I’ve had a couple queries lately about Madeira silk embroidery floss – apparently, someone out there is using it in a class, kit, or chart. I can always tell when “something’s up” with a needlework product, based on the number of questions coming in!
And so, today, we’ll have a little Thread Chat about Madeira silk floss.
Madeira silk embroidery floss is a four-stranded, 2-ply, s-twisted filament silk floss that comes in 5.5 meter little packets.
By four-stranded, I mean that it comes out of the package (“off the skein” – though it isn’t on a skein!) in a bunch of four threads that are lightly twisted together, and that are separated from each other for stitching, just as you would separate (or “strip”) cotton floss for stitching.
By two-ply, I mean that each of those four strands is made up of two smaller plies of silk twisted together to form the one thread that you stitch with. If you really wanted to, you could further separate the one thread into these two plies, and stitch with them. They are quite tiny.
Each 2-ply strand is about the thickness of one strand (stripped from the six) of regular DMC cotton floss.
“S-Twisted” means that each strand of two plies is twisted together in such a way that the twist follows (generally) the shape of an S as opposed to the shape of a Z. Filament silk can be either s-twisted or z-twisted. Most filament silk on the market is z-twisted, but some filament silk (Chinese silk in particular) is s-twisted.
The difference between s-twisted silk and z-twisted silk is not always apparent, but in fact, it does make a difference in the way certain stitches are formed. I’ve written a couple articles on the subject of s-twisted versus z-twisted thread already. If you’re unsure of the difference between the two types of thread and how to spot them, or if you are unsure of how the twist affects your stitching, you may wish to check these articles out:
Filament silk is silk made from the suga or strands of silk straight off the cocoon. It is very strong and has a high sheen. Threads like Soie de Paris, Japanese silk, and Chinese silk are all filament silks.
While Madeira floss is somewhat unique in that it is not as common as z-twisted filament silks, in my mind what makes it most unique is its packaging.
Madeira silk is packaged in flat little plastic sleeves that are sealed all around. At the base of the sleeve, a strand of the thread is stuck between the two layers of sealed plastic. To use the thread and have a convenient dispenser, you snip the base of the sleeve in a little triangle, and then pull the strand through to cut off what you need.
Although you can’t really put excess thread back into the sleeve, you can wrap the excess around the sleeve to keep it neat.
Madeira silk floss comes in a nice range of colors, but not an extensive range – there are 108 colors available.
Stitching-wise, Madeira is ok to stitch with, but admittedly, it doesn’t quite stand up to Soie de Paris (which is my all-time favorite filament silk floss). Stitching with Madeira reminds me of stitching with Chinese silk, although it’s a little tamer and more regular. Soie de Paris is smoother, has a better feel to it, and is generally flawless as it comes off the spool.
Madeira silk is slightly less expensive than Soie de Paris. It comes in a 5.5 meter package and is usually priced around $2.25 / package. However, keep in mind when comparing prices that Soie de Paris (around $4 / 5 meter spool) is a six stranded thread, so you get approximately 50% more silk on the spool.
You can find Madeira silk floss available in online shops through a simple search.
Incidentally, Madeira silk is not to be confused with Madeira embroidery. Madeira, located off the west coast of northern Africa, is an island of Portuguese influence well known for its fine embroidery. Madeira floss is produced and distributed by a company in Germany.