Changing up the stitches is certainly a big element in making your hand embroidery as creative as it can be, but what you choose to stitch with adds yet another element. Matte or shiny? Thick or thin? Smooth or nubby? If you can get it through the eye of a needle, then you can embroider with it! We’ve rounded up some our favorite tips, tricks and best threads for hand embroidery so you can get started on a project.
Different Types of Embroidery Threads
- Embroidery floss or stranded cotton is a loosely twisted, 6-strand thread, usually of cotton but also made from metallic, silk, linen, and rayon. Cotton floss is most common, comes in a gazillion colors (including variegated) and is available in any fine thread shop or craft store. Silk is luscious to stitch with.
- Matte embroidery cotton or French coton à broder is a matte-finish (not glossy) twisted 5-ply thread.
- Medici or broder medici is a fine, light-weight wool thread.
- Perle cotton, pearl cotton, or French coton perlé is an S-twisted, 2-ply thread with high sheen, sold in five sizes or weights, 3, 5, 8, 12 and 16. 3 is the heaviest and 16 is the finest. 5 and 8 are the most widely available.
- Crewel yarn is a fine 2-ply yarn of wool or, less often, a wool-like acrylic.
- Persian yarn is a loosely twisted 3-strand yarn of wool or acrylic, often used for needlepoint.
- Tapestry yarn or tapestry wool is a tightly twisted 4-ply yarn.
Working With Stranded Embroidery Thread
Threads of stranded cotton are easy to separate (video tip follows!) if you don’t want to stitch with all 6 strands at once. Using two strands is typical, but whatever works best for your project is the correct number to use! This stitch sample from bluprint shows how the same stitch (stem stitch in this case) changes with the number of threads used. One thread is at the top; 6 at the bottom.
The following video from My Fair Hands shows you how to separate strands of embroidery floss without tangling!
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Embroidery With Pearl Cotton
Here we have the stem stitch again, this time in perle cotton. The example from NeedleNThread shows the differences among perle cotton threads in sizes 3, 5, 8 and 12. Size 16 is even finer.
Embroidery With Metallic Threads
Metallic threads can be a challenge to use, but the effort is worth it for the result you get. It can be fussy and finicky, but Beth Colletti’s tips will help you conquer it! Using bigger needles and shorter strands will help a lot! And slow down a bit.
Embroidery With Thick Threads or Yarn
Threading multiple or thick threads can be a challenge sometimes, so I try to keep my Clover Embroidery Threader handy. (I have several so that I can keep one with each project for a grab-n-go!)
The wire-type threaders don’t seem to last for me when I use them with thicker threads, but I have never broken one of these!
Our Favorite Embroidery Threads
Valdani is best known for their little balls of hand-dyed perle cotton and 3-strand cotton floss, but did you know that they also have 6-strand silk and cotton flosses? And pearl silk? And Australian virgin wool?
Valdani’s variegation has quicker color changes so stitched work has a more blended look. And the finer sizes of perle cotton (8 and 12), which are difficult to find in big box craft stores, add delicate interest to your work – the same stitch looks so different when done with threads of different weights! They offer stranded embroidery threads, as well as pearl cottons. My dream is buying the entire Valdani collection here.
Variegated threads provide depth and texture to stitched work, and the Caron Collection offers lots of opportunities to experiment with different fibers and a consistent hand-dyed, drool-worthy palette. The threads are available in cotton, silk and a wool-silk blend. They are 3-ply, so you can use them right off the skein for bold stitches or separate the strands for more delicate work.
Kreinik is known for their offerings in metallic threads, with options that stitch well by hand or machine in a variety of weights and finishes. Traditional gold and silver are available, of course. But you will also find a rainbow of metallic threads to add colorful sparkle to your stitches.
And then there’s the silk! French Silk is a 7-strand embroidery floss, offered in color gradations. Silk mori is 6-ply spun silk. Blending the silks with metallic filaments open up a whole new world of creative options.
Eleganza perle cotton from Wonderfil is a collaboration with Sue Spargo, known for her cheerful appliqué and embroidered folk art designs combining cotton and wool.
The long staple Egyptian cotton is lovely to stitch with, and the extra short variegations give you rapid color changes on small scale designs. Sue’s whimsical sensibilities shine through in the color combinations.
Wonderfil’s Ellana wool blend thread combines Merino wool with acrylic for added strength. The acrylic component keeps the wool stable during repeated passes through fabric. Another Sue Spargo collaboration, these 28-wt wool blends work beautifully with the Eleganza thread colors as well as Sue’s wool appliqué packs.
How to store all of your gorgeous embroidery threads
A drawer full of loose embroidery floss skeins can be a mess! But the disarray disappears when you wind the floss on plastic bobbins that you can organize to suit the way you work. Arrange by color, by value or by color number so you can put your hands on just what you need. Or to see immediately whether you have to shop for new threads. How often have you said, “Oh, look, I already have 3 skeins of this color!”
Are your embroidery threads at loose ends? They seldom have a tidy way to tuck in the ends when you are done stitching. So frustrating tangles will result.
Slip a thread net over each spool or ball before storing. You can still see the thread, then when you lift it out of the drawer, you won’t have other threads tangled on the end.
With your spools and balls of perle cotton organized in shallow drawers, it’s easy to put your hands on just what you need for your project.
Set up your system for your own way to working, organizing by color or thread weight. Then if you dedicate a drawer or two for your tools, you will have one-stop stitching!
Check out all of our hand embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy!