Embroidery Floss vs. Thread
I will begin by saying that this is probably one of the most unimportant questions in embroidery-dom. It does have a definite answer, but if you use the words floss and thread interchangeably for your embroidery medium, lightning will not strike either you or your hours of hard work.
I will also mention that not all embroidery mediums are necessarily labeled as embroidery products. What kind of thread or yarn you use depends on the desired end product. I’ve seen embroidery done with regular yarn or sewing thread, and each has its charm.
Floss or Thread–Which is Which.
So let’s talk about embroidery floss or thread. DMC, Anchor, or J&P Coats brand flosses are probably the most ubiquitous embroidery floss found in retail stores. These work well for those with moderate budgets. Each glossy mercerized cotton skein consists of six individual strands wrapped loosely together. The six parts are easily separated, giving the sewer an option of how heavy a thread they wish to use for different parts of the project.
In a nutshell, the six strands taken together are called floss. The individual strands are called threads. So if I call anything other than the six combined threads floss, I am committing an embroidery faux pas. If you’re unsure and don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of your professional embroidering friends, just call it all thread when referring to what’s already in the needle or embroidered into the fabric.
Embroidery floss is used for a wide variety of crafts, from friendship bracelets to dream catchers. Embroidery floss is generally used whole for these crafts, leaving all six strands together.
The floss is usually separated into two or more parts for embroidery work. Besides embroidery floss, other types of thread have been designed specifically for embroidery. Crewelwork and similar styles of embroidery use a heavier thread. And some embroidery, such as petit point, use an extremely fine thread.
Embroidery Floss and Thread Options
Here is a breakdown of many embroidery flosses and threads. But, as mentioned above, if you can thread it through a needle and pull it through the material, you can embroidery with it.
Mercerized Cotton Floss
Six-stranded, mercerized cotton floss is the most popular and most economical of all embroidery flosses. It’s available in a staggering number of colors, including many variegated options. This floss can be used for almost any embroidery work on nearly any medium.
Pearl (Perle) Cotton Thread
Pearl cotton is a two-ply twisted thread. It cannot be divided and comes in sizes from 3(heaviest) to 16(finest), with size eight being the most popular. Pearl thread has a high sheen and is popular for cross stitch, surface embroidery, or even crocheted doilies or borders. It is most often available in ball form.
Coton a broder thread/Coton Floche a broder/Floche
Here’s another high-quality, 100% cotton thread. Coton a Broder takes up where Pearl leaves off, with sizes from 16-35. This ultra-fine thread is durable, colorfast, and ideal for delicate embroidery projects such as petit point cross stitch.
Floche or Coton Floche a broder is a five-pile twisted, non-divisible thread. Floche size is usually a bit heavier than two threads from a six-strand floss. Coton Floche is a durable mercerized thread often available in hanks rather than skeins.
This tightly-twisted heavyweight thread has a flat finish instead of the glossy look of most of the above threads. It is most recognized for its use in Japanese Sashiko folk embroidery. Traditionally, Shashiko is worked with flat white thread on indigo-dyed fabric. But if you’re looking for a matte finish thread for any project, you might want to look into Shashiko thread.
Rayon floss is available also available in six-thread skeins. The floss has a silky appearance and is frequently used for Brazilian-style embroidery. Rayon floss is also sometimes used to highlight a particular part of a design with a shinier look.
Metallic thread is available as a six-strand floss skein, a braided floss, or spooled filament that can be used alongside cotton or other embroidery thread to add an extra glimmer to your project. Metallic threads are often not as durable as other fibers, so using them alongside regular thread adds stability.
Crewel yarn is a 100% wool, 2-ply thread for embroidering on linen or linen twill fabrics. It is also used to embellish wool clothing or lightweight knitwear. Crewel yarn is often hand-dyed in earthy colors, adding a folky element to your needlework. You’ll need to research to find higher-quality yarns.
Tapestry Wool Yarn
Four-ply tapestry wool thread is heavier than crewel yarn for stitching on heavy canvas, making or repairing tapestries, or embellishing medium- to heavyweight knits. Amazon carries DMC tapestry wool in a variety of colors. Each color is sold separately in a two-pack.
Tapestry wool is also ideal for decorative needlepoint cushions or wall hangings. It produces a classic look and is excellent for reproducing antique designs.
There are two types of silk thread, spun and filament. Spun silk is made from leftover silk pieces and broken cocoons. Spun silk is a floss that can be separated and used in the same way cotton thread is used.
Filament silk is reeled off whole cocoons, resulting in either a flat or twisted product used as a single thread. Silk is expensive and tends to fade or bleed. Keep silk designs out of direct sunlight and dry clean to preserve the brightness of the colors.
Almost any type or width of ribbon can be used to create truly remarkable embroidery work. Ribbons can be used alone or with embroidery thread for added depth and unique designs. Roses are especially stunning when worked in ribbons.
Craft thread is a more inexpensive, synthetic (usually polyester) embroidery medium. It is often used for embroidery craft items that are not intended to last for an extended period of time. It is also a good choice for a child learning simple stitches. Craft thread is less durable than natural fibers and has fewer color choices.
Yarn is used to embroider designs on knitted or crocheted items. Use the same weight yarn as the item you’re decorating for consistency. Yarn can also be used to embellish canvas or other large-weave materials.
So now you know the difference between embroidery floss and thread, as well as a whole host of other embroidery mediums. As mentioned above, if you have a needle big enough to accommodate it, any flexible medium can be used to create unique personal or gift items. A high-quality thread will ensure you produce durable designs for clothing or display.