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Embroidery floss and thread sounds like a small category, but this category of embroidery supplies holds myriad colors, styles, and weights with which to stitch. Although many of the different threads and flosses are interchangeable, some embroidery projects require the use of one specific stitching material. To find the right thread or floss for an embroidery project, embroiderers need a basic understanding of the available floss, yarn, and thread variations.
The Difference Between Embroidery Floss and Thread
Many people use the terms embroidery floss and embroidery thread synonymously, but the two items have distinct differences.
Embroidery thread, used almost exclusively for machine embroidery, is a single, two-ply strand wound onto a spool, and the plies are indivisible. Machine embroidery thread comes in a range of sizes from 12 to 100. The size of the thread decreases as the number increases: Size 12 denotes the thickest thread, and size 100 denotes the thinnest thread, often referred to as heirloom quality thread.
The category of floss, which includes yarn, refers to stitching material varying in plies and strands. Embroiderers use floss when stitching by hand. Floss is sold in skeins rather than on a spool and is thicker than embroidery thread. Floss includes both divisible and indivisible strands; divisible refers to strands that can separate easily for individual use, and indivisible refers to strands not usually separated.
Types of Floss
Eight basic types of floss created from either thread or yarn comprise the list of material used to embroider by hand. This category includes yarn because of its application in a number of embroidery techniques and projects. The choice of the proper floss to use depends upon the desired look of the finished project, the type of project, and the fabric upon which the stitches are embroidered.
Although this floss bears the same name as the large category called embroidery floss, embroidery is not performed exclusively with this type of floss. Embroidery floss first comes to many people’s minds when they think of embroidering because of its versatility; however, it is commonly associated as the floss used in cross-stitch. Created from six strands of loosely twisted thread, the threads separate easily, so it is easy to use a single strand for fine embroidery and more strands for heavier stitches. Manufacturers use cotton, rayon, silk, or blends of the three to create embroidery floss with a slight sheen.
Made of a single, twisted, two-ply strand, pearl cotton. also sold as perle cotton, comes sized according to weight. As with embroidery thread, the lowest number indicates a heavy, thick floss, and the highest number indicates a light, thin floss. The sizes range from 3 to 16. Pearl cotton has a very shiny finish that contrasts well with matte fabrics.
Matte Embroidery Cotton
The thickness of matte embroidery cotton comes from a tight twisting of 5-ply thread, which makes this floss eminently suitable for embroidering on heavy fabrics. As the name implies, this floss gives embroidery a muted, toned down appearance.
Made of fine natural wool or acrylic, crewel yarn’s 2-ply structure looks similar to a single strand of Persian yarn. Crewel yarn suits needlepoint, cross-stitch, tapestry work, and fine embroidery alike. The wool gives a warm finish to completed embroidery projects and comes in an array of subtle, soft colors.
Mostly used in embroidery and needlepoint, Persian yarn consists of three loosely twisted strands of 2-ply natural wool or acrylic. Persian yarn works well with heavy fabrics, and many colors are available.
Tapestry yarn comes in a single strand of 4-ply wool or acrylic fibers. Choose this yarn for needlepoint projects, crewelwork, and embroidery on heavy material. To prevent wear on the yarn caused by being drawn repeatedly through fabric, work with short lengths of tapestry yarn.
Knitting yarn contains the same 4-ply structure as tapestry yarn, but it is less tightly twisted. Made from wool or acrylic, this yarn performs beautifully in creating stitches that need more bulk than the finer flosses provide.
As the name suggests, rug yarn finds its greatest use in the creation of rugs, latch hook hangings, and similar work; however, this thick 3-ply yarn also provides
embroidered pieces with a distinct variation in textures. Although its bulk works for texture contrast, crafters rarely draw it through the fabric. Rug yarn works best in embroidery when crafters couch it down, which involves laying the yarn against the embroidery fabric and securing it with small stitches made with a finer floss.
Using Embroidery Floss
The preceding embroidery flosses come in skein form, and skeins pose difficulties when stitching embroidery. To avoid tangles, knots, and other messes, wind skeins of yarn into balls, and wind skeins of light floss onto embroidery floss bobbins. Made of plastic or cardboard, floss bobbins are rectangular, and the top and bottom edges both protrude slightly. Wind the floss around the central portion of the bobbin within the protruding edges.
Types of Thread
As mentioned above, embroidery thread finds its most common use in machine embroidering rather than hand embroidering. Most embroidery designs for machines call for size 40 thread, but crafters use threads of different sizes to change the look of a design.
Cotton Embroidery Thread
Embroiders who use machines to stitch designs often use cotton embroidery thread if they want a finished design that looks as though it was created by hand. Cotton thread gives a matte, slightly fuzzy finish that compensates for its thinness.
Polyester Embroidery Thread
A very strong thread, polyester embroidery thread endures a great deal of rough wear. This thread’s durability renders it a good thread choice for embroidering children’s clothing, linens, and everyday items that will experience frequent use and frequent washings.
Rayon Embroidery Thread
Rayon embroidery thread is almost indistinguishable from that of polyester; actually, when wear and tear is not a factor in the finished embroidery, the two are often interchanged. Rayon embroidery thread finds its best use, though, in projects that need only gentle care after completion.
Rayon embroidery thread has a silky sheen and comes in a wide variety of colors. Particular to rayon thread are variegated shades and two different, solid color threads that are twisted into a single strand. This thread’s ease in accepting dye allows brilliant colors, but its structure gives even brilliant color a tendency to fade over time or with frequent exposure to the sun.
Silk Embroidery Thread
Silk embroidery thread absorbs and holds colors better than any other fiber. This thread is strong, stable, durable, and resists breaking during the stitching process. Most often used to embroider on silk and other luxury fabrics, embroidery stitched with silk thread displays the sheen unique to this fabric.
Used to provide special effects or accents, metallic thread adds pizzazz and sparkle to embroidered items. This type of thread needs to be worked slowly and carefully because it does have a tendency to break, especially when machine embroidering at a high speed.
Prevent Bleeding of Floss
Although thread and yarn colors rarely run, embroidery floss does not always have the same colorfast ability. To ensure bleeding colors do not ruin a completed embroidery project should it need washing, pre-wash the floss before using it.
To pre-wash floss, remove the paper labels and secure each end of the skein with a twist tie to keep it in a loop. Using a gentle soap and water, carefully wash the skein without swishing it around. Rough handling will cause snarls and knots. Rinse the floss gently with fresh water, and rinse it 10 times for each wash. If any color does bleed out, continue rinsing it until the water runs clear. Blot the skein in a white towel, and let it dry flat on the towel.
Finding Embroidery Floss and Thread on eBay
To find embroidery floss and thread on eBay, type the name of any specific thread or floss into eBay’s search engine. To browse a large selection of available embroidery materials, shop at eBay’s Crafts shop. From the homepage, hover over All Categories and select the Crafts store from the menu that appears. From the Crafts store, select the Needlecrafts & Yarn department. The menu that appears when hovering over Needlecrafts & Yarn shows the option of Yarn, but to find floss and thread, hover over Embroidery, which is found on the same menu as Yarn. Choose from Hand Embroidery Supplies to find floss or Machine Embroidery Supplies to find thread.