What’s an Ort?

No, an ort is not an astronomical phenomenon.  It’s a small scrap or remainder of something you’ve consumed (generally eaten).  But if you guessed Astronomy, you’d be closer than you think because there is something called the Oort cloud that is an accumulation of icy debris at the edges of our galaxy from which comets are born.  It was named after a person named Oort. 

That’s all interesting, but for today’s post, we are actually talking about small bits of thread that are too short and/or frayed to use anymore that are left when you sew, embroider, quilt, etc.  These little bits of thread are a nuisance and it’s best to keep them contained in your work area.  For years I’ve used little origami boxes for this purpose, and they’ve worked well, but they are wearing out from being folded and unfolded so many times.  Somehow, I came across a couple of patterns online for “thread catchers” made of fabric.  I call them ort boxes, but they are not boxes at all.  Really, they are teeny-tiny garbage cans.

Here’s a photo of the 2 designs I’m testing:

Here they are all ready to receive spent thread ends.

But it’s very important for the ort boxes to collapse to keep the threads contained during storage and/or transport until they can be emptied.  So here they are collapsed:

They are both quite light small and yet can hold a lot of thread snips so I think both will do the job nicely.  I’m partial to the way the circular one closes like a camera aperture with a twist of the wrist, but I’m also a fan of the triangular one because it gets flatter, has an interesting shape when closed and is cuter because of the buttons.  What is it about non-functioning buttons that makes things so cute?  The buttons do serve a purpose here, which is to hold the flaps in place when the box stands open, but that job could be done as well or better with any bit of felt stitched in place or just a simple thread tack.  The buttons definitely add panache.

If you should want to make your own ort box(es), just Google “Thread Catcher Pattern” and you’ll be off and running.  Tutorials abound.  I didn’t change anything about the triangle design.  For the round one, I did substitute a canning lid ring for the ring cut from a Pringles Box.  I don’t eat Pringles.  Nor do I know anyone who does.  Are Pringles really even food?  I think the jury’s out on that question, but that’s another post entirely.

Embroidering a tale

Generally, when you say someone is ’embroidering a tale’ you mean they are adding details to the story that may not strictly be true, but I assure you the details of this story are quite true and the embroidery is, literally, embroidery.  With a needle and thread.  And hoops and scissors and needlebooks and all the accoutrements one collects for a hobby like this, but I digress.  This story is about why I started a collection of embroidered kitchen towels to celebrate the seasons of the year and here they are:

Why?  To display on this cutting board:

Like this:

And now for the tale, but it’s a bit of a shaggy dog of a teacher tale, I warn you, and it requires some setup that goes back a ways in time.  I’ll be as brief as I can.  

When our son James started high school, he and I went to collect his schedule and it seemed to have an error because it placed him in both Algebra and Geometry in his first semester.  I asked the guidance counselor if that was correct because I’d thought those 2 courses needed to be in sequence and that Algebra was a prerequisite for Geometry.  It seemed like a lot of math for a first-semester freshman in high school to take on all at once and James said he didn’t think he’d signed up the previous spring for 2 math classes at once but he wasn’t sure.  The harried counselor took one look at the printed schedule and said, “Oh no, no, no, that’s not right…here we’ll just leave him in Algebra and sub in Wood Shop for Geometry, here you go!”   And she handed the marked up schedule back to us and turned to the next parent/child duo in line to get their schedule confirmed.  Wait, what?  WOOD SHOP?  I turned to James and asked, “Is this okay with you?”  He shrugged and said something like, “Sure, I guess.”  If I’d had more than 10 seconds to think about it, I’d have insisted they leave the schedule intact because he was more than capable of studying high school Algebra and Geometry at the same time, but we’d been summarily dismissed and I figured learning to use wood working tools was probably a good thing for a young boy who spent most of his time reading and noodling on his computer.  

A little more background is required.  The high school had just hired a new Ag/Shop teacher, a Mr. Butters, who was purported to be an expert in farm mechanics and shop with many years of real world experience.  No amount of real world experience in any field can prepare one for the pressure cooker of the high school classroom environment and poor Mr. Butters was no match for the students in his shop class.  James came home day after day with stories about the misadventures of Mr. Butters, but the ones pertinent to the story at hand are as follows.  There were lockers for the woodshop students in which they were to store their projects in progress, but locks were not allowed.   There was a final project assigned: a laminated cutting board.  Each day, James would cut the wood he needed to make his cutting board and place the wood in his unlocked locker.  The next day he would go back and his wood would have been stolen and he’d cut the required pieces again.  This continued until there was no more wood left and he still hadn’t made his cutting board.  So he went to the scrap wood pile and scrounged enough pieces of scrap wood  to make a cutting board that was an exact replica of the one that was assigned, only smaller in every dimension (a real life Geometry problem if ever there was one…) and Mr. Butters took one look at the finished project and said, “It’s not the right size,” and gave him a low grade on that assignment, which brought his semester grade for wood shop down to a C because it was the final and most important project.  Later that year after I’d gotten to know the principal and was meeting with him in his office on a completely different subject I did tell him the story and said, “There goes James’ chance at Valedictorian…”  thinking it was a pretty good joke.  And indeed, he DID miss being Valedictorian four years later by a very few grade points, which was just fine by him since he didn’t want to give the Valedictory address anyway and his nearly perfect SAT scores secured his place at his college of choice.  All’s well that end’s well, although Mr. Butters was summarily dismissed at the end of the next year.

