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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Floss & Thread Organization & Storage, Part II

 

How do you store your embroidery threads? Earlier, I looked at three different systems (you can read about them here). Here are a couple other ideas that you might want to look at for storing your own stash.

Just to clarify, I’m not promoting one system of thread organization and storage absolutely over any other. I use a combination of methods. When I’m working on a particular project, I can’t tote my whole stash around, so take out what I need and make it easily accessible. But how to organize a whole stash seems to be a perplexing question, since, in my opinion, there doesn’t seem to be one “perfect” system.

  • File-A-Floss System: I haven’t tried this one yet, personally, but I’ve read some reviews on it. If anyone has anything particular to add about it, I’d love to hear from you! The concept: a very pretty box (there are apparently five designs to choose from), in which brass rods are extended. Your floss goes in bags with hanger tabs (? I think?) on which you can write the number, and then these are hung on the brass rods. This looks like a good system, but according to customers who have bought it, it has one particular drawback, which is that the individual boxes cannot hold more than 100 skeins of floss. If you’re like me, your stash is probably considerably larger than that. BUT – think about it! – the boxes are relatively small, so if they hold 100 skeins of floss in such a small space, and look good to boot, I’d think that would be ok. You’d have to invest in a few boxes if you have a large stash. And you’d probably have to label the outside of the boxes into some sort of category. The other drawback with this one from what I can see is that it doesn’t allow for other types of threads aside from the regular skeins of DMC-type embroidery floss. If you have, then, thread on spools (some of the Au Ver a Soie silks come on spools), this probably wouldn’t be the best storage system. One thing this system has over every other idea for organization that I’ve seen is that it has “looks” appeal – arranged on a shelf, the boxes would be rather nice-looking.
  • Thread Tux: All I can say on this one is that “packaging is everything” – the idea behind it is basically (again) the zip-lock bag. In this case, the bags are narrow and long like a skein of embroidery floss. The only major differences in this system are: 1. the place where you write the floss number is shaped like the front of a tuxedo, and there are four different “colors” to choose from for this space, so that you can “color code” your types of floss. 2. The shape of the bags – long and narrow, to accommodate one skein of floss. 3. The hole. Each bag has a little hole in it, right below the zip-lock (and right above the “bow tie” on the tuxedo). Through this little hole, you feed the end of your skein of floss, so that you can pull your floss out without opening the bag. This assumes, of course, that your floss will feed out perfectly. The idea is that you just slip the new skein into the bag, and feed the loose end out of this little hole. I don’t know about other people, but I don’t always have great success pulling the loose end on the skein. Sometimes, there’s a hitch, and I have to take the sleeves off and rewind the whole thing. So those are the sell points on Thread Tux. I’m not really impressed for the money. For individual projects, perhaps these might be useful, but why not just invest in the larger zip-locks that can hold a couple skeins?
  • EZ Bobs: Now, I like these little guys. I use them for hand-held kumihimo disks. The concept: these are donut-shaped plastic bobbins. There’s a hole in the middle of them, and the outside, when opened, is shaped something like a yo-yo. You wind your thread around the core, and turn the plastic in, so that it closes and covers up the thread. Of course, you leave a little tail hanging out. They aren’t a bad idea for thread, and if you had a permanent workspace and a doweled cabinet to put them in, they might be a neat idea. BUT… (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) I’m not sure I’d like the idea of feeding good threads through them when they’re closed. I haven’t had any problems with thread snagging, though, so perhaps it wouldn’t make a difference. The other drawback is that you can’t see the thread, really, when they are closed (except for the little tail). You can write on the outside of the bobbin with a permanent marker to indicate the color, but then you’re stuck using that bobbin for that color. Oh – another neat thing – the individual bobbins lock together when you stack them. Again, this is something that might be great for when you’re working on an individual project. I can’t see storing a whole stash of thread on them, especially when you’ve got specialty threads and such to store as well.

