Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Keeping track of tangles

(Now I have the song "Takin' care of BIIIZZness..." going through my head.)

If you're really into Zentangle you'll have started a collection of tangles. There's no way I can remember all the patterns I've seen and liked and want to use sometime. I lost track months ago. There are so many! I have a few things that keep me (relatively) organized so today I thought I'd tell you what I do, and at the end, what some others do.

IN THE BEGINNING, when I had encountered Zentangle but hadn't taken a class from someone trained in it, I started keeping patterns in a small  notebook (6" square, spiral bound, bright pink foam cover!). I labeled the top corners to try to categorize them. I still refer to it occasionally but it's no longer adequate, and also contains errors, so it doesn't really count.

An aside: Mambo is a lovely pattern I discovered a couple of years ago. It slightly resembles the new tangle Fengle from Zentangle - although not as versatile - and the tangle Jash (inspired by Justine Ashbee's work). Mambo is from Helen Breil on a website called and it's a pattern to stamp into damp clay.
You'll see me using Mambo in one of next Monday's tiles.

Here's what I do now:


This is the sheets of tangles and step-by-steps provided by Rick and Maria at the CZT training I attended. Back in May 2010 there were 102 official tangles. Now I think it's up to 116.

After I became a CZT I started keeping a list of tangles I particularly liked. If I read the name, I visualized the pattern. I soon realized that sometimes I wanted a Dark, or Light, or Medium tangle, so I divided my list into those categories. Then I noticed that some were not dark or light, but Bold, like Hollibaugh and Jonqal. I noticed that some tangles were an all-over Gray, like Emingle and Amaze. Many work for Lines, Edges and Borders like Ennies and Xyp. Many begin with a Square Grid, some are based on Triangles, some have a very organic Flora look. I now have 13 categories, having just added Good for Children. It runs to three pages! Of course, some patterns fit into more than one category and may be listed a few times.

Maybe I should have said "lists" of tangles. I have the three pages by my desk for reference. I also have it at the back of my visual reference binder (see 'Third, Pictures' next). I also have a lovely little travel case of Zentangle supplies and printed this list in a much smaller font size, one sheet, two sides, to keep in that kit. Finally (yes, there's more!) I keep a list on my computer that's strictly alphabetical, but it's in columns and includes all my categories. I'm a bit OCD and very good at organizing things!


I had collected around a hundred tangles and was starting to lose track. I could no longer call to mind what something looked like just by reading the name. I realized that - OF COURSE! duh - I needed a visual reference.  I decided that a binder with ATC-sized plastic sheets would work. I put one tangle on each ATC card. Sometimes I use Zentangle's ATC cards (that lovely Tiepolo paper) but it's also a great way to use little leftover pieces of drawing paper.

I thought I would just keep all the B's together and all the K's together, etc. but they're so easy to move around they are actually alphabetical. I add a little red star in the right corner if it's an official Zentangle tangle, and a blue star on my own tangles. Occasionally I put variations or notes on the backs of the cards. The yellow sticky-note keeps track of how many tangles I have - just out of curiosity. It's currently 318.


I also keep a binder with print-outs from the Internet when others post instructions for their tangles. I don't keep everything I encounter; there's just too much and not everything appeals to me. I keep tangles I especially like and tangles that may be of interest to students.

I take this binder to advanced classes so people can look through and perhaps find a pattern they'd like to try on their mandala or illuminated letter. The print-outs are in plastic protective sleeves, back to back, and I keep all the same letters together.

(NB - I really appreciate it, when you post a tangle, if your name and the tangle's name are included on the image! And don't use colored background; it uses a lot of ink!)


People have devised various methods for keeping tangle patterns organized and accessible. As new ideas come to light I'll add to the list here.

While writing this post, my hand went haywire, I dropped the mouse, and the post got published briefly, incomplete. A few people saw it during those few minutes. One of them was Terrie Purkey who wrote me:
"I've tried several ways to manage the wealth of tangles I have accumulated and most recently have settled on this. I've made a 4x6" card with each tangle, it's name and who created it (using the template from Then I've hole punched it and keep them on a series of keyrings ... I needed more categories than just alphabetical, but rather than searching light and dark I tend to search grid or organic so those are my main categories but also I've separated out borders and floral. The rings are portable and easy to flip through when looking for something new to try. I also keep a master list on the computer that's strictly alphabetical but with light/dark & organic/grid categories (love Excel!).
CZT Diane Ryan has made a little sample of each tangle on a metal-ringed tag and strings them on an reference bracelet. Check out the first video on the Zentangle blog here. You'll also see some new tangles demonstrated. (Ooooo!)

Another CZT, Sue Jacobs, uses colored post-it notes in a sketchbook. She shared this idea in the summer of 2012 in her blog post Organizing my tangle patterns.

I don't like graph paper for zentangle, but it does make for neat squares! CZT Linda Farmer of fame uses two sizes of Moleskine notebooks with graph paper. You can read about how how she organizes things here.

