Embroidery Thread Update

Instead of overlooking the obvious, take notice of all the threads available to today’s embroiderers.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

The most delicate, intricate of logos, such as this for high-end clothier Daniel Hanson, can be produced with 60-weight rayon embroidery thread. All images courtesy of Madeira USA.

March 20, 2015

We all know that 40 weight is the embroiderer’s every day, go-to, general-purpose embroidery thread. But if you are looking to turn out designs that are unique, customized and considered beyond the norm, it’s important to know the other thread types that are at your disposal.

Following is an overview of different types of threads that are on the market; since they are not general purpose, each would be considered a specialty thread. But don’t let the “S” word scare you. Some require little to no special attention, and having an arsenal of ideas will ensure you are known for your creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Turn to 60-weight embroidery thread, available in both rayon and polyester, for fine detail and small lettering that can go less than 4mm. It requires a smaller needle, but will allow you to produce lettering, shading and other fine detail where general-purpose, 40-weight thread may not. It is available in a variety of colors, often Pantone matched and matched to its 40-weight equivalents.

Fairly new to the market is a 75-weight thread, available in polyester, for when a design calls for really small detail. When beginning a project that presents a challenge in the size of the letters in a logo, or the detail that is expected, 60- or 75-weight thread is ideal for problem solving.

Make your digitizer aware of any detail at the beginning of a project, since tweaking density may be necessary. Since a smaller needle will give the best results, some embroiderers will “assign” a single needle to the increasingly popular 60-weight thread in black or white for stitching the lettering in a logo, thus saving the time of switching needles.

To jazz up designs, metallic thread comes in smooth, twisted, solid and variegated types, as well as many different weights and colors. Some will hold up to industrial-strength laundering, while others are designed for intricate, one-of-a-kind home décor. When choosing a metallic thread, always consider the product you are embroidering, and choose the durability and weight of your thread accordingly. You can turn an ordinary uniform into a very sophisticated wearable, or create a throw pillow that is a focal point of a home.

Metallic threads are ideal for mixing into a standard design to add an element of surprise and ensure that both you — and your client — stand out from the crowd. Combined with general-purpose rayon or polyester thread, a shiny metallic makes a bold statement. And for a more theatrical look, there is the shimmering effect of a different type of metallic thread, where the unique twisting gives a more textured and sparkling effect.

The manufacturers’ recommendations on needle size and machine tension should be followed for optimal results. In general, the machine’s thread tension should be set slightly looser than for standard 40-weight threads. Also, the machine should run slightly slower, and for heavier weight threads, the needle size will increase.

You can create depth, or shading, in embroidery with the addition of matte-finish thread. By combining it with lustrous 40-weight rayon or shiny 40-weight polyester thread, you can achieve a sense of “layering.” Matte-finish embroidery thread is ideal for use as “skin” when people or faces are involved in a design. When subtlety or a more masculine look need to be achieved, as in tone-on-tone monograms, matte-finish thread will give the desired effect. One matte-finish embroidery thread on the market is particularly colorfast and is designed to hold up to large amounts of ultraviolet rays from the sun, a good choice for patio cushions, boat covers, etc.

With its rough texture, wool-blend thread will deliver an appealing, hand-embroidered look. The wide satin stitch, longer running stitch and a variation of the blanket stitch all are ideal choices for this unique thread. Other considerations when working with this 12-weight thread are needle size, tension and machine speed. The thick wool-blend thread, with naturally muted colors, requires that you use a #100/16 needle. Considering the naturally “hairy” texture of the wool-blend thread, clean the bobbin cases and rotary area more often than with other threads.

Popular with quilters, a cotton-blend thread also will give hand-embroidered results. Cotton’s natural properties and matte finish make it popular for those attempting a unique embroidered design. The high cotton content in the 12-weight blend makes the resulting design soft against the skin. This thicker thread would require a #100/16 needle for best results.

Fire-resistant embroidery thread is considered a specialty thread, but not necessarily one you would choose unless required. It was developed for use on uniforms, logos or on any apparel where fire safety is a concern. Industries such as petroleum, aeronautical, fire control, and sports such as car racing or flying, are all prime opportunities for using this thread. The best fire-resistant threads are made from 100% Aramid, a DuPont product. While not a go-to thread for anything other than safety needs, you should get comfortable with it for whenever the need arises.

Never to be used when regulated safety issues regarding visibility are a concern, glow-in-the-dark embroidery thread was developed for pure novelty. And while its use can be quite clever and may contribute to the wearer’s visibility, it does not include any guarantee of the length or effectiveness of its glow. A 40-weight thread, it should not require any special consideration when running. Popular around Halloween for childrenswear or tote bags, this thread needs to be “charged” by being held under direct light. It will hold its glow in darkness for a length of time that is proportionate with how long it was charged.

When chosen correctly, variegated, multi or ombré embroidery threads may actually cut down on the number of colors you’ll need for a design. As you stitch with multicolor and variegated threads, they will change from one color to another and another. With ombrés, one thread will produce multiple shades of a single color. A wide range of options exist if you decide to try a multicolored or shaded look, since rayon, polyester, wool blends and metallics all come in variations of these random-looking colors.

Working with these threads takes some experimenting as you learn the effect the colors will have on your design. Try using them in items that are natural, such as flowers, leaves, water, stone and fur — and allow the random changes of the thread to enhance the design.

Finally, heavyweight rayon embroidery thread may be an ideal choice for economic reasons. It is available in 30 and 12 weight. When your design includes long fill stitches, the 30-weight rayon will fill quickly, cutting down on thread consumption and production time. For outline stitches, fancy seams, and finishing off the edges of badges and emblems, 12-weight rayon is a good choice. These two threads require a change in needle size, and would be chosen for the reasons mentioned here. Otherwise, stick with your general-purpose, 40-weight rayon or polyester threads for the majority of your embroidery work.

With business more competitive than ever, offer your customers more creative, unique looks. If experimenting with different thread types stops you dead in your tracks, contact your embroidery thread supplier. They often will have tips and tricks online or in printed form to help build your courage. Many will provide a free sample with a free design so you can try unique threads before you commit to adding inventory.

Alice Wolf is the marketing communications director for Madeira USA. She began doing marketing and public relations for the art industry in New York, then migrated north to Madeira’s headquarters in New Hampshire. For more information or to comment on this article, email Alice at awolf@madeirausa.com.

Suggested Reading

Like this article? Read these and other embroidery articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “Use Specialty Threads to Spice Up Embroidery
• “Thread Update: Add Interest to Sewouts
• “How to Determine a True Thread Break