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: Getting Started with Silk


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Lately, I’ve felt a deep, urgent need to talk to you about silk embroidery thread!

One reason for this is because I’m working on a couple projects that involve silk, so silk is on my mind.

And the other reason is because I’ve received some questions lately about silk embroidery thread, particularly from beginners who want to try it but are afraid of it.

I’m here to tell you, to assure you, to promise you – there’s nothing to be afraid of! The key is knowing what you’re working with and how to work with it.

So today, we’ll start simple, with an introduction to silk hand embroidery threads, focusing on the easiest silk thread to use, to transition into this luxurious fiber that outshines all other fibers!

Silk Hand Embroidery Thread - the Basics

In the photo above, on the left, you’ll see some DMC cotton skeins. On the right, you’ll see a pleasant heap of Soie d’Alger, which is Au Ver a Sole’s extensive line of spun silk.

I’ll use Au Ver a Sole’s silk in my photos throughout this series of articles about silk threads (though other brands will be listed).

Why Au Ver a Soie? Quite simply because they’re the Gold Star Standard when it comes to silk for handwork. This isn’t just my opinion – Au Ver a Soie silks are widely used in the couture industry, they are highly favored for their consistency and superior quality, and they have an extensive range of silks available in various types, weights, and twists, across consistent color families.

That being said, there are many types, sizes, weights, and qualities of silk hand embroidery thread on the market todays. We live in an age where we definitely enjoy a certain “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to hand embroidery supplies – and the thread market is no exception! There are lots of choices, and sometimes, it’s hard to navigate those choices.

First Time Silk User?

If you’re a stitcher who wants to venture into silk for the first time, I recommend starting with what’s called spun silk, like Soie d’Alger.

Silk Hand Embroidery Thread - the Basics

Why spun silk? Because, when it comes to user experience, spun silk will handle and feel the most familiar to you, if you’ve been working with cotton thread.

This isn’t to say that spun silk is the same as cotton thread. It isn’t! But there are some similarities that will make the transition from cotton to silk smooth, fearless, and quite pleasurable!

What is Spun Silk?

There are two types of silk threads – spun silk and filament silk. We’ll discuss filament silk down the road a bit, but for now, this is what you need to know about spun silk:

1. It’s not reeled in long strands straight off the silk cocoon. Instead, it’s made from broken cocoons and leftovers, and spun into a thread, similar to the way that cotton or wool are spun.

2. Because it is spun and not reeled off the cocoon in one long filament, it’s not as strong as filament silk, and, since it tends to be slightly softer than cotton, it works best in shorter lengths than you might be used to working with cotton floss.

Silk Hand Embroidery Thread - the Basics

3. Like cotton, it is normally put up in a skein or sometimes a twisted hank or cut, looped threads, depending on the brand.

4. Like cotton, a skein of spun silk consists of a thicker thread that can be broken down into separate strands. That is, it’s stranded, and to work with it, you have to strip the floss just like you do with cotton. Stripping is separating the individual strands and then putting them back together to work with, in the number you want to work with. This article on how to separate embroidery floss will show you how to do this.

Silk Hand Embroidery Thread - the Basics

5. Most of the more common brands of stranded, spun silk have more strands per “thread bunch” than cotton. Cotton typically has 6 strands. Soie d’Alger has 7 strands per thread, while some brands have up to 12 strands per thread.

6. One strand of spun silk does not necessarily correspond in weight (or size or coverage) to one strand of cotton. For example, although the strand of Soie d’Alger in the photo above (in coral) looks similar in size to the strand of DMC cotton (in green), because the spun silk is slightly softer, you get a little more loft, spread, and coverage with it, compared to the cotton. With Soie d’Alger, some stitchers estimate that one strand is equal in coverage to about 1.5 strands of cotton. Other brands of spun silk may produce strands that are finer than one strand of cotton. So you might have to experiment a bit to get used to the difference in thread weight.

7. Silk – even spun silk – has a natural sheen to it, unlike cotton thread, which has a chemically-induced sheen to it (through a process called mercerization). Because of its sheen, silk reflects light differently, so it definitely has a different look when compared to cotton. Spun silk does not have as high a glossy sheen as filament silk, but it still has a higher sheen than most cotton. Spun silk has a very soft, pleasant sheen that isn’t glaring or “shiny” as much as it is “glowy.”

8. You can stitch with spun silk in the same way that you stitch with cotton floss. It handles similarly, and any stitches you can work with stranded cotton floss, you can work with stranded spun silk. Though, again, spun silk is a little softer. Use shorter lengths (around 16″) and the thread should hold up fine in most stitching situations. There’s something very magical about the way stitches blend with spun silk, compared to cotton. Long and short stitch worked with spun silk, for example, melds together in such a beautiful, buttery way!

