Differences Between Embroidery & Regular Thread

By Tia Paitsel
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Choosing threads for sewing or embroidery projects may be challenging even for a seasoned expert. Thread is made from three basic products -- natural fibers such as animal fur or hair, regenerated fibers like rayon or acetate, and man-made products such as glass, polyester, acrylic, polypropylene, nylon, elastic and metal. Threads are constructed from fibers being twisted or spun together. Knowledge of the different weights or sizes of threads, as well as specific applications of threads, will help you choose the appropriate fiber for your project.

Thread for Multi-Purpose Sewing

When constructing garments, mending, or piecing together quilts you should choose a multi-purpose thread. You can choose from cotton, polyester, silk, nylon or cotton wrapped polyester. Cotton thread is available in a rainbow of colors in a medium weight thread (size 50). Most cotton thread is mercerized which means it has been treated to accept dyes more readily and has a smooth sheen surface. Polyester thread is also a medium weight thread (size 50) and is a suitable thread for stitching synthetic and stretch materials. If you need a heavy duty thread for sewing together denim or upholstery, cotton, polyester or cotton wrapped polyester threads (size 40) are available. However, the color selection is more limited.

Machine Embroidery Thread

Machine embroidery has become popular with fiber artists. The main difference in embroidery thread compared to multi-purpose thread is that embroidery thread needs to be considerably stronger because it has to go in and out of the fabric a number of times prior to the final stitch being made. The abundance of threads available to use for machine embroidery include rayon, cotton, smooth and textured metallics, silk and polyester. It is typically made from a softer, 2-ply thread and is twisted less so that it lies flat upon the surface of the fabric which results in a higher sheen. Sizes range from 30, the thickest, to 60 and they are numbered differently than multi-purpose threads: a size 40 embroidery thread is much more fine than a size 40 multi-purpose thread. The most common size to use is 40 weight.

Embroidery Thread for Hand Needlework

Embellishing fabrics by embroidering is a technique used throughout history to decorate clothing, furnishings and artwork. Hand sewn designs require the artists to choose appropriate threads to enhance their projects. Wool yarns are typically used for crewel embroidery or needlepoint. Embroidery thread, embroidery floss and pearl cotton are used for other types of hand stitched embellishments. Different effects are achieved by choosing from the myriad of colors and sizes. It is like painting on the fabric with thread.

Personal Preference

There are some important things to remember when choosing threads for your masterpieces. Poor quality threads will break fairly easy and clog an expensive machine, which will cost you more in the end product. Keep a journal of what types of threads work on different types of fabric and don't be afraid to experiment with unusual material and fiber -- you may create an undiscovered technique.

About the Author

Tia Paitsel is an entrepreneur who has worked in positions ranging from home organization to computer repair. She graduated cum laude from Adams State College with a B.A. in advertising/marketing and a minor in fine arts.