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Garments, Fashion & Retail
  Yarns for embroidery

Embroidery threads can be made from natural fibres like cotton, silk, wool as well as from synthetic fibres like PET, nylon, nomex, viscose rayon depending upon type of embroidery and area of application, explains Chavan Hrishikesh V.


'Decorative sewn needlework design on fabric either made by hand or machine. Sometimes called, "thread art", the sewn pattern can also include lettering and/or monograms'.

Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating the fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins. The word 'Embroidery' is a Middle English word derived from the old French 'Broder', meaning edge or border. Embroidery is a very gentle thing. It is not for longer shelf-life. Even in museums special conditions are required to preserve it from damage.

Embroidery materials consist of a fabric or "ground" and threads with which to make stitches on the fabric. A needle, with an eye big enough to accommodate the threads used for the project, and a pair of scissors are the only other items required. Depending on the type of embroidery being worked, often the fabric is placed into a frame or hoop to hold it taut so that the stitches will be more even and the fabric will not stretch out of shape. Some embroidery stitches, such as the continental or tent stitch (needlepoint) or half cross stitch (cross-stitch) will always distort the fabric and should always be stitched in a frame or hoop.

Types of fibre/thread


The only 100% natural fibre thread often overlooked for use in automatic embroidery machines. However, it performs beautifully and has a lovely, soft lustre. Cotton thread has little stretch, limited strength, and (in comparison to other fibres) can produce a lot of lint. It is available in weights up to a very fine 100, which is considered heirloom quality. But finer threads tend to be weaker, so 30 or 50-weight cotton thread is more appropriate for machine embroidery because it is stronger and provides better coverage. Cotton has various finishes as:

  • Mercerised cotton: The thread is treated in a solution (18% NaOH), causing the fibres to swell. This allows the dye to better penetrate the fibres and increases the lustre of the thread. It also increases the strength of the thread. Available in 2/20, 3/20, 2/35,2/42 Ne, etc.
  • Gassed: The thread is passed through a flame at high speed to reduce the fuzz. Also called silk finish or polished.
  • Glazed: The thread is treated with wax or other chemicals, and then polished to create a higher lustre. 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. This is approved for hand embroidery but not recommended for machine use.

Indigo dyed cotton threads: Ideal for embroidering and stitching of denims and garments made of indigo dyed cotton yarn.

Cotton is soft, durable, easily available and also adjusts easily to changes to fabric but being low lustre, less string than synthetic fibre and lint producing quality restricts its use for embroidery purpose.

Matte cotton thread

Matte has a dull lustre. Matte threads can be used for contrast or in work which is intended to have a more old-fashioned look. As matte embroidery cotton still has some lustre and texture, and when worked well it will glow in the finished piece.

Typically, matte embroidery cotton is made from five strands of thread which are twisted together to form a single piece. For very fine embroidery or detail work, some people unravel these threads, or they combine individual threads from multiple skeins to create a multi-coloured single strand. Like other forms of embroidery cotton or floss, it comes in bundled skeins which are neatly folded to minimise the risk of entanglement.

Pearl cotton thread

This beautiful twisted thread has a satiny, supple and silky feel; giving needlework projects a raised aspect and lustrous finish. It is extremely easy to work with and well adapted to a wide variety of fabrics as well as all types of stitches.

Pearl is a 2-ply, hi-lustre, non-divisible twisted thread used in many forms of needlework. Pearl cotton is a popular and versatile thread and is used in appliqué, black work, cross-stitch, cut work, knitting, lacework, etc. Pearl cotton is available in sizes 3, 5, 8, 12, 16, and 20 and sold in skeins and balls. Pearl cotton is available in a wide variety of solid colours as well as variegated hues.

Cords and braids

Cords and braids can be made in so many ways, simply by plaiting, twisting and knotting by hand.

1. Finger cord

A plait made of four threads can be made by following two simple moves. First pass the outside left cord over cord next to it, then pass the outside right cord under then over the adjacent two cords. An interesting cord can be made by covering an inner core with blanket stitch which twists as it is stitched to form a spiral.

