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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Silk Hand Embroidery Thread 101: Flat Silk


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Recently, we’ve been talking about using silk thread for hand embroidery. My hope is that this short series of articles will help encourage stitchers to give silk a try (if you haven’t already tried it, or you’re intimidated by it), or to encourage you to try different types of silk embroidery threads.

First, we discussed getting started with silk thread, focusing on stranded, spun silk, which behaves much the same way as stranded cotton, with the advantage of having a nicer luster, a softer “spread” and a natural sheen.

Then, we looked at filament silks, particularly twisted filament silk. In that article, we discussed what filament silk is (compared to spun silk), I provided some links to tips on how to stitch with it and to some examples of embroidery worked with filament silk, and we discussed brands and resources.

Today, we’re going to talk about flat silk, which is untwisted (or so barely twisted you can’t see the twist) filament silk.

We’ll discuss what it is and what it’s like to stitch with, I’ll refer you to some examples of embroidery worked with it, you can peruse a list of articles for further explorations, and I’ll give you a list of resources in case you want to jump into embroidering with flat silk!

Silk Hand Embroidery Thread: Filament Silk

What is Flat Silk?

Flat silk is a filament silk – which means that it is made up of filaments of silk reeled straight from the cocoon – that has little discernible twist, or no twist to it at all. Of all the silks, it has the highest sheen, and it looks smooth and almost glassy.

Flat silk is made from a number of suga (individual filaments) combined in one thread. Depending on the manufacturer and the number of filaments combined into the thread, flat silk can be very, very fine indeed, or it can be rather thick, rich, and full.

Flat silk, when you buy it for embroidery, is normally put up on spools or cops and it is usually used straight off the spool, in whatever thickness the manufacturer has provided.

That said, flat silk can be broken down into smaller groups of suga to make finer and finer threads, and you can even stitch with a single, teeny tiny filament, but this would probably be akin to torture, as the strand would be practically invisible for the majority of us!

You can also take flat silk and twist it yourself. You’ll find a video by Anne Gomez here, showing how she twists flat silk for Japanese embroidery.

The Stitching Experience with Flat Silk

Of all the silks, and of all the filament silks especially, flat silk is probably the most difficult to stitch with.

It requires some special handling. It will snag on everything. Rough hands and flat silk don’t go together! And even if you think your hands are smooth – let me tell ya! Flat silk will find every flaw in your skin and hang up on it!

Hence, the laying tool (or tekobari in Japanese embroidery) is flat silk’s best friend.

If you’re not sure what a laying tool is or how to use one, you can check out this article on laying tools and this video on how to use a laying tool.

The laying tool will help keep the thread smooth and under tension while stitching, which will, in turn, keep it from getting hung up on everything, including on the fabric itself.

Flat Silks by Manufacturers

Pease keep in mind I don’t know every thread on the market, so I’m just mentioning the ones I’m familiar with, that I’ve worked with.

Au Ver a Soie produces two flat silks:

Soie Ovale is a heavier flat silk, composed of many filaments. It is rich and thick and full and covers nicely. I used Soie Ovale as the cream colored background in the Marian Medallion project. This article discusses working with it.

Soie Trame is a finer flat filament silk from Au Ver a Soie, relatively new to the market. I wrote about it here.

Japanese Embroidery Center sells a wonderful array of flat silks used in Japanese embroidery. They have a nice color selection. The silk is not quite as heavy as Soie Ovale, nor nearly as fine as Soie Trame or Pipers (discussed below). I’ve written about JEC silk here and here.

Pipers Silk is a silk thread company in the UK, and they produce a flat silk (or floss, as it’s called on their website) that is finer than both Soie Ovale and Japanese Embroidery Center flat silk. Soie Trame and Pipers are pretty close in weight. This is the silk that Helen Stevens uses in her embroidery. I’ve written about it here.

With any of these threads, you can increase the weight (or thickness) of them by combining threads in the needle, or decrease the thickness by carefully separating the filaments.

The latter is a fidgety, difficult, and sometimes frustrating undertaking. Frankly, I’ve never found it worth it! If I need a finer flat silk, I’d just as soon use Trame or Pipers. If I want a heavier flat silk, I use Soie Ovale. If I want something in between – but leaning more towards heavier – I’d use JEC silk.

Now, keep in mind, when I say “heavier,” I don’t mean the threads are super duper thick. They’re just thicker than the finer ones!

Further Reading on Flat Silk – with Tips!

If you want to see a stitched experiment with several different silks – not necessarily all flat silks – you might take a look at this article. It was written a while ago, but the information is still good!

Anne Gomes wrote this article for Needle ‘n Thread some years ago, sharing tips on working with flat silk and shows some of her work with it.

