13 types of Hand Embroidery Threads

Different types of thread used for doing embroidery work

Hand embroidery does not need elaborate equipment or supplies; you can do it with a good enough fabric, embroidery thread, and a suitable needle. But when you get into the world of embroidery, you get to explore a lot more – Several embroidery tools and fabric and needles and threads that change the way you embroider altogether. Out of all these, threads make the most difference.

Believe me, it makes a lot of difference in your finished work if you know the different types of embroidery threads available and know which is best for your current project. 

Different types of Hand embroidery thread

The most frequently used embroidery threads are 6-strand embroidery floss, (single color and multi color) Pearl cotton, Wool thread, rayon (satin thread), Tapestry wool thread, and metallic embroidery thread.

1. Stranded Embroidery Cotton/ embroidery floss

embroidery thread types

Stranded embroidery cotton thread is the most preferred thread for doing embroidery work .You may be calling it by the name ‘Embroidery floss’. This is the most common thread used for most embroidery work including cross stitch. Also called 6 strand embroidery floss. 

It has 6 strands of thread throughout the skein. You can thread your needle with the whole 6 strands or separate the thread depending on the effect you want on the work or the material you are working on.

For fine lines and delicate work, you will use one strand on your needle. For example for a needle painting work you use one strand and  for cross stitch two strands and for needlepoint the full 6 strands. The embroidery floss is available in different fibers – cotton, rayon and silk.

2. Perle cotton/ Pearl cotton 

embroidery thread types for hand embroidery

This is a slightly more heavier thread than the single strand of Stranded cotton thread. The pearl cotton thread is available in many weights . Buy a pearl cotton medium for most of your needs.

This thread comes in one single strand. If you look carefully at each of the single strands you will find that it is made of two fibers twisted together. Do not separate this – it is meant to be used so

If there is a number on your embroidery thread they mean something – higher the number lighter the thread.

The textured effect of this thread makes it great to be used in Hardanger embroidery, cross stitch, redwork etc. You can use this thread to make beautiful tassels.

3. Rayon Floss (Satin embroidery thread)

Rayon floss is used because of the bright colours and attractive silk (satin) like sheen. It is the shiniest embroidery floss and is available the same way that stranded cotton thread is.

But Rayon thread can be a difficult thread to work with. It knots and tangles easily. You can use short lengths to avoid tangling problems. You can also slightly dampen the thread before working by running a wet sponge to moisturize it. 

4. Metallic hand embroidery thread

different kinds of embroidery thread

It is usually used to give highlights to other embroidery techniques or on its own like in gold work. Checkout the different types of metallic threads used for embroidery here. Metallic thread tarnishes easily, it tangles, snags and even frays but their beauty and brilliance is something else.

It may be difficult to wash a fabric embroidered with some metallic thread so it kind of limits the scope of work with it. Synthetic metallic thread does not tarnish though.

Light effects embroidery thread has a special glow (sometimes even glow-in-the-dark). 

5. Crewel Yarn/ wool

embroidery thread types

This is a fine natural wool or acrylic two-ply strand; It is used in wool embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, tapestry work. You can thread the wool thread on your needle and use it just like other embroidery threads for projects where you need some texture, as one strand of this yarn is as thick as two strands of embroidery floss thread.

6. Tapestry Yarn/ Persian Yarn

different types of hand embroidery thread

Tapestry yarn or Tapestry wool thread is a soft thick yarn that is best used on canvas and other heavy material – this is also used for needlepoint projects, crewelwork. Persian Yarn is another yarn used in needlepoint embroidery,  crewel embroidery, and cross-stitch. It is great to use with canvas and other thick materials. 

Felted wool yarn is 100% pure wool yarn that undergoes a felting process to give it a fuzzy texture. You can use it for couching in embroidery. 

 embroidery thread types

7. Silk Threads

hand embroidery types

Silk threads are available in beautiful brilliant shades and are very much used in fine embroidery. The problems encountered when using silk threads in embroidery work are that they fade very easily and they may bleed.

