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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

About threadholders…

A couple of weeks ago, Carolyn responded to a post with a wonderful question:

Can you tell me how and why flosses or threads are attached to mother-of-pearl rings or floss cards or wooden thread holders like a hornbook or heart with holes around the outside edge to keep the colors separate? I mean, are the threads wound around a stick, i.e., 18 inches long and then cut into appropriate lengths for stitching before being looped onto or into the rings and floss minders? Or are the flosses and threads purchased in such lengths from the shops? I see all of the lovely little threads and needle cases and accessories all over the net and it looks like the lengths are about 18 inches or so. I hope this is not a silly question and that your answer will benefit many others.

Before answering the question, let me elaborate on what Carolyn’s asking about. Instructions for any needlework “smalls”, such as When I am Sewing from The Drawn Thread, often include the attachment of rings for managing flosses. Similarly, threads can be managed with cards or wooden items with holes punched in them, like these thread pallettes or this hornbook.

There are only two reasons I’m aware of for using such items.

  • The first reason is purely for decoration. These are pretty! You don’t actually have to use them!
  • The second is, of course, for function. I suspect if your threadholder only has a few rings or holes, this might not be realistic, unless you’re working a project that requires only a few thread colors. On the other hand, I’ve received class kits that have included the threads attached to cardstock with holes punched in it, like the one shown here. This is much preferable to kits with loose threads that require sorting!

As for the length of threads to attach to your threadholder, it’s a combination of personal preference and ease of cutting.

  • Some threads, such as ThreadworX flosses, come pre-cut in 1 yard (?) lengths. To get to an appropriate stitching length, just cut this length in half.
  • Pearl cotton skeins (and some other threads) can be opened up into a single loop that can be cut in two places to get stitching lengths.
  • In my classes with Carolyn Mitchell, she calls the distance from the inside of your elbow to the tip of your middle finger (with your hand out flat) your “personal stitching length.” In my case, this is approximately 17 inches, so I’m usually fine with using the 18” lengths from the previous suggestions.
  • If you have a different length preference, yes, you can wrap the thread around something appropriately sized such that a single cut would result in the desired length, or find some other way to cut repeatable lengths.
  • Of course, if you’re just using the threadholder for decorative or temporary purposes, you can just attach a full skein (as seen in one of the links above).

Physically attaching the thread is fairly straightforward. Simply use a half-hitch knot. Fold the thread length in half, insert the folded end through the ring, put the cut ends through the loop formed by the folded end, and pull tight.

Carolyn, I hope this answers your question. If anyone has anything to add, please do so!


The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

My godmother, who was carefully trained in Home Economics in the late 1930s, always said thread length should be from your elbow to your fingertips. "Anything else was lazy!" That always made me laugh but since in most folks this is around 18 inches, I always use this for the length of my threads unless they are prone to knot themselves.

I don't use thread holders except for the cardboard floss ones for threads that tangle if left in the manufacturer's skein. I always thought of them as counted thread accessories, not needlepoint items.

Funny how we have stitching habits, isn't it? My thread length came from my dear godmother and has been very practical and I don't use thread holders because I think they are for other types of stitching and this is just silly!

Anna van Schurman said...

I feel vindicated! When I was teaching the kids at the library to stitch, I told them to measure using their forearms, a distance not one but two stitching professionals use. Good call! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I read this. I'm just about ready to create a kit for my needlepoint group & this is perfect -18 inches! Thanks.

Rachel said...

I used to reckon on half a metre for cross stitch, but then I tended to use a single strand, doubled and started with a half-hitch, and twenty-five centimetres was just right!

Carolyn said...

Dear Jeanne,

Thank you!. Your answer was worth waiting for and so complete! I am going to be working on a very complex SALexandre housewife/stitcher's wallet and wanted to lay in the necessary mother-of-pearl rings to complete the project. I've since made a little housewife and am using it to hold a project's worth of cardboard floss bobbins. I can see that the little thread rings with loops of 18" lengths of floss would be much more manageable and less bulky, so say nothing of the tactile and visual appeal of using such a beautiful tool set.

Thanks again for your answer,
The Scarlet Thread