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Types of Embroidery Threads Used For Hand Embroidery

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!

types of embroidery threads

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Embroidery Thread Characteristics

Here are some of the defining characteristics that make up each type of thread:

  • fiber type
  • texture
  • 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

dmc cotton embroidery floss

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.

perle cotton floss

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.

Satin Floss

satin dmc embroidery floss

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.

variegated embroidery floss

Variegated Floss

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

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)

cotton thread and light effects used together

Etoille Thread

etoile thread

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.

Crewel Yarn

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.

Silk Thread

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.

TypeFiberTexture/qualities# PliesDivisible?Uses
6 strandcottonsmooth, easy to work with6yesgeneral use for most types of embroidery/cross stitch
Pearl cottoncottonbraided, smooth2nomost types of embroidery
Satinrayonslippery, shiny6yesgeneral use embroidery – add shiny accents
Variegatedcottonsmooth, easy to work with6yesgeneral embroidery – add changing color gradients
Light Effects (DMC)polyesterstiff, shiny6yesgeneral use embroidery -add shiny accents
Etoillemetallic/cottonfluffy6yesgeneral use embroidery -add subtle shimmers
Crewelwoolchunky, softvariesnocrewel embroidery
Ribbonsilk or syntheticsmooth and pliablen/an/aribbon embroidery
Silksilksmooth, finevariesvariessilk shading/thread painting
This table features some of the characteristics of different embroidery threads


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.


Carol Brown

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!

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