Needlework Threads 101


From glitzy to garish, from serene to traditional, you can make your embroidery or needlepoint anything you want just by the materials you select.  You can choose from a wide variety of materials, from dental floss to the finest silk.  If it can be threaded through a needle, pushed or pulled through a fabric, or tacked to the surface of the fabric, we call it a thread (we do have a customer who has used wire).

Thread may be made of cotton, linen, metals, rayon, silk, man-made fiber, wool or any combination of these.  Each fiber has its own characteristics and can produce effects which are very different from the others.


The whole piece of thread, as you cut it from the skein.


Most threads that are not manufactured as one piece are made up of plies, i.e. separate units of the strand.  Sometimes these plies are twisted together so tightly it is difficult to separate them.  These threads may not be suitable for use on all fabrics, as they may be either too fat or too thin.  Other strands of thread are not twisted and the plies can be separated with ease.  For example, Persian wool is made of three plies, which can be separated (One ply fits an 18 mesh, two plies fit a 13 mesh canvas, three plies fits a 10 mesh canvas).  These threads are very versatile, you can add or subtract plies according to the size of the canvas or fabric you are using or for the effect you wish to achieve.


When using multi-plied threads it is advisable to separate each ply then put them back together again. The thread will look smoother when stitched if you prepare it this way.

A laying tool

will give you similar results to stripping.  A laying tool is a large, pointed needle or stick.  You lay the thread over the tool, stroke to spread the plies and guide them into a smooth stitch.

So much fancy stitching is done on 18 mesh canvas, we have chosen to use it as our point of reference.  Just know that if you are stitching on 13 mesh, you will use more thread and if you are straining your eyes on a 24 mesh you will use less.  If a thread is not suitable for an 18 mesh, we do try to tell you what count it is best on.  However, please feel free to ignore our suggestions if you want a different look.


A multi-colored thread where one color has been dyed on top of another one.  These threads are fun to use and give interesting effects but the color is not always stable, so avoid washing them.  Overdyed threads may differ wildly with each dye lot, be sure to purchase plenty.


Another multicolored thread: the thread is brushed, sprinkled, or dipped into the dye.  Again they may not be colorfast, and no two dye lots will be the same, buy more than you think you will need.

How much to order?

We calculate the amount of thread needed for a project based on the amount of thread needed for the basketweave stitch.  Not only is the basketweave the most stable and longwearing of the tent stitches, it uses a middling amount of thread.  Some stitches will take more, some will take less.  Basketweave takes an average amount.  To be exact, basketweave requires 1 and 1/2 yard of thread to cover 1 square inch of canvas.  Let's say you are going to stitch a design 10 inches by 10 inches on an 18 mesh canvas.  10 inches x 10 inches = 100 square inches.  100 square inches x 1.5 yards of thread = 150 yards of thread.  Say you decide to use Persian wool.  Each strand of Persian is 3 ply, and one of those plies is the the right size for 18 mesh.  150 yards divided by 3 = 50 yards, the amount of 3 ply Persian needed for the whole piece.  If you need several colors, try to estimate the percentage of each color, or the number of square inches you need of that color.  A percentage can be multiplied by your total yarn requirement to find the number of strands you need of that color.  A square inch estimate can be done as the above total.  The totals of all colors will be about 50, preferably, a little over that amount.  If this explanation has overwhelmed you, we don't blame you.  Call us for help.