So those are the thread storage and organization systems that I’m familiar with. Which do I use? Some of the above, and none of the above! For my whole stash, I’ve “invested in” (and it wasn’t a large investment, relatively speaking) the little plastic tool cabinets that you can find in the tool section at Walmart. These are small, multi-sized, multi-colored cabinets, all with drawers about as deep as the length of a skein of floss. The drawers are two widths of drawers, and, depending on the cabinet, 16 – 30 drawers in each cabinet. The cabinets aren’t big – they can easily fit on bookshelves. You can also stack them on top of each other on a work table. I have cotton flosses in green cabinets, silks and linens in red cabinets, and gold (metal threads) in the yellow cabinets. The metal threads are kept as well in acid-free plastic bags, or acid-free tissue, and then placed in the drawers. I have six cabinets in all, storing a stash of about 300 – 400 skeins of cotton, 200+ of silk and linen, and a bit of gold. I also can store spools, balls of cotton, hanks, etc., in the drawers. I also have a cabinet to hold notions – pins & needles, wood kumihimo bobbins and weights, cording, various scissors, pens, pounce, tambour needles, punch needle handles, etc. So all my “stuff” fits very easily into these cabinets, and they all fit easily onto bookshelves in my work room, or I can put them out on a table when conducting class.

I organize the threads by colors – dark blues, medium blues, light blues, etc. So each drawer actually has several different ‘numbers’ of floss in them. The drawers are clear (more or less) so from the outside, you can see which color group is in which drawer.

There is, really, a drawback (there’s always a but!). The backs of these cabinets are open. This doesn’t pose a problem when the cabinets are on a shelf, but in transporting the cabinets, it does. While the drawers don’t fall out (although they will open if you tip the cabinet forward), the stuff inside could fall out the back. So I’ve found a solution. I’ve covered the backs with matte board for now.
Obviously, when working on a particular project, you don’t want to tote a cabinet of floss around. I select my colors and put them in individual zip lock bags. I’ve found that sometimes I like them on a ring, and sometimes I don’t. Once I’m in the middle of stitching, I use a tray from my sewing basket to set the threads that I’m working with in.

And, last but not least, when I’m finished with an embroidery session, I put the individual threads back in the bags with the rest of their particular colors. This way, I avoid those unruly balls of floss that just have to be thrown away after a while.

Read Part I, which
covers other thread systems, here.

That’s what I do. What do YOU do? Please share your storage tips and tricks with the rest of us!

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(29) Comments

  1. Thanks for all this information. I haven’t tried the file a floss boxes but I’ve been thinking about getting a couple, they would look a lot better on shelves then the plastic boxes. Where can you buy those ez bobs? they sound like a good idea.

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  2. I got my EZ Bobs at BraidersHand, where they sell Kumihimo (Japanese braiding) supplies. They sell EZ Bobs in two sizes – small & medium, for 40 cents and 50 centes, respectively. You can find them here: BraidersHand

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  3. Hi, Kelly – I’m considering purchasing one to try it. I think it would be ideal for YLI silk, since they have fewer than 100 colors, anyway, and since the thread is so fine and each package is so tiny, I’ll probably be able to fit two per color and still have room. We’ll see! I’ll let you all know how it goes!

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  4. This is the most complete information I have seen about floss storage! I use bags when I am working on a project and so purchased about a dozen of the file-a-floss tapestry boxes, however I am unsure of long-term storage in the plastic bags, even if they are left open. I like the idea of being protected from dust, pests and light, though, so am thinking of storing the floss in some large (11×17) acid-free fabric-covered boxes meant for art by lining them with unbuffered tissue. The only thing I need to figure out is how to place some sort of dividers in them to keep the floss from shifting about. Maybe cardboard dividers from one of those archival places? Does this sound like a good idea for long-term storage? For those who like the idea of the little parts cabinits but want them out of something better for archival, try container store’s craft cabinets made of polypropolene. Would be perfect for me except for light exposure, since I plan on shelves, not cabinets.

    Thanks again for the great site!

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  5. I use the inexpensive divided plastic boxes/plastic bobbin method. I have nearly all the colors of DMC, each one on its own plastic and numbered bobbin. The whole collection is stored in five of the plastic boxes which are kept in a plastic file box with a secure locking lid and handle which makes it easy to transport and store. With this method it is easy to see all the colors at a time for selection purposes and colors can be organized in any number of ways depending on your preference. For the current project, I use a smaller divided box (it has one section just the right size to hold my scissors, needles, etc) to keep all the colors being used on the project. When I start using a color and use fewer than a six thread needle, I can wind the number left over on a numbered cardboard skein. This works well for me. As for kinks in the floss…..dampening it slightly removes them.

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  6. I converted a plastic tool cabinet like you described from my rock and mineral collection to the one for needlework about 35 years ago. It’s been long out-grown. I’m currently using a slapped-together mix (to me)of boxes while saving my pennies for a proper flat file cabinet for the home. I use the bobbins for silk ribbon storage and basting silk I’ve wound off the cone, but it’s tiresome winding them & have considered making tubes out of heavy acid-free scrapbook paper for the ribbon at least. The flat file (Oh how I want one now) will be my ticket, as it will be have enough drawers for threads, tools, findings, widgets, et al. All I need to do is find ‘the perfect one’ and settle on it.

