Alternative use for a sandwich box

Some time ago I bought some large storage boxes with clip fastenings; they are square and flattish and hold the finished projects that I haven’t quite got round to “finishing” – you know, as cushions or bags or box lids or framed pictures or baby blankets or whatever. I also got a rectangular box with compartments, rather deeper than my usual boxes, for my goldwork materials. That too has a clip fastening. They’re nice and secure, which is not so important in the case of the finished pieces of stitching, but essential when they are filled with beads or spangles or bits of gold wire. One drawback is that they are not the cheapest storage options around.

So when I needed a small project box for my Jacobean goldwork flower, and I found that my usual project boxes wouldn’t do because the compartments were too shallow for the envelopes holding the gold threads and wires, I was delighted to find that the smallest of a set of three clip boxes we’d bought for sandwiches and the like was actually just the right size for a smallish goldwork project!

But what about my Tree of Life? It will use some goldwork materials and, in one version, crewel wool. Which is not wound on bobbins and like the goldwork bits and bobs won’t fit into a standard project box. Could I perhaps find a slightly larger sandwich box? I could and I did, and it was even more useful than I had imagined because some genius had decided to fit it with two small compartments along one side, presumably for some cherry tomatoes or a small tub of salad dressing.

A supermarket sandwich box

I wonder if the designer ever envisaged his lunch box looking like this?

A sandwich box with crewel wools and gold

Goldwork hide-and-seek and picking threads

I keep most of my goldwork materials in small glassine envelopes – little greaseproof paper bags which are translucent so you get an inkling of what’s inside (and how pretty it looks). The envelopes are in turn kept in a storage box, where they are stacked in shallow rows: a stack of different pearl purls, a stack of spangles, a stack of milliary wires and so on.

Goldwork threads in their glassine envelopes

It works very well, and I can lay my hands on whatever I want with ease. Generally. Recently, however, I could not find an envelope of gold Elizabethan twist, and one of silver smooth passing. I knew I had them (I keep a record of all my stash), I could visualise them, but although I went through every compartment of the storage box half a dozen times, they would not turn up.

This puzzled me especially because I remembered quite clearly that the Elizabethan twist was a relatively large roll of metallic thread which had only just fitted inside the envelope. Surely that couldn’t hide anywhere so successfully? The solution to the mystery turned out to be twofold: a) bad memory – my stock of Elizabethan twist wasn’t nearly as big as I though, it was the gold smooth passing (which was not missing) that rather stretched its envelope, and b) an annoying tendency for glassine envelopes to form close bonds with each other, especially when not very full. The gold twist and the silver passing were both where they were meant to be, just hiding inside the flaps of their neighbours…

How glassine envelopes hide

So now that I had all threads and wires present and correct I could finally do what I had actually got the storage box out for: choosing the golds for the silk version of the Tree of Life. These will be used for the bird sitting on one of the leaves, for a small detail in the top leaf, and for or nué (a type of couching) on the final leaf. After some consideration I’ve chosen smooth passing, pearl purl and wire check, as well as some gold kid which isn’t shown here. I’m looking forward to showing you my golden bird and leaves!

Gold threads for the Tree of Life

Colours, beads and bead pots

Sometimes colours work just fine when you look at them on the skein or ball, but when they’re actually on the fabric, in stitches, they’re just not quite right. This happened on Join The Band as I was working the perle #8 stitches in the uncut purple Kloster block bands. Far too little contrast between light and dark – the dark will have to be a LOT darker! For this band, in fact, I’ll go for DMC 550, a lovely rich purple; the blue and green bands will likewise get more of a contrast.

Too little contrast between the shades

Incidentally, I’ve been having some ideas about the blue and green bands. The idea was that the purple bands would be uncut, with some surface stitching as a filling, while the blue and green bands would be cut and filled in the usual Hardanger manner (except that the cut squares are not separated by worked bars but by double-sided Kloster blocks). But while picking the new, darker filling colours I thought it would be interesting to have three different approaches: the purple ones uncut with surface decorative stitching, the green one uncut with a Hardanger filling, and the blue ones cut with a Hardanger filling. Some traditional filling stitches can be worked equally well on uncut fabric as in a cut area, as long as the square it is filling is surrounded by four Kloster blocks (I used this in the four Kaleidoscope designs, which can be worked cut or uncut according to the stitcher’s preference).

