Embroidery Floss Guidelines

A student who has enrolled in my Embroidered Folk Art Ornament class at Ocean Waves Quilt Camp in October contacted me with some questions about embroidery threads. Sometimes, when we work in a medium we love and have been using for a long time, we tend to forget that a novice does not yet have the depth of knowledge we have for the materials and it can be difficult to put all the possible details into a supply list without having it turn into ‘The Great American Novel’. I was able to answer her questions in greater depth in my reply and then it occurred to me that perhaps this might be useful information for others as well so  I am going to cover this in today’s post.

For these folk art ornaments (see photos below), I use wool felt or Melton weight wool and a variety of brands and types of floss. My favorite is six strand cotton embroidery floss because you can use it full strength (all six strands) which gives a rustic appearance but fills up the area quickly, or you can divide it into two or three strands which creates a finer more detailed embroidery – but take at least twice as long to embroider.

As for brands, DMC  is probably one of the most readily available and affordable and they seem to have the second largest range of colors with over 450 colors, plus they have a great variety of other types of fibers – Rayon, metallic, and some standard variegated and unusual variegated threads (the line they call ‘Highlights’). Their colors are vibrant with many subtle variations to create shading. Another of my favorites is Cosmo which is made by Lecien Corp. (who also makes the most scrumptious Taupe fabrics). They have a broad range of colors and shades of each color though not as many as DMC, however their colors have a depth to the dye that is ‘richer’ than DMC plus their basic variegated floss is more complex than DMC’s ‘basic’  (other than the Highlights line). The Cosmo floss also has a softer hand and it works up beautifully. It is expensive though – especially the variegated colors. I also LOVE the floss made by Valdani, their  variegated colors rise far above the competitors. Valdani specializes in hand-dyed floss that comes as six strand, three strand (I think they are the only company that makes this sub-divided version) and they make silk embroidery floss as well as cotton. They also make a wide range of Pearl Cotton. They are not cheap but well worth the expense. Other brands out there that I have not used that much – mainly because of access –  are Finca (made by Presencia but I could not find a website for the manufacturer) and Anchor (made by Coats & Clarks but again I couldn’t find a product specific website for them). Anchor seems to have  the largest range of colors though I don’t think their colors are quite as ‘lush’ as the other manufacturers. I also don’t see them in shops as much as the others.

In addition to the six strand cotton floss, I also use spun embroidery thread such as Pearl Cotton and Floche, along with rayon floss and metallic embroidery thread.  These last two are rather temperamental and need to be stitched with care so I tend to use them for accents rather than in large amounts. One of the hassles with rayon thread is how springy it is; it’s hard to work with and get neat stitches but it also is squirrelly  when you take it out of a skein. A friend who teaches Brazilian Embroidery told me the way to get it to lie flat and behave is to iron it carefully on the rayon setting while pulling the floss gently under the iron, and then to store it in a channel type floss keeper.

Other materials I add are beads and sequins. Of late, I have been very disappointed with the selection of sequins found at the big fabric and craft stores. A search online turned up a marvelous site – Cartright’s Sequins. They have an unbelievable selection of shapes, colors, sizes and types and at prices competitive with the chain stores. They also ship in flat rate packaging so if you order a lot, the shipping is even a better deal because you can stuff an awful lot of sequins into a flat rate envelope. These ornaments are not going to be subject to a lot of wear and tear so polyester quilting thread does a fine job of stitching the embellishments in place but you can also use Nymo or Silamide thread if you want extra durability.

Add  a ‘dangle’ if desired, stuff with fiberfill and the ornament is done. I like to add jingle bells to some and tassels to others. A note about tassels – they are fairly easy to make and I save the short ends of floss that are about 3″ after tying off the stitching and then use them to make small scale tassels. Not much is wasted when I make these little treasures.

In addition to Ocean Waves Quilt Camp, I will be teaching these at Pioneer Quilts on Sunday November 15th and possibly at A Common Thread (though that class has not been scheduled yet). Call the stores for more details or to enroll.

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