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Rewind about ten years to a lovely summer break during college. I was spending the summer gallivanting around Europe, and had logged almost as much time in fabric and thread shops, or looking for fabric and thread shops, as in museums and churches. To put this in perspective, Europe has a lot of museums and churches, and I really like them but by the end of the summer I was ready to write them off for good. Or at least a good long while.

Fortunately I found a handy, if not thrifty, diversion from the overwhelm of more “cultured” pursuits. It seemed that every little village or hamlet I passed through had a couple of mom-and-pop thread shops. Like the one in France that had a whole wall, from floor to ceiling, covered in one giant shelving unit reminiscent of a crossword puzzle with each cubby crowded with the most beautiful colors of size 20, 50 and 80 tatting thread I had ever seen (technically, “crochet cotton,” but I see the world in terms of possibilities for tatting). Needless to say I blew the budget and ate cheap sandwiches for a week. Totally worth it.

thread stash closeupThen there was that incident in Germany when a new friend took me to the fabric store and I picked out a lovely floral print for my mother. However, at the cutting table I couldn’t remember the word for “yard” so asked for three feet in broken German (five years of German classes had been appallingly deficient in vocabulary lessons on going to the fabric store) and forgot that they use the metric system. As I watched her unroll meter after meter, I swallowed hard and carefully weighed the prospect of admitting my mistake in front of my new friend or pretending that I really did mean to drape my mom in oodles of fabric, not to mention carry it across three countries in my backpack for the next month. I walked out of the store with three meters of fabric.

The problem was that I had been tatting for a few years by then and the colors and quality of thread I could get in the U.S. simply couldn’t compare. I love colors, and the threads I found in France and Germany were both a much higher quality than I could get domestically, but also came in so many more colors. Brilliant colors. Wonderful variegates. Gorgeous and subtle tones that I drooled over, and I knew I wouldn’t likely get back for many years. It was now or never.

thread stashBut packing became an issue. At one point I officially had more thread wrapped around little cardboard spools than in my clothes. One night, with thread spools covering the hostel room floor in an effort to repack yet again, I had this great space-saving idea and proceeded to ball up every one of those neatly-wound skeins. I felt a slight twinge of foreboding about throwing away all those little cardboard bobbins and number cards, but really, what was the point in keeping them? Souvenirs?

Well, it turns out that keeping the info cards at least would have been a much better idea. Sure, it was great for saving room in the suitcase to cross the Atlantic, but now I don’t know what brand or color any of those gorgeous threads are. Which means, in short, that I can’t get more—oh, how I’ve tried and tried—and I need just one more ball of a few colors to finish certain projects. It makes me want to bawl.

moms unfinished doily

Mom's unfinished doily. I ran out of the light purple one motif to the end.

I’m also hesitant about starting any large projects in case I run out of thread. So these gorgeous balls of thread languish in my stash, touched neither by sun nor dust nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night—nor by postmen, apparently—never to be joined by friends from far off lands that could finish these doilies.

This is one lesson I had to learn the hard way. Now when I ball my thread, I always save a few yards of it on a card with the brand, color number and size (original yardage is sometimes handy too). I still like the space-saving method of balling thread, and frankly I really like the process of balling the thread, but I’m much smarter about it now.

keeping track of threadPlease, please learn from my terrible mistake so you don’t have to go through this too. You could save some thread on cards, keep it all in the original packaging, or come up with your own method. Whatever you do, don’t loose that precious info! Keep track of your threads!