the tangle that happens. I’ve always thought that if I had more skill or professional lessons I would be more graceful about this endeavor. But now that I know a master like you has the same issue I feel better. You made my day!

    Your loyal reader,

    Melissa Bird

  12. I am notorious for pulling the wrong end both for floss and yarn. And of course it is when i only need one more piece to finish or am in a hurry. I finally put all of my opened skeins of floss on those little plastic or cardboard holders, but they barely hold the whole skein. Sometimes I have such a mess, I give up and just pick it as I use it and these I keep in miniature plastic bags just to keep them from getting dusty. I also do this with leftover kits threads which are often precut.
    Just know you are not alone and the joy of stitching overpowers the frustration.

    1. Just thought I would add, this.

      A teacher once told me that if your stranded threads do not pull apart easily, turn it upside down and pull from the other end. One end will twist and one will untwist the thread. This should work for S twist or Z twisted threads.

  13. I am one that gives up early and winds floss onto the cardboard or plastic bobbins. For some reason I only do this with cotton embroidery floss… hmmmm. Maybe I need to rethink this whole thing πŸ™‚ I still have a lot of floss of various types in skeins but believe it or not I never knew floss was meant to be a pull skein!

  14. How right you are they always tangle. I immediately get a plastic bobbin write on it the number with a permanent ink pen. Slip off both labels put skein on to left wrist take up an end and wind it on to the bobbin. All is safe and sound. Also another tip I find useful is when using the thread wind off about 18″ cut the number of strands required and pull upwards.One is then left with no bits over to wind around the bobbin.

  15. I know exactly what you are talking about. But I don’t let it get to me. I just unwind the whole skein and rewind on a plastic holder as well. Embroidery skeins are a pleasure compared to unwinding crochet yarn. Now THAT will drive you nuts.

  16. I nearly always nowadays gently take off all the paper tags on my pull skein then gently unwind it. I then fold it into about half metre lengths I cut it and thread it on to a thread holder. I make individual thread cards from name cards folded in half with a small hole at one end and a slightly larger hole at the other end like the cards Sampler threads come on I can then put them on to rings as needed for each project

  17. I also struggle with skeins of yarn. I’ve learned that I have to take the time to wind yarn into balls and wind most, not all, embroidery threads onto cards.

  18. Personally, I just use the plastic bobbins. I have done that since the day I learned, because that is what I was taught. Well, not exactly, the teacher (4th grade) taught me to wrap it around empty plastic (sewing) thread spools. She also taught us to wind the numbered label underneath the floss so that when we ran out we could just take the little paper (no list needed) and buy some more. I still do that, I wind the floss on top of the paper even though since the 90’s or so (when bobbins became popular) I began using the plastic bobbins. The thread spools are a huge storage space drain. I also read last year on another craft blog. I do not know if the link will post here but I will try. It is from Octber 2011 on Happy Zombie. She cuts the numbered paper and tapes the number to the plastic bobbin. Here is the link to that. http://thehappyzombie.com/blog/?p=517

    1. Dear RMM, I just went to the website you showed, e.g.,
      and this is a BRILLIANT idea. JUST TAPE THE NUMBER TO THE BOBBIN. Why didn’t I think of this? It is so simple, so obvious, and never again will I use one one of those fat ole Sharpies. Thanks for the link.

    2. Excellent idea. Writing with pencil doesn’t work on the plastic spools and the cardboard spools don’t last long. I teach embroidery to children and show them how to take off 2 strands at a time and then rewrap the “leftover” in the opposite direction so we always know if threads have been cut off. Plastic holds up better to so much use. Thank you for posting this.

  19. You mean the skeins aren’t supposed to knot-up? In all my years, there has never been one that didn’t come with some kind of knot included. LOL! Now I will have to try the sweet talk!
    Thanks, Mary-another reason I love reading and learning from, “Needle ‘n Thread”.

  20. Indeed, a full out tactical campaign is necessary. Why have we not conquered this beast yet? Is it meant to be an initiation rite to remind us to proceed with a calm and deliberate pace and not plunge willy nilly into a project?

