On storing thread

A few people have asked about how I store my embroidery threads, so I thought a brief tour of my collection might be helpful.

I use a wide variety of threads, from very chunky cotton yarns (mostly for couching) to very fine silks, and pretty much everything in between. I will write a post some time about the various weights of thread that you can get and what you can use them for. For now I’m focusing on how to organise thread. This jumble of blue threads doesn’t look very organised, I know. I guess all things are relative.

Blue threads

When I dye threads, I dye them in skeins. They look really pretty in skeins, but I find them difficult to use like that because they very soon get horribly tangled, especially if you keep them all in the same box. I find the only way I can make them useable is to wind them somehow. I went through a phase a while ago of winding threads from skeins into little balls, but these also get tangled quite quickly.

Skeins of thread

I used to use sections of plastic drinking straw for winding threads from skeins after dyeing, which works quite well if you cut a little snip in the ends to anchor the thread before you start winding. The straws were left over from the olden days before we knew how damaging they are, and I figured it was better to use (and re-use) them than to let them end up in landfill.

Drinking straw bobbins

Some of my threads are still on straws, but these days I tend to use little squares of regular 80gsm copy paper, about 3” square, and roll them up.

Squares of copy paper ready to roll

Again you need to snip the end of the paper tube so that the thread has somewhere to anchor itself to stop it unravelling. I find you don’t need to glue the roll of paper; the thread keeps it rolled quite securely.

Purples. That horribly tangled black thing (top left) is coton a broder and needs winding

I find it quite therapeutic to wind threads from skeins onto tubes, but it can take a long time depending on how fine the thread is.

Green threads. Some of these are commercial threads; most are hand-dyed cotton and silk

The only time I use the commercial card bobbins (the kind that you can buy from embroidery shops) is for winding DMC stranded embroidery floss. I don’t like these card bobbins much because when you get to the end of the skein the thread ends up with permanent creases from being wrapped round the flat edges of card. I find there is no other sensible way of storing these though – I can’t see colours clearly enough with them piled up in skeins, and you need to label them in case you need to buy that particular colour again.

DMC stranded embroidery thread

So there’s a little tour through my threads. I know lots of people who use sticks and twigs, and the old-fashioned wooden clothes pegs, to store thread. They look lovely, but I imagine would be bulky in large numbers. So – how do you store your threads? Let me know if you have any good tips.

To dye for

I had a few days off from the day job this week so at last had time to dye some fabric and thread. This has been on the to-do list for months.

Smorgasbord

Some for me, and some for you, eventually. There will be a shop update when I can get round to sorting these into groups.

Delicious!

While I was waiting for everything to dry, I made a cover for the little notebook I use for dye notes. I made the book many years ago, when I first started having a go at dyeing. I don’t record everything in it, as most of my dyeing is quite intuitive so colours are often not repeatable. There are other dyers out there producing set lines but I prefer the more individual approach.

Colour notes from 2007, handmade notebook A6 size
A6 notebook cover, fabric from Hipposinhats
Hand-dyed silk and cotton threads in action

I really like the colour test card. Accidental abstract art in action, I’m calling it.

Dye splodge colour test

Back to sorting and labelling threads…

Skeins of silk and cotton thread

Painting thread

I did a little experiment yesterday. I imagine lots of people have done this before, but it’s the first time I’ve got round to trying fabric paint to colour thread. I used Jacquard dye-na-flow liquid colour, which behaves more like dye than paint, and applied it with a brush to create a space-dyed effect.

Silk and cotton threads coloured with fabric paints

I only used three colours – lemon yellow, turquoise, and purple – with a little black to ‘sadden’ rather than darken. I soaked the threads first in water and squeezed out the excess before painting. They dried outside on the washing line. Fabric paints generally need heat to set them, and I figured if you can iron fabric, which is basically woven thread, then you can also iron thread so I gave them a quick steam with the iron when they were dry. I think I’ve read somewhere that these paints will cure in the air as well if you leave them a few days.

Silk and cotton threads, space-dye effect with paint

I quite like the pastel/watercolour effect but maybe wouldn’t water the colours down so much every time. I wondered if painting the thread would change the hand, and it does, slightly – they are still soft, but maybe not quite as soft as they would be if I’d used dye. On the whole I think I prefer dyed thread, but I found there is slightly more control over the colour with paint. It will be interesting to see how colourfast and lightfast these threads turn out to be over time. I road-tested a bit on today’s stitch journal block:

Stitch journal 29th May, hand-painted cotton crochet thread

Good to try new things, I think.

Colouring life

Difficult to concentrate on anything at the moment with all the conflict and trouble in Ukraine, so I rounded up everything that needed dyeing. It takes days to wind skeins of thread, dye fabric and thread, wash it, dry it, iron it, and unwind all the skeins, but it’s worth the effort.

Pile of newly-dyed fabrics and thread wound into little balls

Most of this is vintage linen/cotton, and the threads are mostly new and vintage crochet cottons. I find they work well as hand embroidery threads.

They look delicious don’t they? Like a box of chocolates

I prefer my threads wound into balls like this rather than wrapped onto thread cards. I don’t like the creases you get when you wind onto cardboard bobbins.

Difficult to get decent greens with procion but I’m happy with these

There is a lot of fabric here. There always seems to be more than I think there is, and it seems to last forever. This is a Good Thing. Some of it will find its way into the shop eventually.

Stitch doodling

It rained a lot today. I spent my lunch hour road-testing some of the threads while the frogs hopped around on the patio. I have plans for some new work, which I will start at some point. I still have a couple of ongoing things to finish first. I added this one to the shop this week:

Make a Wish

It was originally the sleeve of a coat that I was never going to finish but then it took on a life of its own. It seemed to find its own time, as these things do.

Niddy noddy

Niddy noddy is such a ridiculous word. I prefer to call it a skein winder. I used to have a lovely wooden one but it was very bulky and took up a lot of storage space. I’ve recently found a lightweight one here that comes apart and can be stored flat.

silk PLA niddy noddy from DorIdeas.co.uk

I’m not on commission, by the way, I’m just really impressed by the design and how easy it is to use – one wrap equals one yard, so it’s easy to measure skeins of thread for dyeing. I usually improvise this part of the process, winding skeins around the back of a chair etc, but I may decide to try selling some hand-dyed threads and in that case I will need to know the yardage of the skein.

silk PLA niddy noddy with textured yarns

I have more textured yarn than I need. These are good for couching onto experimental embroidery or contemporary art quilts. Sometimes I crochet a chain with these yarns and then couch that to a surface if I want a more chunky appearance.

selection of textured yarns in 10 yard mini-skeins

I will get round to doing a shop update at some point, just to see if there is any demand for a mixed pack of textured mini-skeins in these lovely woodsy muted colours. A little of these goes a long way, I find.

yarns and threads for winding

I also need to find time to dye some more embroidery threads. I often use crochet cotton as a substitute for perle threads as they are usually slightly more matt than perle and a bit smoother, which I prefer. My mother’s old knitting basket is the current repository for threads and yarns that need winding into skeins. It’s older than I am and has faded from red to pink, but it’s still going strong. It was always full of knitting in progress when I was a child and it’s good to see it still in service. I think these things remember what they were made for and like to stay useful.

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