It happens to all of us: yarn gets dropped, or a pet gets into it, or for some other reason it gets tangled. Detangling yarn can be one of the most frustrating activities ever invented, and all the more so because it eats into what is often limited knitting time! Here are some ideas for preventing and fixing tangles.
Itís always easier to avoid tangling the yarn in the first place if possible. When youíve bought yarn thatís not already wound, wind it before knitting. (Many of us have learned this through bitter personal experience; if you havenít, please let our experience here help you avoid a massive tangle of expensive yarn!) Use a ďyarn bowlĒ to keep the yarn untangled as you knit it; this is a bowl with a hole or spiral carved out of one side to allow you to thread the yarn through. When knitting with more than one ball of yarn at a time, use a separate yarn bowl for each one. (If you donít own a yarn ball, you can take a plastic Baggie and punch a hole into one corner to thread the yarn through.) Keep pets away from the yarn as it moves while you knit; the moving thread will look like a large toy to your animal. Be careful when you put your yarn and needles down or pack it up for travel.
Even with all these cautions, sometimes yarn gets tangled. Learn to recognize that this has happened, as itís much easier to fix a small tangle than a large one. When you spot the tangle, stop knitting immediately. Put the project down carefully, and pick up the tangled spot with equal caution. If possible, take the entire project to a table where you can spread it out and examine the jumble over a large surface. Turn the light up as much as possible. It can be very helpful to grab a flashlight or some similar object and shine extra light on the yarn.
Look carefully at the mess. You will see a number of strands twisted around each other. If you pull at them, the yarn will knot, sometimes so strongly that youíll need to cut the strands apart to fix the problem. This is why itís so important to keep the strands as loose as possible. Use the end of a yarn needle to help pull part knots that arenít super tight. Itís important to keep the strands loose as you move them apart.
When you see the problem, you will likely need to pick up either the ball of yarn or the knitting itself, whichever is smaller, and pass it through the tangled strands. Do this as slowly as possible so as not to make the tangle worse. As you begin to untie the knots and untwist the strands, you may find that there are several places where the yarn needs to be straightened. It helps to fix one at a time.
If you get frustrated, take a break. Getting upset makes it more difficult to move slowly, and impatience is the enemy. If you take your time, you should be able to untangle the yarn soon enough without having to cut knots out, but remember that cutting the yarn simply means that youíll re-wind the yarn into more than one ball. Save as much yarn as possible!
Once the tangle is fixed, take a deep breath and reward yourself. Fixing tangles is unavoidable at times, but admittedly tedious and time-consuming. Give yourself props for getting through the process and, as Elizabeth Zimmerman would remind us, carry on!