What are the Best Threads for Hand Embroidery?

by Sammy Bishop

Choosing embroidery threads is, as you might expect, key to creating a successful final piece. Also sometimes referred to as floss, these colourful strands are what actually bring your design to life. And while the shade choice is obviously important, there are a few other things you might want to bear in mind before you get stitching.

To help make the process easier, I’m going to take you through a few major brands, as well as the different types of thread available, so that you can choose what’s best for you and your project.

Brands of Embroidery Thread

Let’s get started with a quick overview of the two main brands you’ll find in most local haberdasheries: DMC and Anchor.

DMC

DMC is probably the biggest player in the thread game. You’ll find it pretty much everywhere you go.

Founded in France in 1746, they’ve grown to offer around 500 colours of hand embroidery thread, which is pretty mind-blowing! The classic cotton is composed of six individual strands twisted together to form one.

All my kits come with DMC threads as I really think the quality is excellent. I also sell all the kit colours separately in my shop if you’re looking for somewhere to start!

Click here to take a look.

Colourful DMC embroidery threads lined up on the edge of a wooden embroidery hoop
A hand holding a selection of colourful embroidery threads against a turquoise background

Anchor

Anchor hand embroidery thread is very much like DMC: it's also made of 6 separate strands and comes in a range of gorgeous colours.

The company was created in 1866 in the town of Paisley, Scotland - although the threads are now produced in Hungary. They’ve also got over 450 shades to choose from, so as with DMC, you’ve got a lot of options. The quality is brilliant, too, so in terms of choosing between the two brands, it mainly comes down to colour preferences and availability. 

An amazing thing about both of these brands is that they’re produced to meet Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which means that they’re free from a whole host of chemicals that can be harmful to both humans and the environment. Which is great to know not only from an eco-conscious standing, but also because you no doubt want to be sure that the textiles you’re holding, or potentially wearing, are safe.

Imitation Threads

While DMC and Anchor are the main high-quality threads you’ll find on the market, you’ll also come across a whole host of other brands out there that may well be a bit cheaper.

These threads can be a great, accessible way to get into embroidery: they allow you to test things out without worrying too much about wastage, for example. What I would say, though, is that the quality isn’t always guaranteed. They can often break more easily and aren’t always colour-safe. They may not have been tested for chemical safety either. If you’re planning on making something that might end up in the wash or be subject to a bit of wear and tear, you might want to test the quality of the thread before you go full steam ahead.

As I want to help you make creations that last, I wouldn’t feel confident to endorse any imitation thread in particular. But that’s not to say you should completely avoid them. It really just all depends on your situation and what you’re crafting. At the end of the day, any embroidery is better than none in my books! 

Types of Embroidery Thread

Now we know a bit more about the main brands, it’s time to take a deeper dive into the different types of thread.

Six-stranded Cotton

As I mentioned before, both DMC and Anchor have six-stranded threads as their main offering. This will be your go-to thread type for hand embroidery.

This construction is great, as it allows for much more freedom and control when you’re stitching. If you want a chunkier effect, you can keep all six strands together. If you want something more delicate and refined, you can separate the pieces to your desired amount.

I find two-three strands is normally ideal for most of my projects. Stitching this way also makes your thread last longer – you get double the amount!

A close up of a piece of purple embroidery thread, with the strands splayed out on one end, lying on teal fabric

Pearl Cotton

This type of thread is a two-ply construction and can’t be separated like the six-ply one can. It’s most commonly used to add super shine and extra texture to embroidery pieces.

Pearl cotton is available in a range of thicknesses, so you can choose your floss according to whether you want a chunkier, raised effect or something more delicate. It's usually sold in twisted skeins, or balls - which look gorgeously shiny.

Since it can’t be separated, it’s probably not best for anything too fine or detailed.

Block Colours

In most cases, I’d say that a block colour will be the type of thread you use pretty much all the time for your embroideries. They’re certainly what I use most frequently. They’re the basic building block for all projects as you get such a huge selection of shades. For me, I find this really allows my creativity to run wild and create all sorts of fun combinations.

As I noted before, both Anchor and DMC have over 450 block colour options. That’s a lot of choice!

A close up of a bunch of embroidery threads placed on a table, next to a large cone of pink embroidery thread.
A close up of 3 skeins of gold DMC embroidery thread on a white background.

Metallics

There are generally two different types of thread in this category - either a variation of stranded cotton with extra sparkly effects, or a fully metallic thread, normally made from viscose and/or polyester.

A word of warning though – fully metallic thread can be a really tricky one to work with!

First, it tends to splay out more. This can make threading your needle a bit harder, because the separate threads tend not to stick together! To get around this, try using a needle threader - it'll be much easier to get all of the strands to stay in one place. Metallic thread also tends to show wear more quickly - so it might look less shiny by the time you finish stitching one section. To counteract this, use shorter lengths of thread - this will help to keep it looking tidy. Lastly, it also tends to be a bit stiffer than your normal stranded cotton, which makes it harder to get it to lie flat on your fabric!

That said, I do use DMC metallics in some of my projects as I love the final result. It just takes a while to get to grips with it! Another way to make it a bit easier to handle is to separate off a single strand and combine it with your standard stranded cotton. That way you get a touch of sparkle, but your threads are easier to handle. 

Variegated Thread

This type of thread is made up of a combination of colours. Think of it almost like tie dye or ombre – the colour gradually changes along the length of the thread, evolving slightly with every stitch.

These are a really fun way to inject a sense of texture, break up block colours or just add something a bit different to your final piece.

Colour Charts

There’s one more note about colours that I wanted to add, as I think will really help put your mind at ease as you look into which embroidery thread is right for you.

Sometimes, the unthinkable happens: you've started a project with one brand and a particular colour that you love, but you've run out - and now there's none in stock anywhere!

Well, fear not - I found this amazing conversion chart on the Stitchtastic blog, which will show you the closest equivalent shades between DMC and Anchor (if that’s what you end up going for). Which means that you can always find an almost identical shade to finish your stitching! 

Sustainable and Recyclable Embroidery Thread

And finally, just a quick word on the environmental side of sewing. As a general rule, I mainly use cotton threads over any of the rayon, viscose or polyester options out there, because I prefer to stick to natural fibres.

As I mentioned before, both DMC and Anchor are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, which is a big tick for me, and cotton is also compostable.

I’ve been trying to research into recycled or even more sustainable options but so far, I’ve only really found threads for machine embroidery, which isn't really what we’re after for our hand embroidery projects!

If you know of any up and coming brands, I’m all ears!

A hand holding a bunch of colourful embroidery threads, as if they were a bunch of flowers, on a pale turquoise background

I really hope this overview has made you feel more confident about how to choose embroidery threads. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments.

And if you’re still not entirely sure, you can always get started with a kit and save thread choices for the future!

Sammy Bishop

Founder & Owner of Paraffle

Sammy set up Paraffle as a side-venture in 2017 whilst she was doing her PHD at Edinburgh University. After finishing her PhD in Religious Studies (specifically Hinduisim and the New Age movement of Tantra), running Paraffle has become her full time hobby and job!

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