But first things first – as I was working the surface stitching in dark purple I suddenly realised that what I had taken to be French knots were actually beads. Well, I did design this a long time ago, and I’d forgotten… So off to my bead tins to find some purple beads. Ah. There weren’t any, or at least none that were dark enough to go with DMC 550. Off, then, to Sew & So, my first port of call for most supplies. As it is difficult to know what a colour really looks like from just seeing it on screen, I got two shades, one a standard-sized seed bead and one a petite. The petite bead won the colour competition hands down, and turned out to fit the design rather better size-wise as well!

Choosing beads to go with the dark purple in Join The Band

However, these new beads created a new problem: I need more bead tins! Unfortuately I can’t get those useful watchmaker’s tins any more; there is a company in America that sells them with slightly larger pots, but I prefer the smaller ones, and anyway it comes out far too expensive with postage and import duty. eBay has lots of gem pots and what have you on offer, but the containers for the pots are generally too large. Then I found 60 pots in two reasonable-sized containers at Stitch Craft Create (well, those three words anyway, although they may be in a different order). The pots are 25mm like my old ones, only a little taller; the two containers are a little bigger than my watchmaker’s tins but not too bad. And having transferred my beads to the pots and seeing the colourful picture they make, I’m happy with my new storage!

My new bead pots The bead pots, filled

Unexpected storage

It is a sad fact of life that Mabel’s Fancies is not my day job. My day job involves accounts, web maintenance, and talking to people on the phone about bits of pre-war automobile in several languages (though not at the same time, obviously). It doesn’t involve needlework, alas, but it’s a nice job. I like it. And sometimes it throws up pleasant surprises. Like answering the phone this afternoon and being greeted with “hello princess!” by an elderly gentleman I didn’t know (I’ve been called “petal” as well, and “ducks” – this royal treatment is definitely a step up).

Another surprise came when I was asked to put together assorted grommet packs. Until we started this business I had no idea what a grommet was, and I am still a little hazy as to what you use them for, although I can see the larger ones making quite a good foundation for Dorset buttons. Putting together packs of them, however, I can do. I opened the two boxes of grommets and… looked at the boxes. They clipped close. They had moveable dividers. They looked remarkably like smaller versions of the large craft storage box I got for my goldwork materials some time back. Not quite such good quality, but perfectly usable. And just the right size for a project box when the project needs rather more threads and bits and bobs than will fit into my usual, small project boxes.

Putting together grommet packs The grommet box

Soon the bags were full and the boxes empty. Now all I need to do is fill them with threads! My Leaves project, perhaps, or the Tree of Life, or…

Storage, stash and a watering can

My storage box has arrived! And so of course it needed to be filled. It now holds the three reels of sewing thread (I keep a small amount of each on a bobbin in the little project box), a spare piece of beeswax, any gold threads that I’m not using for the watering can, small acid-free envelopes for future stash plus a fine marker to write on it, a white chalk pencil with extra leads (well, chalks) and petite seed beads in gold, silver, copper and light gold.

The deep storage box, open The deep storage box, closed

The chalk pencil is a new bit of kit – I’m hoping to use it for drawing designs on darker fabrics. Being a mechanical pencil it’ll stay nice and sharp without maintenance, so it should be able to draw quite accurate lines (depending on my steadiness of hand), but I’ll have to give it a few tries to see how well the chalk will remain visible – it might need touching up after a while. The petite beads are part existing stash, part new acquisition: I already had a shade called Ice which will go well with silver spangles, and a shade called Champagne which isn’t quite gold (it has a slight pinky tinge), but works well if you want a little subtle sparkle. To these I added Victorian Gold, for a more straightforward gold shade, and Autumn Flame, which I hope will work well with copper threads (unfortunately I have not been able to find copper spangles anywhere, but the beads will still look good on their own in a project with copper materials).

Bohin mechanical chalk pencil Petite seed beads in gold and copper

Having had a most pleasant and enjoyable play with my new box and goldwork materials, I finally got round to a bit of actual goldwork embroidery: I’ve added four scrolls to my watering can. Going down from the top one they are Twist, Rococco, Twist again (stop singing there!) and a single line of #8 Japanese gold, all couched. I varied the couching on the two twists, using the usual perpendicular stitches on the shorter one, and slanted stitches on the longer one, following the twist of the thread as much as possible. I think the latter looks better when it is done well, but it’s terribly difficult to get the angle right!