  21. Mary: Loved your news today. Have been there and done that. One of the ways that I get this to work for me is to remove the whole thing into a circle (just like it comes open from the package) and lay it flat on a smooth surface. I can now look at it more carefully, sorta’ lightly seperating the strands of thread as they are laying flat on the surface. When I think I have found the right end I gently begin the work of seperating the strands. Works nearly every time.
    You are a delight to read and let us know that even you (whom we love) and are so giving of your time and talents runs into problems.

    Thank you for being you and giving of yourself.

  22. A couple of comments — First, I never understood WHY DMC took that little icon off their label. In the “old days” on one of the labels (the longer of the two, I believe), there was a little hand holding a skein indicating which end to pull from. VERY handy and I always used it. They they started “updating” their packaging (maybe 25 years ago??) and the little hand disappeared.

    And second, this is the story of my learning embroidery as a girl. My grandmother would take me to the five-and-dime and I’d pick out all my flosses. I believe they were Coates & Clark. And then I’d start my embroidery. EVERY SKEIN ended up in a hard, twisted snarl — because, as a child, I would just pull harder to get each thread out. So my sewing basket was filled with these seriously knotted up skeins. Talk about frustration. Fortunately, I muddled through (probably constantly asking my grandmother to buy me more (new) floss), and still embroider!!! Thanks Gram!

  23. Mary, I skip working from the pull skein all together and just rewind onto thread bobbins and go from there.
    Love your blog,
    Debby P

  24. One day years ago,I was in a violent war with a skein of floss. Father Mike would not have been happy to hear the names I was calling it. My husband even came into the room to see what had sent me over the edge. I ended up talking to the owner of a stitching store in Denver who fell into a fit of laughter. She sent me some little floss bags in the mail & calmed my nerves. From the day I received them, I have put every skein that I have released from its twisted torture along with the labels into a baggy. It also makes it easier to file in a photo box in number order. I so enjoyed your diatribe on this Mary. The laughter was a good start to my day!

    Hugs, Missy Palmer, Fruita, CO.

  25. Thanks Mary for putting your usual cheerful spin on the skein dilemma! This is why there will be no thread manufacturers in heaven–they will be confined to Hades with their products! Both cardboard & plastic bobbins leave creases in the threads & the cardboard bobbins don’t appear to be acid free so I avoid them. Two solutions come to mind. A friend showed me a way to wind my own pull skeins using my forefinger & pinky finger while making a figure eight with the thread. It works & it’s free! Another friend talked me into trying the soft plastic 1/2 dome bobbins that look like 1/2 a bagel. They are 1-piece & open up to wind thread around the center shaft. The soft plastic dome then closes to keep dust out. They are pricey so I reserve them for nicer threads. Both methods have worked well for me.

    1. I was reading all the comments and was beginning to think it was me being too fussy. I won’t wind my threads onto plastic or any other kind of bobbins because I really hate the creases they make in the thread. The bobbins can also damage delicate threads. It was when I was reading lacysuzette’s comment that I no longer felt alone in this. I use the figure 8 method if I do get a tangle, but use a knitter’s trick so that it can be used easily. When winding the thread in a figure 8 on thumb and then pinkie finger, before you begin doing anything leave a small length of thread at the back of your hand, a couple of inches is enough, between two fingers. Finish the winding and secure the end you’ve been using to wind. When you need some thread, pull from the tail you had on the back of your hand and it will come out as easily as can be.

  26. Mary, Your posts are fascinating, entertaining and so educational. I laughed at the tangled strands. I decided a while ago, to remove the tabs and open the skeins with both hands and find the devilish end, twist the hand inside out and return the tabs. In this manner I always have the right end at hand.
    Thanks you so much for such inspiring posts.

  27. The thing is, after pulling out a few lengths it falls apart anyway!
    I’ve been taking the nice fresh skein, opening it up (removing the labels)and cutting the entire thing into lengths, which i loop into a thread holder – a small square of cardstock with holes punched around the edges. (I don’t like the plastic bobbins because I don’t like how the thread gets kinked.) Then i can also group colors and store it all neatly in clear bags.

  28. Oh how exasperating! Believe me, over the years I have tried EVERYTHING to keep threads in an orderly manner. Where colors could all be seen and chosen at a whim, where when unwound there is no awkward bend in the thread, where ends do not tangle with their neighbors, and where you do not need an entire room to store them to see each color and kind at a glance. I have come to the conclusion that this is impossible or someone with a great mind would have invented it!