Now, this cutting board became a decorative fixture in my kitchen because James had made it and given it to me and it was a reminder of a very funny story and a visual aid should I care to tell the story of how James, our National Merit Scholar, was graded down and got a C in wood shop for figuring out how to shrink the cutting board pattern to accommodate the scraps of wood left to him after he’d cut pieces for nearly everyone else in the class at the proper dimensions.  All for the lack of a lock on his woodshop locker!  But then, I came into my kitchen one morning and found someone had USED the cutting board and made scratches on it!  Now that would not do at all.  I had to find a way to send a message that this cutting board was decorative only and never to be used.  So I looped an obviously decorative kitchen towel over it.  Then I got the idea that it would be fun to have a rotating seasonal display of embroidered kitchen towels.  And a collection was born.  And a cutting board saved.  And a family story memorialized.

Seams Great by Dritz

Seams Great is a product for encasing raw edges of fabric to prevent fraying.  It has sadly been discontinued, but there are some alternatives:

  1. You can make your own.  I’ve got some 15 denier nylon tricot fabric on order to do this.  All you have to do is make a continuous bias tape the width you want.  The original was 5/8 inch.  You’ll want to determine the direction of the curl so you can place seam allowances of the joins on the side you prefer.  The nylon curls so that the right (public) side is on the outside. There are many tutorials online describing how to make continuous bias tape.
  2. Buy a similar product from Farmhouse Fabrics, which is selling it as “Seam Finish.”  They are still offering it as of February 2023.
  3. Try to buy some on Etsy or Ebay, but as of February 2023, there was none available.
  4. Use an alternative seam binding product like rayon seam tape.  Not as easy to apply, but very pretty.  Wawak offers it in a slew of colors.

What makes the original stuff so great is that curl I mentioned in option 1.  As you apply it, you stretch it just a bit and it wants to curl right around the raw edge you are finishing.  It’s also extremely lightweight and doesn’t add bulk to the raw edge and is a very sheer light gray color so it doesn’t visually stand out. I could not find that gray color in 15 denier nylon anywhere so I settled for natural/cream.  It’s always so sad when a favorite crafting product or sewing notion is discontinued.

Another UFO becomes a FO

Here’s a design from Mary Corbet’s “Spring Variety” pre-printed towel set. I am calling it Summertime because I need more towels for June, July and August. Not to mention Sunflowers and Zinnias bloom in summer. I see that horizontal crease but have been unable to press it out. You are warned not to press the pre-printed designs prior to stitching, and now I don’t want to compress the lovely 3-D effect of the threads by pressing too aggressively so I’ll just have to live with that crease.

I’m getting close to having a towel for every month, which was my initial goal for this project. What to embroider after that? Honestly, I think I’ll just keep on with the kitchen towels. They are so much fun to work.

P.S. In crafting circles, a UFO is not a suspected alien spacecraft, but an UnFinished Object.

But wait, there’s more!

As promised I’m adding a Zinnia blossom to this month’s sketch.

I planted the California Giant Zinnias with the express purpose in mind to use them as subject matter for this project and my own personal journals as well. They’ve taken over the back corner of my yard with their cheerful exuberance after a very slow start. The first batch got mowed down immediately by either slugs and snails or earwigs. A second planting was more successful. Perhaps too successful.

And you can also see that I’ve been doing some embroidery at my drawing table. See the little green origami ort box and my tool block at the back. It’s dangerous when I start mixing metaphors and artistic pursuits. You never know what might happen next. I could put stitches in my artwork or paint on my needlework. Simply shocking!

Crewel, sort of

But it’s finished after all these years! Probably 8 or 9 years ago I embarked on a crewel embroidery correspondence class through the EGA, or Embroiderers’ Guild of America.  As always, half the fun was collecting supplies and tools and notions specific to this type of embroidery, which is traditionally done with very fine wool on a linen twill weave fabric ground.

After a trip to Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, to collect the crewel-specific supplies, I was ready to start. And stop. And start. And stop. Again and again and again. I never got further than one short line of stem stitch because I simply couldn’t stand the tactile sensation and sound of the wool as it passed through the fabric. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard. So I’d put the project aside and then come across it again in a few years and wonder why it wasn’t further along. So I’d hoop it up, thread up a piece of wool, start stitching and remember. Eeew. Scritch, scratch and back in to the cupboard you go!

Finally this summer I decided I could embroider this design with cotton floss and even try out some DMC floche. Ahhh. So here it is:

There’s plenty to critique about this project even without mentioning that it’s not done with the traditional wool, but I’m so happy to have it finished I’ve decided to ignore its flaws, put it into a display hoop and hang it up in my sewing room.

Here is the original inked design after I made revisions to the original design given by Judy Jeroy. Her design is copyrighted so I cannot post it here, but I mostly changed the shape of the motif from an oval to a heart. And in the final stitching I removed a large tulip like flower and added a few tendrils here and there. Making changes to the original design was part of the assignment. As was changing colors and even stitch choices. The class was quite enjoyable, all up to the point of dragging that wool through the linen. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out what the problem was and then solve it.