Starting any type of embroidery can seem like a daunting task. You may be wondering where to start? What kind of thread do you use for embroidery.? And how can I read about it all quickly?
In this article...
As a beginner it may seem tempting to go out and buy the cheapest thread you can find, but most of the time cheap thread is just.. well, cheap thread (am I right?!).
This will get you well on your way to mastering different threads and when to use them! You only want the best threads for your embroidery.
Thread really is the most important part of embroidery. Without thread, you don’t have embroidery, so let’s look at the different types to get you on your way…
What kind of thread do you use for embroidery?
If you are looking to have a specific look to your embroidery, yes, you will need to use the correct embroidery thread.
Beginners can tend to overlook the importance of the different types of thread (I definitely did) and when to use them.
Not all threads are alike, and not all machines or embroidery projects are alike so finding the right thread for each project is like getting the right ingredients for your favorite recipe.
Is Sewing and Embroidery Thread the Same?
When you are doing embroidery you might reach for your favorite floss, but you can actually add a huge variation of textures and materials to your embroidery thread arsenal once you know your options.
Different specialty threads should be chosen depending on the look you are planning on achieving, so before you choose your threads you should have some idea of what you want to stitch out.
The plethora of thread types are suited for different types of embroidery.
Hand embroidery threads
There are different types of embroidery threads that are more commonly seen in hand embroidery:
Pearl cotton is by far one of the most common hand embroidery threads you will come across as it can perform pretty much any hand embroidery stitch.
Cotton threads are a popular choice as it leaves a really natural looking matte finish.
When you are using cotton machine embroidery threads choose one that is low on lint.
Most cotton for embroidering goes through a process called double gassing where the 80% of lint is burnt off during processing – twice, which leaves with a super low lint stitching leaving your stitch looking clean and beautiful without being hidden under a halo of lint and a fuzzy texture!
A thicker rayon thread can create a totally different textured effect from what you will get with a cotton thread of the same weight.
You want a rayon thread that resists unraveling which makes it easier to stitch with efficiently without the threads falling apart.
You can buy beautiful threads that are rayon with two strands of metallic weaved through it which gives it a little sparkle to your stitching and can add a whole new dimension to a hand stitched project.
When creating something like crewel embroidery, wool, crewel yarn or persian yarn is used to add texture and lift a design on a flat background, but nowadays there is a big selection of types of tapestry yarn or threads to choose from.
Crewel embroidery technique was seen in the most famous embroidery of all – The Bayeux Tapestry.
Crewel embroidery rows of chain stitching done with a pointed hook which form intricate patterns usually rotating from the center and creating a textured embossed effort to add a richness to the textile.
Silk thread can be used with hand embroidery.
The spun silk has a beautiful lustre to it and is really soft. Most silk threads can be used in most applications such as patterns and buttonholes, as when silk thread is used it can be virtually invisible.
Silk threads can be expensive which is why they are not typically a beginners first choice. Because silk thread is so fine, it can unravel easily.
When working with silk thread during hand embroidering, you can tie the thread to the eye of the needle so the silk doesn’t keep falling through.
Threads for machine embroidery
These are the best threads used for machine embroidery:
Polyester is a relatively new thread material (I say cotton’s synthetic twin) that is good for things that will endure exposure such as patches, jackets and bags.
Polyester thread is naturally better at holding up over a lot of use, abrasion and exposure to water or the elements.
Polyester For Commercial Embroidery
It’s the most popular choice for commercial embroidery because of the strength when high speed stitching embroidery designs, glossy colors and it’s resistant to chlorine bleach.
I also think it’s popular because it’s a strong material, and most designs are heavily embroidered and have layers.
A polyester/ cotton blend is a popular choice and a good way to achieve the best of both fabrics in a thread.
Polyester is usually the quilter’s first choice, and will provide lasting strength when used to stitch with an embroidery machine.
Polyester is the thread of choice today especially when using an embroidery machine. I use it for the 99% most part of my embroidery projects.
This is my recommended choice of thread for things like bags, shoes, backpacks or any project that will endure a lot of wear and tear.
I love the notorious metallic threads, and think they give you embroidery a look that is like no other! I love using it when embroidering on art quilts, or appliqueing pieces down.
Metallic threads usually have a polyester core as polyester is strong, and has the metallic foil wrapped around it.
However, it does tend to have stretch to it, so as the thread goes through all the bends in the machine and then along the thread path it can stretch around those corners, meaning it’s more likely to have a thread break.
Metallic Threads with Rayon
Metallic threads with rayon in the middle don’t have a stretch to it, it prevents thread breaks and produces a higher stem stitch quality especially with dense machine embroidery.
In my experience the price and quality of metallic thread usually go hand in hand. If you buy cheap there is more chance the thread breaks.
Metallic threads generally cause a lot of issues with machine embroidery. Depending on the way they sit on a machine, there can be lots of kinks and bends which cause the thread to break as it passes through the eye of the needle.
If you are using metallic thread, you should try to get it to run sideways off the spool like toilet paper to prevent this issue.
Perle/Pearl cotton thread
Another popular choice with hand and machine embroidery is cotton.
