Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric by hand. It’s a way of adding beautiful patterns, designs, and textures to fabrics. An embroidery thread is simply a material that you stitch onto fabric by hand, using a sewing machine or other embroidery tools. The most common types of threads for hand embroidery include cotton, silk, wool, rayon, polyester, and metallic.
Embroidery threads come in a wide variety of colours, weights, and textures. You need to choose the right kind of thread for your hand embroidery projects. They should be made from high-quality materials so that they'll look good after years of use.
If you're new to embroidery, then this guide will help you find out which type of thread is best suited for what you want to do with it. This article covers the best types of embroidery threads and includes information on how to select the right size of thread for your project.
The Best Threads for Hand Embroidery
Hand embroidery requires patience and practice. It is a tactile form of art--it needs to be touched as texture and dimension are an important part of the embroidery. Designers sometimes intentionally include extra details when they're designing an item for embroidery because these elements help them create something more beautiful.
Here are the most commonly used threads in embroidery:
1. Cotton Embroidery Threads
Cotton is by far the most popular choice for beginners because it comes in a huge selection of colours and styles. Cotton threads are usually easy to work with and can easily withstand repeated washing without losing their colour.
Also referred to as embroidery floss, stranded cotton is the most commonly used thread for hand embroidery. These are sold in skeins and the main thread that comes off the skein can be divided into six separate, fine threads that are made up of smaller plies softly twisted together.
You can always choose between using just one strand or multiple strands when working with stranded cotton. Using just one thread makes for an extremely delicate stitch. With each addition of thread, the resulting embroidery will become heavier. If you want to create an effect similar to stitching using bulky yarns, then use all six strands at once.
We recommend the DMC stranded cotton threads which are made from 100% long-staple Egyptian cotton. These threads feature a nice shine and are perfect for embroidery and cross-stitch.
Perle cotton, also called mercerised cotton, is often used to add more shine and texture to embroidery pieces. This type of thread has a plyed two-strand construction, which means you cannot separate the threads like you can with six-stranded threads. It is normally heavier than cotton embroidery floss. This means that line stitches, such as stem stitch and chain stitch, would usually sit higher up on the embroidery fabric, compared to the same stitches done with floss.
Perle cotton threads are available in a variety of colours and thickness options to suit your project. It can help you achieve a much more textured effect than regular cotton thread does. We recommend the Venne 20/2 mercerised cotton thread which features luxurious shine and lustre.
2. Silk Embroidery Threads
Silk is one of the finest threads ever invented. It has been around since ancient times and was originally reserved only for royalty. Today, it is still on the expensive side but you can get silk threads at a reasonable price.
Spun silk comes from broken and leftover cocoons of domesticated silkworms. It's very soft and smooth, making it ideal for creating detailed designs. We have found that people prefer this type of thread over other types because it doesn't fray or break easily. The downside of spun silk is that it can stretch out quickly.
We recommend ITO Nui, a spun silk thread that can be used for both hand embroidery and machine sewing. It's a two-ply thread with a beautiful sheen and slightly pearly texture that adds more beauty to surface embroidery.
Filament silk comes from single silk filaments pulled from the whole cocoon. This type of silk thread is very soft and smooth. It's ideal for creating intricate designs and detailed work. It's also a great choice if you want to do needlepoint or any other forms of embroidery where you'd like to have a smoother surface. The downside is that it tends to fray easily.
There are many different types of filament silk threads available. Some are dyed while others are not. Some are designed specifically for embroidery, while others are meant for sewing.
We recommend ITO Iki, a fine filament silk thread with unsurpassable sheen and distinct softness that is perfect for hand embroidery. Achieve super fine embroidery lines and beautiful silk shading effects with just a single thread, or stronger lines and bolder texture with multiple strands.
3. Wool Embroidery Threads
Wool is another very popular thread choice for hand embroidery. It is a great choice of thread to use if you wish to achieve a fuzzy effect on your project. As with cotton and silk, if you want thicker thread than normal, just add more threads together. If you're looking for something thicker, wool naturally has enough thickness to cover up quickly. However, if you want chunky embroidery, then simply stitch multiple strands of wool threads together.
If you love the look and feel of wool but want a softer, smoother finish, Merino wool is a good choice. It's a natural fibre that feels smooth against the skin and doesn't have any sharp edges.
When choosing Merino wool threads, make sure you get the right weight for the size of your needle. Also, check whether the thread is double or single-ply. Double-ply Merino wool threads are generally thinner than their single-ply counterparts. They are meant to be used for finer details, such as flowers and leaves.
We recommend the Venne organic merino laceweight yarn, made from 100% merino wool. It is a two-ply thread with a tight twist. It’s strong enough for needlework whilst providing a lovely textured yarn.
This soft, shiny material is ideal for creating a fluffy effect on your projects. Unlike other types of wool, it is not as thick and heavy. The result is a lightweight yet durable thread that looks lovely on its own or combined with other materials.
We recommend the Venne Mohair embroidery thread, which is soft yet strong. It is made of 65% Kid Mohair, 34% acrylic, and 1% nylon.