This is a follow-up article to the previous one by Anne, where I answered some questions that came in about flat silk.

If you’re interested in how flat silk is twisted into twisted silk, this article (with a video by Anne Gomes) will be worth looking at!

This article discusses how I used flat silk with surface satin stitch, to cover a background, and then couched gold thread over it in “vermicelli” work.

This article shows a background sky worked in flat silk, which will eventually be couched over with straight lines of gold thread. The article’s from a while ago – so the pictures are perhaps not the best!

A long, long time ago, I wrote a couple articles comparing flat silk for embroidery. Some day, I’ll re-write them with new photos! In the meantime, the information is still solid. You can find article 1 here and article 2 here.


If you’re looking for flat silks, here are some resources for the threads mentioned in this article.

I’m mentioning shops I’m familiar with, that I’ve done business with, that have the articles in stock. I’m not familiar with every shop in the world, but you can always check with your local needlework store and inquire!

Soie Ovale & Soie Trame

You can find Soie Ovale and Soie Trame both available through Thistle Threads. They have individual spools of some, and they have collections of historical colors in both.

You can find Soie Ovale and Soie Trame available at Needle in a Haystack in California.

Threadneedle Street in Issaquah, Washington, also carries the whole collection of Soie Ovale, and I’m guessing they carry Soie Trame as well, though it isn’t listed on their site yet.

Traditional Stitches up in Canada carries the whole Au Ver a Soie line, too, and they stock Soie Ovale and Soie Trame.

Japanese Embroidery Center silks

Easy enough! These are available through the Japanese Embroidery Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Many countries have their own Japanese Embroidery centers, so if you’re not in the US, you might check to see if there’s one in your country!

Pipers Silks

Also easy enough – these are available straight through Pipers Silks. The “floss silk” is their flat embroidery silk.

I don’t know what their turn-around time is these days, but they have a wide selection of threads!

And That, My Friends…

…winds up Silk Embroidery Thread 101. Later on, we’ll talk silk again. I’m working on a project right now (silk and goldwork), so I’m pretty sure the subject will surface again!

And – joy, bliss – my computer should be up and running by tonight, with a (non-squeaky) new hard drive and external drives all ready to go! The data backup isn’t here yet, but I have high hopes it’ll be here by midweek, next week. Then I’ll be fully operational again!

For those who have inquired, the videos are back up under How-To in the top menu. Sorry – those disappeared during the server migration earlier this week. But they have returned!

Over the weekend, I’ll be catching up on some stitching projects and working on some new samples to share with you.

I also have an appointment with my tax guy.

But I don’t want to think about that.

I hope you have a thrilling weekend, too, with plenty of time for your needle and thread!


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(6) Comments

  1. Midori Matsushima also has flat silk. Hers is 16 suga vs the 12 suga Japanese Embroidery Center thread. She is based in the U.K. And her website is midori-embroidery.com. Blue Bonnet Studio in the US also has her threads although they are not listed on their website. It has a very nice sheen.

  2. Wow Mary, that flat silk thread is super shiny! It was fascinating seeing how you used it in your earlier Medallion project. It is so effective as a shiny background. That said, as a silk thread newbie I think I stick to spun silk for the time being. It has been helpful reading about all the silk thread sub species, and I can see how I can start with the easier threads and maybe progress to trying the others as my confidence grows. Thanks for such a thorough series. I look forward to the stitching samples when you eventually post them.

  3. Thank you, Mary, for a wonderful series of articles – and thank you too, to your readers, with their helpful comments. I’m not about to go out and buy silk threads (I have too large a stash of cotton threads and I like gardening), but some years ago a non-stitching friend gave me a large quantity of machine-embroidery rayon thread that she insisted was silk. It’s stiffer than silk and not as catchy (although it does catch), and perhaps it is more prone to fraying, but the colours are lovely and your articles on using flat silk give me some ideas on how best to use it.

  4. Here in the UK, there is also Devere Yarns – they have a website – whose finest size of silk, 06 silk, is a fine, smooth flat silk with a barely visible twist. (Their 5 thicker sizes are all twists.) 06 silk doesn’t want to separate into finer strands, but I’ve been using it for a few years now and I am very happy with it. The colour range isn’t bad, and it’s fine enough to use more than one colour in the needle to get other shades.

  5. Do you ever have trouble ordering from the needlestack website? I’ve ordered 3 times and failed all 3 times. I have a call in to the store but no answer yet.

    1. Hi, Darlene – I don’t usually have a problem ordering from Haystack. In fact, I love ordering thread from them because it’s so easy to put in quantities on the threads I want and add them all to the cart at once, instead of having to add individual skeins. I hope they return your call soon!

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