    I have tried strips of paper rolled into tubes like a straw and clipped in the ends so you could anchor the floss ends. The problem with this is that to see each color you have to lay them one deep in some sort of a tray and that takes gobs of room. I have tried sewing thread spools. Here you can not see all the colors unless you lay each one on it’s side and that also takes gobs of space. I have tried bobbins from my weaving shuttles but they have no place to anchor the ends. Need I mention the problems with skeins… and on and on…

    I now have my threads on those little plastic cards made for that purpose. But, I am really not happy with that either. While they are great for seeing all your colors at a glance, they are compact to store, they hold the ends of your thread safely so they do not tangle with other ends, they do leave a bend in your floss that I would rather not have.

    I have come to the conclusion that what this world REALY needs, after world peace, a good economy, and happy healthy babies, is a compact floss storage system that holds your threads where every color, and kind of thread, can be seen at a glance, does not leave a bend in your floss, and holds the ends securely so they do not tangle!

  29. Thanks for the giggles! I know from painful experience that bad mood or impatience and skeins of any sort (floss or yarn) don’t mix.
    I have about half of my floss on bobbins, which I like for toting projects around, but I’m not sure if I’ll do the rest.

  30. I cannot stand pull skeins, I wind all my stranded thread onto plastic bobbins as soon as I get it – it’s much easier to identify the number, too!

  31. Thank you, Mary, for making me laugh on a Bad Day. Having just finished crocheting some throws for granddaughters out of Very Fuzzy acrylic yarn in pull skeins, I can say with experience that when they do work, they work very well. And when they don’t … it’s not endearments they hear from me! I’ve learned to take off the paper wrapping, and start rolling into a ball – or in the case of embroidery thread, using a small zip-lock bag and a label, and loosely wrapping it around my hand until I find the end. I don’t like using the plastic bobbins, as I find it kinks the thread, especially with long storage. Your advice to Pull Gently is greatly appreciated.

  32. Thank you for telling me that these were “pull” skeins! Who knew! All my stitching life, I’ve always re-wound the threads onto cardboard until I began hanging them. But the thread wars, I’ve fought and mostly I’ve won, but there have been times….

  33. I’m a bobbin winder type person. I don’t want partial skeins stuffed into a bag. I wind each color onto a bobbin, mark the number and store them in numerical order in a box. I have been able to pull out a 12″ bit of floss from a new skein if I was finishing up on a project and just too lazy to refill the bobbin at that moment. But that’s as far as I’ll go.

    Unless the manufacturers put the floss on some holder, I don’t think there will ever be a friendly pull skein. Many thanks to Rainbow Gallery for taking care of this problem. πŸ™‚

  34. That is hilarious! I think everyone can relate to that story. I always tie a knot in the wrong end, so it won’t get mixed up, if I find it. But I always tie a knot in it as the skein gets closer to the end.

  35. If you have on hand an old skein of DMC floss, probably some hideous color you got in a kit and never found a use for, look on the paper bands. One of them will have a little picture of a pair of hands. The left hand will be holding a skein of floss and the right hand will be pulling a thread. If you hold the skein so that the picture is upright and facing you, the pull thread will be there in the same position as the one in the picture. The only time I ever had a problem pulling it that way was when a piece of the thread had inadvertently been caught in the glue holding the band on. A few years ago they stopped putting the little picture on the band. No idea why!!

    It sometimes helps to wiggle the bands up and down the skein gently in case a thread is caught in the glue.

  36. I use my thread off the skein too – I hate the creases left by bobbins and you can get fading and wear to the thread along their edges. I wonder if I’m the only one who has never had a serious tangle – worst I get is when I pull a loop out and it drags another with it – no big deal. (OK now I’ve said that I know I have the mother of all tangles coming to get me!) It is annoying when you’ve used most of the thread and the labels fall off though – like you, I want all thread on spools!

  37. I tend to very carefully remove the paper tags on my skein and then very carefully unwind the skein and refold it so that the strands are about 18 inches long . I then cut them so that they are ready to use. I store on Loran master cards in a folder or lately I have made tags similar to the tags on Sampler Threads with number and type on . I can then use them on rings for each project.
    This works for me.