Looking for Spun Silk – Brands and Such

With all the hand-dyers on the market today, it would be impossible to list every single company that produces spun silk for hand embroidery.

That said, here are some of the brands I’m aware of, all of which I’ve tried. This will give you an idea of what to look for when you’re thread shopping.

Soie d’Alger by Au Ver a Soie – It comes in some 600+ colors, I believe. Here in the States, it’s commonly found in a 5-meter pull skein, and there are 7 strands per thread. There are other threads out there that are Soie d’Alger, too, though you might not know it. Many hand dyers use Soie d’Alger as their “blank” and go from there.

Caron Waterlilies – this is a 12 ply spun silk that comes in 6-yard skeins. It’s a variegated silk, and comes in a fairly extensive line of interesting color combinations.

Belle Soie from Classic Colorworks (Crescent Colours) is a 12-strand silk floss, hand-dyed, so there are variations in the colors (over-dyed as opposed to variegated).

Rainbow Gallery – Splendor – 12 ply spun silk, fairly widely available in the US (many local needlework shops for cross stitch and needlepoint carry Rainbow Gallery). The colors in their lines often match across different fiber types, from silk ribbon to many of their synthetic specialty threads.

Kreinik – Silk Mori – 6-ply spun silk, in 2.5 and 5 meter skeins, available in a somewhat limited range of colors. Because of its muted color tendencies, some stitchers favor the line for antique looking samplers.

Madeira – silk floss – This is a 4-strand spun silk. It comes in 108 colors, 5 meters per “tangle free” package.

Gloriana Threads – Florimell – this is Soie d’Alger, hand-dyed. They also produce Tudor silk, which is a very fine 12-strand spun silk. Florimell would be relatively easy to use, as it’s just Soie d’Alger. The Tudor silk, since it’s so fine and so loosely twisted, would probably not be a good silk thread for beginners to start with!

Dinky Dyes – this thread-dying company in Australia produces a 6-ply over-dyed silk, 8 meters per twist.

Gumnut Yarns – Stars – this Australian thread-dying company offers a 6-ply silk in 8 meter skeins, with 39 color families, 5 shades in each color.

Questions, Suggestions, or Recommendations?

If you’re a silk lover and have any particular thread recommendations, feel free to mention them below. If you have any tips for beginners on working with silk thread, or if you’re a beginner who has any questions, feel free to join in the conversation below!

Further Reading

The next article in this series is on Twisted Filament Silk.

The final article in this series is on Flat Filament Silk.


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(115) Comments

  1. I would love to try using the spun silk thread however can any of these threads be bought at Joann Fabrics? Or are these threads that can only be bought over the internet?

    1. Hi, Brenda – They can be bought at local needlework shops, or through online needlework shops if you don’t have a local shop. JoAnn’s and other big box stores only carry basic brands, and usually not a great selection of embroidery threads (beyond DMC cotton, of course! They usually have the whole line of those – which is so handy!). So, yes, you’d have to look online if you don’t have a locally owned needlework shop. Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, California is a good choice, as they have a broad selection of threads, an easy online shopping cart, and quick, good service. You can find them here: http://www.needlestack.com

  2. Once I tried NPI (Needlepoint Inc.) silk, I won’t use anything else. It does not fuzz like AVS can. I use it for canvas, reproduction samplers, stumpwork and ribbon embroidery. Nothing else that I have tried even comes close to NPI except for Caron’s Soie Cristale (which has a limited color range).

    Maderia is a little heavier than NPI, but is really a great option for beginners because it is less expensive the the other brands so stitchers can take silk for a test drive with little cost. I use this brand for beginner stumpwork projects.

    1. Hi, Julia – Needlepoint Inc silk is a filament silk as opposed to a spun silk. I’ll touch on that when we visit filament silks a little bit down the road.

  3. Love to see how silk threads look in stitching but have such rough fingers especially after indulging in my other hobbies. I have been known to do a mayonnaise/sugar scrub before stitching but would like to hear how others keep their hands silk ready

    1. Hi, Shaela – I’ve written several times on the whole rough hands subject. I suffer from it, too, especially in winter! And it can be such a pain in the neck when working with any thread, but especially silks.

      Here’s the latest article I wrote on it, with tips: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2017/01/rough-hands-fine-threads-some-tips.html

      Really, the best cream I’ve found is YuBe moisturizing skin cream. I put it on before I go to bed at night. It only takes a minute of rubbing in and it’s not too greasy. I swear by the stuff. And I’ve heard from quite a few readers who have tried it and loved it.

      It’s not something to use right before stitching, though, and I do find it a little expensive. A little goes a long way, though! Even though it has a touch of camphor in it (which heals chapped skin), and you can smell the camphor at first, the smell dissipates pretty quickly. You can also find it sold as YuskinA in a larger size, for less, in some places. I can’t find it locally, so I get it online. Here are the links to both through Amazon US: YuskinA and YuBe Moisturizing Cream.

