Guide To Embroidery Threads

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Embroidery threads can be classified in several ways, firstly material

  • cotton
  • silk
  • rayon
  • synthetic
  • linen
  • wool
  • metal  

then we come to types as each material has a variety of types

cotton threads come in a range of weights (thicknesses) and for different uses.

Stranded cotton – This type of thread is the most commonly used and  threads are a 100% cotton and have 6 strands. There are a variety of brands, we mostly use Anchor or DMC, but there are many smaller brands avalaible. DMC and Anchor are the most constant in colour, texture and colourfastness. We rarely use all six strands in one go, we normally decide them into single or double strands and work with the finer thread.

Cotton Perle – Pearl/ Perle Cotton. Properties : is a non-divisible, thread with a lustrous sheen. The twisted appearance is why it is named ‘Pearl’. This thread will not fluff or kink and is suitable for many types of embroidery and needlework. The weight will give your project a raised aspect and great definition. It comes in various weights, 3 being the largest and 12 being the finest.

Floche – Properties: cotton; non-divisible (just like coton a broder, as explained below ); 5-ply; mercerized; comes in one thickness, which is assigned a number, but which does not correspond with the same number in other lines of thread.

The  floche, has the size number 16 on the label, which can be confusing as it corresponds with the coton a broder size 25.  Though floch is made by DMC it is only available from Fleur de Paris , in Ontario.  It does come in a wide range of colours, but is most communally used for its white and ecru ranges when doing white work and broderie anglaise

Coton a Broder – Properties: cotton; non-divisible (you use the thread just as it comes off the skein; it cannot be broken down into smaller usable threads); 4-ply (that is, each strand is made up of four smaller plies of thread twisted together to make the one usable strand); mercerized (has a sheen); comes in various sizes or thicknesses and these are delineated by a number assigned to the thread size; only some sizes come in colours beyond white and ecru; it is also called “cutwork thread” or “whitework thread” because it is used (usually in white or ecru) in cutwork and whitework.  It comes in. 3 weights 16,20,25 and 30 the 16 is markedly thicker than the 30.

Danish Flower Thread – Danish Flower Thread is 100% unmercerized cotton, a round thread that pulls through linen and other natural fibers with ease. This results in perfectly shaped crossed with no twisted plys. It is dyed in colours and shades of colours that are almost impossible to duplicate with any other thread. The shadings are very soft and have a matt or dull finish.  Its only available from https://www.danish-handcraft-guild-uk.com/product/danish-flower-thread-chart/

Mountmellick embroidery thread is a white cotton embroidery thread with a matte finish. It’s available in four sizes: very fine (type 1), fine ( type 2), medium (type 3), and heavy ( type 4). It’s a firmly twisted thread. The matte finish is meant to contrast with the cotton sateen normally used as the ground fabric for MountMellick embroidery.

2-40’s Gassed Combed Cotton This strand 40’s yarn is non shiny, matt in appearance, gassed combed cotton. It is particularly ideal for tassels and braid making, besides being a good addition to an embroidered piece where the mixing of different natural yarn qualities will give an extra dimension. It comes in 59 shades from deVere yarns

2-40’s Gassed Mercerised Cotton

Embroidery thread in lustrous 40/2 cotton, the long fibres produce the highest quality thread, often used for Historic projects as the colours are very subtle producing exquisite shading detail.  Again, manly available from deVere yarns

Cotton Chenille has a wonderfully fuzzy, plush texture. Suitable for weft thread in weaving as a feature yarn making a special structure. It is often called “knittable velvet,”  it’s also used for couching down and canvas work sewing thread is recognised as a superior 100% mercerized cotton. In more than 200 versatile colourfast, fade-resistant shades colours for all your machine embroidery projects. The spools have a locking system to protect the thread.  Dmc make a machine embroidery thread, but if you look at the work of Chloe Gordano, she uses guttermans.  There is also a up and coming bran Aurifil ( Italian) on the market which is being used to great effect.

Wool Thread

Crewel –  Crewel wool is a 2 ply  100 % wool, used both in canvas work, but in Crewel work embroidery. It comes in a large range of colours and there are a range of suppliers, the most common is Appletons wools, but renaissance dying have a beautiful range as does heathways.

Tapestry – Is a 4 ply 100% wool thread, mainly used for canvas work. It has been used for other projects such as tapestry and rug work.  Appletons is again one of the bigger suppliers along with anchor, there are of course smaller brands.

Worsted Wool – There are  3 different Worsted Wool yarns available, wound onto 25 meters cards for easy handling. These threads can be used singly or multiplied and are therefore perfect for crewel and canvas work and a variety of creative textured techniques. 
The majority of the shades are fine, 2 ply yarn, 28’s Worsted Count Australian Merino, in a range of over 80 different superb colours.  But it is possible to get 25 are 15 weight.