  38. I like to take the skein and wrap it around a book ( size) varies then cut the entire skein. This prevents me from using a piece too long. I store these in the small plastic bags.

  39. Hi, Mary:

    As a thread distributor and embroiderer myself I have been following your reader’s comments with a knowing sense of “been there done that myself—way too many times.” We make all the Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger pull skeins by hand for the U. S. & Canadian market. Every skein has a hand-tied knot which is left at the top of the skein to indicate that is the part that should be pulled. We developed that mostly to solve the “knotting” problem. Great care is lavished on these little skeins to make sure they work as designed. Is it perfect everytime? No, I can’t say it is, but I echo the sentiments of some of the other people who have commented about kinks and bends in thread from being wrapped on something flat—especially silk. We have sold the plastic snap bobbins for years that needleworkers buy for DMC. I myself use the Thread Drops for my Soie d’Alger.


    L. Haidar
    Access Commodities, Inc.

  40. I feel so much better, knowing that you of all people (having so much skill and mastery) also have trouble with those pesky skeins. I thought I was just a klutz. Thanks for the laugh; now I will think of you coaxing your threads to behave as I do the same with mine!

  41. the enfamous pull skein isn’t only in embroidery threads…lol…it’s also present with yarns and it’s also just as crotchety. reminds me a little bit of the christmas tree lights. no matter how neatly one rolls them up, those little gremilins get into them and make them a tangled mess….just my opinion.

  42. Hi Mary…only you could make something that can be so frustrating into a funny situation. I will now think of you every time I start a new skein of thread. I can imagine many others will too. Just being able to smile and think of your story will make it easier.

  43. Thank you for expressing my frustration so well. There have been occasions when it has taken longer to unsnarl the pull skein than to do the project.

  44. Ahh yes… the pull skein.. I too have been there, attempted to overcome… and given up in frustration. Believe it or not this is how I cope with the pull skein.. ahem.. I take off the paper sleeve; arrange one end of loops over one big toe and the other end of loops over the other big toe; gently and whilst humming a soothing tune, wind the thread onto a piece of cardboard – useful tip – go get short length of cardboard and place it close to where the winding is to be conducted as attempting to find a short length of cardboard with embroidery thread looped over both big toes can be extremely hazardous to ones health and safety! Upon completion of winding sit back and sigh with contentment at your very user-friendly skein of thread. Good luck all.

  45. I especially liked reading that most everyone had some version of ” I thought it was just me in their post” …too funny. I have found that embroidering with perle cotton size 8 on the little ball is perfect for me these days ….. Very few tangles! I agree with some of the other posters too, that it seems the little cardboard gadgets left too many folds in the floss to my liking. Isn’t is great that we have so many options? Thanks Mary for all your great topics!!!!

  46. A trick I learned from my in-laws: Wrap the yarn like you would a cord or hose, under the elbow and around the thumb, keeping same-color-code yarns together. Cut one end, then braid it. It is easy to use and the correct handling length. You can pull out single strands this way and it makes for very easy take-along projects.

    1. Laura,

      I wondered if anyone would mention braiding.

      Cutting into working lengths and then braiding is a trick I learned with crewel wools, but it works with everything from cotton to slippery rayon. πŸ™‚ Just remember not to braid the length too tightly and to pull one strand at a time from the loop end.

      I usually thread a section of the paper sleeve or a tag on before I braid. Then I mark the type of thread and colour reference number on the tag. I store the whole thing is a β€œsnack” sized plastic bag.

    2. Oh Cheryl–I never thought of braiding. I’m going to give that a try. Not sure I want to use plastic baggies, however. Maybe just folded into “taclkebox” tray. You’ve got me thinking here!!!

  47. I have some embroidery thread directions from the 60’s and 70’s and they seem to work. Always pull the thread from the end that has the color number on it. This works for DMC and Anchor threads. Barb W

  48. Dear Mary,
    I loved your description! Fell about laughing! However… the sweet, soft, gooey approach doesn’t work for me – I do the calm, strong, quiet “you do know who’s boss” approach. Not only do I pull slowly and softly, I hold the band nearest the end VERY FIRMLY. One hand is saying “Aren’t you a darling little thread!” and the other is saying “This is a warning of what you might get if you don’t do the right thing. I am in control around here!” It seems to work every time.
    I have only recently found your blog (through a link from Country Bumpkins) and I love it. Reading your posts has become a daily ritual, like the newspaper cryptic crossword. The transition to retirement has become so much more interesting. Thank you so much.