  4. I love using silk. A great place to buy silk is a company based in France called the Silk Mill . They have a wonderful selection of colours and are a pleasure to use.
    They have a great web sight showing all the colours and sets that they offer.
    The web site is http://www.thesilkmill.com.
    I have ordered on line from them and have found them most helpful with my order arriving very quickly. Give them a go,you will not be disappointed.

    1. Hi, Sue! Yes, I’ve written extensively about Silk Mill! Theirs are filament silks, so slightly different from the spun silk. I’ll get into filament silk down the road!

    2. Can you tell me how accurate their conversion to DMC colours are? The DMC shades I use most are greens 3345, 3346 and 3347, but the Thread Mill equivalents do not look much like them at all at the website.

    1. Hi, Del –

      Soie d’Alger is available through any needlework shop in the US that stocks goods from Access Commodities. The threads are made in France, so if you’re in Europe, you can find them through needlework shops (or perhaps straight through the company – Au Ver a Soie – in France). In the US, if you don’t have a local needlework shop, I’d recommend Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, California. You’ll find them listed here: http://www.needlestack.com/WebStore/Thread/AVAS_SoiedAlger.html

    1. Hi, Marsha – Well, I always thought Needlepoint Inc silks were spun silk, but they describe them as filament silk. I have a few of their skeins, so I’m going to have to look more carefully. I really thought that they were spun!

  5. Have always loved using Gloriana-now I know why! I have several skeins of Soie d’alger, but haven’t used them yet as they are used in a couple of projects that aren’t started yet. Thank you so much for this article!

  6. Excellent advice. Especially the part about not being afraid of silk. Just go out and buy some and play with it. The greatest danger is that you will want to use nothing else, ever, and it is just a bit more expensive than cotton. 😉

  7. Ive only used silk on Di Van Nikerk’s floral panel. It was
    beautiful to work with
    on the pansy in long and short stitch.

  8. Before you begin…make sure your hands are ready…moisturize and get rid of any rough nails or skin…everything will catch on silk

    1. Hi, Susan! I like Silk Mill, too! They’re a filament silk, so we’ll chat about those a little bit down the road. They have a FANTASTIC range of colors!

    1. 🙂 I’d still be but a twinkle in my father’s eye! LOL! Oh, well, actually, my parents would have just met, not married yet (it will be 60 years this year!), and I’d still have six sisters to come before me!

  9. Hi there! In the UK, I highly recommend The Silk Mill (http://www.thesilkmill.com/), whose threads I have been happily using for years. As they say:

    “Our silk is 100% pure Chinese monofilament silk thread. The thread comes in skeins of six strands of 6.5 metres long, with a total skein length of 39 metres. The strands can be used individually or in any combination to suit the project you are working on. There are 700 shades of silk to choose from.”

    Aside from the quality thread, they have always been very prompt, the silks packaged well, and their customer service friendly and helpful. It’s also a family firm, started by an embroiderer looking for the good thread with a decent colour range, which is always nice to support.

    1. The S6 and Argentina 150 from Bart & Francis are filament silks, but I heartily recommend them. Fantastically good value, too.
      Their Pagamori variegated silk threads are spun silk, I think. The Pagamori threads consist of 4 strands that are finer than that of DMC cotton. The colours don’t look particularly attractive on the spool, but I’ve done a lot of tambour work with them, and it looks lovely then.

  10. Dear Mary

    I really like Soie d’Algar spun silk and use it all the time especially with the L&S stitch it’s such a lovely thread to work and gives a really lovely sheen to any embroidery and is relatively cheap, I buy my silk thread online from Sew and So here in the UK which has all Soie d’Algar colour range in 5m skeins. I find that Soie d’Algar is a very easy silk thread to work and there is nothing to be afraid of. Thanks for sharing the spun silk post with us, very useful, especially for beginners.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  11. I have been using Slendor silk. After separating the floss into four units of three strands each I find the strands very kinky. I then wet the strands, pull them taught and lay out to dry. Is this a good thing to do or do other people do any thing different? It seems to smooth the strands nicely.

  12. Absolutely agree – spun silk is not much harder to use than cotton. Here in the UK, I can recommend Stef Francis, who has a nice selection of different weights of spun silk in some interesting space-dyed colours. (I like her AA Superfine Silk, which is about machine-embroidery weight, but beginners might be happier with something slightly thicker.) She has a website.

  13. Mary, thank you for another wonderfully informative article. The profile of different brands is particularly helpful to me!

  14. Hi Mary!
    Your Silk Thread #101 is very informative. I am anxious to try the silks in my stitching! One question though; when using silks rather than cotton, are the same number of threads used for stitching or do you have to experiment with the result as I gleaned from Point #6? Thank you, Priscilla

    1. Hi, Priscilla – one strand of silk is not necessarily equal to one strand of cotton, so it does take some experimenting to get the same coverage.