Knitting Wool – You can embroidery with knitting wool, but it really only works on canvas and to be couched down as its thickness distorts the fabric.

Rayon – Rayon is a fiber from regenerated cellulose, generally derived from wood pulp. Rayon is usually made from eucalyptus trees, but any plant can be used (such as bamboo, soy, cotton, etc). To produce the fiber, the plant cellulose goes through a process involving a lot of chemicals, energy and water.  The Satin Embroidery Thread is the glossiest embroidery thread. It  intensely coloured shiny thread really glides through fabric. With six easily separated  strands.  

Metallic

synthetic -metallics these threads are 100% polyester, they come in a range or weights and colours, from the DMC diamante ranges to Maderias finer threads. They are different to metal threads which have metal in them. I personally try and avoid then as thy annoy me as they have stretch and my mission it to go plastic free.

Actual metal threads and wires – these are mostly used for gold work, and have their own section as there are a huge number and variety .

Silk

Spun Silk – spun silk is made from the remains of broken and damaged cocoons and then treated like spun cotton and made into a similar thread as the cottons. Because its unrevealed it’s not as strong as filament silks . the go to brand is Soie d’Alger by Au Ver a Soie – It comes in some 600+ colors, I believe. Here in the States, it’s commonly found in a 5-meter pull skein, and there are 7 strands per thread. There are other threads out there that are Soie d’Alger, too, though you might not know it. Many hand dyers use Soie d’Alger as their “blank” and go from there.

Filament Silk – is just unravelled from each cocoon in a single strand, Filament silk embroidery threads are made up of many fine strands of reeled silk (in Japanese embroidery, these individual filaments are called “suga”) that are combined into the thread weight. 

Filament silks can be flat or twisted. In the scheme of things, I think flat silk is more difficult to work with, so we’ll talk about twisted filament silk today and work our way up to flat silk.Twisted filament silk comes in all kinds of weights and types and twists! Many types are made for machine stitching as well as hand stitching, and some are made only for hand stitching.  Au Ver a Soie, silk mill, kernik, mulberry silks and Devere yarns all do ranges on these silks.

Flat silks – discernible twist, or no twist to it at all. Of all the silks, it has the highest sheen, and it looks smooth and almost glassy.

Flat silk is made from several suga (individual filaments) combined in one thread. Depending on the manufacturer and the number of filaments combined into the thread, flat silk can be very, very fine indeed, or it can be rather thick, rich, and full.

When you buy it for embroidery, is normally put up on spools or cops and it is usually used straight off the spool, in whatever thickness the manufacturer has provided.

That said, flat silk can be broken down into smaller groups of suga to make finer and finer threads, and you can even stitch with a single, teeny tiny filament, but this would probably be akin to torture, as the strand would be practically invisible for most of us!

You can also take flat silk and twist it yourself.

My preferred brand is pipers’ silks

Linen Thread

Linen thread is a strong, durable thread with a rustic, matte finish made of 100% linen. Though strong, linen threads will wear out in the eye of the needle so it’s best to keep a short “tail” when stitching. Some people prefer to condition their linen embroidery threads with beeswax if they are unwaxed. This reduces friction and fraying, but changes the look of the thread and can darken the colour over time.

I get mine from a cute little shop on Christmas steps in Bristol ! Studio Flax

Other Embroidery Threads

Hair – The origin of hair embroidery can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when girls cut their long hair and used it to weave the image of Buddha to show their piety. However, this skill declined during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). In the 1970s, the ancient skill was revived and has since been explored and studied in detail. Today, the art has by far surpassed its past attainments in color and variety. The color is no longer limited to black. Others, such as blonde, amber, auburn, white and grey of various shades are also used, totaling dozens of tones mostly collected from ethnic-minority areas. Occasionally, to give the lips of an ancient beauty their usual rosiness, white hair may be dyed red. But, on the whole, works embroidered with hair retain their natural hues.

Straw – Straw embroidery is a form of decorative needlework from the second half of the nineteenth century, which involved the sewing down of pre-cut straw forms onto garments. The shapes include butterflies, corn, flowers and leaves, and they were stamped out of straw. These were used to trim ball dresses and to decorate complete dresses, especially those made of black or yellow net.

Ribbon – Dating back to the 1700s, silk ribbon embroidery shows up on embellished clothing, home decor items, quilts and more. It has gone through various periods of popularity and continues to be a favorite of many embroiderers today.

One of the things that stands out about ribbon embroidery is the texture it creates. Rather than simple stitches on the surface of the fabric, the bulk of the ribbon results in embroideries that seem to jump off of the material.

Flowers are a very common design to work with silk ribbon embroidery, most likely because the ribbon allows you to stitch very lifelike florals. Often a single stitch with ribbon will look like a flower bud, and the addition of one or two more stitches gives you a bud with some greenery that reminds you of the real deal.

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