Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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What Thread’s What? Some Embroidery Thread Comparisons


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For those of you who are relatively new to Needle ‘n Thread, you might not know that one of my Most Favorite Things in the Whole Wide World is… is…

embroidery thread!!

(Are you surprised? Probably not!)

I have a hard time resisting hand embroidery threads. I don’t know if it’s the color, the feel, the fiber, the twist, or everything combined – but there’s just something lovable about the stuff, isn’t there?

Comparisons of Hand Embroidery Threads

Over the years, I’ve written some articles that compare hand embroidery threads from different angles, and if you haven’t read them, and you’re just familiarizing yourself with the threads that are available for hand stitching, you might want to take a look at them.

Since many of these articles are a bit older, the photography is perhaps not the best, but the information still holds true!

If you’re thinking about thread shopping – and especially if you can only shop online – browse the articles for answers to your thread questions.

Hand Embroidery Thread Comparisons

Cottons: Floche, Perle Cotton, and Stranded Cotton

Comparisons of Twisted Silks

Comparison of Wool Threads for Crewel Embroidery

Lining up All the Cotton Threads

The Difference between Danish Flower Thread and Cotton Floche

Cotton Floche vs. Coton a Broder

Cotton Thread Sizes

Comparing Cotton Threads, Stitched

S-Twisted vs. Z-Twisted Embroidery Threads

S-Twisted vs. Z-Twisted Embroidery Threads, Stitched

More Thread Explorations Coming Up!

I’ll be exploring some other threads and comparing them in the not-too-distant future. If you have any questions – or if you have any particular hand embroidery thread you’ve been wondering about – feel free to mention them in the comments below!

Have a terrific weekend!


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(33) Comments

  1. I have a thick cotton thread ,that is matte finish, and then label says returs a broder, its from france, and its DMC. what kind of thread is that?

  2. Thank you, Mary, for this wonderful website. I especially liked the comparision of wool yarns used for crewel work. Since I order this type from the internet, your comparisons are very helpful.

  3. I’m wondering if you’ve worked with the newer Sullivan thread vs DMC and what your experience has been? Which do you prefer?

    1. Yes, I’ve tried Sullivan’s. I haven’t used it extensively, but I thought it felt “dry” compared to DMC. That’s kind of a weird way to explain it. It seems to have less of a sheen, too. But that was several years ago when they first started showing up…

    2. Yep. Sullivan’s still has less of a sheen than DMC. The threads are not as smooth, also, I think. Overall, I try to stick with DMC.

  4. Mary this is a great article from many viewpoints. First it helps when you are putting together a design and determining what look a particular thread will achieve. Second is the ‘shoppers’ viewpoint. Many of the threads we use we must buy on the internet (for those persons who do not have great thread stores in their area)and being able to see the threads up close and compared helps us get the thread we really want versus buying ‘a pig in a poke’. I truly hope this article continues to expand because not only does it help in all the above areas it also has the potential for saving money. Buying thread from here and abroad can be expensive shipping wise and if you end up not liking the thread you purchased for your project can be expensive to ‘undo’.

  5. I have been experimenting with Sashiko thread to do some Irish Mountmellick whitework since the original traditional Mountmellick thread is almost impossible to find. What other matte cotton threads could I try?

  6. Ah, I found the picture I wanted. I vaguely remembered a photo of various cotton threads next to each other comparing the different sizes. After checking some of your links above, I found another link in an article called “Thread Talk! Sizing Up Cotton Threads.” I can never remember how regular 6 strand floss compares to the perle cotton. And being more visual, seeing them side by side helps me a lot. May I print out that one photo for myself as a reference?

  7. Why are some threads in kits 5 strand and others 6 strand? The kit description online does not state the number of thread strands ususally. What’s going on?

  8. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for putting all the articles’ links in one post – great idea! I do have a request for you. I’m currently exploring Indian Aari work or Tambour Work with beads but will be stitching in the Aari method as that seems quicker and I can see exactly where I place each bead/sequin. (I’ve read your articles related to Tambour work and recommended books – thanks for that.) So I’ve been researching the thread used, but am not sure if it is the same as the nylon thread used in bead work or if it something else entirely. This I have not been able to ascertain. Clover makes Kantan Couture Bead Embroidery thread in clear, gold and silver. I would most appreciate your review of these threads or whatever thread would be used!

  9. A long time ago I recall someone listing how many strands of floss were equivalent to the various sizes of Perle, so you could make your own twisted perle even if that color wasn’t available. Can anyone supply this?

  10. Hi Mary!

    I liked this article a lot because I don´t really know lots about the different thread types. What irritated me was that I know the 6-stranded cotton and the perle, but I don´t really know an eqivalent for the floche… is it a typical thread type? Something that only US shops carry, or worldwide? I know that the names might be different, but I never heard of a 5-stranded thread before and have not found it during my brief search yet (for Germany).