    Love your site, BTW. I’ve just leaped back into this side of textile work after a long hiatus, and am so happy to find the kind of resources you offer. Thanks for sharing so much of your knowledge!

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  7. Andi, I wish I knew! Some kinds of embroidery floss do, though – flat silks, most of the au ver a soie threads (except soie d’alger), trebizond… but regular floss is packaged in those skeins. Because it doesn’t need to be on a spool (like flat silk, for example – in skeins, most flat silk would become a mess!), it’s probably cheaper to package it that way. I imagine it’s been done like that forever. In the old days, embroiderers would wind their thread (silk, wool, even gold) on their own spools or spindles (usually wooden), which were part of the regular equipment of the embroiderer.

    But it would be a heck of a lot easier if stranded cotton did come on spools!!

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    1. Thank you for all of this great information!
      I have a question. To solve this storage problem, my husband bought a large amount of 3/8″ wooden dowels, cut them to about 2″ lengths, drilled holes in one end, and we went to work winding all of my cottons, wolls, and silks onto them. He also made me a set of wooden stackable shallow boxes and I have everything organized by color and content.
      What struck me late into this process was whether the wood could react with any of the floss to damage it, especially the silks? And whether there was any risk to keeping the floss wound on these dowels? The nice thing is that it isn’t kinked, can’t really move around or get snagged, and is protected from light but with all of the concerns around acid free paper, etc is there any risk in having contact with wood? (to top things off the dowels are made from a large variety of woods including cherry, walnut, and some exotics to help with the sorting).
      This has resulted in a beautiful project but I don’t know where to turn to see if I’m putting any of the floss in danger. Thanks for any help or thoughts!

  8. I have just invested in the new DMC Gold floss storage system.

    Basically the floss slips as is onto a “stitch bow” and the identification band from the floss fits onto the end of the bow and this then slides into a variety of storage devices.

    There are sleeves that hold 15 stitch bows and these sleeves file neatly into 2 ring binders.

    The stitich bows can also be stored in a travel pouch or box.

    They are great for mobility as I can put the just the stitch bows I am working with into a sleeve nand put this into my craft organiser.

    I am a bit (ok, a lot) obessive/complusive when it comes to ensuring my threads are neat so this new system gets my vote.

    THANK YOU DMC !!!

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    1. I invested in the stitchbow system and it was a mess. The bows don’t stay in the boxes for storage and because I have many projects going, I can’t have the same colors in different projects. I wouldn’t invest in it.

  9. PLEASE, is anybody a quilting stuff (mostly fabrics) storage EXPERT???? HELP ME!!! I have mine in Large Plastic Boxes (separeted by color, but there are so many greens, blues…)
    Links with this issue are welcome…
    Thank you.

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  10. I tried the file a floss storage boxes and it wold be more realistic to say that they hold about 30 bags of loss… not 100. The bags are small, a single skein of speciality floss will fill the bag (they want you to fold the skein in half and position it under the tab to increase storage — only works if the skeins are DMC *and* if you only have one skein per bag, in my opinion). Also, there is a major static electricity issue which means the bags repels each other and pop up off those brass rods.

    They aren’t cheap either!

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  11. File a Floss

    My absolute favorite is the file a floss system. Many Many years ago that company had a booth set up at a “Spirit of Crossstitch” show. At that show they were selling specialy made beautiful wood boxes that would look pretty sitting out. I bought one at a really good price on the last day of the show so I use it for my current projects that I do at my house and it sits out all the time. I did modify it a bit, I added a very small magnet ( sticky backed ) to the top tab and I park my needle there. I have a differnet needle for each thread as I am into time management and needles are cheap. I also leave the bags unzipped on current projects to save some time. I have 5 of the boxes now to store my floss. It is so easy to run my fingers down those tabs to find the colors I need. I am an office worker anyway so the file concept fits in with my way of working, my girlfriend however doesnt care for it so it just shows to each his own. Anyway, I highly recomend them – it is my favorite system and I highly recomend it.

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  12. Over the past 5 years I have used DMC’s Stitch Bow system, and generally like it, especially the fact that I can select the bows I need for a specific project and pop them imto those plastic sleeves that fit into a binder — that way, I have my whole project at my fingertips. What I *don’t* like about Stitch Bows is that they take up so much room in my floss storage cabinet; so I’ve been looking into bobbins. If I could find a plastic sleeve, like the Stitch Bow sleeve, that stores bobbins, I think I’d make the switch, even though, like you, I dislike the crimps that result from winding my floss onto bobbins.

