Quick Tip of the Week: Review of Embroidery Threads

comments (3) April 2nd, 2008     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
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I used 12 wt. cotton to embroidery the maple leaf and 30 wt cotton to embroider the stippled background.
When you’re embroidering a hemline, opt for the softest, most supple threads you can find to prevent stiffness. Shown here is silk charmeuse stitched with 30-weight rayon thread.
Polyester thread is ideal for embroidery denim: it’s strong, colorfast, and comes in a huge array of colors.
Holoshimmer offers a metallic thread that really
sparkles. Here, it’s used on a denim jacket.
To make stitching with metallic threads a little easier, use special metallic needles and Sewers Aid thread lubricant.
Special bobbin thread is thin and prevents bulky build-up on the wrong side of the embroidery.
I used 12 wt. cotton to embroidery the maple leaf and 30 wt cotton to embroider the stippled background.

I used 12 wt. cotton to embroidery the maple leaf and 30 wt cotton to embroider the stippled background.

Photo: Len Hasemann

Because I’m always up to my eyeballs in one embroidery project or another, I forget how mind boggling it is to decide which kind of thread to use, especially if you're new to the craft. One of my new embroidery customers spent the better part of an hour painstakingly picking out colors for her first project only to discover that she was choosing colors from the all-purpose thread rack.

Embroidery threads are generally shinier than sewing threads. Embroidery threads come in different weights—the smaller the number, the heavier the thread is. The most common size is 40 wt. It’s perfect for most embroidery, not too heavy while providing good coverage. Some kinds of thread are also available in 30 wt., and I have even embroidered with thick 12 wt. cotton thread that is perfect for single stitch outline embroidery like redwork or quilt designs.

I used 12 wt. cotton to embroidery the maple leaf and 30 wt. cotton to embroider the stippled background.

Tip: For easiest stitch out, use a large eye needle. I love metallica needles because they have a very long eye. Topstitch needles work well for 12 wt. thread as well.

If I’m working on a project with an all-over embroidery design or embellished hem, I want the softest thread I can get. Embroidery can quickly make a garment stiff and uncomfortable to wear, softer thread combined with a soft stabilizer is one of the best ways to keep a dense embroidery design from popping off your chest like a stiff patch would! Rayon thread offers the most shine and has the softest hand. It also works beautifully on soft light-weight silks, cottons and other fabrics with loose weave or lots of drape.

I used 30 wt. rayon and a wash away stabilizer to embroider the border design on silk charmeuse. I was so pleased the with results.

Finally, when I want a durable, colorfast thread, I always reach for polyester embroidery threads. I used to avoid them like the plague because I wasn’t happy with the dull finish. Happily, they have come a long way, now they are shiny and easy to work with. I recommend them to anyone who is just starting to do embroidery. If you are trying to stitch on heavy denim, leather, or other high maintenance fabric and your thread keeps breaking, try switching to polyester thread.

I did a lovely table runner for Christmas one year that featured beautiful redwork on ivory linen. After spending hours embroidering the design, I soaked it to remove the stabilizer and the red thread ran all over the fabric. I was so disappointed, I almost cried. If I had used polyester thread this would not have happened. (Happily there are products on the market today like Shout Color Catchers that act like “color grabbers” that you can throw in the wash to save the day!)

I love working with metallic threads, my favorite is not really metallic at all. Sulky’s Holoshimmer metallic “thread” contains only 1% metallic fiber, but is as shiny as any traditional metallic thread on the market. It’s actually polyester and polyethylene and looks a lot like tiny ribbons of holographic gift wrap.

Traditional good quality metallic threads are enclosed with a silicone sheath making them easier to work with. I have heard tips for working with metallic thread that remind me of urban legends. One tip involves putting the spools in the freezer or storing them in the refrigerator. I recommend using a Metallic Needle, Sewers’ Aid on the spool, position spool on the vertical spool pin, and slowing the speed of your machine down.

Finally, a review of embroidery threads would not be complete without mentioning bobbin thread. Bobbin thread is exactly what it sounds like—thread that you put in the bobbin when you’re embroidering. Why is there special thread for the bobbin when you embroider? Because it’s thinner than most embroidery threads so it doesn’t add bulk to your design and because it’s thinner more thread fits on the bobbin. (Filling bobbins is not on my top ten list of fun embroidery activities!) It’s also less expensive than decorative embroidery threads.

Bobbin thread is most popularly available in white and black (white for light-colored fabrics, black for dark). You can get bobbins pre-wound with bobbin thread; just be sure that the bobbin will work in your brand of embroidery machine before you purchase them. If you experience tension problems while embroidering with a pre-wound bobbin, try winding one of your own.

The only time I do not use bobbin thread is if I’m embroidering on a towel or blanket because the back needs to look as nice as the front. For those projects I use matching thread to the top thread or I pick a standard sewing thread the color of the fabric.

posted in: embroidery, thread

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Cowgirl53 writes: It would be really helpful to put machine or hand embroidery in the title of articles. I read through a couple of paragraphs to determine that this was for machine embroidery... I think a beginner might have a hard time figuring out what kind of embroidery threads you're talking about. It would be great to have a similar article talking about hand embroidery thread!
Posted: 4:15 pm on May 6th
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