Thread Update: Adding Interest to Sewouts

Bring more value to your embroidery with specialty threads.

By Alice Wolf, Contributing Writer

“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, was digitized and sewn out using six different types of embroidery thread: rayon #40 and #60, polyester #60, smooth metallic #40 and #50, and twisted metallic #30. The total number of stitches in this design is 154,360.

December 22, 2014

(Image was digitized by Aytül Küçük, Madeira)

Whether you’re working on an embroidered contest entry or project bid, to the victor goes the prize. Your chances — and choices — increase considerably when you weigh all options currently available. Most embroiderers have taken a stand on their general-purpose, everyday 40-weight thread by choosing lustrous rayon or indestructible polyester. But too many get comfortable with never taking the next step.

Many embroiderers’ machines are set for 40-weight thread; likewise, their stock designs are digitized for it, and they stock considerable inventory of 40-weight rayon or polyester thread. Ah, the comfort zone! Who likes change anyway? But that is exactly why it’s time for making some artistic decisions, increasing the choices in your inventory and the options for your sewouts.

You want to establish a comfort level — that ease of working with your machine — to be able to break out and try something new. Many embroiderers express interest in trying something out of the box, but the thought of changing a needle, density settings or committing to learning something new is debilitating.

But contracts — and contests — are won by standing apart from the crowd and creating looks for you or your clients that are unique, unusual or artistically expressed. Mastering the use of some of the specialty threads on the market, and taking advantage of the education possibilities that accompany them, greatly increases the possibilities.

What are the things that make us say, “Wow!” when we look at an impressive embroidered sewout? Fine detail and clarity; sparkle and shine; color shading and realism. Let’s look at these aspects individually and how you can add them to your embroidery.

As in life, when it comes to embroidery, too much of a good thing can end up working against you. Specialty threads seem to have the biggest impact when combined with other, more basic threads. Contrast — the result of mixing two or more opposite thread types — often is the wow component. And size, resulting in a very large or miniscule design, can be an attention grabber.

Metallics. While there are lots of general specialty-thread choices, many of them belong to this category alone. Metallic embroidery thread comes in smooth or twisted configurations, as well as different weights. Some will hold up to industrial-strength laundering, while others are designed for high-end home décor complete with TLC. Always consider the product you’re embroidering and choose the durability of your thread accordingly.

Special-effects threads often come into play for, well, special effects. The metallics are ideal for working into a standard design to add an element of surprise, make a statement, emphasize part of a design or logo, or simply clinch that wow factor.

For example, if you are working on a logo or design that includes an item in gray (eating utensils, machinery, tools, etc.), try using silver metallic thread. Or, try swapping in gold metallic for a yellow- or gold-colored area in your design. Mixing a shiny metallic with your general-purpose rayon or polyester thread provides amazing results.

Then, there is the shimmering effect of a different type of metallic thread, where its unique twisting gives it a more textured and sparkling effect. Here, too, even used in small parts of your design, the extra element of shine, shimmer or sparkle will create a unique appearance that separates your design — and your business — from the commonplace competitor.

When adding metallic thread to a design, remember to choose a stitch length that is appropriate for a thicker, rougher thread. Use a #90/14 needle, due to the #30 weight of the thread. Whether it’s shine, sparkle, iridescence, jewel tones, bling or simply emphasis that you seek, metallic thread may be the solution.

Follow the manufacturers’ recommendations regarding needle size and machine tension for optimal results. The thread tension on your machine should be set slightly looser than for standard 40-weight threads and the machine speed should be set slightly slower. For heavier-weight threads, the needle size will increase.

60-Weight. For fine detail and lettering smaller than 4mm, 60-weight thread — available in both rayon and polyester — will serve you well. It requires a smaller needle, but will allow you to produce lettering, shading and other finite detail where general-purpose, 40-weight thread can fall short. It is available in a variety of colors, often Pantone-matched, and matched to its 40-weight equivalents.

A thread to turn to for problem solving, it is good to make your digitizer aware of it at the beginning of a project. Since a smaller needle will give best results, some embroiderers will “assign” a single needle to 60-weight thread in black or white for stitching the lettering in a logo.