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  13. I have brought small plastic draws and have made dividers that cross over to make 35 sections per draw the draws are 310mm x 230mm. and 50 mm in height. I have then placed my skeins 1 colour per section. When I am using colour I have clip lock bags to make it easier to travel with.

    Thank you for the ideas I am glad others were having the same trouble I was having.

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  14. How about the “Annie’s Keepers” System? The floss is cut and stored on little plastic tags. Then hung like a hanging file on sliders. I think each slider holds about 15 skeins. Then for your project you just snap out the color you want and either put them into a “project slide” or on a ring. I use bobbins and if I get new thread and bobbin it I have to move alot of bobbins to make the new ones fit. Plus I hate the winding. This system also has a needle park that you slide the project slide onto.
    Anyone heard of these or use these and can review them?
    Thanks.

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  15. Hi Mary, would you happen to have a picture of the “little plastic tool cabinets” you use? The one you bought at Walmart

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    1. Actually, I don’t have a photo. But I found one online – they look kind of like this: http://www.cabinettoolsale.com/images_products/AkroMils-10144-44-Drawer-Plastic-Parts-Storage-Hardware.jpg though some have fewer drawers, some have more drawers, and some have a different configuration or layout of drawers. But that’s pretty much what they look like. I still use them for cotton threads, but I don’t store silk or metal threads in them. ~MC

  16. Organizing, so one can create easily is always a challenge! What works for me is using the smallish 3 drawer plastic containers from the discount stores. The drawers come out, don’t have flange locks. I organize by color and have floss, pearl cotton, silk, and silk ribbon in the same drawer. Anything that is applied by needle is in this drawer.
    When I need a color for a project, I take the whole drawer to the work table and can see all my options at once. Individual threads are stored in all the various ways you’ve reviewed. None is perfect, but each works for various threads. I have 3 units with 9 color categories.~BW

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  17. I use a double sided plastic tackle box. It has dividers to section off the floss holders. It is made by Plano and holds all my floss and I have every color. I use the large floss winders that have the rounded top and the regular plastic boxes aren’t deep enough. I’ve used this box for years and it’s great. I think it might have been around $20.00 some year’s ago.
    Hope this helps!

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  18. With File-a- you can get an entire cabinet with which to store floss . and individual project boxes. I have a wooden file cabinet which I purchased from Crossstitch and More years ago. A little pricey but it is pice of furniture. Has inlay on front to place a stitched pattern which came from DJV deasigns

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  19. haha … this might sound really funny to you but I store my threads re: the color system I am going to use …. mainly as I am nut about color, texture and dimension …

    I can use many texts of color sites .. plus I have my own lot I use at home.

    I just love to see the combinations and nature is always part of my design process …

    Often I scour my nature and flower books too …

    That’s just my methodology ! quirky !

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  20. To deal with the having to write on the organizers, I write the floss number on a small piece of masking tape and put that on the organizer (I use floss bobbins) that then enables reuse.

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  21. I just discovered a treasure trove of DMC thread skeins in a hand-me-down stash that’s been in my storage room for the past ten years. It was a gallon-sized ziplock bag stuffed to the max with skeins!!! My little cross-stitcher heart is so thrilled right now! BUT, I have ZERO organization systems already in place, becasue I usually prefer to work with pre-packaged complete kits and then just store the leftovers with their instructions in case I ever one day decide to repeat a project. Now that I found this stash though, I need SOMETHING, and those little bobbin cards in the floss organizing boxes are just not going to cut it.

    I love the idea you have employed of using hardware storage drawer cabinets, but alas, I am living on a part-time income and simply can’t afford the (very minor) cost of those at this time. I happened upon a pin on pinterest of a system that will work for my meager budget, however, and it seemed like one that might interest you as well…or at least those who may be seeking ideas. So, here is the link to her blog post about it. I don’t have the spare drawers like she does, but it seems to me that shoeboxes might work just as well, or even photo organizing boxes. Any kind of box really! Other than that, the only other necessary costs are for snack bags, and index cards. SO INEXPENSIVE!!

    I’m off now to get this stash organized and stored, but I’ll be bookmarking this post for future reference. Thank you for taking the time to outline all of the information in both Parts 1 and 2! It’s all been very helpful!

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