As you use embroidery floss for a project, you'll find that you're left with small bits of leftover floss. These leftover bits of floss are often referred to as Old Ratty Threads (or ORTs, for short), and newer stitchers often ask what they're "supposed" to be doing with them, anyway.
As is always the case in hand embroidery, there aren't any "rules" for what to do with these leftover bits of floss. In today's post, I'll share a few ideas for what you might choose to do with your ORTs, along with two things I would recommend you not do with them.
Things you might do with leftover bits of embroidery floss: An incomplete list of possibilities and ideas
I'd love to start by providing you with a few potential ideas for what to do with your ORTs, keeping in mind that this list will never be complete (because creative people will always come up with new and fun ways to deal with potential waste!).
Note: There are a few links in this list, but please note that these are not affiliate links - they're just there to be helpful!
Keep your ORTs in clear containers.
This is my go-to method, which I realize isn't all that "creative," really! I simply like the look of a jar stuffed to the top with colorful bits of floss.
Collect your ORTs to be stuffed into empty ornaments at the end of a season or year.
You can find clear, fillable ornaments at various craft stores around the winter holidays at a fairly reasonable price.
Turn your ORTs into wall art by making a DIY "ticket stub" shadow box.
This is such a fun way to turn your leftover bits of embroidery floss into wall art themselves, and it's a project that's been on my own to-make list for years!
You have a few options for executing this particular idea: using a normal shadow box frame, open the frame from the back to add ORTs as you go (I found a simple tutorial for how to do that here); modify a shadow box so you can stuff your ORTs from the top of the frame (I found a tutorial for how to do that here, specifically Steps 1, 2, and 3); or, if you prefer, purchase a "Floss Saver Box" from Modern Hoopla, which is built for this specific purpose (you'll find those here, but they do sell out quite quickly!).
Have your ORTs incorporated into spun yarn.
I am absolutely fascinated by this process; it's been on my "learn to do" and/or "pay somebody else to do this for me" lists for years!
You could use the yarn to create something with crochet or knitting, incorporate it into other hand embroidered pieces (like this scrap rainbow project), use it as a ribbon-like material for wrapping gifts, or even present it as a gift to a loved one. Regardless of what you do with the yarn, this would be such a special and unique way to use up your ORTs.
If you're interested in learning about how to do this yourself, you can find tutorials online by searching for "how to incorporate fiber scraps into yarn" (this feels like such a complicated process that I wouldn't feel quite comfortable vetting and linking to any particular tutorials just yet). If you're interested in sending in your scraps to be spun by an expert, you'll find loads of options online (here's an example of an artisan that provides this as a service; I've absolutely bookmarked this page for when I'm ready to send in my own fiber!).
Use your ORTs to stuff small items, such as a pin cushion.
I think I have around 8 to 10 pincushions around my house, many of which I made by hand and stuffed with ORTs and small pieces of scrap fabric. If you'd prefer not to freehand your pincushion pattern, I found a list of free patterns to choose from here.
Things you probably don't want to do with leftover bits of embroidery floss
There are no rules in hand embroidery, and certainly no rules for what you "should" do with your ORTs; that said, there are two things you might consider not doing with your leftover bits of floss.
Leaving your ORTs outside for birds to use in their nests
The first thing you probably don't want to do with leftover bits of embroidery floss is leaving it out for birds without first taking into consideration the particular materials from which your floss was made and its specific length. According to the National Wildlife Association:
You can offer fabric, yarn, twine or string made of natural fibers such as raw cotton, hemp, sisal or wool. These natural fibers won’t retain water in the nest, will eventually deteriorate naturally over time, and are similar to the fibers birds would find in the landscape. Cut them into one-inch-wide strips and in lengths under 6 inches long, and put them where birds will find them, such as on tree and shrub branches. Don’t use synthetic fibers or long lengths, which, like hair, can tangle and injure birds.
(Note: This quote, with emphasis added by me, comes from the NWA's post, "How to offer bird-nesting materials in your garden," last updated on August 15, 2019).
Because I use several different brands of floss that are made up of varying types of cotton, and because I don't trust myself to be as meticulous as possible when it comes to trimming the floss down to the most appropriate length possible with complete accuracy, I simply avoid this particular use of ORTs.
Throwing your ORTs in the garbage
The second thing you probably don't want to do with leftover bits of embroidery floss is to simply throw it in the garbage. The topic of textile waste within the context of climate change is well beyond the scope of an embroidery blog post - and I am not going to sit here and write that I have never not once contributed as a consumer by buying something I didn't need or getting rid of a shirt instead of mending it, much less making sure that not one bit of floss ended up in the garbage at some point. What I will say is that with so many super simple ways to re-use the waste we produce as embroidery artists, why would we let ourselves default to throwing it away?
Thank you for being here, and I can't wait to see what you do with your ORTs!
I hope this was useful, and I can't wait to see what you decide to do with your leftover bits of embroidery floss! If you'd like to share your ideas and work with me, you can always tag me on your social media accounts (@hopebroidery on Instagram and Twitter, @hope.broidery on TikTok). If you don't have public social accounts, but still want to share, consider emailing me a few pictures (firstname.lastname@example.org), I would love the chance to tell you how much I love what you've done!