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Meet the ‘Detanglers’ – A Community of People Who Love Untangling Yarn Disasters

If tangled headphone and charger cords irritate you, you’re never going to understand this group’s passion for knotted yarn. These devoted ‘detanglers’ are part of an online community called ‘Knot a Problem’, dedicated to untangling the most complicated yarn disasters. They love untangling so much that some are actually willing to pay money in exchange for your knottiest balls of yarn.

Daphne Basnet, from Melbourne, once spent $50 on eBay for a 25-pound box of hopelessly twisted string, just for something fun to do. That was before she even knew of the existence of the Knot a Problem. It took her five long weeks to ‘detangle’ the 120 balls of yarn-worth of knotted mess, a time that she looks back on fondly. “I was so happy, I can’t tell you,” she recalled.

Later, Basnet found out about a whole community of knot-lovers like herself formed within an online group of knitters and crocheters called Ravelry. Frustrated knitters post messages calling for help with their messed up and often expensive yarn, and Knot a Problem always comes to the rescue. They willingly offer to untangle the mess for free, just so long as shipping costs are covered. Sometimes the competition for tangled yarn projects gets so crazy that detanglers check for posts multiple times a day. “People will jump in and say, ‘Send it to me!’” said Mary Enright, a 56-year-old detangler and Knot a Problem member.

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Photo: Daphne Basnet

Founded in 2008 by California resident Stephanie Rothschild, Knot a Problem now has over 2,000 members worldwide. When they got their 2000th member earlier this year, some of the oldest members celebrated by deliberately messing up yarn and sending it to each other to untangle. Members also regularly post before and after photos of their detangling projects, calling it ‘tangle porn’. “I think it’s fulfilling for people when they see what it was, sort of like house remodeling,” Stephanie said. “You see how crappy it was and how beautiful it turned out to be.”

Stephanie, 44, discovered her love of untangling during her time working in a yarn store – she would routinely stop her owner from throwing away tangled yarn, and smooth it all out herself. After a few years of doing that, she started to wonder about the frustrated knitters out there who might need her assistance. So she set up the group, and to her surprise, found many other like-minded detangling enthusiasts. As the membership grew, she recalls thinking to herself, “I’m not the only one? Look at all these freaks together!”

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Photo: Imgur

Enright, one of the first people to sign up, has a similar story to tell – she’s always been on the lookout for opportunities to detangle. When she came across a display of matted yarn at a discount store, she actually organized it for them along with a friend. “It was kind of a pile,” she said. “We sorted it out and got it going again, made their display look nice.” Another time, she took on a messed up bunch of delicate wool yarn from a 12-year-old knitter and 10 hours later, it was good as new.

Detanglers collectively agree that the act of untangling yarn (or string, or cords, or Christmas lights) is strangely relaxing, a metaphorical means of creating order out of chaos. They have specific techniques, some of them spread the yarn out on a table, some try to find the ends first, and others use tools like a pin or a crochet hook to tease knots apart. But they all have a golden rule: Never use scissors.

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Photo: Imgur

The grandest project in the group’s shared history so far is the ‘Stash Disaster of Epic Proportion’ from 2011. A California knitter was cataloging her collection of yarn in her backyard and accidentally left it all out during a rainstorm. She tossed the soaking balls of yarn in a dryer and when they came out, it was a colossal mess. Over a dozen volunteers responded to her distress call on Knot a Problem. Several of them picked at it together in outdoor locations like libraries and parks, while other detanglers tried tackling the monumental disaster in their own homes.

About the size of a lamb, the yarn disaster proved too much for many members of Knot a Problem. “Best of luck to the next detangler, this one, I regret to say, defeated me,” one of the volunteers wrote on Ravelry. In the end, detangler Melissa Kwan took on the project, and it “kind of just lived on the floor” of her apartment for months. She slowly worked on it, posting pictures of her progress, until nearly two years later she posted the final photo with the message: “Disaster Handled.”

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Photo: mk_carroll/Instagram

Kwan now describes it as a “once in a lifetime” experience that helped her get through a stressful period in her life. “I was able to solve those problems when I couldn’t necessarily solve the problems at work,” she said. “It gave me an attainable goal.”

When someone spends years working on something, you know they’re passionate about it. And that’s probably the best word to describe the detanglers of Knot a Problem, ‘passionate’. That and probably ‘patient’.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Knot a Problem

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