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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A Needlework Tool That Baffled Me…Until…


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There are some needlework & embroidery tools that are A Must. Good scissors, good needles, good hoops and frames fall under this category in my mind.

Then there are those embroidery tools (I sometimes call them “accessories”) that aren’t quite essential, but that are nice to have and useful. A pretty needlebook or needle case, a nice scissor fob that helps you easily locate your scissors, an extra-special, funky or fun pin cushion – these are the types of tools and accessories that fit in this category.

And then there are those needlework tools on the market that baffle me. Why do we need them? What’s the point? And really, why should I spend money on that?

Today, I’m going to show you a tool that fits in this latter category, that had me baffled at first (why would anyone buy this?), but once I started playing with it, I saw that it has its merits and is kind of fun!

Puffin & Co Thread Separator

Here it is. You can see that it’s a hand-crafted little piece of metal art in its own right. This is a thread separator by Puffin & Company.

Right now, you might be remembering this article on how to separate embroidery floss from back in August, and you might be thinking that you have, built in, the tools you need to undertake the daunting task of separating your floss. They’re called Fingers, and we have 10 of them, and most of us didn’t even have to pay for them. Right?

Well, that’s all true. But it doesn’t change the fact that, as humans, we’re always seeking ways to make our tasks “easier” – and, though we tend to complicate things a bit when we do so, it’s kind of fun to explore different ways of getting a job done!

Puffin & Co Thread Separator

For example, according to the instructions for use on the back of the thread separator, it takes nine steps to use the little device.

Puffin & Co Thread Separator

Besides the weight and balance provided by the hand crafted metal heart piece, the key instrument on the thread separator is this clip…

Puffin & Co Thread Separator

…which holds onto the end of your piece of cut floss (all six strands).

The basic idea of the tool is this: you clip the thread separator (I like to think of it more as an artistic little weight) to the end of the floss, you pick up the floss and pick out the strands you want to separate from the bunch, and then, using both hands with the weight dangling towards the floor, and with your separated strands in one hand and the rest of the bunch in the other, you let the weight hang.

Because of the twist in the thread, the weight will spin. And as it spins, it untwists the threads.

Puffin & Co Thread Separator

The result? Untwisted, separated floss. You can do more than one strand at a time. In fact, you can practically do them all at once.

Puffin Thread Separators are available through the Puffin & Co website. There are all kinds of different designs – from dragonflies to angels to butterflies and cats and dogs and birds and more.

Incidentally, I’ll mention it before you beat me to it: I’ve accomplished the same thing using a heavy clothes pin.

But it wasn’t quite as fun.

So, if you have $15 to spend on a tool that isn’t exactly essential, but is clever and fun, and if you find separating your thread with your fingers a daunting task, you might invest in a Puffin thread separator. They’d also make great little gifts, stocking stuffers, and the like for stitching friends, guild buddies, and so forth – especially for the ones who already seem to have everything!


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(30) Comments

  1. I was trying so hard not to laugh. Yes, it is a pretty little thing. But if I’m going to spend $15, I want to buy fabric or fancy floss. I’ll continue to be cheap and use my fingers to pinch a strand and slide it out from the others. I’m too old now to change my ways. 🙂 I do think it would make a pretty necklace though.

  2. LOL. I like it. I think I will get one.
    I have not heard of Puffin and Company. I took a peak, and they have some nice things there. When I finish this comment I am going back for a better look.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Smiles to you.

  3. Cute!

    I think that you could also use it to twist threads together.

    1. Combine half the number of threads you want in your twist.
    2. Ask a friend to hold one end (unless you have something convenient to tie it to)
    3. Twist the loose end until the stands are tightly twisted together.
    4. Keep the twisted thread taught while you clip the thread separator on to the middle of the thread.
    5. Hold the thread separator in one hand and still keeping the thread taught bring the two ends together (in other words fold the thread in half)
    6. Now let the thread separator dangle towards the floor. The weight will spin and as it spins the threads will twist together.

    The tighter you make your original twist, the tighter the final twist will be.

    What fun!

  4. For just about 50 years I have used my trusty fingers which as you mention are free, to do this task. I might try your method of a heavy clothespin! I do agree that it is always nice to have these gadgets that makes us happy…and I do have a few. Now, if someone wants to gift one to me, I will be very happy to try it….thank you for always finding new things for us…thank you also for all that your talent that you share.

  5. Dear Mary

    Lovely I’ve been looking at their website and very pretty accessories they have, they are beautifully made I like everything especially their heart shaped pins and the different animal heads, but would I use them as you say they are not really essential, but they do have their uses. Thanks for showing us such lovely accessories.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  6. G’day Mary,
    Quaint, like something out of great grannies needlework box. They’d look kind of sweet for Christmas decorations!
    Thanks for the interesting account of your encounter of the close kind with this peculiar needlework accessory.
    Cheers, Kath

  7. I agree with Irene, I rather to spend $15 in threads and fabric than in this tool, my fingers are ok. It would looks very nice as a necklace.

  8. What’ holds the thread is an alligator clip-available at any Radio Shack-they come with or without teeth- useful for holding lots of stuff- if you lived through the 70’s you might also call them “roach clips”

  9. I have to agree that I can’t envision buying any of the products for myself. As stated by others I’d rather spend the money on floss or fabric but they would be a beautiful gift for crafty friends. I’ll stick to using my fingers and save space in the sewing basket for more practical items.