  15. I am working with au ver a soie silk because of the diferent threads they have, but I also found another firm The Silk mill. They have a beautiful range of spun silk. They are also based in France and have a very nice webshop thesilkmill.com

    1. Hi, Hilde – The Silk Mill certainly does have a nice web shop and a wonderful range of colors! But their silk is not spun silk. It’s filament silk, which I’ll be chatting about in a future article. I’ve written about Silk Mill several times here on Needle ‘n Thread – Wendy has done an amazing job putting together such a wide range of gorgeous colors!

  16. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me, thank you Mary! I’m going to be following this series of articles avidly. I am gradually gathering the supplies ready to work the Carolyn Pearce ‘Home Sweet Home’ project shortly, but many of the silk threads are completely new to me. My stitching experience is mainly with DMC stranded and perle cottons so I’m feeling both excited and a little daunted at the prospect of learning to work with a new range of threads. The HSH project uses both Soie D’Alger as well as Caron Waterlillies, Madeira silk and Gumnut Stars and many of them come in twisted hanks. Actually, I’m rather unsure about how to deal with the twisted silk hanks and if they behave differently to pull skeins. Do you think you might address that in your ‘silk series’? It would be hugely reassuring to hear any tips you have. 🙂 Thank you!

  17. Thank you for this information on silk threads. I’ve wondered about them, never used them and had no idea how to begin. I appreciate, so much, your imparting this knowledge in such a concise and thorough way.

  18. Another great post, with lots of information. I was wondering if you or anyone else had used Trebizond floss that Purl Soho carries? I have only used Madeira silk floss and I really like it. The white floss is easily dyed with MX or acid dyes.

    Thank you for keeping me inspired.


    1. Trebizond is a wonderful silk! It is filament silk that is twisted together in a three ply strand, and it’s relatively heavy. I’ve got an article on plaited braid stitch worked with Trebizond here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2012/09/trebizond-plaited-braid-stitch.html Yoi can do interesting things with Trebizond. For example, even though it is meant to be used straight off the spool in the one heavier, twisted thread, you can take the twists carefully apart and use the thread as a “laid” silk that’s kind of wavy. You could fill an area with surface satin stitch with this, and then couch a trellis pattern over it to hold it in place – it works up very pretty and interesting!

  19. I had never used silk thread before – for stitching or otherwise. I had purchased a kit reproduction of a late 18th century chair cushion which had not only cotton floss and crewel yarn – but also water lilies silk floss.

    I was rather concerned about using silk as, first, the areas around my nails get very dry and can become “catchy” no matter what I do and I was concerned that the silk would snag on them, and, second, this is the piece I am working on at reenactments in front of the public – so circumstances of how I am working are not the best either.

    I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been to use the waterlilies threads. They have not caught on my fingers (I do the best I can to keep my fingers from having catchy spots) and they have held up well wrapped on wooden reproduction bobbins while I am working with them. (The rest of the time and the threads not in use are kept loose with one end attached to a Loran card in a plastic bag to keep them (and the other threads) clean, but not zipped completely closed so that air can circulate in the bag. (Bag is kept hidden in the box bench I sit on at events so it can not be seen.)

  20. The only comment I have is – leap in and sew, it is just so silky and slithery through your fabric, you won’t be sorry. Have fun with it.
    Regards to all

  21. Ah! I have a couple of Kreinik “grab-bags” of assorted silk threads that I bought in a fit of enthusiasm and haven’t tried yet! Some are stranded or fine perle (iirc), some I think are probably filament. Maybe this will give me some confidence to try using it. 🙂

  22. Hi Mary

    Thank you for this wonderful article on the many varieties of silk. I have tried using Rajmahal before and became so frustrated with it, mainly because it was the first kind of silk I had worked with.

    I shall seek out and try something a little easier like the spun silk you have written about here.

    Thanks again,

    Marian (NZ)

  23. I have some silk thread that is as fine as hair. The shop sells it for embroidery, lace making and oddly fishing. Can you explain how I should use this silk. It’s so fine it catches on my very clean hands and I can only use very short lengths, so far unsuccessfully. It looks beautiful but behaves very badly.

  24. This is a most timely topic as I am prepping my next project Grey Bird offered through Inspirations designed by Marie Suarez. I decided that I would like to use silk for this one as I think the silk will look glorious in this pattern. I have used Au Ver a Soie de Paris silk on the Floral Glove by Thistle Threads and it is a divine to work with silk. It glides through the cloth like nothing else. At first I was considering using Paris but at $4.00 a “spool” and 36 colors needed well, I might just use Perlee instead. Besides Perlee comes in over 300 colors while Paris only has has about 77.

