Standing Out from the Crowd

Using specialty threads in stock designs.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

This design, “Blue Flower,” features a matte-finished thread that creates a watercolor look by blending the thread colors in a casual way. Photo courtesy of Kreations by Kara.

August 29, 2018

Stock-design companies provide a tremendous service to those embroiderers who don’t do their own digitizing, as well as those who do but may need a starting point. Designs by the thousands are available; searchable by theme; available individually or in packs; and can be downloaded in several formats so that with a few clicks, embroiderers can start stitching.

But what if it were possible to customize a stock design so that your individual input was there, creating a final design that not only is technically and creatively on target, but also stands out from others as uniquely yours? You can achieve this by substituting specialty threads for general-purpose, 40-weight embroidery thread.

Made for Each Other
Some embroidery threads, considered specialty threads, are substituted easily into a stock design in place of a specified 40-weight rayon or polyester general-purpose embroidery thread, while others require some tweaking. The important thing is to recognize which stock designs will lend themselves to substitution based on their stitch types and counts.

Metallic embroidery thread comes in many different weights. Some metallics are smooth, offering shine, while others consist of metallic foil twisted around a polyester core, offering both shimmer and shine. Twisted 30-weight metallic thread can be used to enhance a stock design featuring running or outline stitches.

Smooth 40- or 50-weight metallic threads can be dropped into designs where a satin stitch is used. For example, metallic thread can be used to create stars that shine or metal accents that gleam and give life to the design.

A 40-weight, matte-finished embroidery thread is available and can be used to show subtle shading; add a realistic touch to items or textures that truly have no shine; and add vivid color to a design. Slightly on the thin side, this thread may, at times, require reducing a design by as little as 5% to ensure proper fill.

However, it also is capable of providing clarity to small letters or fine details due to its weight and lack of light reflection. It often can be used in a design with no tweaks at all; give yourself time to experiment and become comfortable with these threads.

Two other 40-weight specialty threads — fire-resistant and glow-in-the-dark — can be substituted into nearly any stock design. Fire-resistant thread can be used when safety is an issue, and glow-in-the-dark thread is ideal when novelty or special effects are the goal.

While fire-resistant thread would only be used upon a customer’s request, the sky’s the limit when it comes to stock designs that would be ideal for this safety-minded option, which is made of Nomex fibers and withstands temperatures up to 572˚F. Because it’s composed of spun fibers, it requires a larger, #80/12 needle for best results.

Glow-in-the-dark thread can be used for everything from a portion of a child’s Halloween costume to creating a border on linens for a summer evening picnic. The results that can be achieved from using this novelty thread are fun and surprising, offering customers a look they may not expect. Both fire-resistant and glow-in-the-dark threads have limited color availability, but otherwise are easy, breezy substitutes in stock designs.

Be Unique — Tweak!
For very thick (12-weight) and thin (60- and 75-weight) threads, additional tweaking likely will be necessary. The first tweak begins with a needle change. Should you have a design that could be enhanced with a thick wool- or cotton-blend thread, switching to a #100/16 needle will give best results. For the thinner 60-weight rayon or polyester thread, a #65/9 or #70/10 needle is suggested, while you should use a #60/8 needle for best results with a 75-weight polyester thread.

With 60-weight thread, the needle’s penetration should be as small as possible, since the thread is thinner than 40-weight and requires a smaller hole. Not changing the needle nearly negates the benefit of using a thin thread.

With thicker, fuzzier threads, the needle should make a larger hole for the thread to pass through without causing undue friction with the needle and the fabric being embroidered. Keep in mind that if you’ve chosen an appropriate design, changing the needle may be the only needed tweak.

Density is another aspect of a stock design that may or may not need tweaking. “If you have the stitch file, you are able to enlarge or reduce the design on your machine,” says Rich Medcraft of StitchWise Embroidery Designs. “Enlarging the design will spread apart the stitches, decreasing the density and accommodating a thicker thread. On the other hand, reducing the design will compact it, bringing stitches closer together to allow for thinner threads. For example, if you have a 3-inch design and you reduce it by 20%, you are increasing the density by approximately 20%.”

Searching for designs that are most appropriate for the thinner or thicker threads may eliminate the need for tweaking. “I’d say I’ve had the best luck substituting thread in simpler, lower-thread-count designs,” says Tamra Valle of Kreations by Kara. “In my opinion, substituting parts of the design, such as outlines or prominent parts of the design, is the easiest way to incorporate specialty threads. Stitching outlines or running stitches in metallic thread adds a lot of dimension and beauty to the design. This can be done without any editing to the design whatsoever, as long as you choose the right design.”

Adding definition with thin threads, such as 60- or 75-weight, often will require attention, especially if any fill is needed. These thin threads are best used for very small letters or fine detail.

“In a stock design, look for lots of black or a dark color that is being used to outline part of the design,” Medcraft says. “Using 60-weight [thread] for the detail really can make a big difference. I’ve found that if you can make your design look better than the competition’s, you’ve secured a customer. They may not be able to figure out why, but your design will look better than all the rest.”

Boosting your creativity via using specialty threads in stock designs will benefit your business greatly. Customization and special effects will set your customer — and you — apart from the crowd. And by providing effects that no one else offers, you’ll quickly learn the value of word-of-mouth advertising.

Nearly a dozen specialty threads are available on the market that — with little to no tweaking — will enhance and personalize proven stock designs. Just choose the right design for the appropriate thread and let your imagination soar.

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

Getting All the Feels

Beyond injecting shine and shimmer, adding texture is another possibility with specialty threads. Wool- and cotton-blend threads are 12-weight and considered thick and bulky. They are used to provide texture or to make a design appear to be embroidered by hand. Reviewing a design, its density and stitch length will help you determine if a simple needle change is all you need to customize a stock design and make it unique. Also, remember to tension each needle before each project.