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How Many Strands Of Embroidery Floss To Use [Take The Quiz!]

Have you ever found yourself in a thread of confusion over how many strands of embroidery floss to use for your latest project?

Embroidery is a mix of creativity and precision, but let’s face it – sometimes, getting that balance just right feels like threading a needle in the dark. That’s why we’re tackling this commonly asked question today: How many strands of embroidery floss should you really be working with?

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, we’re here to demystify this essential part of the craft. So grab your embroidery thread and let’s get into it!

6 strand embroidery floss

This post is a part of a series for how to embroider for beginners.

There are many kinds of embroidery threads available, but the most commonly used thread for surface embroidery and cross stitch is 6-strand embroidery floss. It’s great for surface embroidery and counted cross stitch because of its divisible strands of thread. It comes in a variety of different materials: from metallic threads, to rayon threads, and most commonly cotton threads. Regardless of the kind you plan to use, stranded floss allows you to work with different thicknesses of thread depending on the effect and level of detail you want to achieve.

How many strands of embroidery floss should I use?

The short answer is that there isn’t a right or wrong amount of thread to use. While there are some exceptions, most people use anywhere from 1 to 6 strands.

In a survey I conducted on Instagram, 41% of people said they usually use 1-2 strands, 45% use 2-3 strands, 11% use 3-4 strands, and 3% said they use 5-6 strands. (Based on the answers of 91 people)

The number of threads you should use depends on a few different factors:

  • the types of embroidery stitches you plan to use
  • the level of detail you want to achieve in the design
  • the size of the embroidery design
  • the technique or style of embroidery you are implementing
  • the type of fabric you’re using
  • the desired appearance you want to achieve
stranded cotton floss lying across an embroidery hoop

Take The Quiz

Short on time? This quick quiz will give you some guidance on how many strands of floss you could consider using on your project.

Note: Not all hand embroidery projects have to use the same amount of thread throughout, so the results are just a suggestion! Keep reading to learn more about all of the different factors to take into consideration.

How Many Strands Of Embroidery Floss To Use Quiz

Type of Embroidery Stitches Used

There isn’t a tried and true number of strands you should use for specific embroidery stitches, but using different amounts of floss will have different effects on the size, texture, and appearance of the stitches. Here are some examples:

Rows of split stitches using 1, 2, 4, and 6 strands of floss
Split stitch using 1, 2, 4, and 6 strands of floss

Outline Stitches

Using more or less thread will control the thickness of the line that is created by many outline stitches. In my personal experience, it’s sometimes easier to achieve smoother lines by using a few more strands of thread for things like the stem stitch and the back stitch.

However, for the split stitch, it’s easier when you use a single strand or an equal amount of strands for the stitch to look even. This is because this stitch is worked by coming up through the last straight stitch that is made, splitting the thread in half. 1, 2, 4 or 6 strands is an ideal amount to use.

assorted sizes of colonial knots and French knots using 2-6 strands of floss
Colonial and French knots using 2-6 strands of floss

Knots

On the other hand, knot stitches can use pretty much any amount of thread depending on the size you want them to be. Using less strands will make the knot smaller and more strands will make them bigger. Things like colonial knots, French knots, etc. look great when you use 1-6 strands of floss.

woven wheel rose using 6 strands of floss

Decorative Stitches

Woven wheel roses are known for how 3 dimensional they are, so this stitch is normally worked with all 6 strands of embroidery floss. Sometimes people will actually double the floss to make it pop off the fabric even more.

an embroidered sweater made from the ceylon stitch
ceylon stitch using 4 strands of floss

Fill Stitches

Couching and other needle weaving stitches cover more surface area when thicker amounts of thread are used. This creates a very interesting texture when you use 4-6 strands.

Finally, for satin stitches, you may find it easier to make the stitches smoother by using 2-4 strands instead of all 6.

Play around with different quantities of thread to see what feels right for you!