    I read the article from July 4, 2007 and am a bit confused between Paris and Perlee. Paris is flatter and Perlee is more like DMC Mouline floss?

  25. I also like Needlepoint Silk. It frays less than some other spun silks. It comes in many values and shades of color.

  26. A friend brought me a lot of silk embroidery thread from Taiwan a couple of years ago. There was no information or packaging with it and was grouped in colors with a large knot. They are beautiful but am wondering if you have ever worked with anything like this before. The thread is very fine and has a sheen to it.

  27. How do you start building a decent collection without being totally random?
    There are so many colors in each company.
    Are there sources other than Ebay to be able to buy silk thread from other embroiders??

  28. Mary, usually I find your advice absolutely wonderful. This is where I have to jump off the wagon and holler, heck no!
    I made a beautiful blouse and embroidered a black Tudor Rose on one side, and a Scottish thistle on the other. I used Soie d’Alger by Au Ver a Soie. On the first hand wash, the black bled. The shirt is now a farm shirt, as it looks awful.
    Thank goodness that was a prototype. In the fine print it says Dry Clean only. I’m pretty sure that the American colonists did not sent their shirts out for dry cleaning. This put me on the trail of black silk that does not need to be dry cleaned to be color fast. I got some BEAUTIFUL silk from Vikki Clayton of HandDyedFibers on Etsy. Alas, she no longer does floss. So I bought some silk from Treenway (Zen Shin, Harmony, Serenity, Tranquility all make great embroidery thread) and dyed it myself. (It didn’t run!)

    Finally I found Valdani! 6 strands! 23 yards! And yes they make both spun silk and filament silk. (Just don’t steam iron the thread). I love the color collections. This is now my go to silk.

    I’m a big fan of filament silk. I don’t like nubs in my silk embroidery thread. I also had really good luck with RimKimStudio at Etsy. I chose the Thick Silk. I bought 3 colors for $6.00. It took awhile to get here, from Korea, but it was worth the wait.

    Sigh, I used up all 40 meters of the black. It’s a good thread. I also bought some of her thin and have used it for counting and marking on linen, so pretty much all of the grey is gone too. Her color range is not as extensive as the Valdani, but it sure was a pleasure to sew with.

    A few weeks ago at a Guild meeting they passed around Soie d’Alger by Au Ver a Soie to do a stumpwork project with. I passed my thread on and picked out the same colorway in my Vikki Clayton Threads. Now don’t I wish I would have bought more, before Vikki quit? You betcha! Remember what Mary says, don’t take your threads for granted.

    Anyway, phooey on Soie d’Alger by Au Ver a Soie…. The Valdani doesn’t run and there’s more of it at a better price.
    Hey, Mary would you like a sample to compare?

    1. Hi, Holly – I’ve used Valdani. They have several different types. One of their silks is actually an Au Ver a Soie silk that they dye. Valdani’s threads are dyed in ….Romania? Or the Czech Republic? Somewhere like that. They don’t have the same dye restrictions, so they are able to produce a colorfast (as far as running due to water) silk thread. In any case, like any thread (even cotton!), if you’re planning on laundering something, silk should be tested for color fastness. Soie ‘d’Alger isn’t meant to be washed in full submersion with warm water and soap. I’ve successfully rinsed it with cool water without color run, but if you’re planning on warm water laundering, you’re right – best to pick something else! But when it comes to the quality of the silk thread – consistency, strength, no slubs, it really can’t be beat!

  29. It’s like too many brands of cars and then too many colour choices. thankfully theses days there is Mary Corbet to set you right. Amen

  30. Love !love !love needlepoint silk for just about most stitching from canvas to wool embroidery..8 ply,covers well,has a great hand ‘feel’
    Corelates roughly with an appletons wool colour card for colour choices

  31. What a coincidence to find your article on silk in my email this morning. Last Saturday I gave a talk on threads for The Crewel Gobelin, which is a fabulous embroidery shop in Sydney, Australia. We covered all the points you wrote about and more! What fun!

  32. Thanks for all this information on silk floss. I have a question about cotton floss, prompted by your comment that it is always mercerized. Is there such a thing as non-mercerized or non-sheen cotton floss? I want to try Mountmellick with a dull cotton, as I dislike the standard combination with sateen cloth.

    1. Hi, Laura – that’s right. The thread sold for Mountmellick does not have a sheen to it. In the US, you can find it through Lacis.com. Also, Danish flower thread does not have a sheen to it. So those are two cotton embroidery threads that I know of that are not mercerized.

  33. I stitched an embroidery picture last year with silk and the one problem i had was how to keep the thread in the needle as its so silky and soft it kept flying through the needle on me

  34. Mary – thanks for the tutorial on silk threads. Do you have an online source for the Soie D’Alger threads?


  35. Thank you very much, Mary, for explaining so clearly how to start with silk thread. I might actually pluck up the courage to do that now!

