Nice Threads! The Best Choices for Machine Embroidery

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A beautiful embroidered or quilted piece is a work of art — and that's a proven fact (just ask Sotheby's). But before you can get started on your own masterpiece you need to choose your thread. Here are a few pointers.

Pick Your Thread Weight

Thread weight works the opposite of how it sounds. The higher the thread-weight number, the finer and thinner the thread. Alternately, a low thread-weight number means a thicker, heavier thread.

To compare, typical sewing thread measures in at 50 wt. Standard embroidery threads are somewhat finer, most often 40 wt., although 30 wt. is not uncommon. Unless specified, nearly all digital machine embroidery designs  are digitized for 40 wt. thread.

While 80 wt. or 100 wt. threads are excellent for fine heirloom embroidery , redwork with a 30 wt. thread or blanket stitching with a 12 wt. thread will almost look done by hand. Nice!

Choose Your Thread Material

Rayon

The most popular and affordable machine-embroidery thread, it's easy to find, simple to use and available in hundreds of vibrant colors. What's not to like?

Made of organic cellulose, rayon fibers have a luxurious sheen and soft touch, but can fade over time (sigh).

Polyester

So strong. So vibrant. So shiny and easy to use. These synthetic threads are also fade- and bleach-resistant, which makes them a smart choice if you're embroidering something that might need a lot of washing — like your kids' clothing, towels and linens.

Trilobal polyester threads are especially strong because they're made from multiple filaments. Plus their triangular shape helps them reflect even more light than standard polyester and rayon threads.

Cotton

The ultimate natural fiber and an age-old standby. The absolute best cotton threads are made from long-staple Egyptian cotton that's super strong and (bonus!) nearly free of lint.

Most cotton threads have more of a matte finish than polyester or rayon. Machine embroidery with cotton thread mimics hand-embroidery, making it excellent for quilting, redwork, bean stitch and cross-stitch designs. For more on achieving a hand-stitched look with your machine, you can check out our video demo here.

Silk

Ah, silk. Another natural fiber, silk has the stability of cotton and the strength of polyester but a shine that is uniquely its own. Pure luxury.

Extremely fine at 100 wt., silk is a favorite of crafters who love hand and machine-embroidered appliqué. Stitches nearly disappear!

Specialty Threads

These can make any embroidery project more spectacular. You definitely want to keep 'em in mind when you're stitch painting, quilting or creating textile art.

  • Metallic thread looks fabulous but can also be finicky. Some threads are flat rather than round; others include holographic fibers wound around an inner core. Slowing down the stitching speed, lowering the tension and using a larger topstitch needle are all ways to minimize the headache.
  • Variegated threads are available in hundreds of color combos. "Variegated" means that the colors change incrementally. Some are dyed in subtle repeats while others are bold and distinct. Use this style of thread for patterns and designs where you want tone-on-tone.
  • Clear nylon monofilament threads are great for invisible quilting and appliqué.
  • Light-sensitive or solar-activated threads are super fun for Halloween patterns or astrological designs. They look white under ordinary conditions but glow in the dark. Kids (and plenty of adults, too) love the magical effect.
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Nice Threads! The Best Choices for Machine Embroidery