July 1st, 2008

10 Great Ideas for What To Do With Left-Over Needlepoint Thread


Find a use for bits and pieces of needlepoint thread


glass jar of orts: bits and pieces of leftover needlepoint thread

A famous needlepoint sign reads: “Sewing fills my days, not to mention all my drawers and closets.” Veteran needleworkers smile ruefully, and think of their bundles of tangled thread stashed away in nooks and crannies all over the house. We can't bear to throw them away, but how much of it will ever really be put to use? In this article, I explore some interesting ways to reduce your strategic thread reserve, also known as "stash busting."

1. Using Left-Over Thread for Stitching Needlepoints

The most obvious way to use left-over needlepoint thread is to, well, use it to stitch a new needlepoint. Before you say "duh," let me explain why this is not as simple as you may think. I built up a sizeable stash over the years, so when starting a color on a new project, I can be thrifty and select a thread from that pile. However, before pulling a thread from the stash, you must make sure you have enough for the whole stitching area. (That would be roughly 1 yard for every 1 square inch of stitching).

If you run out, it may be difficult to find more of the same color. This is especially true if your stash is many years old, since manufacturers regularly discontinue product lines (not to mention manufacturers that disappear completely, such as Needle Necessities) and you'll be hard pressed to find more. If this happens to you, before you go and rip out all those stitches, try searching for the thread on Ebay. You can even setup a Saved Search, which will check the listings and email you when something comes up. This isn't going to be helpful, though, if you're in a hurry to finish a canvas.

Furthermore, even if the thread is still available in the stores, it is highly likely that they are from different dye lots and won't match. It can be very noticeable and can spoil an otherwise perfect piece.

Better yet, buy a child a small project to do and give her the threads.

2. Yarn Sale

What if there's someone out there that is looking for the exact thread you happen to be hoarding in your stash? Help your fellow needleworker out, and sell your thread. The first choice of venue for this is Ebay. Millions of individuals shop there, and so do plenty of retail stores looking for a good deal. Even if you never sold on Ebay before, it isn't hard to learn, and it is a skill you will often put to good use.

Start by organizing your stash. Get some bobbins, project cards, or ziplock bags, and one rainy day, patiently pull threads and wrap them up. Take a photo of the lot of them and post a listing to the auction site. If you don't want to bother, you can also take photos of your stash, as is, and sell it that way, but this will not attract as many bidders. Try to include the actual product manufacturer and number of each thread in your listing, so buyers have an easier time identifying exactly what you're selling.

3. Free Style

Who says you have to slavishly follow cross stitch patterns, or stitch on top of painted canvas, to create a work of art? Here's a brainstorm: you don't. Apply that colorful mess of fiber to canvas and develop your own free style masterpiece! Start with a blank piece of mesh, close your eyes, and pull out a random thread from your stash. Begin stitching, creating any wild shape, until the thread runs out. Repeat until the whole canvas is finished. You will be pleasantly surprised at how your creation turns out!

If you're worried and you just don't have it in you to go it alone, then follow a simple bargello pattern. Choose high-contrast colors and stitch them up, one zig-zagging row over the next. When you're done, turn them into some fabulous pillows.

4. Make a Washer and Yarn Pendant

Washer and Yarn Pendants

One unique idea for using the thread is to make a Washer and Yarn Pendant. Check out the post over at Crafty Pod for step-by-step illustrated instructions. You can then turn these into ornaments, or keychain fobs. (Source: Nuts about Needlepoint.)

5. Stitch Practice

Another good way to use pieces of leftover thread is to stitch up a blank canvas with little samples of various stitches. You can then use it as a model to show others how it’s done. Leave a few inches hanging so you can teach by continuing the stitch. There’s nothing better than a live demo to learn new stitches.

In addition, you can use scrap thread to test out and practice new stitches you've never tried before. Same goes for complicated patterns that are difficult to follow. Find some "doodle cloth" and try it there first, before doing it on your main work-in-progress.

If you have some proficiency with computer graphics software, consider publishing your model to the information-hungry Internet community. Snap a few digital pictures (or you can scan it in to your computer). Use a program to isolate the different stitches you made and save them to separate files. Then put them up, one at a time, with a short explanation of each stitch. It helps to have a website or blog on which to publish, but even if you don't have one, there are websites open to the public that accept articles, such as Knol or Squidoo. They are easy to use and you will feel fulfilled by sharing something useful with the world of needlepoint.

6. The Art of the Ort

Even bits of thread that are too small to use for stitching don't need to be thrown away. These little snippets are called "Orts," (which by the way is a great crossword puzzle word). Here are some things you can do with them:

7. Make a Friendship Bracelet

friendship bracelets

You can use leftover thread to make colorful braided bracelets, with a Native American handcrafted flavor. Find a Good Tutorial on the web, choose a few bright colors, and start braiding. Invite some friends over and make a bunch of them together. After all, the're called "Friendship Bracelets" for a reason!

8. Pen Embroidery

My daughter once made a fancy decorated pen for a gift using leftover craft thread. It came out very nice. Think of the inspiration you'll get when composing letters or poems with one of these fine writing instruments. Here's how it's done:

9. Hair accessories

See this video that teaches how to make your own Hair Accessory. Adapt those techniques to your needs, and sustitute your little yarn odds and ends for the fabric or beads. Presto! Gorgeous hair ornaments.

10. What is your idea?

Search for "craft thread" on Google and sift through some of the results. You are guaranteed to come away pleasantly surprised. The world has thought up some really original and creative ways to reuse their leftover craft thread. If you think of something, be sure to post it up on the web somewhere, so the next idea seeker will find it and bless you for sharing.


Recycling thread into something useful can be challenging. I've started you off with these ideas, now get thinking and come up with some of your own! Share it with the rest of us and maybe we'll succeed in ridding the world's garbage dumps of all abandoned needlepoint thread forever.

Happy Stitching!

Renee Frank is an avid needlepointer, and a devoted wife and mother. She is the owner of Pepita Needlepoint, offering fresh and unique needlepoint designs that are inexpensive, easy to stitch, and blazing in color. You can contact Renee by emailing  r e n e e   @   p e p i t a c r e a t i o n s . c o m .