2. Lucet

The lucet has been in use for more than 1000-years. It has been used through the ages to make a square knotted cord with low stretch and good strength characteristics.

3. Cord twister

These simple twisted cords were made on the cord-twister. A cord-twister has the advantage over hand-made twisted cord in that it may have more than two warp threads and can be made infinitely longer. The samples show one 'S' cord (top) where the warp threads are twisted clockwise, and one 'Z' cord. Here the warp threads consist of 'S' cords which have been twisted anti-clockwise to make a new cord.


Pure filament silk is the highest quality silk, as the fibres do not need to be spun; they come naturally in long strands from the silkworm. 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.

Silk is elastic, very strong, highly lustrous of natural fibres and more costly thread which creates a distinctive look when used in embroidery projects.

Use lightweight silk threads for sewing fragile fabrics; medium weight silk thread for elegant construction on fine silk-wool fabrics and heavier weight silk thread for buttonholes and hand- or machine-topstitching.


Made from extruded filaments, nylon threads come in a variety of forms that are very strong and rot-resistant:

  • Monofilament is a single filament and comes in a wide range of weights. Use a lightweight version for invisible sewing and blind hems, or encase a heavier version inside a rolled stitch to support fluted or ruffled edges.
  • Texturized threads (such as woolly nylon) are continuous multifilaments that stretch into a fine, strong thread and are used for surge seams, decorative stitching and rolled hems.


PET becoming the most common, cheap, ideal, durable, colourfast, bleachable primary choice for the sports the children's clothing and corporate markets & is also available in 40 weight and 60 weight. Polyester is available in various colours and twists like 120/2, 150/2 and so on.

There are three types of polyester thread:

  1. Spun poly: Looks like cotton but smoother and stronger than cotton. When we want look like natural fibre but higher performance than natural fibre then we can use this. Available in 2/40 and 3/60 Ne.
  2. Filament poly: Continuous fibre, for medium lustre application.
  3. Trilobal poly: High-lustre continuous fibre. Looks like rayon or silk used for cheaper silky finish.

Viscose rayon

Rayon thread is developed as an alternative to natural silk. If you are working primarily in the corporate market, that is not using bleach, then rayon is usually the thread of choice. Rayon thread is usually colourfast but will not hold up in bleach. It has a higher lustre than the polyester. It is easier to maintain a more consistent tension with the Rayon threads.

Rayon thread is

  • The 60 weight thread is very fine and is popular for very small lettering and detail.
  • The 30 weight thread is a thicker thread that is used mainly on jacket backs or large designs. This will give you the capability to create designs with a lighter stitch count. The 30 weight thread is also limited in the colours that are available.

Because rayon is made from cellulose, it accepts dyes readily for colour brilliance; unfortunately, it is also subject to fading with exposure to light or frequent laundering.

Rayon is produced by pressing cellulose acetate through small holes and solidifying it in the form of filaments (75/2, 120/2, 150/2, 300/2 with TPM up to 50 - 1500).

Metallic thread

Metallic threads are manufactured with a centre core that is wrapped with metal foil. Colour is then applied by adding a polyester film to the foil. The most durable and desirable metallic threads have a coating of rice paper pasted over the centre core, which binds the core to the metal, preventing the metal from being stripped away. In some threads, the foil may be coated with a silver alloy for added strength.

Metallic thread is more expensive but can create an effect in an embroidery design that cannot be achieved using any other type of thread. It is mostly available in 30, 40 and 50 weight.

Speciality thread

Fire retardant embroidery threads

  • NOMEX is preferably used. Nomex is an expensive thread, but it is a must thread for embroidering on racing fire suits or fire fighting suits.
  • This thread is excellent in abrasive resistance, self extinguishing. It is not affected by age, but it decomposes quickly if exposed to chlorine bleach.
  • Nomex is available in a 40 weight thread, but it seems to be a heavier thread than the Rayon or Polyester.