    1. Hi, Abbie – not all hand embroidery projects need to be, or should be, washed. I only wash projects that I know I will launder later – so, any kind of embroidered household stuff, clothes, things like that. For the most part, for embroidery projects that are not going to be laundered, it’s better to take precautions against dirt, stains, and so forth while you stitch (by using tissue paper or plastic wrap or scrap fabric to cover the ground fabric in your frame or hoop, in areas that you’re not stitching) and not wash the piece. Damp stretching and blocking – where you’re just misting the fabric with a touch of water in order to block it well – is a good idea, but deep washing or deep submersion is not always necessary or desirable. This means that you have to think ahead on your fabric preparation, too. For example, if your ground fabric has sizing in it (like most linens, cottons, etc.), then it’s best to wash your ground fabric ahead of time to remove sizing, so that the sizing doesn’t affect the embroidery down the road (by discoloring it, or by attracting bugs, and so forth). On the other hand, there are some fabrics you probably wouldn’t wash in advance. I know that cross stitchers using stuff like Aida cloth often prefer not to was their fabric, because the sizing keeps the warp and weft threads in line. When you wash Aida cloth, the softer fabric makes it more difficult to stitch.

      In any case, whether or not you can wash a silk project depends a lot on the silk. Read the manufacturers’ recommendations on the care of the thread. If they recommend dry cleaning, then that’s a good sign that this particular silk shouldn’t be laundered. Sometimes, laundering – especially with warm water or soap – can release dyes that would otherwise (say, if barely misted with blocking or not washed at all) would not otherwise run. Any time you’re planning on working a project that will need washing, it’s a really good idea to work a small sample first, and treat that sample the same way you’re planning on treating your finished product. That way, you know what to expect and you won’t get any surprises!

  36. Hi Mary,

    What are your thoughts on chinese silk thread retailers on Ebay? I’ve just been looking for lots of silk thread from old estates in an attempt to accumulate a stock of thread economically for my project and I came across this seller:
    I don’t know if you have tried anything from such vendors but thought I would ask your opinion.
    Kind Regards

    1. Hi, Faith – I’ve used Chinese silk like this, but not from this particular vendor. It is filament silk, which we will talk about in some upcoming articles. It’s a little trickier to handle, and it gets caught on just about anything! It’s not perfect thread – you’ll find inconsistencies in it, and you’ll run into slubs here and there that you have to work around. But if you’re wanting to do real Chinese embroidery, this is the stuff they use!

  37. I was curious, so I simply ordered 1 skein of black soie d’alger, a blue in waterlilies and a green in gloriana silk. And I stitched away. Doesn’t bite! And it was a revelation. It is buttery and lush to stitch with! It is more expensive than cotton. So in the end one has to make decisions. But totally worth it. In Europe I find a good source online is Casa Cenina. They carry a very broad range of threads of all kinds and have excellent service and fair pricing . I have seen there are, apart from skeins, also a number of silks on reel (also from Soie d’Alger). Silk 100 I think its called. Not familiar with those. Thank you Mary for being such a good source of information and inspiration with your beautiful work.

  38. Hi Mary I was given some silk floss from China by a friend in my guild. The skein is thinner and lighter feeling than cotton floss and I am feeling a little nervous about using it. Do you have any tips about how this should be used.

  39. Oh Mary, if only I didn’t have to sleep I would have so much more time to become embroidery-educated!
    Thank you for the many many hours of pure excitement and enjoyment as I read and learn from you and all you have to offer.
    I’m too old to act like a kid in a candy store – – but I do everything I see Needle ‘n Thread pop up in my mailbox.
    Thanks Mary!!

  40. Excelente enseñanza. Quisiera sobre que telas aconseja usted para bordar ya sea en hilo de algodón ó en hilo de seda. Muchas gracias!!!.Felicitaciones por su creatividad y profesionalidd. Un abrazo.


  41. Does one have to use silk as the base fabric? And if I were to embroider on silk, do I have to reinforce the fabric?

    Ultimately I want to create small sachets and decorative pillows, the silk fabric I have is a shantung.

    Any guidance wod be very appreciated.

    1. Hi, Becky – you don’t have to use silk as a ground fabric, but if you’re going to, yes, I’d put either a good cotton behind it or even a lightweight linen. Either will work! Shantung makes a nice ground fabric for embroidery, but I find it works best if you have at least a light support fabric behind it.

  42. Is there a, sort of, middle of the road weight in silk to begin stitching with as a first-time silk user? As you know, there are many different weights … it gets confusing as to what to buy. I understand there are alot of variables to consider when making a choice in silk threads (the project itself, painting, type of cloth/linen, etc.). If there is no middle-of-the-road weight, how does one decide on what weight is best?
    Thanks, Billie Jo

  43. Are silk threads washable? I currently work in hand, but do have a stand and frames, which I’ve not yet used. I look forward to hearing from you.

