The other day I came across a couple sentences quoted on Jenny Hart’s blog:
We used six-strand cotton for the Jacobean work. The instructor taught us to pull out no more than an arm’s length of thread. Then to take each strand out separately and put them back together (however many you needed), holding one end in one hand and pulling down on the threads several times. This gave the cotton a silky look to it along while making the threads tangle less.
I’ve been using silk floss for my embroidered 1920s style pouch, and I’ve been doing much the same thing. Here’s where I’m at with the pouch as of today, by the way:
Most people in the US will suggest you pull out and cut half your arm’s length of thread, so from your hand to your elbow only. This is not what I do but I learned to stitch in Hungary, and every place has very specific ideas of what is the correct way to do things… It turns out there are many, many correct ways to do things! So here’s what works for me: I use a full arm’s length of thread, almost double the length of hand-to-elbow. But, but! I also always stroke the thread for a while to smooth it out before I thread the needle and start stitching.
I find that’s really important when I use this length of thread: otherwise it gets tangled, worn, caught and twisted up in itself, and there’s a lot more wear and tear on it as you tug it through the fabric. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)
What happens is this. First, letting the thread hang down and stroking it in a downwards motion releases a lot of the tension from when it was twisted up. Second, stroking with your fingers smooths the fibers and coats them with a little of the oil from your fingers. This works for silk thread as well as cotton, and perle cotton as well as floss – try it, you’ll see!