There are variety of different types of embroidery threads you can embroider with and it’s so fun to try new ones to incorporate into an embroidery. Knowing the characteristics and common uses for each one will help you choose the best one for your next project!
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Embroidery Thread Characteristics
Here are some of the defining characteristics that make up each type of thread:
- fiber type
- number of plies
- non-divisible vs separable strands
These characteristics make each kind of thread have a different and unique appearance.
Threads come in many different types of fibers including wool, cotton, silk, acrylic, viscose, and rayon to name a few. Natural fibers are normally a bit easier to work with, but synthetic materials sometimes have their advantages.
Natural fibers tend to have more of a soft and pliable feel to them, whereas synthetic materials can be more shimmery, stiff, and slippery.
Number of Plies
Floss is made up of individual threads or strands that are twisted together. These strands can be divisible or non-divisible.
Types of Embroidery Threads
6 Strand Embroidery Floss
The most common type of thread used for hand embroidery is 6 strand cotton embroidery floss. This floss is comprised of 6 strands of thread that are twisted together. All 6 strands can be threaded on a needle and used. However, the strands can be easily pulled apart and used separately for finer work.
Traditionally, cross-stitch projects use this thread because two of the six strands of thread are used.
Pearl Cotton Embroidery Floss
The next type of thread is the pearl cotton thread. This thread and is made up of 2-ply thread twisted like a rope that is non-divisible. It is made of cotton and comes in a variety of thicknesses (3, 5, 8, and 12).
For more complicated embroidery stitches that are more intricate and decorative, this thread can be easier to use. (Sometimes with the 6 strand thread, it starts to unravel or one of the strands can get snagged.)
The general look of embroidery with this thread is more textured and rope-like.
If you’re looking for thread that has a more satin finish, you can use 6 strand satin thread. Similar to 6 strand cotton floss, this thread is divisible. However, this thread is super silky and a bit more slippery (it’s made of viscose). It’s extremely beautiful to work with though and the colors are brilliant! Just a note: the strands tend to separate easily, so I’d recommend only using a few at a time instead of all 6 strands.
This floss is just 6 strand cotton floss that has a gradient of colors on a single strand. It can be fun to use it for embroidering letters or filling in an area with stitches such as a satin stitch.
DMC Light Effects
This floss is absolutely beautiful, but it’s really stiff and hard to work with when you use all 6 strands. I would recommend using 1 to 2 strands and blending it in with regular cotton floss. (See below)
Etoille is neat because it’s cotton floss mixed with metallic thread. It makes the floss a bit more fluffy and textured, and it’s a lot easier to work with than floss made up entirely of metallic/synthetic threads.
Used for crewel embroidery, this thread normally comes in 2-ply wool. It is thicker than the previous threads mentioned. Its texture is chunky and fluffy which adds a lot of dimension when used.
Ribbon is specifically used for ribbon embroidery, and it can be really fun to use for florals and leaves. The best type of ribbon for embroidery is silk ribbon because of how soft and pliable it is. This makes it easier to pull the needle and thread through the fabrics. It is possible to also work with synthetic ribbon, but it’s a bit more challenging to use.
Ribbon comes in a variety of widths that are measured in mm.
This type of thread is traditionally used for silk shading or thread painting. As the name suggests, it’s made of silk and the fibers can be very fine to make blending colors a breeze. It can be a bit more expensive and harder to find.
Embroidery Thread Chart
I made this table to sum up all of the information about the different types of embroidery threads.
|6 strand||cotton||smooth, easy to work with||6||yes||general use for most types of embroidery/cross stitch|
|Pearl cotton||cotton||braided, smooth||2||no||most types of embroidery|
|Satin||rayon||slippery, shiny||6||yes||general use embroidery – add shiny accents|
|Variegated||cotton||smooth, easy to work with||6||yes||general embroidery – add changing color gradients|
|Light Effects (DMC)||polyester||stiff, shiny||6||yes||general use embroidery -add shiny accents|
|Etoille||metallic/cotton||fluffy||6||yes||general use embroidery -add subtle shimmers|
|Crewel||wool||chunky, soft||varies||no||crewel embroidery|
|Ribbon||silk or synthetic||smooth and pliable||n/a||n/a||ribbon embroidery|
|Silk||silk||smooth, fine||varies||varies||silk shading/thread painting|
I hope this information was helpful! Now that you’ve learned about all of the different kinds of fibers you can use to embroider, you may have one that you’d like to purchase! Check out this post that shows you how to find the best quality embroidery thread.
Monday 28th of June 2021
I was just researching this last night!!! I've jumped into a project that started to be over whelming; I'm now stepping back for perspective. LIFE!!!
Please know that I am thinking of you with gratitude. Carol Brown Rock Hill SC
Tuesday 29th of June 2021
I'm so glad you found found this helpful. Good luck with your project, you've got this!