  44. Is silk thread colorfast? Is there a comparison chart for DMC to silk?

    Thank you so much for your time. Looking forward to working with silk.


    1. Hi, Janette – it all depends on the silk thread you use. Conditions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is true for conversion charts, too – there are conversion charts out there for Soie d’Alger to DMC, and visa-versa, for example.

  45. I don’t really know anything about embroidery, but I found over the past year that I absolutely love stitching. I find myself becoming very mindful of the sound and movement. It has actually helped me over come my anxiety with art.

    I’m going to Vietnam tomorrow Denang and Hoi An. If anyone has any tips for where to go of interest please let me know xxxx

  46. I am using planet silk in a needlepoint application on 18 mesh canvas. Do I need to condition the silk with beeswax work something else to keep it smooth and not getting fuzzy?

    1. I haven’t used planet silk on 18 mesh canvas before, Meg, so I’m not sure what results you’re getting and why. But when working with threads in embroidery and other needlework applications, the only time I use beeswax is when I need to strengthen a thread for goldwork or bead work. Beeswax discolors thread and will darken over time. It changes the way a thread performs. So I’m not a huge advocate of using it to treat embroidery threads that will be visible in decorative stitching. Perhaps if you cut your working lengths of thread shorter, the thread will be less likely to fuzz as it is being used?

  47. My mother embroidered in silk when she was young and produced amazing, large pieces of work in silk. she spoke lovingly about the experience and the feel of the thread. I have the left-overs from that time in her life and would like to use them to make a piece for my daughter in memory of her Grandmother. Cotton is familiar but silk is mysterious. Unfortunately the threads are in a tangled mess, some twisted. some in single strand. That is my problem to sort that out! Her work was like a painting with no fabric showing. I cannot quite understand how she created that effect with single strand thread (or did she?) I would so appreciate your help, or the name of a book that would answer my questions.

  48. I will be working for the first time with silk thread. I want to order Soie d’Alger from Au ver à soie. My question: is silk thread to be used on linen only? Or can I use silk on Lugana (28-ct over 2) or very high count Aida (20 ct over 1).
    My eyesight is not good enough to work on finer cloth and somehow, I always see silk used on very fine linen by very experienced stitchers.
    Could you please tell me if silk thread will work with 28-ct Lugana or 20-ct Aida?
    Thank you in advance!

  49. I am now in my 80’s, In my youth I did alot of embroidery. The silks which I believe were Anchor, were 6 stranded and could be used as is or stranded down to 1 – 2 or whatever: recently I wanted to get back into embroidery but what are these so-called silks nowadays?! Is it possible to get real silk now? Thank you Anita

    1. Hi, Anita – The thread that you’re talking about is most likely Anchor stranded embroidery cotton. It’s six-stranded cotton floss and it’s just like the DMC floss available today, that you can find in needlework shops, or even in craft and hobby shops like JoAnn’s or Michael’s or Hobby Lobby here in the States.

      If you’re looking specifically for silk, usually you’ll need to go through a smaller, local needlework shop that carries specialty needlework supplies. Silks today are pretty expensive compared to the 6-stranded cotton DMC floss, so if you’re just getting back to embroidery, I’d probably start with regular 6-stranded DMC cotton floss from a local store before investing a lot in silk. Just my two cents! 🙂

  50. I have just come back to embroidery from a time when I did a lot of cross stitch. I have now discovered thread painting and love it. When I feel more competent with thread painting, I would like to venture into using silk thread on some blouses and wonder how it would wash.

    Thank you for your site and information.


  51. This was a very helpful article, I’m just a little confused as you mentioned in this article that Madeira floss is a spun silk however in a previous article June 11 2013 :On Madeira silk floss that it is an s-twisted filament silk. Were you refering to different types of Madeira or have I got mixed up somewhere? if you could clarify that would be great as I’m trying to find a replacement for Au Ver a Soie d’Alger (4913) that I can’t get and I want to match it with not just a similar colour but a similar type of thread i.e. spun silk.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi, Leanne – Yes, the Madeira available today is a spun silk, similar to (but not quite the same quality as) Soie d’Alger. So if you’re looking for a substitute, that may work for you.

  52. I love working with silk but now have a few projects waiting for framing, and I can’t find info on how to prepare the silk work. Do I have to have it dry cleaned?

    1. Are they dirty?

      I have never dry cleaned any of my embroidery. Depending on the ground fabric, you can soak it in cool water, probably. You might test a corner first. But that’s only if it needs some kind of rinsing or cleaning. If they are clean, I would simply damn stretch them and block them, and then prepare them for framing.