  49. My husband wondered what I was giggling at when I read today’s column. I needed a good laugh. It’s great to know that others talk to inanimate objects, too. I’ve always figured that these knots are a test of my patience and ability to cope with challenges. I loved this column so much I’m going to forward it to a few of my stitching friends. Hopefully, they will become faithful followers of your great musings and wisdom.

  50. I’m ashamed to say that I’m chortling away thinking of what my husband would say if he heard me talking to my skein and calling it a schnookywookem!! However, I’ll do it if it means the end to those infernal tangles.

  51. I have spent sooo much time unravelling that now they are wound onto cards but……..I cant imagine how much time that would take if I had your collection of threads Mary.. But I would love to have a really efficient system, maybe a thread shop for my choices. all on cards….Yeh.

  52. I have a tackle box filled with the little cards of floss wound on it. The box has lift out trays that has dividers in it and the floss is organized in numerical order. I also make thread cards of pre cut threads (from the tutorial on this site, Thank you Mary!). When I am doing a project, I definitely like the idea of the precut threads on the thread cards made from card stock. For storage though, I do like the little cards with the floss wound up on it. I haven’t figured out how to combine the two ideas into one storage system. I do try to follow the … put it where you know it will be when you go to use it next, idea….. Two storage systems will be a baaaaadddd idea…. So for now, I am putting the left over cut threads into little baggies, identified with original wrappers, and layering it in the bottom of the box. I might put a spacer card in numberical order which will reference a baggie of thread, just so I remember that the thread is in the baggies. I haven’t decided yet!

  53. What NOT to do! I got so mad once I cut the skein of thread at the loop end…then I had all these 11 – 12″ threads to work with. Like cutting off your nose to spite your face. But boy, wielding that scissors felt good at the moment!

  54. Card winder and box sorter here. I have found that I now like to remove the bands open the strands out and clip one end. Put the bands back on and braid the tails. This method does take up more storage space.

  55. Mary,
    You had me in stitches over this. Who couldn’t laugh at the humor in this having been there a time or two.
    I have gone both ways with the slow pull to taking the paper ends off, finding the center circle of wraps and unwinding a goodly amount, wrapping them around the plastic floss holders and continuing on.
    I do like the floss holders for cotton floss. I pinch the numbered side of the floss paper and tuck it in under my wraps to keep track of it in case I run out. I also keep the DMC and Anchor in separate cases by number. As I am still collecting, it makes it easier to double check and not reorder colors I already have.
    You can see by my OCD nature that tangles might make me crazy. LOL. Maybe that’s why I could so appreciate the humor in your post. And I appreciate it especially because as experienced as you are, you have dispelled the belief that there is an exact right and wrong way to pull these little devils perfectly. : )

  56. I’ve tried everything over the years, except talking to my skein. But, I’m more than willing to cozy up to it and speak sweet nothings into it’s fibers if it helps. Thanks so much for your wonderful tips. I read everyone of your blogs!

  57. I just take the little papers off, lay the skein gently and respectfully on my little table and unwind the thread. Works for both of us.

  58. Hahahaha! Mary you so made me laugh! I’m still chuckling! I am sure we all now what you are talking about! Well at least I do for sure! Thanks for your posting. Greetings from Germany

  59. I totally agree with the advice to pull gently. I also find it helpful to look for the thread that is moving at the other end of the skein–that is, as you pull the correct end of the floss, you should see one of the loops at the other end of the skein start to move. If you hold the other threads that aren’t moving firmly in place, it’s easier to avoid tangles.

    I don’t like the kinks that bobbins leave, and so I usually pull out from the skein either a single loop/length of thread (twice the length of the skein) or a double length of thread (4x the size of the skein), depending on the project and thread requirements. I then put this on a thread card (the kind with holes punched in it) with the thread number written over the hole. When I’ve run out of the cut thread, I just rummage back through the skeins to find the right one and cut more. I’ve found that if I make the skeins into little bundles (grouped by number) and tie them with a slip knot (out of perle cotton 8, which was left over from a previous project), they don’t unravel too badly in the storage box. A dozen bundles is easier to sort through than many dozens of individual skeins.

