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13 types of Hand Embroidery Threads – How to select the best for your project

Updated on by Sarina

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


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.  

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 .

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

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

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 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

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 different bead embroidery stitches 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.

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 :Sewing machine threadHand embroidery stitches; Best braided stitches; Best filling stitches

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33 thoughts on “13 types of Hand Embroidery Threads – How to select the best for your project”

  1. Debbie Errante

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

  2. Debbie Errante

    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
    Debbie

  3. angelina ioannides-beer

    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,
    Thanks!

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

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