After you have done the silk thread embroidery just lightly press the back of the work using slight steam on the iron- this will give the whole silk thread a beautiful sheen

Silk thread is used to couch thicker threads ( like metallic threads or cords) on fabric surfaces. Checkout the different ways of couching.

8. Knitting Yarn

embroidery thread kinds

Knitting yarn is used for knitting, ofcourse, what else. It has a different thickness, referred to as Yarn weight.  Learn more about the different types of knitting yarn here.

9. Variegated threads or Multi color thread

embroidery thread

This is a classification of embroidery thread based on the color of the thread. The variegated thread has many shades of the same colour in the same skein; the colour changes along the length of the same thread. It is available in all the types of thread fibers like cotton, silk and rayon.

This thread can make your work look stunning if used correctly. Buy variegated thread with subtle and gradual colour change for big projects.  Learn how to work with variegated thread here.

10.  Cord & Beading thread

Cord is used for couching embroidery, making jewellery, crafting, leather sewing, binding, wrapping, stringing, knotting, lacing, or beading.

Beading embroidery is beautiful and needs strong and durable threads. You get a nylon thread for beading embroidery stitches. The beading nylon threads are very thick, and durable though they are very fine and can be used with very fine beads. These threads are available in many beautiful colors. Then there are Waxed Cotton Cord Thread and polyester stretch cords. These thicker cords are used for beading stitches as well as macrame.

Elastic beading twines stretch and makes them best for making bracelets and such. There are invisible beading cords made of polyester which are sometimes preferred for stringing beads.

invisible stretch thread

Related posts : 16 Different types of cords ; Checkout the Beadwork Stitching Tips and the different kinds of beads used.

11. Ribbons 

ribbon flower tutorial

Though they are not thread, Ribbons are used for embroidery the same way as you use embroidery floss. It is threaded through the needle and used to stitch beautiful floral designs. There are many different kinds of ribbons – check out the 15 common types of ribbons you can buy and embroider.

You can checkout the tutorial for ribbon embroidery stitches  and the tutorial to make 10 easy ribbon embroidery flowers 

12. Crochet thread

hand embroidery thread types

You can crochet with anything, even embroidery floss. The yarns mentioned earlier can also be used for doing crochet. But there is a special yarn used for crochet that has a beautiful sheen. It can be used to make beautiful doilies and other crochet things and to create string art.

13. Sashiko thread

This is a special embroidery thread used for stitching the Japanese embroidery work called Sashiko. One strand of Sashiko embroidery thread is the thickness of 4 embroidery threads with a special twist which makes it very strong and durable – just right for the clothing repair work that it is famous for. You can use this thread with a thin long needle with a big eye (or a special sashiko needle). Read more on Sashiko here.

13. Light effects embroidery thread

This is a very shiny glow-in-the-dark, 100% polyester thread , colorfast and tarnish resistant metallic thread.

Related post: How to embroider on clothes – 10 steps to perfection.

How to embroider on Clothes

Some tips on using hand embroidery threads

When I do embroidery, taking hours to fill intricate patterns painstakingly, I expect it to last for a long time. Imagine a red bullion knot stitch bleeding onto the snowy white pillow cover after the first wash. Disaster. I was heartbroken – so many hours of loving labour wasted. Choosing the correct embroidery thread is very important – I learned this the hard way. 

This is a scenario that can happen if I am not very careful with the quality of the embroidery floss I buy, especially when working on projects which I expect to last for a long time.

