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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Revisiting Orts, or Cleaning up a Heap o’ Little Threads while I wax Poetic


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Orts are those little pieces of left-over thread snippets that collect when you’re working on an embroidery project. If you don’t have a place to put them as you work, a resulting stringy mass that spreads itself over your work area could result. In fact, rarely do those little strings restrict themselves to the work area. They stick on clothes, they trail across carpets, they bear witness to the fact that this is the home of a needleworker.

My mind turns to orts – to all trailing, clinging embroidery threads – especially in winter. In winter, orts show their power of perseverence, their determination to adhere to all things, in any place, at every opportunity. And they don’t always show themselves right away, once they’ve found a host. No, often they wait, secluded, then rear their little heads at the workplace, or in company…

You always know when The Ort has materialized upon the scene: your co-worker, in earnest conversation with you, suddenly loses eye contact. The eye flits from you, to your shoulder. Then back to you. Then back to your shoulder. Suddenly, the focus of the conversation is gone. You try to revive it and redirect it; finally, the cause is revealed: “Uh…. you have a thread….” as your co-worker gingerly removes the offensive Ort from its transient throne.

In winter, The Ort has two accomplices in its parasitical work: warm and fuzzy clothes, and that energetic little wonder called Static Cling. The latter is perhaps the more irritating. I am not a great fan of Static Cling, yet I live in a dry, cold climate in winter, I’m prone to wearing skirts and sweaters to work, I use a dryer, and so Static Cling is, at least to some degree, inevitable. To best express my feelings about Static Cling, I wrote a poem about it a while ago, which I’ll share with you here so that you have no doubt where I stand on the subject:

On Static Cling
by Mary Corbet

I dislike, despise, truly disdain
Abhor, detest, find quite inhumane
That horrid, despicable, bothersome thing…
That great irritation we call Static Cling.

In my sheets, my skirt, my socks, my shirt
On rugs, on wood, on vinyl, on dirt —
No matter how calm, no matter how hectic,
I hate to encounter this cling that’s electric.

That about sums it up!

So, in winter, we have at least one more big reason to be wary of orts and to make an extra effort to tame them.

Yesterday, I tamed mine, and we’re all a lot happier for it.

I was dealing with a bit of static in my sweater, and I noticed that, after sitting in my favorite spot to stitch, a small army of Orts were attempting a foray on my arm. Odd, since I have a handy Ort Bin hanging from the arm of the chair, into which all Orts are unceremoniously stuffed once used to their potential.

I made this little bin from two placemats I picked up for very little on clearance at Target. If you haven’t seen my little article on constructing a thread catcher, you can check that out, if you wish. It’s nothing fancy-schmancy, and there are no extras to it, but it works. This is what it looks like:

Thread Catcher for the Arm of a Chair or a Couch, in which you may place all your stray threads (or orts) while embroidering. A Very Handy Thing.

Well, it wasn’t working yesterday! And I discovered why. The Orts were full up! So I emptied the pouch, and this is what I had:

A Big Pile of Orts, or Thread Snippets from Various and Sundry Embroidery Projects

The whole heap was about the size of a volleyball, when taken out of its compressed state in the Ort Bin. No wonder they were venturing forth to habitate my arm! There was no breathing space!

A Big Pile of Orts, or Thread Snippets from Various and Sundry Embroidery Projects

Oh. Do you see what that is?

A Big Pile of Orts, or Thread Snippets from Various and Sundry Embroidery Projects

Now, do you see? It’s a length of pearl purl – 2% pearl purl – with some silk wrapped around it.

I suppose those dear Orts could tell us a lot about ourselves! But though I’m in the mood to wax poetic, I am not up to waxing philosophical or psychological right now. I’ll leave that for you to think about!

This is the thing: I started picking over that little pile of offensive, instrusive Orts, and I could connect almost all the threads, or clumps of threads, to a particular project I’ve worked on that I enjoyed. And some pieces I rescued altogether, because I knew I could use them for something. Like the pearl purl – what a waste, to resign it to the Ort Bin.

By the time I was finished, I realized that The Orts are not quite so offensive, after all. Intrusive, maybe… but not offensive!

So the ort bin is empty, back in its place, awaiting new threads.

And while I was at it, I decided to remove all the pins and needles from one of those really expensive pin cushions, also known as “the couch”:

Needles and Pins in the Arm of the Couch

Yes, this is the home of a needleworker. But it’s time to be a bit less obvious about it!


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(13) Comments

  1. Your purl reminds me of a question I’ve been pondering. How do you decided when a thread has had its day, and is relegated to the ort-bin? I’ve found that anything that looks long enough to get even a little more use out of gets rolled up and saved. But now I have bits of thread everywhere that I can’t exactly match to any particular color of floss. Which makes me think perhaps I’m being a bit too neurotic, and all but the longer (and perhaps more expensive) lengths should be discarded.

