Enlightened Embroidery: The Thread’s the Thing

We’ve covered some important embroidery topics, like choosing and saving designs, and stabilizers. But what about thread? Thread is the heart and soul of embroidery, the thing that makes it, well, embroidery. Today, we continue our machine embroidery series with info and advice from two of our embroidery gurus, Pam and Sharon, on the whys and wherefores of thread.

Polyester Threads

*40 wt Polyester is the most popular and reliable thread    because of its luster and strength.

*It is designed to stand up to high-speed stitching without looping or puckering. A size #80 needle is generally a good choice. Different sizes can be used, depending on the fabric and other project factors.

*Available in a wide range of colors, both solids and variegated.

*Polyester thread is very colorfast, because of the manufacturing process. It is first formed as a liquid and dyed, and then cooled and made into thread. Items embroidered with polyester thread can stand up to washing and dry cleaning. It fades less in the sun.

Rayon Thread

*Rayon thread has a softer look and a special luster.  It is a natural fiber which is made of shorter fibers, and it doesn’t have the strength of polyester.

* When embroidering, the machine should run at a slower speed and the lower tension may need to be loosened, because the thread is weaker and doesn’t stretch. The bobbin thread should be the same weight as the top thread.

*Rayon is not as color safe as polyester and easily fades. It is best to use on projects that will be dry cleaned or not washed very much. Rayon is best used for silk blouses, gowns, lingerie, etc.

*The needle size depends on item being embroidered, but usually a #70, #75, or #80 is fine.

Cotton Thread

*Cotton thread is great for embroidery when you want a flat or luster-less look. Great for applique embroidery.

*Cotton thread is made up of short fibers, even shorter than rayon fibers, so one needs to use a larger needle ( #80 or #90) and run the embroidery machine at a lower speed.

*Cotton thread should be treated as you would treat quilts/cotton fabric. It will shrink like any cotton fiber(fabric, clothing).  Cotton thread will fade and because cotton thread is made of shorter fibers, it will pick up more dust.

*Aurifil and King Tut are Pam’s favorites because they are made of Egyptian cotton, which has a longer cotton fiber. These two brands of thread are tightly twisted and use excellent, high-quality dyes.


Metallic Thread

*Metallic thread is beautiful when used for embroidery.  Metallic thread is made by winding metallic fibers around a core of polyester or nylon. Avoid threads wound around a cotton core—they don’t work as well, and the metallic threads can unwind and cause lots of breakages. Good quality metallic thread is a must! It is frustrating to embroider with a poor quality metallic, because of breakages and problems, and the final project will be of poor quality.

*Metallic thread can break because of the twist it has.  To avoid this, do the following:

Use a thread stand. Allowing the thread spool to turn, as it would on the machine spindle, can make it flip on itself and then break. Use a thread net to cover the thread.

Cut down on friction by using liquid silicone. You can do this by attaching a thread lubricator to your machine.

Run the embroidery machine at a very low speed to prevent breakage.

*Metallic thread works best in lower stitch count designs. It is also can give a lovely accent to a design embroidered in polyester threads.

*Use care when cleaning items embroidered with metallic thread. Wash on delicate cycle, in a delicates net bag if appropriate, or turned inside out. Do not use bleach or bleach-added laundry products.

*Use a metallic embroidery needle, which has a larger eye to accommodate the thread without stripping off the metallic layer. A  #90 sharp needle is also a good choice.

Good to Know

All embroidery threads should be stored in covered containers to keep it from gathering dust. Cotton threads are more liable to pick up dust because of their short fibers. In addition, keep thread out of the sun. Sunlight will fade rayon and cotton threads, and can degrade polyester threads. Metallic thread should be stored similarly, with the additional warning that humid or moist environments can cause metallic thread to oxidize/corrode.

If you’d like more information about some of the threads we discuss here, please visit these wonderful websites:

Embroidery Online by OESD, has lots of great info on embroidery, and on Isacord embroidery threads in particular.

Mettler Metallic Threads has info on their line of metallic threads for embroidery and decorative sewing.

Aurifil  links you all you need to know about their line of 40 weight cotton embroidery threads.

Happy Stitching!