  10. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Several years ago I was gifted with one of these little gizmos. Unfortunately it did not come with directions but I kept it around for its inherent artistic qualities. Now I’m glad I did. I’m off to try it out “for reals.”

  11. Interesting. I’ve wondered about these doodads for a while now, I’ve seen them in various needlework catalogs and as mystified with regards as to what they were actually intended to do and how they were supposed to work. Thanks for solving the mystery! However, I think I’ll stick with my fingers!

  12. I have one of these nifty separators. It is right by my elbow on my work table. And not only do I have the separator, but I have the little stand so that it is a decorator piece as well as a tool. I use it quite often, too. It really is a very nice gift for a gadget loving friend.

  13. I don’t like the look of those metal decorations – would never keep this tool around my needlework gear as I can guarantee I would catch thread on them. I can’t really see the point in the tool anyway, but if I ever was going to buy one, it would need to be a more ‘thread friendly’ design! Would be easy enough to make one.

  14. I tried to guess what it was before reading your article. My guess was to use the alligator clip to attach to your pocket or color and slip your reading glasses in the circle of wire. Not even close but it was a fun guess.

  15. Love reading your posts each day and did chuckle over this one. One comment I would make about this tool is if anyone has ever done punch needle where you don’t cut the thread, it can be hard for those of us who are challenged with short arms! I do have one of these and rarely use it for cross stitch but if I’m doing punch needle and I don’t use this, I pretty much have to use my toes to separate the thread. Having said all that, I will go and see if I can find the August post on how to separate thread. And thanks again for your posts.

  16. This design has little holes that you could then put your separated floss into and hold them for you. Granted I think thread holders might work better, but it would give added functionality to this little tool?

    1. Came across this company and their floss separators a fair while back and was intrigued. And though I wanted to see how (well) it worked my frugal side had me ask ‘isn’t there something similar you’ve got/could make up simply and inexpensively?’
      The wooden cloth peg is still clamped to my lamp and while I found it quicker to strip floss with just my fingers, the peg comes in handy to help with other tasks.
      Really enjoy your articles. The variety of your topics has broadened my horizon considerably.

  17. It is quite a pretty accessory even if not essential. I wear jeans most of the time and just use my upper thighs to hold the threads when separating 🙂 Mom taught me that maneuver when she taught me to embroider.

  18. Oh, Mary,

    Human ingenuity assembles amazing gadgets. This Rube Goldberg thread separator surely has eye-appeal and must be a descendent of sewing birds, stork scissors, souvenir pincushions and thread winders. Who would be embroidering without a love of the decorative?

    In 1956 Mom’s hands deftly helped my awkward little mitts divide six strand floss. Later I discovered that front teeth can hold one end of floss for separating until the tension tightens, at which point lips hold the untwisting threads. Now, thanks to online hints, “pull one thread at a time” works nicely for me. Still, old habits die hard and I may be still observed with 18″ of floss dangling from my mouth, ready to be unfurled.

  19. I do the same thing with scotch tape – stick a thread to wall and then pull out as many as I need. I also use scotch tape to organize my leftover threads 😉

  20. These are so cute Mary, I think I must have one even if I only ever look at it! They look to be very well made with no rough jags or bits too.
    Thank you for showing these, today hasn’t been a very happy one so far, but these little goodies have cheered me enormously.

  21. I’m always so disheartened when I read that some people would “rather spend the $ on thread” – there is a preponderance of women who seem to think treating themselves to something special is wrong or wasteful. It’s like saying a cheap scissors will do the same job as a really sharp, lovely pair.

    I think of the person who made the beautiful thread separator, how I could (for very little money, really) support THEIR art and effort, and enjoy the whimsy of a beautiful tool that helps me in what is always the most frustrating part of the process. It is a beautiful tool and one I will be happy to purchase. I like to surround myself with good and inspiring tools that are not only function, but are aesthetically pleasing. It makes my work better, and I enjoy the process more!

  22. At my local needlework shop this week I saw the owner had one of these attached to her shirt. At the time, I couldn’t tell how it was attached but now know by the clip. Anyways, she was using the circular loop to hold a pair of glasses. Another unique use 🙂

  23. Must second BCrable’s comment. I just learned punchneedle and learned how to use this gadget at the same time. It’s SO much easier to separate the much longer strands used in this technique with this tool than with my fingers (and toes).

  24. The business end of the tool is simply a dolled up alligator clip. Crimp the back of the clip to a piece of yarn, and tie the yarn around a clothes pin (or something else that weighs a little). And you’ve made your own “gadget” at little or no cost (if you can find the alligator clip in the garage).

  25. I have absolutely no idea how anyone can leave a negative comment on the Puffin Floss Separator. I’ve been doing Russian Punchneedle for 20 years and have a system for splitting floss 1/2 skein at a time. This made possible because of a fantastic floss separator. The Puffin separator is simply fantastic/awesome. I’ve been using it for a few years and I’ve put thousands of feet through it. Even if you only do 5 feet at a time, they’re wonderful. I’m going to order a spare just because it’s that good of a tool. Don’t know how I got along without one before. Anyone not sure if they might want to order one, don’t hesitate. You will enjoy it completely. You will Not be sorry. Nicely made and as I’ve said, thousands of feet of floss and it’s still going.

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