What Do You Do With Your ORT?

Do you have an ort jar?

Do you save your ORT?

Or do you toss them in the trash? What’s that? You don’t know what the heck an ORT is?!

Well then – pour yourself a nice cuppa and let me tell you. Sound good? Okey dokey – I’ll wait for you.

The first thing I should probably do is explain what an ort actually is.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it’s “a morsel left at a meal”. But, somehow, through the years, it’s also come to describe another kind of morsel – or scrap.

You see, for a needleworker, an ort is a leftover tidbit of a thread…

the last tiny remnant that’s left before you snip it off and remove what’s left from the eye of your needle. It can be embroidery floss from a needlepoint or hand embroidery project or it can be yarn from a knitting or crochet project.

There’s no hard evidence to support this, but it’s been suggested that “ort” might be an abbreviation of an antiquated term referring to those itty bitty scraps.

Some say that it means “old raggedy thread”, while others insist that it refers to “odd remnants and threads”. Whatever you choose to believe, orts tells a story. Your story.

How can tiny bits of thread tell a story?

Well, first, you have to save them.

Not everybody does, you know. A lot of stitchers just toss their ort – and that’s okay. Heck, I used to throw mine out, too, so I’m certainly not gonna berate anybody for tossing their thread tidbits in the trash.

Why did I stop throwing out my ort?

Well, a friend told me that she puts hers outside for the birdies. Then, she told me about seeing little bits and pieces of colorful thread all around her yard, woven into bird nests.  And that’s what “got” me. I remember thinking “how cool is that“?!

So, I started saving mine.

At first, I didn’t have a place to put them, so they just piled up on the table beside my stitching chair.

Around the time I’d started saving my orts, another friend brought her ort box into the shop to show it to me.

It. Was. GORGEOUS!!!

She stitched it herself – and, right then and there, I made a mental note to put that on my “to-do” list. Funny thing is…I must’ve lost that list ’cause I still don’t have a hand-stitched ort box. (tee hee!)

Instead, I have a little jelly jar that works very well.

My friend Sally gave it to me one Christmas – filled with Jezebel sauce. YUM!

Because Sally’s a stitcher, too, I decided it was the perfect receptacle for my orts. (After we polished off the Jezebel sauce, of course!)

And that brings me to how your ort tells a story.

You see, the jar is just the first part of the story. Every tiny snippet that lands in that little jar is a reminder of a project I’ve stitched – and of a special memory from my life.

There’s black silk from the groom’s tuxedo and overdyed white/ecru cotton from the bride’s dress; pink silk from the roses in her hair and bright blue from the background – all snippets from the ornament I made for Rebekah and Dan before they were married.

And then, there’s black and white wool from the Appaloosa horse; red, white, and blue metallic from the Texas flag and the rodeo racing barrel, and yellow silk from the background – all from the ornament I finally stitched last year. The one I bought out in Houston when my Daddy was a patient at M.D. Anderson and being treated for angiosarcoma. He lost his battle nearly nine years ago. It was eight years before I could bring myself to stitch that canvas. Did I mention that yellow is the awareness color for sarcoma?

So, you see – your ort really does tell stories.

Some of them are happy stories and some of them are hard to tell, but they’re all part of who you are.

Wonderful Y-O-U!

I’ve not put any ort out yet for the birdies, but it’s almost time.

Recently, I discovered that they should be no longer than two inches each. Pieces longer than that could harm our feathered friends and their babies. So, I’ll get out my tape measure and my embroidery scissors and I’ll snip them into even tinier morsels.

Then, come March, I’ll put them out on the porch and watch what happens.

Maybe next winter, when all the leaves are gone like they are right now, I’ll look out the window and see a bright blue piece of thread waving at me from high up in our oak tree. I’ll think of my baby girl, remember her special day –  and I’ll smile.

Wanna make your own ort jar?

Save your itty bitty pieces of thread and yarn from your projects in a small container while you’re working on your projects. It’s really fun to watch them fill the jar. The colorful snippets always brighten my day when I look at them – and it’s a confidence booster to see the progress they represent on all my projects (some of which seem to be never-ending…know what I mean?).

One thing I’ve started doing, too, is setting some of them aside to fill those clear glass ornaments that you can buy at the craft store. They look really pretty hanging on the Christmas tree.

Another way to enjoy them is by filling pretty apothecary jars or antique glass bottles with your orts. And they can be used for children’s art projects, so ask any teachers you know if they might want yours.

If you decide to share your ort with the birdies…

be sure and only put out those fibers that are natural – like cotton, wool, silk, and linen. Any man-made fibers could be harmful to them. And remember to make sure they’re two inches or shorter.

I’m curious…do you have an ort jar?