Bobbin thread

Bobbin thread is light and strong so that it is durable without adding bulk to a design (60 weight). It is usually a polyester filament and will come either on a spool or on pre-wound plastic or cardboard bobbins.

Since the wrong side of embroidery isn't usually seen, there is no need to change the bobbin thread when you change the top thread as required for the colours of the design. Anytime the top and bobbin threads are not the same type and you may have to compensate frothier differences by adjusting the upper thread tension on the machine.

Monolon (Transparent Thread)

  • 100% Polyamide, ie, Nylon.
  • Transparent sewing and quilting thread.
  • Monolon is perfect for a variety of applications including invisible sewing, machine appliqué and hemming.
  • Excellent for invisible sewing on ribbon, lace or decorative threads and especially for applications requiring blind stitch, the transparent Monolon thread blends into the fabric.
  • Wonderful for machine quilting where you don't want a colour to detract from the design, or use to 'stitch in the ditch' to stabilise the quilt while you work with more exciting threads.

Smocking thread (Heat Sensitive Threads)

  • 100% Polyester.
  • 'Smocking' thread is a special yarn which reacts to heat.

  1. Stitch the fabric using 'Smocking' in the bobbin.
  2. Run a warm household iron over the stitched fabric slowly and the thread will react to the heat, creating controlled gathering whilst the fabric is unaffected.
  3. The rippled or crinkled effects are beautiful and limitless. No special needles are needed, and shrink embroidery can be created on any type of home sewing or embroidery machine.

Colour changing threads (Thermo-Chromics)

These special effect pigments allow for a visual response to changes in temperature. The pigments are composed of microcapsules that change colour reversibly. When the temperature is changes, the pigment goes from coloured to colourless. The colour returns to the original colour as the pigment is return to original temperature. The particle size of the thermo-chromic pigment for all products is <6 microns (97%).

This new technology enables embroidery designs to change from one colour to another quickly after exposure to the sun or any UV light sources.

Fluorescent embroidery thread

  • 35% metallic, 65% rayon/PET.
  • Registered Trademark - CANLAN.
  • 12 micron 1/69''; 150d rayon.
  • A strong lint free, polyester/rayon thread, soft enough to sew the most detailed designs with a sheen that rivals the finest silk and a brightness that requires sunglasses.
  • These highly visible fluorescent colours are ideal for Irish Dance costumes or wherever your embroidery or quilt requires a high impact colour. The thread is the standard weight number 40 so the recommended needle is: size 80/12.
  • Fluorescent thread can especially be used for safety purposes. The long lasting luminosity makes embroidered logos, lettering, and motifs shine in the dark. Those wearing such clothes are even visible if there is no source of light immediately directed towards them. That is an advantage compared to reflecting materials which only reflect with incident light.

Conclusion and future scope

Embroidery threads can be made from natural fibres like cotton, silk, wool as well as from synthetic fibres like PET, nylon, nomex, viscose rayon depending upon type of embroidery and area of application. Also presently, there is a trend of using speciality thread for special purpose application like fire proofing, colour changing, etc for which metallic threads or threads in combination are used according to need.


  1. Machine Embroidery Thread, By Joanne of Garden of Daisies.
  2. Threads Essential - Carol Laflin Alhes - Aug-Sept 2004, pp 57 - 63.
  3. Embroidery Threads Designed For Embroidery Top Stitching -- Joyce Jagger, The Embroidery Coach.
  4. A History of Embroidery Materials, By lady Aranea (Bonnie Bain).
  5. Embroidery Threads, By Sharee Dawn Roberts, Threads #91, pp 44 - 47.
  6. threads.madeira.de.
  7. www.kayavlon.com.

Chavan Hrishikesh V
Department of Textiles
DKTE Society's Textile & Engineering Institute
Rajwada, PO Box No 130, Ichalkaranji
Kolhapur dist, Maharashtra-416 115.
Email: chavanhrishi14@gmail.com.

published September , 2013
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