Matte Finish. The addition of matte-finish embroidery thread enables you to create depth, or shading, in your embroidery. You can combine it with lustrous or shiny thread to achieve a sense of “layering.” Matte-finish embroidery thread is ideal for use as “skin” when people or faces are involved in a design.

And when subtlety or a more masculine look is desired, as in tone-on-tone or when designing for a customer who shies away from shine, matte-finish thread will work well. One leading matte-finish embroidery thread on the market is particularly colorfast and designed to hold up to large amounts of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, making it a good choice for patio cushions, boat covers, etc. Mixing a matte-finish embroidery thread with a lustrous or shiny one for unique shading effects, or substituting the matte finish entirely for a crisp, subtle look will deliver a unique design, putting you ahead of your competition.

Wool-Blend. The rough, textured wool-blend embroidery thread will deliver an appealing, hand-embroidered look. Blending it into a stock design, or simply deciding how and when to use it, requires careful consideration. The wide satin stitch, longer running stitch and a variation of the blanket stitch all are ideal choices for this unique thread. When working with these thicker threads, other considerations include needle size, tension and machine speed.

The thick wool-blend thread, with naturally muted colors, requires that you use a #100/16 needle. For tension settings on your embroidery machine, only tighten the top tension. If you change the bobbin tension, you will have problems running the other threads in the design. And just to be on the safe side, considering the naturally “hairy” texture of the wool-blend thread, clean the bobbin cases and rotary area more often than with other threads.

Fire-Resistant. This is considered a specialty thread, but not necessarily one you would choose unless the production required it. It was developed for use on uniforms, logos or any apparel where safety is a concern. Industries such as petroleum, aeronautical and fire control, and sports such as car racing or flying, all present prime opportunities for using this thread.

The best quality fire-resistant threads are made from 100% Aramid, a DuPont product. Again, while not a go-to thread for anything other than safety needs, it is a good thread type to be comfortable with, for whenever the need arises. You will see it used most often in logos or for personalizing safety uniforms.

Variegated and Multicolor. While fashion, or your customer, may dictate whether you stick with a solid color or put a multi-color appearance into the mix, your choices are seemingly endless. With multicolor threads, as you stitch, the thread will go from one color to another and another. With ombrés, one thread will produce multiple shades of a single color. You have a wide range of choices 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 experimentation so that you can learn the amount of control you have — if any — over how the colors or shades will fall. If mixing in multicolors, or ombrés, it may be best to use them in large areas, as the ombrés that are popular with fashion
designers — in designs that are natural in appearance — allow the random changes of the thread to enhance the design.

Glow-in-the-Dark. For pure novelty — and Halloween is the prime motivator — this specialty thread is popular for childrenswear or tote bags. It is a thread that needs to be “charged” by being held under direct light, and then will hold its glow-in-the-dark properties for a length of time that is in proportion with how long it was charged.

This thread is not to be used when regulated safety issues are a concern. It was developed for pure novelty and, while its use can be quite clever and may contribute to the wearer’s visibility, it does not bear any guarantee of the length or effectiveness of its glow. A 40-weight thread, it should not require any special consideration when running.

Special-effects threads truly will set you apart from the competition once you master working with them.

Wool-blend thread offers a home-spun effect, while 60-weight thread is ideal for achieving logos that are the envy of your competition. Use metallics for results that “pop,” matte-finished thread combined with the luster of rayon or the shine of polyester for shading, glow-in-the-dark for children’s clothing, etc. All will allow you to offer your customers embroidery they may not find anywhere else.

Using some down time to experiment, and become competent and secure in expanding your repertoire, will prove well worth it; adding some of the aforementioned threads can increase your charges up to 20%. Some of these threads initially will require some digitizing and machine-tension adjustments, as well as needle changes and — perhaps most importantly — patience. But the results will give you an edge over your peers, and a leg up in the competition circuit.

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 other embroidery articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “Weighing the Merits of Embroidery
• “Use Specialty Threads to Spice Up Embroidery