  60. My husband cannot understand what I am laughing at! He has never been in a hurry and needed to find the last bit of thread. I have a bag full of tangled threads which one day will be sorted through and wound onto those pesky far too small flat bobbin. I have them spare so why do I not remove the paper label and wind them on first?

  61. You are just too funny!! I ALWAYS thought it was just me pulling on the wrong end, again! I have even blamed my mother for not ever teaching the correct end to pull! May she rest in peace now.

  62. I absolutely love your sense of humor! And thinking of this article will help me next time I am fussing and fuming over a big tangled mess.
    When I feel ambitious – I actually try to just wrap the skein around those little cardboard bobbins or wind the thread into a ball. Sometimes it has helped to have someone else hold one end while I pull out the other.

    Sometimes, I can lay it down on a flat surface, and the just slowly move the threads apart… and then it will usually unwind without tangles.

    BUT while we are talking about tangles – I keep on having my threads tangle up on my work. Especially the machine embroidery thread – which I am using due to budget and I wanted some shiny threads in my piece.

    It like to fly away tho. Due to some circumstance I have a fan on all the time. And this thread gets blown away or it wraps around the thingie that adjusts the hoop. then it seems to make a mess. or sometimes, when I am pulling the thread thru the material it gets all bunched up and then it not only tangles but ends up with knots.

    Do you, or anyone – have suggestions for me? Do you know what I am doing wrong? It would be a great big help if anyone did have any suggestions or could tell me what NOT to do …

    God bless! and Thank you! I have been an unoffical embroidery – er for many years – you know, just making up my own stitches on any old cloth that I would just draw on and then stitch it.

    Now I am learning proper embroidery – and you and the articles on this site and some of the other users are daily support and guidance while I try to do a project that I am probably in a little over my head.

  63. Hi Mary,
    It was such a fun to read that message ! I didn’t understand all the names given to your threads as English is not my native langage, but the meaning was clear enough…
    I have TAMED those “pull skeins” by winding the stranded floss on plastic bobbins. For the other threads (perlΓ© or the “broder special” shown on your first picture), here in France, we have no “pull” skeins. We are obliged to remove the tabs and cut the knot. So winding on a bobbin is the only solution to avoid messy threads.
    I discovered your blog not long ago and I appreciate it so much. Something new to learn every day. As a French proverb says that ” a day without any learning is a waisted day”, none of my days are any longer waisted
    My only “regret” (lol) : the daily message doesn’t come into my mailbox in the morning (French time). I would LOVE to read it in the train when going to work…

  64. Mary, you’re such a crack-up! I used to use the skein in situ, but after many a battle, I lost the war. So, I barge right up to the thing, pull the wee sleeves off, and open the skein from the center. Holding it ’round my outstretched fingers, I unwind it fully and then wrap it around a plastic bobbin-card. Hah! I have won, decisively! So there, nyah!


  65. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I thought it was just me having all this trouble. And I’ve been stitching with them since the 1940’s

  66. Your timing on this issue couldn’t be better! Just the other day, I gently pulled on the obvious end of floss, and the opposite end of the skein pulled in. Thinking I was so smart, I found the second end of floss and gently pulled, and once again the opposite end of the skein pulled in! Apparently I had a skein with 2 “wrong” ends and no “right” ends! Figuring I might eventually have to uncoil the whole skein, I first took the “less wrong” end and slid it out from under both paper tabs, and gently pulled. Lo and behold, the skein was now happy and cooperative! Maybe I just got lucky in releasing whatever had the skein in a twist, but I’m definitly going to try this again next time I have a problem.

  67. Hey Mary.
    I was wondering, how much thread do you need to use for just anything? I know that it depends on what I’m stiching, but it seems that I always waste floss! Thanks

  68. It’s just a tiny skein of thread. Leave it laying on a table. Slide off the paper tags. Leaving it on the table, nudge it until you find the middle of the skein and you can see all the threads going around in a circle – none of them folding back on itself. Slip this circle over your non-dominant hand and using your dominant hand, wind the thread around one of those little square cardboard bobbins. Generally it rolls around my wrist as I wind and even with a little messiness on occasion, I’ve never given up in disgust and chopped it up. Slip the label under the first few winds so you know the number when you need more.

