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ORTs – What Do You DO With Your Leftover Cross Stitch Thread?

If you’ve been around the cross stitch or embroidery community for a while, you’ve probably come across the term ORT. But what are ORTs and why do people keep them around?

According to the dictionary an ort is “a scrap or remainder of food from a meal.” ; so in stitching terms it’s the scrap or remainder of thread that’s too short to stitch with comfortably.

While I haven’t been able to find a true origin to this term, over the year it’s become a backronym as well. Many now view ORT as standing for “Old Ratty Threads”, which is why you’ll often see it in all caps. And it’s not at all uncommon for people to hoard these little bits of colorful thread or yarn resulting from their crafting.

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But WHY save your thread bits?

Like many things in life, you don’t need a reason to do them. If you want to save your thread ends, that’s all the permission you should need. Things don’t have to be useful to bring you joy.

They could be kept just as memories of your previous cross stitch projects or simply because you like the colors.

People have come up with many uses over the years for them. I’ll be listing a few of those in this post, but I wanted to address this first.

ORTS do not need to have a purpose.

What NOT to use ORTs for – Bird Nests

The other thing I want to address before we get too far into this is a practice these scraps have been used for in the past but is NOT safe. For a long time, people would leave scraps out for birds to come in and use to make their nests with. It’s a very sweet gesture and the thought of rainbow nests is lovely. You’ll still see this mentioned in older blog posts.

However it is DANGEROUS for the birds. Do not do this! The Audubon society specifically requests people not leave out yarn or string for nesting material as birds can get tangled in the string. Baby birds especially can get tangled even in shorter lengths.

Furthermore, even if you take care to make sure all your ORTs are cut short the colorful nests can attract predators, and the dyes in threads can be toxic. Plus, metallic thread bits and synthetic fibers don’t break down naturally.

Just don’t do it.

Collecting your ORTs

A cross stitch travel box

Some stitchers keep a small jar in their stitch nook. Others dedicate a portion of their travel box to saving these thread bits. You can keep specific jars per project to show the unique mix of colors per design, or jumble them all together. It’s really up to you.

Small spice jars full of a jumble of colorful ORTs

I used to keep my orts in these RAJTAN spice jars from IKEA. Similarly sized jars would be a great choice for project or year-specific jars, as they’re not too big or too small.

A colorful iridescent bowl full of jumbled thread.

Eventually though, I grew out of the small jars and just started keeping them all in this decorative plastic bowl I found at Wal-Mart a few years back. It stays on my desk under the right hand monitor so I can easily chuck my extra thread bits in as I stitch.

It’s quickly getting out of hand again though, so it’s about time I found some other uses for them.

Christmas Ornaments

Small plastic orbs full of ORTs.

A common use for these scraps is to turn them into Christmas Ornaments. Or ORTaments as they’re sometimes called.

Regardless, it’s not a new concept. Many stitchers by those clear glass balls around christmas time and stuff them full of spare thread, marking the ornament with the year. It can be interesting to see what different colors you’ve used throughout each year and see trends.

Those can be annoying to get thread in and out of though, so I recommend the plastic baubles that open along a side and snap together. They even come in different shapes like hearts and stars!

Have too many ORTs for a single ornament this year? Use a shadowbox or frame instead!

Use your ORTS as Stuffing

The beginnings of a biscornu, to be filled with leftover thread bits.

Another common use for these bits is as stuffing for small finishes. For example, I used a decent chunk of my ORTs in my Biscornu tutorial! Another good candidate would be making a humbug. It’s a great way to recycle these threads back into your crafts. The only downside is you don’t get to see the pretty colors!

ORT as decorations!

Ort bottles are pretty enough on their own as a jumble of colors. But at some point I decided I wanted to sort my ORTs out into a rainbow. Why you ask? I HAVE NO IDEA. It is quite the undertaking and it will take me AGES.

Siri's desk, completely covered in ORTs and a number of jars to organize them into.

However, I do find it quite meditative to sit there picking out specific colors as I listened to a podcast or audiobook. It’s a great alternative when I just don’t have the mental stamina to actually stitch. I can just… sORT.

A potion bottle full of blue thread ORTs.

I started out using these larger mouthed jars to make it easy into. They made me think of little potions. Or pORTions, if you will. 😉

…Okay that’s the last pun I swear.

These happen to also also the jars I use to store my D&D dice sets in. They fit a full set in them PERFECTLY. Just in case you were wondering. You’re welcome.

But I wanted to display them as decoration above my desk in this nail polish holder. So I ended up getting these smaller bottles that would fit the staircase better.

A tiered display of thread-filled bottles.

And I’m glad I did! The colors are lovely to look at and I still have a whole row of empty bottles to work with. While the top rows LOOK full, they actually have a fair bit of room left as I continue compressing them in. I still have a lot of sorting to do.

A peek at Siri's shelf space.

They fit right at home on this shelf above my computer desk. I’ll probably continue to sort my ORT bowl in short bursts until I have them all filled in.

These make me think of the sand art kits that were common in the 90s, though. You know what I’m talking about. Can you imagine making bottle art out of layers of different colored ORTs? Sounds like I’ve figured out my next ORT project… have you?

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