Some scrolls have been added to the goldwork watering can Close-up of the four scrolls

At one point these four scrolls were accompanied by a small extra scroll done in petite beads, but I took them out as they didn’t look right. Next step will be to decide where to put the little extras such as spangles, smooth purl flowers like the blue one that’s already there, and so on. I’m looking forward to that!


I have a storage problem. No, actually, I have two storage problems. Two specific ones, I mean, quite apart from the usual general “my stitching stuff is distributed all around the house” problem. And they are the result of Branching Out and Trying New Things. Because if you Try New Things you almost invariably find that you Need New Stash. For example, although you can certainly use cross stitch and Hardanger threads for shisha embroidery, it also needs various blingy bits like mirrors and sequins (some of which arrived in the post yesterday – including some unexpected purple hearts which turned out to be a February Special Offer), not to mention a different sort of fabric to work on. And as for goldwork, well…

New sequins - including unexpected purple hearts!

So far I’ve been trying to make do with bobbin boxes of various sizes, which are great for threads on bobbins but not always ideal for other types of threads, embellishments etc. Here are two of the smaller ones, which I tended to use as project boxes, to hold the threads for whatever project I happened to be working on. Since moving from cross stitch to Hardanger these get used rather less because they aren’t particularly suitable for perles, which I keep on rings (#5) or in balls (#8 and #12). So I promoted one of them to goldwork project box, and the other to shisha/surface embroidery project box.

Two small storage boxes, for goldwork and shisha

Immediately you will notice a couple of problems. The shisha box is full to bursting point already, and that’s without most of the new arrivals and some existing stash that would fall into this category. The goldwork box has enough space, but the little acid-free envelopes that hold the metals are too tall for the box – I have to fold them over, but they spring back so I have to close the lid on them very quickly; or I’d have to crease them but I don’t really want to because I like the metals to have a bit of room and not be coiled up too tightly. The same problem applies to the larger box that I picked to store any goldwork materials not part of the present project: plenty of room (for now…) but not enough height.

A larger storage box - big enough, but not high enough

A re-think was needed. There isn’t a lot I can do about the small project box; I just haven’t got anything higher. But then threads will live in it for a relatively short period of time, and probably not too many of them at once, so if I put them in at a sort of sloping angle they should be all right for the duration of a project. The larger compartment holds the mellor comfortably, the tweezers just about, and the scissors propped up; and I can fit all three sewing threads (for gold, silver and copper) into one of the smaller compartments. Then one for beeswax and one for needles (but they can share a room in an emergency), and that leaves three for the threads. Don’t mention bulky padding felt and metallic kid. Just don’t.

The rearranged goldwork project box

As for the larger box, I decided that it simply wouldn’t do for the long term. So out came all the little glassine envelopes, to be temporarily stored on top of the chest of drawers in the storage room (not, unfortunately, a room exclusively for craft storage; in fact, most of the space is taken up by bits of pre-war automobile), and in went all the sequins, mirrors and embellishments, which now have a bit more breathing space and even a little room to expand.

The shisha materials find a new home

Now storage comes in many shapes and sizes, and one of the shapes it comes in is that of a small index card box, several of which had been sitting unused in a drawer in the office since we bought one big box that could hold all our index cards. They weren’t made for needlework supplies, but they are high enough, and will hold two rows of envelopes side by side. Not much scope for organising things, and the envelopes slide about a bit and fall over when there are only a few in a box, but at least the threads would be stored unfolded and shielded from dust.

goldwork threads stored in index card boxes

And that’s where things stood until I visited Sew & So’s website for some petite beads and perles earlier today. Until I saw this: the Deep Utility Box. It is deep. It is organisable. It is Just What I Was Looking For. I ordered it. Watch this space for pictures of it, filled with (well, part-filled with) my goldwork supplies!

Storage solutions

I don’t know whether the word is still as fashionable as it was a while back, but do you remember how practically anything you could buy was a solution? Software solutions (programs), packaging solutions (cardboard and parcel tape), gardening solutions (compost, plants, seccateurs), stationery solutions (pens, paper, staples) and, of course, storage solutions (boxes). Well, once upon a time I had the perfect storage solution for my un-bobbined threads – hinged metal rings with thin varnished light wooden rings on them, and cheap & cheerful plastic clip-shut boxes.

