Tutorial

Thread Organization for Cross Stitch and Embroidery

I get asked a lot about my thread organization method. If you’re just getting into cross stitch or embroidery you may not have a lot of thread yet. However, something all long time stitchers can agree upon is that thread collections build up faster than you’d think. It won’t be long before you find yourself practically drowning in colored string. So how should you store it in a way that makes it easy to find the specific color you’re looking for? Well, today I’m going to show you my method.

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Cross Stitch vs Embroidery

Before we get started, I will note that I am a cross stitcher. Why does that matter? Well, while embroidery artists use the same thread, the main difference will be that they tend to sort their thread by color rather than number.

For embroidery, this makes it easier for you to pick out color gradients for thread painting. For cross stitch you typically want things sorted by number to make it easier to find the color a pattern calls for. Your own thread organization may go by color or number, whichever makes the most sense you.

Bobbins – Paper or Plastic?

DMC brand thread skein and an example of thread wound on both cardboard and plastic bobbins.

Embroidery thread comes in skeins. There is much debate about how exactly skein is pronounced, so I won’t get into that today. But essentially a skein is that long bundle of six-stranded embroidery floss, typically about 8 yards long held together with paper tubes with brands and color numbers on them.

Now, you can work with and store these directly on the skein and we’ll get into that a bit later, but first I want to talk about the most common way to store thread – bobbins.

Bobbins come in a thin cardboard, or in plastic. You can also make your own from cutting shapes out of cereal boxes and the like. Many stitchers wind their thread around these little cards and find them a lot easier to work with in the long run.

The type of bobbin you use pretty much just boils down to personal preference and it’s not unusual to find a thread stash with a mix of both.

Cardboard bobbins are cheaper and easier to write on, but can get torn up over time. Plastic is sturdier but written numbers can rub off and stickers can get lost over time. I like to tape my skein numbers on. If you’d like to see how I do it, I wrote a post on how to label plastic bobbins.

Thread Organization Boxes

A stack of four plastic thread boxes full of thread.
A stack of plastic thread boxes – all different brands and styles.

You’ve probably seen these plastic storage boxes at your local craft shop. You can even find similar boxes in sports stores for fishing tackle. They’re pretty common and most stitchers who bobbin their thread will have at least a couple. I’ve got 8. 😉

Some come with bobbins, others are larger and double sided.
My favorite are the ones with locking clips (so that if I drop them they’re less likely to spill), and ones that have adjustable dividers. I’ve got a few of these ArtBin boxes (not pictured) and I love them.

For the most part though, I pick up new boxes as my collection grows. As you can see above, I’ve ended up with a variety of different boxes over the years — and that’s okay!

A plastic thread box full of Kreinik brand braided metallic cord.
I also like to use these thread boxes to keep my Kreinik thread organized!

Mini Thread Boxes

A miniature thread box full of DMC variegated thread.
Mini thread box for all my variegated thread.

I also love keeping a few of these mini thread boxes around for a couple of reasons. As you can see above I like to keep my variegated thread separate. I don’t quite have enough for a full sized box just yet, but they fit perfectly in this smaller box.

A miniature thread box full of DMC Light Effects thread.
DMC Light Effects take up even less room in this tiny box.

I also use a small one for my DMC Light Effects thread. Now, I hate working with DMC Metallics so I don’t have nearly as much of it as I do spools of Kreinik, so there’s no point in wasting a large box on this. This box is one I found at a thrift shop a while ago and is branded “The Color Caddy Jr.” on the lid. All my online searches lead me to believe these are no longer manufactured, which makes me sad as it’s great size for a travel box. That said, it’s a good lesson in checking thrift stores to expand your stash!

A miniature thread box full with 3 small projects worth of thread, small embroidery scissors, seam ripper, pin cushion, and some orts.
These mini boxes work as great travel boxes.