If you don’t, will you make one now? Tell me in the comments box below. I look forward to hearing from you. (And remember – every time you leave a comment on one of my posts during this month – February 2018 – you’ll be entered into the drawing for the “Happy Hearts” thread bouquet from Rainbow Gallery.)

Well, it’s time for me to get back to work on that new lesson for The Stitcher’s Club. I’ll be opening up enrollment again soon and I wanna make sure there’s oodles of terrific stitch-y stuff in there for our members, so…

Until next time, happy stitching!

Stitch with a smile!




PS: If you missed the details about National Embroidery Month celebrations, click here and here to catch up.

32 thoughts on “What Do You Do With Your ORT?”

  1. Thank you so much for your info on saving ort. I had thought about saving it but didn’t because my cat loves to chew the fibers. But after you mentioned about the birds using them for their home, I decided that I would give it a try. I will find a covered jar for them . I would love to see reminders of the Christmas ornaments that I make the grandchildren and great grandchildren for Christmas. Besides, My cats love to watch those beautiful birds !

    • Hi Ellie! Thank you for your note. 🙂
      I understand about the kitty…my kitty loves to chew on pretty string, too. In fact, I can’t put ribbons on our Christmas packages because she’ll eat them. Eeek! 😉
      Happy Friday and have a wonderful weekend!
      Ellen 🙂

  2. Hi. I used to save my orts. I put them in a Xmas clear plastic ball to hang them on our tree to remember all the beautiful pieces I had stitched – but when I looked at it, I didn’t like it! The orts just looked scrappy. And after all that time of saving! So I threw them away. However, I have seen orts felted and they look fantastic. I have an metal container and a fabric ort ‘collector’ for my orts.

    • Hi El!
      Thanks for your reply. 🙂 I guess those ort Christmas ornaments aren’t’ for everybody. 😉 I’m intrigued by your comment about felting them. Please share more info…
      Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
      Ellen 🙂

  3. What a great colorful idea. I usually save the threads until I’m finished with the project then toss them all at once. Tomorrow I’m going to look around the house for the perfect jar.

    • Hi Pat!
      I’m so glad you like the idea of saving your ort. 😉
      Good luck on finding a jar to store them in – and thank you for taking the time to write. 🙂
      Ellen 🙂

  4. I don’t currently have an ORT jar… but as I just started an ornament that features the colors of the college my oldest will be attending in the fall, I love the idea of it, and the happy memories a colorful jar of ORT would be sitting on my desk. Thanks for yet another great idea!

    • Hi Lorraine!
      Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m looking at mine as I sit here and write back to you. It’s filled with colorful bits and pieces from an ornament I just finished – one I purchased last year on a trip I took with my sweet daughter before she moved. Please share a picture of your PIP with us over on the Facebook page. I’d love to see it, and I’m sure everyone else would, too.
      Ellen 🙂

    • Hi Roz!
      I’m glad you’re gonna join me and make your own ORT jar. Mason jars work very well…that’s what mine is! 😉
      Thank you for your kind words about my website. I sincerely appreciate them – and lovely Y-O-U!
      Have a happy week!
      Ellen 🙂

  5. I found an acrylic box at my LNS that has a slot to put a finished Needlepoint project in. I stitched a butterfly canvas for it.
    The rest of the box is filled with my Orts!! It sits on my end table beside the sofa where I stitch. It brings smiles to my face everyday!

  6. My cat loves to play with the thread but we know how dangerous that is. So I put mine in dried out clear water bottles, make sure the lid is on very tight and give it to my Simcha as a toy. She knocks it all over the room. It entertains her for hours. She loves to watch as I add more threads to it when I finish the day’s stitching.

  7. I love this idea! I am looking for a covered, antique glass jar. I will be fun hunting for it and be prettynext to my chair! Thank you.❤️

    • My pleasure, Joan! And I love your idea of using an antique glass jar. That’ll be soooo pretty! You’ll have to share a picture with us on the Serendipity Needleworks Facebook page when you find one. 🙂

  8. A weaver’s Orts are a bit longer—they are called ‘thrums’ and it’s the waste at the end of the warp when we can no longer advance and weave. We have a LOT and they are at least a foot long before cutting.

    When I pile those out in my garden each spring, the birds line up like planes trying to land at Atlanta-Hartsfield, swooping a piece and flying away.

    • Terre, I L-O-V-E that! I can just see those birdies circling in a “holding pattern”, waiting to get their beaks on a thrum. 😉

  9. I had a friend tell me about giving my orts to the birdies too. I first started saving in a clear jar and it was so pretty! Then I decided I didn’t want to share with the birdies and I started collecting in a 1/2- gallon size tin. I’ve now been saving for a few years. I even save them when I’m not sitting in my usual spot and add them to the tin later. Sometimes, when I’m done stitching for the day, I’ll pick through the fibers. It can elicit all sorts of emotions from different projects.

