Are Spools The Future For Embroidery Threads?

Recently the cross stitch world has been awash with opinions on Anchor Floss’ choice to move to spools in big box stores in North America, and away from the traditional skein. I’ve stayed away from talking about these in the past, as firstly, its North America only for now, and Anchor threads aren’t popular across the world (even if they scored highly in our roundup of the best cross stitch threads). In addition, you either love the idea, or hate it.
 
However whilst the change is an interesting one on the surface, I think it’s likely that this is the future of selling threads…

Anchor Embroidery Thread on spools (Source: Milled.com)
Anchor Embroidery Thread on spools (Source: Milled.com)

So What Is Anchor Doing?

If you weren’t aware up until now, Anchor Threads have started selling their embroidery threads in big-box American and Canadian stores on spools.
They come in two sizes, 10m (10.9 yards) in every color, and 30m (32.8 yards) in 20 colors.
They’re being sold at slightly less per yard than skeins in the USA, but slightly more in Canada (not sure why), however, this may be an introductory price.
Right now you can only get them in these stores, and they aren’t being sold on their own website in spools yet.

Why Are They Doing It?

Anchor Embroidery Thread on spools (Source: Anchorcrafts.com)
Anchor Embroidery Thread on spools (Source: Anchorcrafts.com)
So here we get into the meat of the issue. The benefits are numerous (and we really mean that) for all parts of the chain.
 
We start with the customer. People really do love or hate this idea, and I won’t be picking sides today (sorry for those who wanted me to!), but there are some benefits.
The first is that price point. We don’t know yet if there is an introductory price, or even why Canada seems to be getting the short straw, but price savings from the manufacturer and retailer, will likely find their way to us too.
The second is most people use bobbins to store their threads. By having them on spools, you’re cutting down on all that bobbin work. You also get all the benefits of using bobbins from the get-go.
 
The next winner here is Anchor themselves. It’s clear that this is still in the testing phase, with a full rollout still not clear, but this action wouldn’t have been taken unless there were benefits.
That mostly comes down to cost. Making cross stitch threads requires a lot of work, and special machines are needed just for making skeins. However, making spools is a totally different story. By optimizing the manufacturing process, they save money. And Anchor is used to this type of thing too, their metallic embroidery threads are already on spools.

However, it also allows them to get into more stores. Right now, DMC owns the cross stitch thread market, and Anchor has been losing ground (especially since the “new” DMC threads came out), so they need a way to compete. And spools have allowed them a winning edge.
 
So why are they in more stores? Well, there are benefits to stores too. And this is why we’re seeing these spools in stores right now, especially the big box ones.
The single largest issue to a retailer, for any product, is the rate of return for shelf space. I’m sure you can all recall seeing lines of boxes of DMC threads spreading across yards of shelving? Well that costs the retailer money. And threads, even the expensive ones, aren’t going to bring in a big profit for the space used.
But the new spools allow you to store just as many threads, in a fraction of the size (thanks to optimized space).

Anchor threads on spools in a US store (Source: reddit)
Anchor threads on spools in a US store (Source: reddit)

The second big issue for retailers is upkeep. Those open boxes of threads catch dust like crazy! In addition, they’re open to the elements, including strong store lights that cause discoloration of threads often thought to be dye lot issues. With spools hidden behind others, no thread is shown to the light longer than it needs to be, cutting down on color changes and dust collection.

So Its Here To Stay?

DMC Embroidery Thread on Floor Spinning Rack (Source: grovesltd.co.uk)
DMC Embroidery Thread on Floor Spinning Rack (Source: grovesltd.co.uk)
This is where the speculation comes into play I’m afraid to say. What we know so far is that this is a test, limited reach and Anchor is unsure of the impact right now. The healthy debate online on the positives vs negatives (and there are a few big ones) shows that this isn’t something they can quickly change and roll out without testing the water.
But I believe it will be the future of selling embroidery threads.
 
The first reason for this is cost. For the customer, Anchor, and the retailers, the cost is reduced. In a capitalist society, the cost is always the biggest driving factor.
 
The second is that we’ve seen this kind of change happen before. You can all recall those boxes of threads, but I bet you can also recall those spinning storage units, even though they’ve almost been entirely phased out by DMC (although Anchor still uses them). Actually, Anchor themselves have already been using them for metallic threads with great success for a few years now.
 
Whatever you think of these new spools, it’s likely that this is only the first step, and I think we’re likely to see a lot more in the future.
 
Do you think we’ll be likely to see more of these spools in the future?
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan
 
Bonus fun fact: In the 1960s Anchor used to sell their embroidery thread on wooden spools!

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Kaz

    I don’t buy Anchor, as I much prefer DMC, but this idea would stop me buying Anchor if I did. I truly hope DMC don’t go down this route.

    – first, there’s the environmental impact of the plastic spools (I already don’t like the fact that the skein labels are now plastic, instead of the old paper ones)
    – second, the impact on my thread storage at home would be awful. I don’t use bobbins, as I’ve never had a problem pulling thread from skeins. I’m able to store a few hundred skeins sorted in bags in just one manageable sized storage box – these new spools would make that impossible. Skeins also allow me to take my current project with me when I travel. Bottom line is, these new spools will just take up far too much space.

    1. LordLibidan

      I personally agree! But sadly, big businesses can make their opinions shout louder than stitchers. So even if we don’t like it; we may be stuck with it!

  2. helbel

    For me spools will cause more home storage problems, skeins get wound into nice flat bobbins, spools are round, when you have a medium sized project with 40 colours that’s easy to fit into a box, 40 spools is one massive box. Also the unnecessary plastic is just horrific.

    Spools look really pretty and I can see advantages to the retailer. But I think in these times it’s a backwards step.

  3. Susan B Farmer

    My gold and silver threads already come on spools. I would prefer silk on spools rather than hanks … (what do you do with 22 meters of filament silk once you’ve cut it?)

    1. LordLibidan

      That’s always bugged me too! You can’t put silk on a bobbin, so it just ends up hanging around getting dirty…