This is what I do when I start an embroidery project – I take out the threads I want. Cut the desired length. It is then wound on the plastic thread holders – keeping the thread neat and clean and organised. You can learn more storage tips for threads in this post.

different types of embroidery thread

Before using the embroidery floss, separate the floss into different strands then bring them together and then thread the needle. This is supposed to keep out tangles

Use short lengths of the thread. 25 inch long thread suits me. Because when the thread enters and exits fabric repeatedly the resultant abrasion will make the fibers weaker. So using short lengths are always better. It also doesnot tangle easily. Sure, threading the needle repeatedly is a problem. You can check out this post on easily threading the needle  for more details

It is said that the thread has a grain just like the fabric. To know the grain of the thread is important when you have to thread the needle with it.  The experts can feel it by the touch of their hands. I  have read that the cut end near you is to be threaded through the needle; then it will go easily through the eye. This becomes very important when you have to thread the needle many times

You prewash fabric before sewing; same way you can prewash floss too. This makes sense if you do not want colour bleeding afterward.

How do you buy the best threads for your work?. One way is to buy only reputed brands. Then another criteria I use is to look at the price. When you pay the money you will (most probably) get the best quality thread.

If you have already bought cheap thread you feel may run, do not worry. Use them for projects which do not have to washed. Experts and experienced vouch that the colour bleeding stops with several rinses in cold water, but why take the risk?

Related posts: What embroidery means; Sewing machine threadHand embroidery stitches; Best braided stitches; Best filling stitches ; Enbroidery sampler 

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

33 thoughts on “13 types of Hand Embroidery Threads”

  1. Hi please disregard my last question on the abbreviated embroidery floss from Europe . It is not a floss but a Persian wool.

  2. Hi, could you please tell me what these abbreviations stand for in regards to embroidery floss.? Pater. Prsn
    I ordered a cross stitch pattern from Europe and they are using the above brand.
    Thank you

  3. Hi Sarina, I’ve been through all the comments and can people have asked the question about threads bleeding however what about vice versa.

    I’ll be embroidering white and sometimes other light thread onto a black t-shirt and I want the threads to keep their vibrancy/colour after a dark wash.

    I know a synthetic fibre would be best as they’re hard to dye but having difficulty finding these options in floss.

    Looking forward to your insight,

    • Hi Angelina
      In machine embroidery I have read of a product called topping – specifically “Floriani Embroidery Color Keep Topping” which enhances contrast colors. In hand embroidery the only thing that comes to my mind for your situation is to ensure that all the extra colour in your t-shirt is settled before you embroider on it. Wash it several times, washing it with salt solution to make the color settle, and then after embroidering, not washing it further with other colored clothes to reduce the probability of the color transferring on to the thread.
      These posts may help : How to prevent color bleeding ; Garment and fabric care
      Best wishes

  4. Hello Sarina,

    I would like to do some embroidery on my transparent bag. what would be the appropriate thread and needle to use?
    Thank you for helping in advance.

    • Hi Jeanny
      You mean plastic transparent bag? I am afraid I have not done that. One tip I can tell you is to use a very thin needle lest it leaves holes.

  5. Hi Sarina,

    I am trying to work out a suitable thread for embroidering on a stretched canvas (typically used for painting). I am going to be threading along a single line, with no filling in. What would you recommend?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Elyse
      Because of your comment I have added one more type of thread to the above list -thanks. I think you can have a look at Sashiko thread. I have added some details in the post.
      I have no experience stitching on canvas but my common sense tells me to advice you not to use a too thick needle for the work; you will leave holes in canvas which may not mend as it would on normal fabrics.You can use thin needles with a large eye to accomodate the thicker thread you will be using. Hope this helps.

  6. I want to embroidery a name on a baby quilt. Please advise what type of thread, (one that the thread would not bleed when washed), and size of needle. I have not embroideried in many years so I need lots of help. Thank you.

    • Hi Nicky
      Have you read this post on embroidering letters
      About bleeding, it depends on the quality of embroidery thread you have – you can wash a piece of it and see if it will bleed. Most good quality thread do not bleed, in my experience. If you have a suspicion with dark colour you can set colors by washing the thread in salt solution or vinegar solution to set colours.

