Thursday, 3 February 2011


orts [ɔːts]
pl n
(sometimes singular) Archaic or dialect scraps or leavings
[of Germanic origin; related to Dutch oorete, from oor- remaining + ete food]

On the first Japanese Embroidery course I attended, I collected all of my orts in a neat pile on the edge of my frame and threw them into the rubbish bag at the end of the day. Seeing me do this, a fellow student remarked that I should keep all of the silk orts and when I have enough use them to stuff my velvet pad.

I noticed that other students had ort boxes on their frames so when I returned home I made myself an origami ort box. By the time I hav finished stitching Hanayama my box was overflowing with silken scraps. In preparation for my second Japanese embroidery course I emptied the silk it into a plastic bag. It this has become one of my silly rituals to empty the ort box into the plastic bag whenever I complete a phase. There has been some overlap with the two non-phase pieces that I stitch but generally the contents of my orts box pertain to my current phase.

Some members of Stitchin Fingers started an orts jar at the beginning of the year which led me think about my bag of orts. I decided that they deserved a nicer home than a plastic bag. I found a simple jar with a plain lid to keep them in.

I noticed that the orts in the bag had formed layers that represented each phase. They tell a story of my journey and I want to try to preserve that.

Hanayama and Suehiro have become so compressed that I could not easily separate them. Phase II builds on the techniques learnt at Phase I so used the same colour silks for the blossoms and leaves on both phases. I can see some gold threads among the silk. Now I have a separate orts box for the imitation metal threads and yet another for the real gold orts.

This little bundle of threads is from Flutterbies. I expected there to be a lot more than this, especially of the blue silks. I thought that it had taken several attempts until I was satisfied with the wings of "The Blue-Eyed Boy". A quick read of the relevant blog posts showed that I had stitched three practice wings on a test fabric, which I still have somewhere, which accounted for the lack of spoilt silk in the orts bag. (I love having a record of my stitching on this blog that I can refer back to.)

The next layer is Venerable Friends. I don’t see any gold in here so I must have started a separate box by then. I see lots of orange from the big central chrysanthemum. That doesn’t surprise me, I found that very challenging. There is far less waste than from the earlier stages. This is in part because I am doing less reverse stitching as I progress but it also reflects that I am more able to reverse stitch without damaging the silk and can reuse it rather than discard it.

Ah! Did I say I was getting less wasteful of my silk? You wouldn’t think it to look at the next two layers. The first is Himotaba. I remember that I did a lot of reverse stitching on Himotaba, sometimes doing and redoing a short length of a cord several times. Silk is incredible resilient but it can only take so much abuse. There comes a point when the only thing you can do is toss it in the orts box and start again with a fresh length of silk. In addition, the way some of the cords are stitched, you inevitably pierce the silk on the back of the fabric. With the more intricate cords, the easiest way to reverse stitch is to carefully cut through the stitches and pluck out the short lengths of silk.

I didn’t do as much reverse stitching on Loving Couple as the quantity of waste silk suggests. Most of this phase is stitched using variations of short-stitch holding which is near impossible to remove without spoiling the foundation. As with some of the cords, it is simplest to carefully cut through the stitching and pluck it out. I think some of this layer consists of orts from Riches which is stitched in similar colours to some of the Ducks palette and was stitched at the same time.

One phase is missing entirely from the collection. Karahana teaches gold work and most of it entails couching long lengths of gold round and round without a break in the thread. Only a short piece at the beginning and end is wasted. There were a few more orts from some of the other techniques used but all of the real gold went into a separate orts box.

After a little reminiscing, the orts when into their new home, layer by layer. I was surprised that they filled the entire jar. I quite like the idea of having all the orts for Phases I-X in the same jar. I don’t whether to squish these down or to look for a bigger jar.

Happy Stitching


Christine said...

My ort journey has been much like yours. I also transitioned to a glass container much like a jar, and it's pleasing to see all the colors. I played around with felting the orts, using a felting needle, and it works well. The felt made is very tough and strong, it gets so strong that you can't get a needle thru it. I don't think it's nearly as fun as felting with wool, though.

I've found that my favorite working orts container is recycled clear plastic packaging, e.g. from a pack of batteries, or almost anything. I cut it to size and wash it, and find it makes a super light and non-distracting container. My needle felt just fits in my to-go orts box, so it provides protection during travel.

I just started working with real gold, and have found my #1 real gold very temperamental. Finally, I found my #8 round eye needle suits it. Like you, I keep my real gold orts separate. It seems so wasteful to toss them away.

Pretty much every JE stitcher I know saves his/her orts.

Plays with Needles said...

I loved this post CA. I liked being walked through the layers of your accomplishment and their respective orts. Too cool...I didn't realize you were such a good ortaniser!

Angelcat said...

Love your orts jar. Like you say it's so interestiung to see layers of projects build up. I do a similiar thing with all my offcuts from stitching projects and it's fascinating to see the layers build up. Reminds me of how geologists and archeologists look for layers in earthworks and rocks which represent different eras in history :)

Moonsilk Stitches said...

When I began JE I received origami orts box, which I used regularly. At our last session, my teacher asked if we would share our orts with her--she's filling a glass lamp base with them. We all happily did so now her lamp shows not only her journey but those of her students.

Rachel said...

I'd never even heard of orts until recently, so I was reading this post and all the comments, feeling completely bewildered.

It's a whole new world!

Anneliese said...

I was enjoying to read your post about the orts jar, a wonderful blog!

Jane said...

I've never saved my orts! Bad tutor!!

FlowerLady said...

What an interesting post, now you've got me wanting to have an orts jar sitting on my workspace. I've been just throwing them away.

Thanks for the inspiration.

I found you through SF, I'm the one who didn't see your comment. :-)

I have much to learn in the embroidering world.