Because of the natural fibers, stranded cotton is a great thread choice which will leave a project with a natural matte finish and will totally change the look of embroidery.
Don’t forget to choose a stranded cotton thread with a low lint finish!
You also have to consider the bobbin thread which is underneath the top thread.
You can use a thinner lighter weight polyester bobbin thread, but if you are doing a hooping project, you may use the same thread that you are using on the top – the bobbin threads should match the top!
There are multiple brands out there of thread. I do find that different brands of thread run differently and do slightly different things, even if it is the same material.
Mosaics from an old Greek metropolis illustrate people adorned in embroidered fabrics such as valuable stones!
Silk threads can also be used as a machine embroidery thread.
Although it is a strong and durable thread, it can fray more easily than thicker threads used with an embroidery machine.
Silk can be bought in embroidery floss, pearl and other weight thread..
Things to Consider When Choosing an Embroidery Thread
There are some elements to review before you select the right thread for your embroidering.
Type of Project
Consider the type of project you are working on – is it going to sit in a frame, or be on fabrics that are utilized. Will you be encapsulating lots of detail, or is the design relatively plain?
When you are trying to capture a lot of detail in a small space, a smaller weight thread will help to keep edges of embroidery clean showing off the detail.
For example, a 60 weight perle cotton is comparable in weight to a single strand of embroidery floss. Both are perfect for smaller details and designs or adding intricate stitching in a smaller area.
Mixing different weight threads in your embroidery stitches can create a beautiful array of textures that can’t be achieved otherwise.
Polyester is smooth, strong and has a high sheen and stretch compared to cotton.
Tapestry wool has a beautiful stitch effect, which can sit underneath something like a cotton thread.
Don’t be afraid to use smaller threads in your embroidery project, they can make a huge impact in how your designs turn out!
Not all embroidery threads will last the same amount of time due the different fibers.
Over the years items will be washed, may have chemicals used on them or be exposed to the elements.
You want to select the right fiber for your thread.
Selecting Thread Type
Something like perle cotton can also take a lot of heat, which is important to consider when pressing seams.
It adjusts easily with fabric changes such as shrinkage or dying. Perle cotton embroidery floss is very strong and can be used to stitch quilting, applique and machine and hand embroidery.
On the other hand, polyester cotton threads can cause the perishing of cotton fabrics over time, and something like rayon is not the strongest material when it comes to constructing fabrics.
You want your project to be the most appealing colors to stand out as much as possible! Variegated threads are an awesome choice if you can’t decide on one color cotton floss.
I like to choose variegated embroidery thread with a small color change so the different colors are visible even on the smallest stem stitch.
Rayon embroidery thread is a popular choice for detailed patterns as it is produced in a huge array of vibrant colors.
Bear in mind that a thicker thread may need a bigger needle size.
You will need to choose the right needle based upon the embroidery threads size and recommendation.
What are thread weights?
Understanding thread weight is important for embroidering as it helps create lighter weight designs in areas of heavy stitching, or making one denser thread stand out against the rest.
Here’s a quick informative video about thread weight
The thickness of embroidery thread works on a scale, the higher the number the finer the thread, so 100 weight thread is thinner than 60 weight.
40 weight is most commonly used for all sewing projects from clothing construction or machine and free hand embroidery, followed by finer threads of 60 weight, good quality thread.
What thread weight should I use?
By doing the same stitches with different weights you can really change the look of the finished appearance even by doing something as simple as a running stitch, which can take on a bolder thread.
Fine threads are used for small embroideries or delicate work 60-100 weight should be used.
Medium weight thread 40/50 can be used for most embroidering and filling in block colors.
Outlining and emphasizing can be done with a heavier weight thread such as 30wt cotton embroidery threads which gives a bold look that can only be achieved with thicker other threads.
Be mindful when choosing the fabric / thread combination. Thicker yarns like tapestry wool will mess up your embroidery design if you use this on a delicate fabric.
What color choices do I need in my thread stash?
I am biased as I love embroidering but I think the only answer is all of them!
Bear in mind, different finishes on threads can change the look of a color, so a black cotton thread won’t look identical to a black satin.
Satin may give a shine that doesn’t appear to be true black.
The right color can make or break a design and it’s good to have all of the colors in your thread stash but just don’t use them all at once!
Now do you feel inspired to sew? Or inspired to try something new with your embroidery? Or maybe just inspired to go out and buy thread and different embroidery cotton!
By choosing the right hand or machine embroidery threads for your project, you will always have the best possible outcome from every project that you decide to pursue.
In case that you’re looking for a new interesting project, you should try an embroidery subscription box. Trying online embroidery classes can help you discover new techniques and get new projects as well.
Feel Free To Share!
I hope that you’ve found this article about “What kind of thread do you use for embroidery?” incredibly insightful and are now more confident when selecting your threads for a project.
Share this with anyone in knots about which specialty threads to use!
And if you’re interested in more product recommendations or creative hacks, then check out the other guides and tips I’ve written, like this review of the best monogram sticker machine or this article about the types of clothing prints and patterns.