      Usually a thin needle with a large eye is used for embroidering – because the embroidery floss ( 2 or 3 or more thread) has to go through the eye and the body should not be too thick that it will leave holes in your fabric. Read about sewing needles here. and best fabric for embroidery
      Hope all this will help you
      Best wishes

  7. Hey! I am doing a hand embroidery work on a “dad cap” and I need to know what thread would be suitable for me, I want the design to be as close to machine embroidery as possible, so therefore I think a thread that is compact, thin and has a bit of gloss would fit. Help please!

    • Hi Camille
      Why don’t you embroider with regular polyester thread – it is compact and thin with some gloss and strong and no bleeding at all

  8. Hey iam trying something new with kasuthi embroidery so iam thinking of using different kind of threads. Thought you would help me with some interesting kind of threads??

  9. Hi Sarina,

    Hoping you can help – i’m looking to include thread within my jewellery designs. And require something that is long-wearing, won’t fray, and holds it’s colour (if it can be custom dyed that’s a bonus too!). It also needs to be as fine/thin as possible!! I have been recommended silk/nylon but wondered if you had any suggestions.

    (thank you in advance)

    • Hi JSD
      I think you might want to check out the lustrous Rayon thread (maybe labeled silk thread /artificial silk/art silk) – this is the one most people use for jewelry making, or very thin Nylon thread

  10. I am just starting my first embroidery project, which is to embroider a large emblem on the back of a white hoodie for my husband. I am using royal blue and black, and want to avoid bleeding! I see that I should probably prewash the thread before hand, but what type of thread is best for embroidery that involves both small details and large areas of color? And that doesn’t have a reputation for bleeding? It will be on a cotton/poly blend hoodie.

    • Hi Alyssa
      Congrats on your first project and best wishes. If you buy a good quality thread (like DMC in US) usually they do not bleed. You can take some length and wash to see with very bright colours like red. some pre-wash thread in cold water with a little salt as a fixative.Some thread specifically come with this instruction – pre-soak all the floss in a mixture of water and vinegar to prevent the colors from running
      Rayon embroidery thread may run so be careful if using that.

  11. Hi, This is so useful. I have a long term crush towards embroidery. But didn’t have a glimpse of idea about getting started and where to start. Thank u for this….

  12. I want to hand sew names onto my bath towels, what would you recommend. It must not run and it must be durable for the obvious reasons but I would like to use many colours x

    • Hi Victoria
      If your primary concern is about bleeding thread you can (should) prewash the thread and see – many people do this( professionals) with even the reputed brands. Fabric is precious. Otherwise you can use as much colour as you want 🙂 If you are asking about brand recommendation – my suggestion is – do not buy cheap thread. That shows. Best wishes

  13. I have been told that embroidery floss has a shelf life and will tear apart while it is being used if it is too old and dried out. can it be dampened with a wet sponge before use to make it good again? I bought a kit online that supplied the floss for the project and I keep having the problem of it tearing apart while I’m using it on my cross stich. I have bought new skeins of the same brand and they don’t seam to match very good.

    • Hi Shelly
      I think you got old stock of embroidery floss with your kit. It is a problem if you donot have some extra to complete – the colour rarely matches when you go out to buy more.

  14. why are some of my embroidery floss shinny and others are dull? They all are DMC. will the difference show on my cross stich project when the instructions say to use one or two strands of the six

    • I suppose you got matte finish and the shiny one. I am not sure about DMC, but when I buy thread from different companies this happens to me too. For a project like a face or something this would make a difference but for floral projects this would add a texture if you correctly position it – this is what I think. best wishes. Is this a big project?

  15. Marjorie Field

    September 21, 2017

    Do you have to prewash fabric before sewing it if it is polyester and cotton blend? I am planning to do smocking on it.

  16. Excellent article. Well written. Have been embroidering since I was 5, am now 68. Always learn something new from these articles. Keep up the good work.

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