Another CZT, Suzanne Wilka, who does the Tinkered Art blog, uses 2" square paper on metal rings. You can read her recently updated blog post about organizing tangles here. She also mentioned that "...while I liked the idea of categories for tangles I found that
the more I tried to label them the more it felt like I was creating artificial limits to using them."

Susan Breen Silvy, another CZT, uses 8.5"x11" paper oriented horizontally. On the left are six blocks for the design progression of the tangle and a 3.5" block at the bottom to show the finished tangle. On eht right are six larger blocks to record tangelations. When folded in half the page fits into a small sheet protector and then into a small three-ring binder. The steps for doing the tangle are on the front, variations of that tangle are on the back. The small size makes it easy to take the binder along.

CZT Geneviève Crabe has a Tangle Organizer book available for purchase. There are four different lay-outs and you can choose your favourite according to your needs. You can see them here.

 MaryAnn Scheblein-Dawson, one of the very first CZTs, wrote in April 2012: "A Rolodex is also a good way of organizing your Tangles, although it does not help with the "portability" issue, since it's still in a box. But they are pre-punched. They come in 2 sizes so you could use whichever fits your needs best. And you can purchase clear protective covers for each card so they don't get "icky". You can take them out of the Rolodex and put them back in easily. Perhaps the larger format is better for the step outs."

A CZT from the 8th seminar, Sandy Hunter, has tried out many organizational methods and finally came up with something that works for her using plastic coin collector pages. Read about it here.


  1. Lots of great ideas here. As a new CZT8 I am trying to organize what I do and how I can share with classes I teach.

  2. This is for Terrie...
    Terrie, I like the sound of how you have done light, dark, grid or organic, borders and floral. Have you ever thought of selling the Excel file? I would buy it for sure!!!!!
    Taking the CZT course in August!!

  3. thanks for these ideas! i did pin it on my pinterest board on zentangle - and i credited you and recommended your blog :). i am also looking into your may conference in saskatchewan. i live in florida, so it would be a bit of a haul to get there, but i'd love to if i can make it work out!

    1. Wow Alice! I think they'd be suitably impressed if someone came from FLORIDA!!! for my workshop! :-)

  4. As always, you just ROCK! I think I'm gonna have to start cataloging all the tangles, too. I especially like your one guide that groups them according value and type. I do have my book of 102 tangles that I have been augmenting since our CZT class together. ~Donna

  5. Margaret, I like all the idea's you offer to organize. I am a newbie from the February seminar and have been looking for ways to organize all the patterns. You have given me a great start, thank you. I also like your patterns.

  6. You know, for portability, I am trying to take a picture/digital image of each tangle and save them in a 'cloud' type file - dropbox, box, google drive etc - and then, with an app, I can always have then on my phone.

    1. Yes, I'm looking at that possibility too. I think I'll use Evernote as several people have recommended it. I think I could also include the drawing instructions, not just the finished tangle. One more project to undertake!

  7. There are SO many patterns out there - and so many do not conform to the basic idea of just a few simple strokes - I have tried Sandy's idea of the coin pages and that has worked best for me - but it is getting huge. I found myself spending more time looking for patterns and trying to keep up with all the new ones. I didn't have time to tangle! Pinterest is an absolute disaster for me, as is Flickr and other boards/sites with huge numbers of tiles, I get sucked into the sites and then become depressed and overwhelmed by the sheer number of boards and their contents. I feel I have wasted too many hours, and it becomes a chore not a pleasure. Plus it leads me down the path of comparing my work with that of others - guess whose work usually comes out lacking in the comparison?!

    I do still look at Tangle Patterns and LifeImitatesDoodles for newly listed patterns but I am trying very hard not to believe I HAVE to have all of them.

    I helped KickStart Cris Letourneau's latest book Pattern Play; it has really opened my eyes to the power of tangleations. You don't need all that many patterns to make exciting tiles - you just need your own creativity and an open mind! This is a unique book - takes a very different direction to any I've seen. It is excellent and I'm glad Chris and Sonya had a successful Kickstarter campaign. They deserved to have it fully funded!

    Still, the OCD in me is very strong and I feel the pull of organizing everything all the time! Perhaps there is a pill - or I should just take out a tile and draw - that's the better way!

    Thank you for your wonderful blog!

    1. I agree Jakki, there are SO MANY patterns out there! :)
      And (unfortunately?) so many that I like!
      I've become a little hard-nosed about what I keep and what I don't. I've been able to place some limits on what's in my binder, but I'm still over 400 little cards with tangles!

      If I just don't really like that pattern - for whatever reason - I don't keep a record of it.

      If it's presented on graph paper I don't keep it. I figure, if you can't do it without graph paper it's definitely not a tangle, and if you can do it without graph paper, why didn't you?

      Some tangles are sort of reminiscent of flowers, leaves, gears, etc.. But if it looks too much as if it's just trying to be a drawing of a flower, leaf, gear, whatever, I don't keep it. One of the keys of Zentangle is the PATTERN idea, not drawing THINGS.

      And I agree too, some tangles lend themselves to multiple lovely variations and if you know a bunch of those and get creative, you have a lot available to you.