I also generally have one or two of these mini boxes as my designated travel box to take to work or on trips. In this photo there’s thread for three different projects. The larger un-divided section is used to store a seam ripper, embroidery scissors, and a small biscornu to keep my needles. I like to keep one of the compartments empty to keep my extra threads bits (known as ‘orts’).
This box, a 6″x6″ Qsnap, and my current WIPs all fit perfectly in the project bags I’ve purchased from CraftyLikeAMonkey. I’ve gotten so much use out of them, I highly recommend them!

Storing Skeins

I actually have TWO of these large photo cases filled with skeins!

I mentioned earlier you can also store your thread on the skeins and not have to spend all that time winding bobbins for hours. Well, while I have an entire set of DMC colors on bobbins and in boxes as shown above, I also generally have 2-3 extra skeins of each color on hand just in case.

Mostly it’s because I’ve inherited a large amount of thread from friends and family over the years, and also because I love sales and thrift store hauls. That said, the best way I’ve found to store all that extra thread is in these large photo box carriers. Again, I’ve sorted mine by number and applied little labels to keep them sorted. But you could just as easily sort them by color. In fact, the boxes themselves come in a rainbow set!

DMC skeins fit snugly but securely in these photo boxes

Specialty Threads

Makeup organizers can be used to store pretty much anything.

Lastly I have a number of specialty threads or different brand threads that I didn’t quite want to mix in with the rest. Here you’ll see all sorts of different items. Some Petite Treasure Braid, some Cosmo Seasons, some Sulky Holoshimmer, Threadworx overdyed metallics, you name it.

I found this particular set of drawers at a local dollar store, but you could also find some similar ones by searching for acrylic makeup organizers if you can’t find one locally.

Keeping Track of Inventory

If you’re wondering how I keep track of all these threads and keep myself from buying a ton of duplicates by accident… Well I keep a spreadsheet.
I have separate columns depending on where the thread is located and how many I have of each.

If I run out of a color, I check the sheet first to find out where I’ll be refilling it from.

The bobbin column are for my bobbin boxes. Sometimes I inherit thread or find some at thrift stores, so some colors might have 2-5 bobbins! If I finish a bobbin, I’ll reduce the count and go find that extra bobbin to work from.

If there was only one bobbin, I check the Skeins next. These are the ones in the photo cases mentioned above. If there is something listed as a ‘partial skein’ it’s most likely a thrift store find that I am not sure if it’s the full 8y or has been used. Sometimes it very obviously has been used, but I didn’t want to make a second bobbin for and clutter up my floss boxes.

Obviously, I try and pull from the partial skeins first when possible to work through it. Regardless, as soon as I refill my bobbin (or make a new one if I’m upgrading an old cardboard one), I mark it off the list.

At the bottom of the spreadsheet there’s tabs for other brands. DMC Metallics, Variegated, Kreinik, Cosmo, etc. This keeps me from accidentally buying duplicates when I’m out at the craft store and see a new shiny and my impulse is to buy it. Since google sheets is accessible online and from my phone, I can immediately check to see if I already have it.

The ‘NEED’ column on all the pages are ones I have planned for my next shopping trip. Aka, ‘I’m down to 5 skeins of 310! Better stock back up!’

There are more colorful or fancifully formatted spreadsheets out there, but I like it fairly plain and easy to reference at the store. You’re welcome to copy my spreadsheet if you like. In google sheets go to File ->Make a Copy and save it to your account. Clear out the columns with my inventory count, and go to town!

Even More Ideas

This is just the way I personally store my thread, but everyone stores their stuff differently! There’s no right or wrong way to organize your craft stash. Whatever makes the most sense to YOU is the best way to do it.

That said, I hope I’ve given you some good ideas and inspired you to organize your thread. If you’d like more ideas, I’ve put together an entire Pinterest board dedicated to thread organization methods. From clothespins, to corkboards, to tiny bottles! What creative ways will you think of to store your thread?

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