  69. Pull skeins is a regularly tangle-and-twist affair. Of course I hate them, they make me feel like a monkey grooming her baby for lice! Are ther emany ways to skin a skein? I resort to the cowardly sloowwwl removal of the label, open up the skein, select a length and cut the skein in half. It does not work with variegated colours. No, it does not. My embroidery never looks as on the picture, but I have great fun and I can pretend to be creative. OUCH!

  70. A young friend is wanting to learn how to embroider. I am looking for a book with the basic how-tos and pictures which will encourage her with her first projects. Thanks.

  71. Good subject Mary. For lots of reasoons I always use skeins, not hanks, even for large projects.
    If you use skeins of Appleton`s wools then hold the skein by the wrap paper,shake the skein gently and you will see a short end around 1″ long on the outside of the skein (saying “pull me, pull me” but resist the temptation. Look again and you will see a 2″ length of thread and this is the one to pull gently. It will unravel smoothly from the inside of the skein (think string in a box like your granny had. If you pull the wrong thread the end of the skein will “nod”, so be cautious and watchful! If you make a mess then unravel carefully hang very long threads from hooks. Now all you have to do is to find which way the thread runs, another subject please Mary!!…..Happy stitching everyone, it is lovely to think of like minded embroiderers with all the same problems and all the same joys!
    Phillipa T.

  72. This is hilarious! And so, so true.
    I wanted to share that I learned last night that when those little knots that come flying out when winding onto a bobbin you should instead of pulling them tighter, or trying to pick it apart with a needle or fingernails, push up on the knot -towards the winder, away from the pull skein! Every time I did this last night the knot popped loose immediately. I was amazed.

  73. I do not do embroidery, I crochet, but boy, o boy, did I enjoy your post. Trust me when I say I turn all coochy coo cutie pie when tackling a bal of pull skein double knit yarn. Thanks for brightening up my day!

  74. This is what I found at dmc.com (if you go to the site, there are pictures, look for something like “getting started”):

    “If you want to use Pearl Cotton in your project there are two common ways to open and cut a skein of Pearl Cotton, depending on the length of thread you prefer or need.

    For approximately 19” lengths of thread: Push the two labels toward the center. Find the end with the two loops and cut through the bottom of each loop. Move the labels back into place. Pick and pull out a single piece of thread from the top loop.

    For approximately 38” lengths of thread: Remove both labels and untwist skein to form an oval. Cut through all the threads at one end of the oval. Pick and remove one thread for use as needed. To keep the threads tidy for future use, put the color number label back onto the threads and slide it to the center. Fold the threads in half and set aside.”

    1. There’s no real trick to a ball of perle cotton, except finding the start. It should be tied right on the surface or tucked under a thread right on the surface. Then you just cut off the length you want straight from the ball.

  75. http://www.dmc-usa.com/Education/How-To/Threading-Your-Needle/Prepare-your-DMC-Thread.aspx

    This truly has changed my life. I have embroidered 51 years. I now follow the wisdom in the link above, and keep my threads intact in “snack sized” zip lock bags in their original hanks, with the paper labels. I have used the plastic card bobbins, stitch bows, and thread spools. This is BETTER. I choose the 19″ way of thread length which is the second illustration in the link above. It keeps my threads fresh, unfrayed, knotless, and easy to manage. I used to use much longer lengths and it was a mess. Now, I separate the strands and thread up 6 needles at once ( currently working on a project where I use one strand out of the 6 strand floss, and need to separate.

    I find that especially with the metallics, and polyester DMC threads, that the less handling, movement, and friction, the better they keep. To unwind the entire hank, rewind on bobbins, etc, is a time waster and causes more chances of damage. To keep them in the original form wrapped with identifying label as described in the link….has been done for a historically long period of time. If it works for the pros why not leave it that way?

    Even common common floss looses its sheen with too much friction, and handling.

    The only down side with the time honored method, is no, they are not nice and neat on those plastic card bobbins in a container. But every time you pull a bobbin out there is friction on the external thread. With keeping the floss in the original label for as long as possible, colors from the same family can store within the same snack bag. Or, store the colors used for your current project in the bags.