    It also became a conversation piece at a family gathering. First, they found it funny that I saved them. Then when I could recall the different projects, by either the color or the fiber, there was some awe in their looks/comments.

  10. I have both a ort box, one I stitches and taught at Sarasota Sun Stitchers ANG meeting a couple of years ago, it folds and holds tools in the two pockets, that one is used when I stitch at other places. My other ort box is an antique jar with a lid that sits next to my stitching chair and as I stitch I put the cuttings into it. Love looking back at all the colors in the jar, I will have to try putting them out this spring for the birds and see where they end up as we live in a very wooded area of NH.

    • Hi Susan! Thank you for your note. 🙂 I’d love to see your stitched ort box – and your antique glass one, too! Both sound lovely. 🙂 Please share a picture with us over on the Serendipity Needleworks Facebook page, if it’s not too much trouble. I’m sure our other girlfriends would love to see them, too.

  11. I am newer to needle pointing but I have been wanting to keep my orts for a while! I finally started keeping them on the newest project I am working on! Now wishing I would have done it from the start! I’m glad I’m not the only one that loves looking at them and seeing all the colors I’ve used on different projects!

    • Hi Payton!
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write. It’s great to hear from you. 🙂
      Have you thought about putting them in one of those little clear glass balls you can get at craft stores? You could make an annual ort-nament for your tree.
      Have a happy Thursday!

  12. Hello! Now I know what an ORT is!! When I was growing up on the farm, in the mid 40’s. My mother did a lot of sewing on her old Singer and would hand me the left-over threads to throw outside. How surprised and amazed I was to later find her threads (orts) woven into a birds nest!! Didn’t know there was a name for the threads. Mama and the Singer are gone now but I still remember her making dresses out of feed bags!! what Wonderful memories I have! I have the perfect little jar and will start savings my Orts. Will also have my Granddaughter start to save hers!

    • Hi Doris!
      Thank you so, so much for sharing your story with us. Your vivid description carried straight to your home on the farm. What wonderful memories! My mother grew up on a farm, too – in north Mississippi. My grandmother is the one who taught me to sew – on a treadle machine (also a Singer). We have a lot in common! Mama has told me about Nana making clothes out of feed sacks – and flour sacks. Now, I have quilts that have bits and pieces of those same feed and flour sacks in them. I’m tickled to hear that you’re planning on sharing “ort saving” with your granddaughter. What a special memory you’ll create for her. Again, thank you ever so much for taking the time to write. You just made my day!!!

  13. Greetings from Australia. I’ve embroidered a few Italian linen hand & bath towels, & i wish I’d known about the ORT jars at the time. I would’ve loved to have seen all the pretty pastel pink, blue & yellow threads I used mixed up together in a little jar, but as the old saying goes “it’s never too late to start”. So any project i do now i will definitely save them. Thank you for the inspiration.
    With kindest regards

    • Hi Reet!
      I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog post. And you’re absolutely right – it’s never too late to start. Another thing I’ve seen lots of people do is save them and fill clear glass ornaments with them, too – to add to a Christmas tree of handmade pretties.
      Happy stitching!!

  14. I like saving mine too, but more for the pragmatic reasons of sustainability and upcycling. I’m about to sew myself a new pincushion using orts (along with those bundles of thread cut off from frayed fabrics) as stuffing! But this idea of looking through your old orts to remember your past projects made me smile, so I think I might start a separate pouch for saving a few from any special projects!

  15. I save all my thread and tiny pieces of fabric. I am going to make new fabric from them when I have enough. I don’t seem to be able to throw anything away. Right now everything is in a plastic bag. I am looking for just the right container to display them.

    • Hi Cindy!
      I’m intrigued by your idea to create new fabric from leftovers. You’ll have to send me a picture when you finally gather enough tidbits to do that. 😉
      In the meanwhile, you might think about putting them in clear jars – or even Christmas ornaments. I’ve seen clear plastic balls at Hobby Lobby – and since the holiday decorations are out now, you should be able to find some easily.
      Happy stitching..

  16. Hi!

    I haven’t saved ORT, I make a small pile at my stitching station, then it’s discarded. It might have strands of waste canvas, fabric, wrappers from floss, lint, long beard hairs, long hairs or small notes.
    elderly gentleman
    award winning, legendary, internationally known,
    Jim P
    Canton Ohio


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Serendipity Needleworks

Hi, I’m Ellen. A needlepoint teacher and author dedicated to helping motivated but overwhelmed stitchers at every stage find exactly what they need to stitch with confidence. Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the needlepoint world or you’re ready to take your skills to the next level, I’ve fine-tuned a learning experience just for you.

Recent Posts

Get Your Free Guide: Ellen's Tips & Tricks

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Don`t copy text!