A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook Groups, as you do, and I came across this weird phenomena. An Ort Jar.

Too scared to look silly, even though I am the Queen of Silly Questions, I took to Google to do some research and now am an Ort Jar Expert. Well, as much as you can be by looking at the first page of Google.

And now, I want to impart my new-found knowledge onto you.

Read on to find out exactly what an ort jar is, how you can start one and what to do with it once it is full.

A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook Groups, as you do, and I came across this weird phenomena. An Ort Jar. 
Read on to find out exactly what an ort jar is, how you can start one and what to do with it once it is full.

What the heck is an Ort Jar?

What is an Ort Jar, I hear you ask (don’t worry, I asked that very same question not so long ago)?

Well, my friend, Orts are the leftover bits of thread that remain when you are done stitching. These can be from cross stitch, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet, you name it. If it is a leftover thread, you can go ahead and call it an ort.

They could be the teeny tiny bits that remain when you run out of thread or the longer lengths you no longer need such as those from a kit.


The meaning of the word

Well, this was a revelation! What a fun history the word Ort and Ort Jars have!

The word ort supposedly comes Middle Low German and means leftover. It was used starting in the 15th century to refer to food scraps.

Over the years the stitching community latched onto the word to use for the thread scraps that are produced during work. There are theories that ort is actually an acronym for “old ratty threads/tails”, “odd random threads” or “odd remnants and threads” or similar variations.

However! I also found out that the inspiration for Ort jars was probably from witch bottles displayed in museums that contained knotted bits of thread and string. The saved fibres were intended to ward away evil spirits or protect the home from evil spells cast by enemies. via embroidery.about.com


Why save your orts

You don’t have to save your Orts, in fact, I only started saving mine on the 1st Jan because I wanted a whole year worth of stitching on display.

I used to just chuck ’em. Well, leave them lying around and the vacuum them up with the weekly clean if we are being totally honest.

People will save Orts for several reasons, pride, sentimentality and thrift.

Others will pop them in the jar simply to keep them all together and stop them from spreading about the house. Let’s face it, that’s a good a reason as any to keep an ort jar.


A sense of pride

Let’s face it, stitching isn’t often a quick hobby. It can take hours, months or even years to finish a project. An ort jar reflects the dedication that stitching requires.

A full ort jar is an accomplishment and is proof of all those hours spent needle in hand.

It is also satisfying as heck watching it fill up over time.


Your orts can tell a story

One thing that I love about my own ort jar is that every time I look at it I see each project in there and who I made that project for.

I see their reactions when they got given their gift, I see the hours spent in front of trash TV with my feet up lazing the night away, I see teaching my daughter how to stitch and her face when she got to add her own thread for the first time, I see the colours that she painstakingly chooses for me each week for the stitch along I’m doing, I see the cat trying to pilfer bits out of it when he thinks that no one is looking.

They are a fun way to reminisce about all the hard work you have put into stitching.


Saving your orts can be practical

Personally, once my threads go in my jar, they aren’t coming out again (unless the cat gets to it). However, others use their ort jar to repurpose the little bits of thread.

You can use your orts for:

  • Stuffing pincushions or other objects
  • Mending clothing
  • Touching up projects
  • Smaller projects where you only need a few stitches of a colour
  • Crazy quilts
  • The kiddos can use them in their crafts

How to save your orts

Most people keep their orts in a mason jar or old jam jar. However, anything can be used to collect all those random bits of thread such as fabric bin or basket, small decorative boxes, a clean candle jar, an old small indoor plant pot.

Your imagination is your only limit when it comes to ideas.

Keep your ort jar or bin nearby when you stitch to collect all your scraps and excess bits.

It is up to you whether you start a new one each year, each project or just when it fills up.

Note: Be careful where you store your jar. If it is made out of glass, be wary of storing it on the window sill as the sun can shine through and cause a fire (think of sadistic childhoods frying ants with magnifying glasses). Imagine explaining that one to the firemen… “Oh sorry, Sir, it must have been my orts”


What to do with your orts

Once you have collected a jar full of thread bits, what do you do with them? Again, your imagination is your only limit here.

  • Fill a clear plastic Christmas ornament and write the year on it. As your collection grows you will see the years clearly.
  • Display them in a frame
  • Spreading outside during spring for the birds to use in their nests*
  • Fill the barrel of a clear pen
  • Use them to fill pincushions or small stuffed animals
  • Use them in small stitching projects or crazy quilts
  • Make fibre art
  • Start a new one each year and write the year on a label at the end

*If you do decide to throw your orts to the birds, make sure that the pieces of thread are very short (well under an inch) and only made of natural fibres as man-made fibres can be harmful.

PS here is a slideshow of Finn trying to dig out the Orts coz he’s just so gosh darn cute (insert heart eyes here).


Final Thoughts

Ort jars are a fab way to show off your stitching prowess. They are fun, colourful and can give you a wee sense of pride as you see it gradually fill up.

You don’t have to create an ort jar, it is totally up to you but if you do, let me know in the comments why you keep one and what you do with it once it is full


A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook Groups, as you do, and I came across this weird phenomena. An Ort Jar. 
Read on to find out exactly what an ort jar is, how you can start one and what to do with it once it is full.

A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook Groups, as you do, and I came across this weird phenomena. An Ort Jar. 
Read on to find out exactly what an ort jar is, how you can start one and what to do with it once it is full.
A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook Groups, as you do, and I came across this weird phenomena. An Ort Jar. 
Read on to find out exactly what an ort jar is, how you can start one and what to do with it once it is full.

6 Comments on The low down on Ort Jars (what are they and how to use them)

  1. I have save orts for years, why/ Because! A friend saw the ört” bottle and told me I was crazy. Oh well.

  2. I have saved my bits and pieces threads for every project. It is fun to see the different colors associated with each project collect in layers. Now I have an official name for the jar!

  3. I have started saving my leftovers this past year just because it has been fun to see it grow.. I’m really happy to learn that not only does my collection have a name, but now a purpose. Thanks for sharing. I will now label my jar and share my Orts with pride!

  4. I’d never heard of an Ort Jar until today and I’m definitely going to start one. I have these cute little round horseradish jars I’ve been wondering what to do with… sad I didn’t know about this 45 years ago when I started needling!

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