    Even if I´m not working on embroidery right now (I always get sidetracked by other projects involving needles and/or thread :-D), I look forward every day to read about what you´re up to and the technical education you are providing so generously and vividly. You are amazing!


    1. Hi, Marion – Well, floche might be sold as “soft cotton” or something like that. It is not 5 strands, but 5 plies. Each piece of thread is made up of five tiny indivual plies, and these are twisted softly together to make 1 strand of thread, which is about the same size as 1.5 strands of regular DMC floss (when you take 1 strand out of the 6 in DMC floss). You wouldn’t take floche apart into five separate tiny threads to stitch with – you stitch with the one thread as it comes off the skein. It is similar to the Whitework thread used for Schwalm embroidery, except it only comes in one size (16) and it has a softer twist.

  11. Thread can make or break a project. The difficulties include color, texture, ease of stitching along with other factors…these are difficult to see/feel when purchasing online…that is were we are thankful for you and your wisdom. Thanks for all you do!

  12. Thanks for explaining about the 5 strand thread,floche. I had been compensating for the “missing thread” in the floche from my thread inventory or working the design compensating for the ‘missing’ thread.

    1. Persian and tapestry wools are heavier and normally used for needlepoint. Crewel wool is finer, usually make of two fine plies twisted together, and is made for surface embroidery. Sometimes, threads called tapestry wools are simply several strands of crewel wool, together (like Fine d’Aubusson – it’s called tapestry wool – it comes off the skein in four strands, each of which can be used for crewel work). However, not all tapestry wool is divisible. For example, DMC’s tapestry wool is not.

  13. Mary,

    I love your website! It’s my go to for information about embroidery, which I do several types.

    I love to do Helen Stevens embroidery but now that she is not selling Piper’s silk, I have no US source for this and I hate ordering from the UK because it takes forever to get it. Is there another brand that is comparable to Pipers? I read all the silk thread descriptions but I could not discern which would be comparable.



    1. Hi, Susan – Pipers is a flat silk. Soie Ovale and the flat silk from Japanese Embroidery Center are the two flat silks readily available in the U.S. but they aren’t as fine as Pipers. You can split them, though, but this is a fiddly proposition. I’ve always received my packages from Pipers relatively quickly, when I’ve ordered from them – within seven business days. They’re postage prices aren’t too bad, either, so if you’re determined to use Pipers, then maybe you could try ordering directly from the company? Otherwise, the only US options would be to use the heavier flat silks mentioned above and split them. But….whew. Lots of work there! And you’d also have to figure out color conversions.

    2. Thanks Mary!

      No, I don’t think I want to split threads. I would probably tear it up trying. I have never ordered directly from Piper’s but I’ll try it. My experience ordering other things from the UK has been that it’s very, very slow, a couple of months or more, to get anything though in most cases, the wait was worth it. I just won’t order anything from there that I want in a big hurry. I really like Piper’s silks but had used Pearsall’s until they stopped making floss. It was such a shame after so many, many years that they just stopped because the dyer died. They are such a tradition!

  14. My all time favorite is Broder Medici for petit point and crewel. I have a very large stash and can now get it’s “twin” from Thread Needle Street in Issaquah, WA. DMC no longer makes Medici. Their service is excellent!
    The twist is nice and tight, 100% wool. Dye lots are good. If I ever use up my stash I would be lost as nothing else “feels” as nice. After 5 hand surgeries this is very important to me. Are you and any of your other readers familiar with this product?

  15. I would love to have you do all the hard work of exploring silk threads. I’m so desperate for info that I am about to place an order with Nordic Threads for one of each type they sell in order to try each one out. I think my order is around $70 to explore each of their silk lines. Any tips would be appreciated! My intent is to do little appliques on 40+ count silk gauze, attaching those to Duchess silk fabric that has been embroidered with an as yet unknown brand of silk thread.

    1. If you’re working on 40 ct silk gauze, it’ll take one strand (and maybe a little more – like 1.5, at a stretch) of DMC cotton, so you’ll want to look for a silk that is comparable in size to about 1 – 1.5 strands of DMC. You might try Soie d’Alger – it’s a spun silk.

  16. Thank you Mary! I’m relieved now that I have a basis to work from for comparison and can begin exploring what works and will also ‘feel’ right. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without your teaching – I’m a dedicated junkie! Now off to join your other site Stitchin’ Fingers!

    1. Sashiko thread is not as fine, and it does not have as high a sheen. Floche is a little more “delicate,” with a higher sheen and it’s a finer, softer thread. Despite this, it holds up really well to all kinds of surface embroidery. I would compare sashiko thread almost to the old Retors Mat4 from DMC, although maybe not quite as heavy. It’s definitely more “rustic” than floche.

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