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!
Disclaimer: This post has some affiliate links in it. I receive a small commission from purchases at no additional cost to the buyer. I only recommend products I would use and love and that are of good quality. All opinions are my own!
- Embroidery Thread Characteristics
- Types of Embroidery Thread
- Embroidery Thread Chart
Embroidery Thread Characteristics
There are a variety of terms you’ll find when you’re reading through this post and shopping online for thread. It can be overwhelming and confusing! It may be helpful to understand some of the main characteristics and terms that are used to describe embroidery thread.
If you’re already familiar with these, skip down to see all of the different types of thread.
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 rough, stiff, and slippery.
Number of Plies
Plies are the pieces of fibers that are twisted together to form a single strand of thread. While you could undo the plies of a strand of thread, it’s generally not recommended because it compromises the structure of the thread and weakens it.
Floss vs Thread – What’s the Difference?
Embroidery floss is made up of divisible strands of thread (usually 6). You can work with all 6 strands together or separate the strands and use less.
Thread is generally made up of one non-divisible strand. If you look close enough, however, you may have noticed that the thread looks like it is made up of a few different pieces of fiber. This is the amount of “plies” or fibers that are twisted together to create the strand of thread. Embroidery thread and yarns are most commonly 2-5 ply.
Yarn vs Thread – Are They The Same?
Yarn is technically a type of non-divisible thread that is spun and twisted together. For the sake of simplicity, the fibers that make up yarn are generally thicker than the fibers in thread that people refer to as “embroidery thread” (for example: pearl cotton thread).
Types of Embroidery Thread
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. All 6 strands can be threaded on a needle and used. However, the strands can be easily pulled apart and used separately depending on how thick or thin you want your embroidery stitches to be. This makes it great for finer work like thread painting.
Traditionally, cross-stitch projects use this thread because two of the six strands of thread are used.
This type of thread is commonly used in many kinds of surface embroidery due to it’s versatility, durability, and large amount of color choices.
Pearl Cotton Embroidery Thread
The next type of thread is the pearl cotton thread. This thread 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.
Floche is a type of cotton embroidery thread that is the thickness of about 2 strands of embroidery floss. It’s soft and silky texture makes it great to work with and use to add in more intricate embroidery details.
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.
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 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. Additionally, due to it’s texture, it may not be ideal for things like clothes because the threads may be difficult to knot and secure.
DMC Light Effects
Light Effects is an absolutely beautiful synthetic floss made of polyester that has a pearlescent glow. It is phenomenal for making your work appear more sparkly and vibrant. It can be really stiff and hard to work with when you use all 6 strands, so I recommend using 1 to 2 strands and combining it in with cotton floss.
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.
DMC Diamant is a metallic-like thread that can be used by itself or combined with other kinds of threads and flosses to add some shine. I have found that this is by far the easiest synthetic thread to work with in my opinion and it comes in a variety of basic colors.
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.
An even thicker kind of wool thread is tapestry yarn. In order to properly thread the needle, you’ll need to use a crewel or chenille needle with this yarn. It’s ideal for tapestry and needlepoint projects, but it’s also possible to use it in surface embroidery to add an extra bit of fluff.
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 millimeters.
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
This table to sums 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.
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.