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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Organizing Embroidery Threads for Projects


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How do you organize your embroidery threads for your needlework projects? If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a way to organize your embroidery threads better. Here, I’ll show you a method I like to use when I’m working on a project that requires many colors of thread. It isn’t anything new – you see versions of this all over the place – but here’s my “home made” version, and I’m even letting you have a printable copy of my template, so you can make your own thread organizers, too!

Here on Needle ‘n Thread, I’ve mentioned different ways to go about organizing your threads, from using key tabs to braiding your skeins of coton a broder. Way back, in the deep, dark beginning of the website, I wrote an article on thread organization & storage, exploring some of the more popular forms including bags and rings and such, and then followed it up with another article that included the file-a-floss system and EZ Bobs. So this isn’t really a new topic here, but it is another angle…

Thread keeps, thread rings, thread cards – they all have the same thing in common: holes that you put your embroidery threads into, looping them so that it is easy to remove one strand of floss at a time.

Thread Keeps from Kelmscott Designs

Thread keeps can be nice little accessories. They come in all kinds of shapes and materials, from simple wood strips, to bright pink plastic horse-heads (via DMC), to beautiful wood palettes, to mother-of-pearl acorns and hearts. This particular one above is from Kelmscott Designs. It costs around $9.00, and holds six colors of thread.

Embroidered Felt Needlebook with a Thread Ring Attached

Thread rings are simply rings that you loop your thread onto. The rings can be attached to needlebooks, as I did when I finished this felt needlebook project. You can buy mother-of-pearl rings (also made by Kelmscott Designs), or you can even buy plastic rings made for curtain tie-backs for cheap, and get the same (thought not as attractive!) results.

Thread cards are a little less permanent than the above options. They are generally made out of heavy cardstock with punch-out-able holes and a place to record color numbers. You’ll find them in the needlework section of many craft and sewing stores.

I like thread cards for projects that require using a lot of colors. While I have some thread rings and a few thread keeps and thread winders of different types, none of them are quite sufficient when working on a project involving a lot of thread.

So, I made up a version of a thread card to use with my upcoming Long and Short Stitch Shading Lessons, and then I turned it into a generic pattern for thread cards that can be used with any project. Here’s how they work:

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

These are the cards for the Long and Short stitch lessons. I printed them on my computer on card stock.

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

I printed and cut two of each sized strip, stacking them on top of each other while cutting. Then I glued (using strip adhesive) the strips together, to reinforce them. If you can find slightly heavier cardstock that will go through your printer, you can skip this step! I only had light card stock on hand.

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

You can see that I already had the color numbers printed on my sheet before I printed them out. I also happened to have a 1/2″ circle punch, so I used that to punch the holes. You can use a regular hole-punch and just not make the holes as big.

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

Cut your threads into working lengths (I always work with 18″ – 20″ lengths of threads) and fold the bundle in half.

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

Feed the fold of the thread through the front of the hole in the card, and make a loop behind the tails that remain on the front of the card, then pull the tails through the loop….

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

… and tighten it by pulling on the tails.

Thread Cards for Organizing Embroidery Threads

Repeat the process with all the threads for your project, writing the color number of the threads above each hole.

Now, your threads are ready to use! You can pull one strand at a time from the front of the little loop, without having to separate each bunch. Just slip the eye of your needle under one strand at the front of that little loop, and pull the strand out. Very easy!

If you want to print and use generic thread cards, here’s a PDF that you can print out:

Thread Cards for Organization (PDF)

The thread cards include a place to write the project name and a space above each hole for writing the color number of the thread. There are three cards per sheet, with seven holes in each card.

How do you organize your threads for a project? Do you use thread cards or keeps, or some other system? Do tell!


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(14) Comments

  1. Hi Mary:

    Great subject!

    I use the old fashioned shower-curtain rings – the ones that are large at the top and smaller at the bottom and look sort of like keyhole.
    I open and unloop each skein, cut the skein in half, loop the thread either back through the label ring or mfg. info card (or small cards with regular-sized holes punched in them. I string the cards onto the curtain rings through the punched hole. Depending on the type of thread, I'll either group them by thread-type, or by color families.

    Carolyn in SoCal

  2. I use snack baggies to store my threads, so I just pull all the threads for a project and put them on a ring. I have to start tagging the rings with the name of the project though. I have so many WIPs, I forget which ring is for which project.

  3. I use snack baggies to store my threads, so I just pull all the threads for a project and put them on a ring. I have to start tagging the rings with the name of the project though. I have so many WIPs, I forget which ring is for which project.

  4. For stranded cotton or silk, I always try and use Madeira threads, as they come in a plastic sleeve, and so organise themselves! By leaving them in their sleeve, they don't get tangled, and you can always see the colour code. For more traditional skeins, though, this is a great idea.

  5. My favorite thread organizers were the ones my late husband made for me many years ago. We were in the SCA at the time, and wanted something other than plastic butterflies for organizing threads. He got a piece of 1/4" thick leather, and cut out shapes: a heart, a harp, and yes, a butterfly. Then he used a regular hole punch to punch out holes around the edges. They worked beautifully, and they looked good. Unfortunately, they were lost several moves ago.

  6. I love your embroidery book, the stitching is fantastic! I also use ziplock bags that I have stitched in the center of a purchased quilted placemat with grossgrain ribbon and use the same ribbon for handles. This keeps all my threads which are wound by color onto cards, together with needles, pencils, scissors and sll the things i need while I' stitching.

  7. I keep my threads on the small plastic bobbins that are widely available. Each is labeled and has a hole at the top, and when I need the ones for a certain project, I loop those bobbins together with a little chain.

  8. I do the sabe basic thing but use index cards. I have not been able to master pulling one thread at a time. For some reason italways ends up a tangled mess.

  9. Fun to see that needlebook again. I think googling for needlebooks is the way I originally found you. Memories!

  10. I use the cardstock with punched holes, but find that I can't segregate them out by leaves, flowers, etc., as I often use one color throughout many different items to be stitched. So I just organize by the thread number and this works fairly well.

  11. Mary,
    I’ve been using the Thread Card Template that you so generously shared with us. Originally, I could actually print out the floss numbers before printing out the card itself, but now when I try to do this….I do not get any kind of a menu to allow me to print on them.

    Am I doing something wrong or is this template not available any more?

    Thanks for any help you can give me.


  12. I’ve found the zoo keepers bags with 42 pockets to be very handy. I can wrap my thread onto bobbins and put them into the pockets by color. I can easily tape the color name/number to the outside pocket.

  13. I have little plastic pieces that have a hole punched in them and two slits at bottom to put the start and end pieces in after winding the thread around the middle. Then I put the colors of yarn needed that are on the plastic cards on a circle ring so I have all my yarn cards for my project together.

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