  2. Being the “Pack Rat” I am I hate to throw away anything. I recently donated two van loads of just about everything imaginable to the Salvation Army. The funny thing is…I really had a hard time parting with all of this “STUFF” now a few weeks later I really couldn’t tell you what I donated. Point being that I am a “Clutter Queen” and I’m sure I’ll start all over. Those small pieces of thread, well I have saved those as well, thinking someway somehow I can put them to some artistic use (a collage of threads?) lol. Maybe this should be my New Years “Resolution” What do you think?
    Annie in bitter cold Michigan

  3. I was at a craft show yesterday and a lady picked a “short ort” off my blouse and informed me I would take a “short trip”. The longer the “ort” the longer the trip. I hadn’t heard that before.

    Also your Orts should be put outside on your deck rail or a bush and birdies will pick them up to help in making their nests.


  4. Thank you!!! I didn’t know there was a proper name for all the little bits of thread. Learn something new every day. 😉

    I quit using the furniture as a pincushion when we bought a SelectComfort mattress, filled with air. DH caught me before it was too late! Now I have a little biscornu pincushion attached to my scissors. ~ Laura

  5. Mary,
    I, too, have a hard time parting with anything from my stash ….even orts. Just when I throw them into the bin and the trash man has hauled them away to the landfill, I find I could have used this bit or that. So an ort has to be mighty minuscule or downright irretrievably tangled to infinity to escape my house. I have an old fruitcake tin that all possibly retrievable orts of say 4″ or more go into… until I find a place to use them. They’re all hopelessly tangled up in there, but I have often found just the right length of some weird bit of floss, cording or whatever to use up for some small bit of embroidery like a single french knot that I wasn’t going to start a whole new skein…just to get 4″ for.
    Orts are handy to have on hand sometimes. I have a few orts dangling from every pincushion and needle case in the house, since I don’t like to poke just an unthreaded needle into anything….I need that bit of thread/floss to make it easier to see and retrieve it by.

  6. you know that sofa caddy would be improved with the addition of a pincushion on the top. i balance a pincushion (when i remember) of the arm of the sofa – but still get in trouble for leaving pins and needles stuck in it.

  7. There is a book called “A Murder Yarn” or something like it that I just finished reading. The story really covers the subject of Orts and in fact the murder(ess)! is caught because of orts she leaves behind!
    Anyway, it is suggested in the story that the needleworker keep a small glass jar to fill, then cover with a pretty cap.

  8. Lol, I was just looking at the orts about my house yesterday wondering what on earth to do with them all, not even knowing they had a name! 😀

  9. Hi Mary! I don’t mind orts much, except when they get wrapped around the vaccum brush and I have to unwind them off, it’s so tedious! Mostly I’ve just wondered what use I could make of them.

    I, too, sometimes dig through my little baggies full in search of enough thread for a stitch or two. And, ah, some little orts are peeking up at me now as I type…how sweet…

    Tess, I have a cookie tin I’ve been wondering what to use for and now I think I’ll put my little thread scraps in there. Great idea.
    And Laura, I love the idea of that murder mystery! LOL!

    As for other uses for orts, I went to a fiber fusion class last spring and it’s the perfect use for orts! All you need are scraps of whatever to turn them into yet another piece of thread art. That’s kindof what I’ve had in mind for my little pieces of this and that.

    As for using the arm chair as a pincushion, I haven’t done that since I was a kid and got excited about a football game and slammed my fist right down on a needle. Oh such fun trying to yank that thing out of my hand! I vowed never again! 🙂

  10. Hello Mary. My Orts go to the birds!!! Yes, when my Orts began to fall from the pocket of my chair,, I take Orts to my patio, being care fall, putting them where the birds can see them. Varied threads, yarn, my birds have the most color full, and warm nests in the neighborhood!!!.

  11. I have a plastic cup that I have been using for all these little end pieces, not knowing what to do with them and not realizing they have a name. Like the poster above, I save everything that is approx. 4-5 inches long thinking someday I can use them when I want to try my hand at couching, they’re the perfect size to learn on, not to mention inexpensive as they would normally go in the trash, although I do like the idea of putting them outside for the little birds to make their nests!

    Now, for the static cling! I can relate to that and love your poem. What I do to help combat the extra electricity coursing through my body is use non-scented aerosol hairspray. I use it on my hair brush, and on a lint brush for brushing my clothes, especially sweaters. Just Lightly spray on brush (NOT WET) and brush your hair and do the same for the lint brush and just go over your clothes with the brush and waa-laa, static cling no more.

    This article really made me chuckle. I think I have realized why I absolutely love every blog post you do, we have the same sense of humor. I “get” you! ;0-)

  12. I loved your final comment about the expensive pincushion known as the couch! I make extensive use of it’s cousin, the very expensive needle minder, aka my laptop which has magnets above the screen which I think are to help hold it shut, but which almost always have a needle or two these days. My computer case makes a small space between the two sides of the laptop when it’s closed, so the needles don’t cause mischief or scratching, and I don’t put them down somewhere and only find them when I get stabbed!

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