How Intricate Your Pattern Is

Patterns with more intricate details may be harder to stitch with all 6 strands of embroidery floss. If you’re trying to stitch super fine lines, using fewer strands of the thread will allow you to make smaller stitches more easily.

The Size Of The Embroidery Design

Smaller designs that have a good amount of detail in them may be easier to stitch with less thread.

But if you’re working on a large surface embroidery design, using more strands may help you complete the embroidery a little bit faster. Even if the design has a lot of detail, you may be able to get away with using a larger amount of thread or even making the stitch length slightly longer and larger.

The Type Of Embroidery You’re Doing

There really are no rules for the amount of thread you should use for different types of embroidery…However, here are a couple of examples of certain styles that are easier to do with a certain number of strands.

thread painting of a ladybug that uses 1 strand of floss
Ladybug book corner pattern

If you’re threading painting, fewer strands of thread will make it easier to blend colors together. From personal experience, using 3-6 strands for this style of embroidery makes the embroidery less smooth looking and the blending of colors is more obvious. I like to stick with one or two strands of cotton embroidery floss. You could also try experimenting with silk threads, which are typically even finer than cotton floss.

cross stitch project using 2 strands of floss

Cross stitch traditionally uses 2 strands of embroidery floss. Contrary to surface embroidery, cross-stitch has a flat appearance and is a form of counted needlework that is normally stitched on even-weave or aida fabric. To achieve the look of traditional cross-stitch, you don’t want to use more than 2 strands because the cross stitches will be more visibly raised off of the fabric if you do.

The Type of Fabric You’re Using

The ground fabric you plan to use will also help determine how much thread to use.

Different fabrics come in a variety of weights. Cotton and linen are usually light to medium weight, while denim is normally a heavier weight.

For thinner, more fragile fabrics, try using fewer strands of the thread. This will make it easier to embroider on and lessen your chances of damaging the fabric.

Medium and heavy weight fabrics can usually withstand thicker amounts of thread.

Desired Appearance Or Style

The final thing to consider is what you want the embroidery to look like.

Using more strands of floss will create a more dimensional and sometimes fluffy appearance. It will also cover more surface area per stitch.

Using less strands of thread will achieve a flatter, more fine looking appearance.

In Summary

You don’t have to stick to using a certain number of strands for the entire embroidery project. Mix things up and try to experiment with different quantities for different stitches to see what you like best!

You are also not restricted to only using stranded embroidery floss. If you’re looking to experiment with different threads, there are so many other options out there like crewel wool and even ribbon!

Keep Learning

Need more guidance on how many skeins of floss you should buy for a certain project? I have another post that will show you how to estimate how much floss you’ll need.

P.S. Using different amounts of thread requires different sizes of needles, so you may also want to check out this needle size guide for choosing the right needle size.

Everything You Need To Learn Embroidery In One Place

Any new skill can leave you feeling overwhelmed with where to start and let’s face it: your time is limited.

I created this guide with you in mind!

It has everything in it that you need to know to get started stitching. Comes with tips, material recommendations, and 6 fun projects that will build your confidence and allow you to not just learn the art of embroidery but have something to show for it!

FAQs

How many threads are in embroidery floss?

Stranded embroidery floss usually comes with 6 divisible strands.

What does it mean when embroidery says 4 strands?

Stranded embroidery floss is made up of 6 strands of thread that are able to be separated. If an embroidery pattern requires 4 strands, you’ll need to cut a piece of embroidery floss and separate 4 strands from it.

Do you use the whole thread in embroidery?

If you are using Perle cotton or yarn, you should use the whole thread, as these kinds of threads are non-divisible. If you are using stranded floss, you can use all 6 strands of embroidery floss or you can separate them out! Depending on a variety of different factors including the look, style of embroidery, stitches, and fabric you are embroidering on you can use anywhere between 1-6 strands.

How many strands for 14 count cross stitch?

Counted cross stitch generally uses 2 strands. If a project doesn’t specify the amount of thread you need to use, you can normally safely assume that 2 will be a good amount!