Perle storage

Then the thin, varnished light wooden rings were no longer to be had. And the hinged rings weren’t easy to find in the right size any more. And the Dutch shop where I bought the plastic boxes was out of the size I wanted. Obviously, I should have stocked up in a big way on all those three parts of my storage solution when I had the chance! But is there any stitcher who has a realistic idea of how many threads she will have in a year’s time?

So I now have two half-sized boxes, smaller metal rings and larger, thicker and rougher wooden rings. Not ideal, but they’ll do, and it is still a joy to play with my lovely new threads. But when I’d finished putting the pre-cut perles onto my wooden rings, I came to the next challenge – Threadworx’ overdyed Vineyard silk. Unlike their perles and stranded cottons, the silks don’t come in pre-cut lengths. And unlike the perle cottons, which may look pretty and dainty but are quite sturdy underneath, the silks really are as delicate as they look and I wouldn’t dream of putting them on those untreated wooden rings, even though I did sand them to get rid of the worst roughness. So what to do with them? The obvious answer is to do what I do with all my other silks and wind them on plastic bobbins. But that means keeping them with the other bobbinated threads in one of my bobbin boxes, and I particularly want to keep them with the Threadworx perles as they are meant to go with some of the #8 perles instead of a #5.

Have you ever known an object really well only to realise after years of use that they have a particular feature? That sounds a bit complicated, but here is what I mean. I have wound threads onto bobbins for years. I know them back to front. Flat white plastic things with a hole in the top end. Subconcsciously I knew that hole was there. I even knew it was there because some people keep them on hinged metal rings. The metal rings are, after all, sometimes known as bobbin rings. But because I keep bobbins in bobbin boxes, this idea never really made it into my conscious mind. Until yesterday,when it suddenly came to me that I could have three rings of perles-on-wooden-rings, and one ring of silks-on-bobbins, and keep them in the same box.

So I did – but there was one last complication. There were rather more Threadworx threads than I’d realised so I now had four rings of perles and one of silks, and they wouldn’t fit into the half-sized box. A bit more stash rearranging was obviously called for, and eventually the Threadworx collection ended up in my wooden thread box, while my DMC/Anchor variegated perles now inhabit one of the half-sized boxes, and my House of Embroidery perles the other.

My Threadworx collection and how I store it Anchor and DMC variegated perles House of Embroidery perles

Storage problem solved!

For now…

Storing stash

Victory! I have finally wound all the Caron threads and other perles into submission. The next problem was deciding where to store half a dining table full of bobbins. Until now, all my Caron thread have been living in the top half of my dragonfly thread box; the bottom half, which isn’t divided into little compartments, held my #12 perles, some scissors, and a few spare white and cream perles. I decided to get two bobbin boxes, like the ones you use for stranded cotton, thinking that would be plenty – but they were smaller than I thought, and definitely smaller than the thread box.

There was another consideration; I wanted to try and keep the Caron threads together as much as possible. Ideally I’d like to keep all my threads together, but that’ll have to wait until I have my own craft room. For the moment they are rather scattered around the house, although I’m trying to keep certain brands or types of threads together. One thing that helped was the narrow chest of drawers which eldest son decided he didn’t want to take with him when he left home, and which I have now confiscated. It’s not perfect, the drawers are rather too deep, but it holds my fabrics, stock of squissors and coasters, finishing items, stitched models and some threads in a reasonably accessible way.

So here is how my Hardanger threads are now stored (there is quite a collection of other threads as well, but we’ll ignore those for the moment; let’s not complicate matters unnecessarily!) – to begin with, a box (decorated with Little House Needleworks’ “Necessities Sampler” on the lid) holding my balls of perle #12 and spare skeins of white, antique white and cream perle #5. It sits on top of the record player in the sitting room. I forgot to take a picture of its present contents, but here is a small photograph of the box:

Decorated box

My standard perle #5 are all cut into 1-yard lengths and attached to small wooden rings, then to larger metal rings according to colour. They are kept in a stackable plastic box. Two identical boxes hold my balls of perle #8. The three boxes are stacked in the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers, which lives upstairs in one of the bedrooms.

