Embroidery is an ancient variety of decorative needlework in which designs and pictures are created by stitching strands of some material on to a layer of another material. Embroidery is the application of patterns of thread or yarn to create interesting textures and designs. Embroidery designs have historically been applied by hand, but since the introduction of embroidery machinery, hand-sewn embroidery is less available. Embroidery has historically been used to signify status, class, gender, and wealth. Various types of threads are used for embroidery. In this article, I will discuss different types of embroidery threads and their uses, advantages and disadvantages.
The thread selected for sewing embroidery is extremely important to the images produced. There are many thread choices, and the high-speed embroidery machines often require especially smooth and strong thread.
Multifilament threads such as rayon or polyester are most frequently used for sewing embroidery. Silk embroidery thread is very expensive, so rayon thread is generally used instead.
In selecting the appropriate thread for embroidery, a key point is to visualize the finished image. For lustrous finished images, rayon thread is used most frequently. The rayon thread colors are clear and bright, accentuated with high sheen. Multifilament polyester fiber is a less expensive choice and often has less shine, and the colors are less clear and bright than rayon thread. Threads that appear metallic add luxury to the image.
Different Types of Embroidery Threads:
What kind of embroidery thread should I use? This is one of the most common questions we hear. The answer is simple, and difficult, at the same time. The first thing to decide is what fiber to use. Rayon, polyester, cotton, silk, or metallic? All have their pros and cons, but basically it comes down to personal preference.
Rayon and polyester are the most common embroidery threads. Always choose a good quality thread to ensure the best results with your embroidery.
Rayon embroidery threads:
Rayon embroidery threads are currently the most popular threads used in embroidery machines. They perform consistently well in high-speed embroidery machines with very little breaking or fraying. Rayon is a high sheen thread, and often used as a lower cost alternative to silk threads. Most Rayon embroidery threads are available in 40wt, though 30wt can be found without effort. A wide range of colors and shades are available, including variegated colors. Though some brands can be, rayon embroidery threads are not generally colorfast. It is best to avoid using any bleaching agents, including those made for colors. Stitches sewn with rayon threads are very smooth and consistent, leading to a higher quality embroidery project. Rayon threads do deteriorate over time, so attention should be paid to how it is stored. In low humidity regions, rayon threads can be stored in the refrigerator to extend thread life for a long as possible.
Advantages of Rayon:
- High sheen.
- Relatively heat resistant.
- Less elasticity then polyester.
Disadvantages of Rayon:
- Not colorfast.
- Not as strong as polyester.
- Less durable than polyester.
Polyester embroidery threads:
Polyester embroidery thread is the popular and economical choice. It is available in a wide assortment of colors, and your results will be similar to that of rayon. The benefit of polyester is that it won’t shrink, fade or bleed. Like rayon thread, polyester thread is strong and won’t easily break or fray.
Polyester thread is synthetically produced from polymer resins. It can be made with a matte finish to look like cotton, with a medium sheen, or high sheen finish to look like rayon or silk. Trilobal poly is higher quality polyester with sheen equal to rayon and is lint free. Due to its strength and color fastness polyester is becoming one of the most popular embroidery threads available these days.
Types of polyester thread:
There are three types of polyester thread:
- Spun poly: fiber staples spun together. Looks like cotton.
- Filament poly: continuous fiber.
- Trilobal poly: high-sheen continuous fiber. Looks like rayon or silk. Lint Free.
Advantages of Polyester:
- Durable. Designed for heavy duty use.
- Strength. More tensile strength than rayon or cotton.
- Retains shape.
- Recovers stretch.
Disadvantages of Polyester:
- More elasticity then rayon.
- Lower temperature tolerance than rayon.
Nylon embroidery threads:
A synthetic thread occasionally used in the form of a monofilament clear thread or as a textured fuzzy (wool-like) thread. The negatives far outweigh the positives of nylon. Use only with caution.
Advantages of Nylon:
Disadvantages of Nylon:
- Low melting temperature. Not heat resistant.
- Not colorfast. Will yellow over time.
- Becomes brittle through laundering and exposure.
Cotton embroidery threads:
The only 100% natural fiber thread made for high speed machines. Cotton has various finishes, each providing specific results. Cotton embroidery thread is very often overlooked by automatic embroidery machine users. But the fact is that it performs beautifully in embroidery machines and has a lovely, soft sheen. Additionally, cotton thread is available in weights up to the very fine 100.
- Mercerized: The thread is treated in a solution, causing the fibers to swell. This allows the dye to better penetrate the fibers and increases the luster of the thread. It also increases the strength of the thread.
- Gassed: The thread is passed through a flame at high speed to reduce the fuzz.
- Glazed: The thread is treated with wax or other chemicals, then polished to create a higher luster. Although the result is a glossy, hard finish which protects the thread, the glaze does rub off and can gum up the needle and machine. OK for hand quilting but not recommended for machine use.
- Cotton-wrapped poly: Most cotton-wrapped poly threads are approximately two-thirds poly and one-third cotton and will therefore resemble the characteristics of poly more than cotton. A mixed-fiber thread is not necessary. If cotton is too weak, use poly. If you’re worried about poly being too strong, use cotton.
Advantages of Cotton:
- Easily adjusts to changes in the fabric (such as shrinkage) since, it is a natural fiber.
- Available in various thread weights.
- Easy care.
Disadvantages of Cotton:
- Low sheen.
- Not as strong as polyester.
- Low-quality cotton is linty.
Metallic embroidery threads:
The quality of metallic thread ranges from very high to very low. A good metallic thread does not require a lubricant.
Quality metallic thread has the following components:
- Nylon core: A nylon core offers the most strength and resists tangling. Polyester and rayon cores are inferior.
- Rice paper construction: This adds strength and cohesiveness and makes the thread softer and supple, reducing the wiry feel. It also reduces tangling.
- Outer coating: Lower quality metallics have no outer coating. This means the metal foil rubs against the needle, creating friction and heat, resulting in discoloring and shredding. A good metallic has an outer coating which reduces friction and acts as a protective layer.
Laminate or Flat embroidery threads:
Produced by bonding layers of polyester together and slicing to a desired width. Available in either 2 ply (weak) or 4 ply (strong) constructions.
- Brilliant, reflective, colors. Can be produced in a hologram effect.
- Heat resistant. Can be ironed.
- 4 ply constructions do not require special handling for good results.
Silk embroidery threads:
Silk is an elastic, though very strong thread, and is among the most beautiful of natural fibers. It has a high sheen, and creates a distinctive look when used in embroidery projects. Pure filament silk is the highest quality silk, as the fibers do not need to be spun; they come naturally in long strands from the silkworm. Spun silks are made of shorter fibers. They come from broken cocoons or the beginning and end of cocoons. Silk thread, and projects created with silk thread, can be gently washed in the washing machine with a mild soap. Bleaching agents should not be used as they can damage the threads.
In most cases, when it comes to thread, you get what you pay for. Good embroidery thread will stand up to high-speed embroidery machines without breaking or shredding. Bargain bin threads are inexpensive, but of poor quality, and will cost you in time and frustration.
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Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.