    The snack bags all neatly line up vertically in a box too.

    I hope others will comment on how they like this method.

  76. I have some very fine embroidery floss and its almost as thin as sewing thread so I can and like using it for machine embroidery. But as you I had problems untangling the skins. So I started saving empty spools from sewing thread and wound my floss on it. The floss came twisted twice and I had to carefully open the twist and then unwind it like you would with a big skin of knitting yarn. Now not having arms to hold it while winding I took 2 heavy/full windex bottles that have the shape where your hands should fit, setting them with the sprayer facing away from each other and then put the skin over that removing the spray nozzles so it wont get tangled on this. I set the bottles far enough apart so there was just a bit of tension and then started winding the floss onto an empty tread spool. Later then I used my sewing machine and wound it all onto bobbins. I had bought a bunch of plastic bobbins that my machine didn’t like so I was able to find a use for them. I can now use the floss in my machine just putting the bobbin where the thread spool should be and use it for machine embroidery. I am sure the same system would work for any kind of embroidery floss not matter the thickness of the floss.
    Doing it this way also helps with the curls the floss is having due to being for such a long time in the same position. I have sometimes used some steam while on the thread spool to eliminate that tight curl.

  77. I have always put my thread on the cardboard bobbins. I really hate the new plastic ones as they won’t allow you to mark on them so you have to wind the thread around the part of the wrapper with the number. I am thinking of spending a bit of time cutting out some from stiff cardboard.

  78. I just sat down to cross stitch for the first time in over 32 years. Last project was started and never completed the night before my first son was born. My baby boy (22 years old) moved into his first apartment this week. Now that my babies are grown, I guess I’m returning to comfort activity. Much to my dismay, I discovered I couldn’t even get my floss easily situated to go on a LoRan master card. Had child rearing robbed me of ALL my brain cells? A possibility. Thankfully, I read here that some evil plot has changed how the skeins behave (it’s either China or Apple; one of those two entities will probably take over the world).

    Now I’ll go back to war with the floss, at least knowing it’s NOT JUST ME! Funny how that makes a burden easier to bear. And I will definitely try cajoling the skeins to cooperate; I’ve always found “talking” to inanimate objects helps when IPIO (innate perversity of inanimate objects) is the culprit!

    Here’s hoping I can rediscover the joy of cross stitching without soaking the fabric in “empty nester” tears.

    Thanks for the tips!
    Connie Lawrence Goggins
    Montevallo, Alabama

  79. I am new with embroidery so I have purchased a bobbin winder. It works great when you pull the thread from the right end! the second skein I obviously pulled from the wrong end and I spend over an hour or more sorting out the tangled mess.
    thank you for you tips

  80. I used to wind floss on z bobbin , now I put them individually in snack bags fro dollar store, labeled. I punch a hole at the top same side for all bags then I put them on a split ring for projects. I’ve had most success pulling from the numbered label end. If I was braver I would cut the loop at that end like I would for pearl cotton, I’m not sure how long the length would be but if it was 18 to 21 inches I would be happy.

  81. Pull skeins were created by sadistic misogynists as part of their evil plan to drive women completely insane with trivial nonsense. We have evidence in the form of pantyhose sizing charts, the range of quantities and fat percentages of dairy products, and the inexplicable drive to take things out of the original packaging and put them in a fancy container which we have purchased due to a vague sense of “homemade presentation.”

    I have totally caved and wind everything on little plastic bobbins, with little plastic labels, in little plastic cases. Why aren’t they sold this way? To waste our time! And every up-sold piece of plastic fiber-art accessories kills a coral reef, which means that the pull skein will end the world.

    I’m currently trying to figure out how to store the Appleton wool collection I inherited, which was shoved into plastic bags by someone who just wanted to get on with the stitching like a sane person. If anyone has a suggestion, I’ll be reading nutrition labels in the cracker isle of the supermarket.

  82. “It is related to the wire clothes hangers that get tangled up in your closet – second cousins once removed or something.”

    This line was pure literary genius. Not only did I laugh out loud, making my sleeping dog jump out of her skin, I fully related to your plight.

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