Standard perles on a system of rings and in stackable boxes

Anchor and DMC variegated perle #5, House of Embroidery and Threadworx perles likewise reside on rings in pre-cut lengths. They are kept in a box given to me some time ago by a kind friend who was looking for a good home for it. It has a tapestry top and is kept underneath a spare chair in the dining room.

Variegated and hand-dyed perles on a system of rings

Any other hand-dyed or silk perles, or other silks suitable for Hardanger, are wound on bobbins and kept in a standard plastic bobbin box. This holds Dinky Dyes, Weeks Dye Works, Treenway, Gloriana, Kacoonda, Vineyard and some one-offs, plus my Caron Snow threads (for reasons which will become clear in a little while). It sits on top of the tapestry box.

Hand-dyed and silk perles in a bobbin box

And finally, the dragonfly box. I estimated that it was probably just about big enough to hold all my Caron except the Snow threads, if I packed them in fairly tight. It is. Just. I think there is probably room for another 4 or 5 bobbins, so my future purchases will have to be carefully considered! I spent a happy hour or so trying to decide how to arrange the colours – not easy, but enjoyable – and between the first and the second picture below I constructed some dividers from a cereal box to keep the bottom bobbins neatly aligned. This box is kept on the chair that the previous two boxes are kept under.

Caron threads in a box with drawer The drawer with its new dividers

And there you have it, my thread storage system! Rather scattered, and not particularly coordinated or uniform, but it works. One day, though, one day … I will have pictures to show you of my very own craft room with two or three (or four) cabinets full of drawers that are just the right size, and everything organised just so. But don’t hold your breath – it may be a few years smiley.

Stash: the stitcher’s hermit crab

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own, and so they use empty, left-over shells to protect themselves. The trouble with using someone else’s shell, however, is that when you grow, it doesn’t grow with you. And so every now and again the hermit crab will find that it is getting rather cramped in its present abode, and that it needs to look for a new, larger shell.

Isn’t it remarkable just how reminiscent this is of stash?

You start stitching. It doesn’t take much – a piece of fabric, a needle, scissors and some thread. At first, it all fits into a small plastic bag, with room to spare. Then you get some more fabric; different counts, perhaps, and in several colours. Possibly you even venture into pretty hand-dyeds and opalescents. And of course for every new project colours are needed that you haven’t got yet. They get added, as well as speciality threads, metallics, perle cottons, silks, for that special touch. Talking of special touches, how about beads? And charms? The original plastic bag is now only just big enough for the fabrics, and all the threads and beads and other thingummybobs need their own boxes.

So you’ve got everything in neat boxes and bags, either sorted by number or colour, and doesn’t it all look wonderful! Then you buy one more colour – will it squeeze into the box? Just! But the next colour doesn’t have a hope …

That’s what happened with my perle cottons. They were housed in two boxes: the #12 perles in the drawer of my Dragonfly box, which also holds my Caron threads and silk perles, and the #8 and #5 perles in a wooden box I was given by a kind friend. The #5 perles live on hinged metal rings, and were draped on top of the balls of #8. But what with Rainbow Wings and the SAL and Gingham Gems my collection was rapidly outgrowing its comfortable "shell"! So I started looking for shallow boxes to hold the #8. I found some in laminated cardboard, which looked quite useful but came to about £15 each which seemed a bit much for cardboard; I looked into wooden boxes with drawers but they were either not the right size, or beautiful antiques several hundred pounds beyond my budget.

Then we went to Holland on our holiday and in one of those useful shops which sell anything from underwear to baking trays to camping gas I found these, at €1.99 each:

Three useful boxes

Not particularly attractive, but the right size, stackable, and cheap. And once I’d put my threads in, they suddenly looked quite pretty!

All my perle #8 neatly stored

And just to demonstrate the way in which stash simply keeps growing – while in Holland I bought a few more things; some useful, some just very pretty and very moreish. A metre each of White and Antique White 25ct Lugana falls into the first category. These lovely Au Ver à Soie silk ribbons definitely come in the second. One of them will be used in the speciality thread version of the Song of the Weather SAL; I haven’t decided yet which one, but I can’t wait to stitch something with the coffee/chocolate ribbon!

Au Ver A Soie silk ribbons