Have you ever started an embroidery project or pattern and wondered how much thread you need to buy at the craft store? (It’s not as easy to calculate compared to something like a knitting project!) While I can’t tell you the EXACT amount, I’m here to give you a bit of helpful tips so you can make a better educated guess!
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Types of Embroidery Projects
The first thing to consider is what type of project you’re completing.
How Much Thread Do I Need For Cross Stitch?
Cross stitch projects are a bit easier to estimate quantities of thread because you stitch on Aida fabric, which has defined holes in the fabric and comes in thread counts. With some math, you can calculate roughly how much thread a project will take. There are several handy tools online for this so you don’t have to do the math yourself, like this calculator by Thread-Bare!
While calculators will give you a ball park as to how much thread you’ll need, everyone has a different thread tension, style, and amount of strands they will use for a particular project. For example, some people like to make each cross stitch as they go along while others make a row of half stitches and then go back through the other way to complete each stitch.
If you want to get an even more accurate estimation, you can manually calculate the thread you’ll need by taking the following steps:
Measure and cut an 18 inch piece of embroidery thread. Using the amount of strands that the pattern will require, (i.e. 2 strands is most common) leave a 3 inch tail and begin making cross stitches until you have a 3 inch tail remaining.
Count the number of stitches that you were able to make. This number will be used to figure out how many cross stitches per skein your project uses.
Formula To Calculate How Many Skeins of Thread You Will Need
DMC skeins of floss are 8.7 yards long. One skein of DMC floss will allow you 17.4 sections of thread that are 18 inches long. To add some wiggle room, we’ll round it down to 17.
stitches per skein = 17 x number of stitches x (6/strands used)
This formula is loosely based on this equation that estimates amounts of stitches per skein using fabric thread count.
To calculate the number of skeins, reference the color key or cross stitch pattern for the total number of stitches that are used for a particular color.
number of skeins = total number of stitches / stitches per skein
Keep in mind, you may want to add a little extra margin into these calculations.
- If there are a lot of areas using only a few stitches of the color, you’ll end up starting and ending the stitches more, which in turn will use a little bit more thread.
- If you like to skip around and trail the thread on the back, this will also consume more thread.
It’s always a safe bet to add about 1/4 – 1/2 of a skein to your final calculation!
Hand Embroidery or Surface Embroidery
Most modern hand embroidery kits and patterns use 6 strand embroidery floss, but you can also use pearl cotton thread or even yarn if you want to.
Yarn will be thicker and cover more surface area, so you probably won’t need as much. Also, yarn normally comes in a much larger amount than embroidery thread, so you’ll most likely have some left over!
If you’re going the more popular route, there are a few differences between pearl cotton thread and six strand embroidery floss to consider.
Common Lengths of Embroidery Thread:
DMC Pearl Cotton Floss
Pearl cotton thread is “twisted or braided”. This kind of thread is non divisible and comes in different weights.
Pearl cotton comes in different sizes: 3, 5, 8, and 12. The smaller the number, the thicker the thread. It usually comes in 15 meter skeins, but it also comes in a ball, (which varies by the size of thread) and averages around 80 + meters (you’ll probably have plenty if you go this route!)
DMC 6 Strand Embroidery Cotton Floss
This thread comes in 8 meter skeins, and the 6 strands are divisible. This is what I most commonly use for my embroidery projects because it has a much smoother look compared to the braided look of pearl floss.
Size of the Project
If you’re completing a project that is between 4-6 inches in diameter and you’re using a few different colors to complete the embroidery, you’ll most likely use between 1-2 skeins of thread per color.
This is a general rule of thumb, as everyone has different tension, stitch length, and stitch variety when they are embroidering. But in my experience that’s about how much I normally use.
Here is an example of a project that used one or less skeins of 6 strand embroidery thread for a 5 inch embroidery.
Detail of the Project and Types of Stitches
I’ve noticed that some embroidery stitches use ALOT more embroidery thread than others. If you’re using some of these stitches in your project, then consider grabbing an extra skein of that color while you’re at the store.
If your project is extremely detailed, or covers the entire area of the hoop you’re using with wall to wall thread, your best bet is to get at least a couple of each color. In the end, it never hurts to grab more than you think you’ll need!
I hope this post helps you determine the amount of embroidery thread you’ll need for your next project!
If you’d like to read more about different types of embroidery thread, check out these articles:
Amanda is a hand embroidery artist and teacher. With over 15 years of experience in the craft industry and embroidery, she owns and runs Crewel Ghoul, sharing tutorials and patterns to help inspire fellow crafters to get inspired and creative. In addition to running this website, she teaches on Skillshare and Youtube.