4. Specialty Threads
Specialty threads offer an array of possibilities for creating unique designs, textures, and colours that ordinary threads cannot match. They are perfect for adding extra detail and flair to your embroidery projects.
Metallic Embroidery Threads
Metallic threads are often used for embellishing fabric. You can find them in silver, gold, bronze, and many rich colours. Metallic threads are usually quite thin, making them easy to sew through.
We recommend the Venne metallic thread, which is available in a variety of metallic colours. The ITO Gin and ITO San metallic threads are also other great options for both machine and hand embroidery. Metallic embroidery threads are perfect for dark coloured fabric as background.
Variegated Embroidery Threads
In variegated embroidery threads, you can see different colours but they're all made from one single strand. They can have either a combination of contrasting colours or similar hues with subtle differences. We recommend the DMC Cotton Coloris, which features four harmonised shades in a single strand. Using this in your embroidery will give you colour changes approximately every five stitches.
Other Types of Thread for Embroidery
1. Rayon Threads
Rayon was invented as an alternative to silk. Rayon threads possess the soft sheen of silk and come in a wide variety of colours. As it is made from cellulosic fibres, rayon threads absorb dyes quite well. Unfortunately, they tend to fade easily when exposed to sunlight or with frequent washing. Rayon does well for projects where elegance in appearance and gentleness are the most important.
2. Polyester Threads
Polyester fibres are known for their strength and durability, making polyester threads an excellent choice for embroidery on children's garments or other items that are going to be worn and washed very often.
What Do Embroidery Thread Sizes Mean?
Most embroidery and sewing thread sizes are numbered from 100 to 12. A larger number indicates a smaller thread size. For sewing purposes, most garments use size 50 cotton thread, but embroidered items often require size 40 thread. In general, the spacing between stitches in most embroideries is designed such that size 40 threads cover the design adequately without any gaps or overlaps.
When choosing a specific thread size for hand embroidery, keep in mind that finer threads will create finer details, whereas thicker threads will give you a coarser look. For example, using a very fine thread when stitching a flower petal will make the petals appear delicate, whereas using a medium thread will make them stand out more.
You'll need to decide whether you want a thin, medium or superfine thread depending on the type of design you're working with. If you're doing a simple outline, then go for a thinner thread. You might even use a fine thread for outlining the edges of shapes. However, if you're going for a more complex piece, then opt for a thicker thread.
How Do I Choose the Right Embroidery Thread?
Choosing the right embroidery thread is important to make sure that the final product lasts long. It also depends on what kind of design you're working on.
Here are a few things to consider before buying embroidery threads:
1. Make sure the thread is colourfast.
Embroidery threads come in a variety of colours. Make sure that the colour remains true throughout your project and even after several washes.
If there isn't any mention of the fabric being colourfast anywhere on the manufacturer's website, then take a quick glance through some reviews online for similar products. Some threads made from lower-quality fibres tend to be less durable than threads made from high-quality materials. They may also bleed colour into fabrics if they get wet during washing. By using colourfast threads in your embroidery, the product's colour will last longer even after many washes, keeping its vibrant look for years to come.
2. Check for texture.
Cheaper, lower-quality cotton embroidery threads tend to have a fuzzy texture to them, which can make your embroidery piece look dull. By choosing an embroidery thread with higher quality, your project will have a smoother texture and a nice sheen to it.
3. Consider the fabric you're using.
If you're working on cotton fabric, then you should definitely stick to a medium or fine thread. Cotton fabrics don't hold up well to a coarse thread. On the other hand, if you're working on a polyester fabric, then you can use a superfine thread without worrying too much.
Don't forget to take into account the weight of the fabric as well. Fabrics such as denim are usually heavier than those made of cotton. So, if you're working with a heavy fabric, then you should opt to use a thicker thread.
What is the Most Popular Brand for Embroidery Thread?
DMC is probably the most popular brand for embroidery threads out there. Made in France and the USA, these threads are sold worldwide. You’ll find DMC threads pretty much everywhere.
These threads are known for their durability and colourfast feature. This means that the threads, when embroidered on fabric, can be washed frequently without the colour bleeding out or fading over time. DMC threads are also Oeko-Tex® certified, which means these have been dyed in accordance with an internationally recognized textile standard ensuring the products are environment-friendly, safe to use, and have been controlled for harmful substances. This brand also offers the broadest range of colours and styles.
Check out Thread Collective's collection of DMC threads, which includes Six-stranded Cotton, Cotton Coloris, Light Effects, Variations, and Cotton Satin.
Enjoy Experimenting with Embroidery Threads
Explore different types of threads, colours, and textures until you get the hang of it. Don't worry too much about getting it right the first time. Embroidery is fun and a great way to express yourself through thread. Enjoy your journey and learn along the way. If you want some inspiration to get started, The Inspirational Thread by Susan Brandeis is a fantastic resource for beginners and experienced embroiders alike.
Thread Collective offers a wide collection of hand embroidery supplies that will help you get started with the craft. Browse the range today and get ready to start stitching!