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Saving your threads: What are orts?

Saving your threads: What are orts?

A few years ago I reached a place in my cross stitch consciousness where I became aware of something mysteriously called orts. While my mind immediately went to Lord of the Rings (Orcs? Orts? Get it?), that couldn't be farther from the truth.

I eventually asked a stitchy friend to clue me in, and here's what I learned.

What are orts?

Orts are the leftover snips of thread that remain when you are done stitching. They may be be tiny bits clipped when you run out of thread, or longer lengths you no longer need.

The word ort reportedly comes from Middle Low German and means leftover. It was used starting in the 15th century to refer to food scraps. No word on when or why stitchers reappropriated it for leftover thread, but some say in stitching parlance ort is actually an acronym for "old ratty threads" or "odd random threads" or similar variations.

Many stitchers save these random bits of thread, often in jars appropriately named ort jars.

Save bits of embroidery thread in an ort jar

Why save your orts

The obvious question is, why save orts? Many stitchers don't. The snips and bits of thread go right into the waste bin. But for others it comes down to a few primary motivations: pride, sentimentality, and thrift.

A full ort jar is an object of pride for many stitchers. It reflects dedication and accomplishment, and is proof of the hours spent on a pursuit they cherish. Quite simply, watching your ort jar slowly fill is satisfying.

For others, orts are a sentimental reminder of special projects, the various snips calling to mind slow hours passed and stitches lovingly made.

Still others have a more practical motivation. Thread bits may be repurposed as stuffing for pincushions or other objects. Longer pieces can be used in mending, crazy quilts, or small stitching projects. 

What are orts in cross stitch and embroidery

How to save your orts

The most common method for saving orts is to use a mason jar or other glass vessel with an easy-to-remove lid. You can also use a fabric bin or basket. Make your own ort jar that has a handy built-in scissor holder with our free project.

Keep your ort jar or bin nearby when you stitch to collect all your trimmings. You can start a new ort jar at the beginning of each year, or empty it out and start fresh each time you begin a new project.

What to do with your orts

Once you have collected a jar full of thread bits, what do you do with them? Here are some suggestions.

Note: I have seen many people suggest spreading orts outside in the spring so birds can use them to build their nests, but other people strongly discourage the practice saying baby birds can become tangled in thread if it's in their nest, even if that thread is short. It may be a good idea to limit orts to indoor-only projects just in case.

What are orts and why to save them

 

9 Responses

Iris Twist

Iris Twist

May 09, 2021

I belong to an embroiderers’ guild and we always have some form of small container for putting our trimmed off bits of threads in for the reason of not dropping them all over the floor where someone would have to pick them up as we are invariably in rented or loaned premises. We usually do this at home for the same reason ‘tidiness’! I have never heard of them a called ‘orts’ before or heard of ort jars but sounds a great thing to do!
Regs Iris

Carole

Carole

March 28, 2021

Please don’t put Orts out for birds to use in their nests, as nice as it sounds to see colourful nests, someone mentioned in a you tube video that a thread from Orts she’d left out got caught round a chicks leg in one of the nests and crippled it, she’s now stopped putting Orts out for the birds x

Marty

Marty

April 11, 2020

Orts bookmark: Made with threads including metalic and Sulky water soluable stabilizer. I’m gonna make more! https://www.pinterest.com/pin/448108231677191163/

Annie Adams

Annie Adams

July 06, 2018

Did y’all not read the article, the part about how it’s dangerous to put your orts out for the birds?

Trish Devine

Trish Devine

January 26, 2018

I’ve kept these for years to use in fibre art – I trap them between two thin sheets of Angelina to create a whole new fabric. It’s nice to make a sheet of this per project.

Joy Marshall

Joy Marshall

January 25, 2018

I love the idea, but I’m going to pass on doing it. I started cross stitching when I was a junior in college (‘89-’90), and started needlepoint in ‘96. If I’d saved all my orts from the beginning I would not have any room for my stash! ;)

Lori Edwards

Lori Edwards

January 25, 2018

I put my ORTs out for the birds to use in their nest building. It’s fun to occasionally see bright pieces of thread in a nest in our trees.

Stitched Modern

Stitched Modern

January 22, 2018

Jenni, great idea! Thanks for sharing!

Jenni Davill

Jenni Davill

January 21, 2018

I have several ort containers which I made out of pretty very large gift bags from the cheap shop. I got the pattern from Appendix A in “Hardanger Tips, Tricks and Fix-its” by Carol Pedersen. It’s a great quickie project anyone can do and it folds down to fit into any sewing project bag. At the end of each project, I empty these and put the orts into a plastic bag for another friend to use as stuffing.

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