  53. I am trying to use DMC Silk Thread, to say it is difficult is an understatement. I use two strands, in easy threading needle. It frays after I am 1/2 way through the strand (usually about 9 inches) I am very careful to get all the strands in the eye. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

    1. Hi, Annamaria – Wellll… I’m a little confused. DMC doesn’t make silk thread. Any idea what you could be using, if it’s not silk? Are you sure it’s not their “satin” thread? In which case, it’s a synthetic, not silk, and if you look up tips for embroidering with rayon threads, you’ll probably come up with some better ideas of how to manage the thread. Just be aware that you can’t embroider with DMC Satin the way you can with cotton or silk. It doesn’t split easily, for example, so stitches like long and short stitch (shading) and the like would be awkward. It’s also a bit stiffer than regular, natural fiber threads, and a bit slippery, so it will slide out of many types of stitch configurations.

  54. Hi Mary, I have bought some of these lovely Silks, the Soie D’Alger. Some of the numbers that are printed on the tabs have either an ‘A’, ‘B’ or no letter at all with the number. Are you able to tell me what that means?


    1. Hmmm. The only Soie d’Alger colors that I know of, that have letters on the tags (with the numbers), have either F or S before the number – for flesh or skin tones. MOST Soie d’Alger does not have a letter preceding the number, but there are flesh and skin tones that have F or S preceding the number. No idea where A and B are coming from! Where’d you order the threads? You should contact the people you ordered from – they may be able to help you!

  55. Hello, I have been using soie d Alger thread because I love the colors and sheen but they seem to bleed into the fabric when wet, ruining my work. The reason I wet the embroidery is to remove the Sulky printable sticky paper I use to embroidered over. Do you find that this thread bleeds when wet? Doesn’t seem to happen with DMC thread? Any suggestions other than not using the Sulky paper, as I wonder if when given as a gift, it will bleed when washed. I am getting tired of using the Sulky and ruining my work with leaving ink on the threads too and to wash work. Somehow looses the magic look of color and freshness.
    Thank you for hearing me out and any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. If you are using warm to hot water, the threads can bleed. With silk threads, it’s a good idea to avoid warm / hot water, or steam. Needlework silks are not really the type of threads that are used on items that will go through the laundry. And I wouldn’t really recommend using Soie d’Alger with sticky solvy. Since Soie d’Alger is a rather soft, spun silk, the sticky solvy would be very harsh on the thread and break it down or fuzz it more than would normally happen on just plain fabric.

  56. My pattern calls for one thread of dinky dyes over 2 threads of 32 count linen. I am using DMC thread. Should I use one or two threads over 2 on 32 count?

    1. I would imagine Dinky Dyes are the same weight as DMC. But I don’t know for sure, because I don’t have any of their thread to check that with. You might test – try both and see what gives you the coverage you want?

    1. That’s a tricky question – it depends not just on the brand, but sometimes on the color of the thread. You can be sure that hand dyed silk threads are mostly NOT colorfast. There are some silk thread brands that claim colorfastness – I think Valdani has a line. A lot depends on where the threads are dyed and what laws govern the chemicals they use for dyeing. I generally test all silk threads before I use them, especially if whatever I’m making will need laundering. Sometimes, they can be soaked in cool water without a problem, but if steam or heat is applied, it becomes problematic.

  57. Hi Mary, I’m new to silk and I’d like to know, how do you store your silk. I have wrapped mine in the little DMC bobbins but I was told not to. What does everyone recommend please. Thank you.

    1. I store my silk in Bissel Collector’s Cabinets. They’ve served me well for many years.

      I don’t wind them on bobbins – I keep their original put-up, whether skein or spool.

  58. I am not the perfect embroidery ! I do embroidery in DMC cottons but I want to try my hand at silk cotton or silk threads and was wondering what sort of threads that you would suggest I start with I live in Australia and I don’t know where to find any I have asked people on YouTube but they haven’t got back to me so could you let me know what would be the best silk threads to start with many thanks Mrs Daphne Joyce

    1. The easiest silk thread would be a spun silk that you work with pretty much the same way that you work with DMC stranded cotton. I think Dinky-Dyes is an Australian thread company that has a spun silk.

  59. I am working on a project that was designed to use Eterna Silk threads. I know Eterna was discontinued 10 years ago or so. The only substitute I could find when I googled was DMC 6 strand floss. I would like to substitute another silk thread but not sure what would get the best result. I tried trebizond silk separating the 3 ply and using just one. The trebizond separates and gets fuzzy when blended into gold threads. Any recommendation for a substitute silk thread would get greatly appreciated.
    Thank you

  60. How colorfast are the Classic Colorworks Belle Soie (tulip) and Soie d’Alger silks? Will I have trouble blocking my project?

    Thanks! Katheryn

    1. I don’t know about the Classic Colorworks threads. With Soie d’Alger, you won’t have trouble blocking as long as you’re not soaking it. If you’re blocking with a mist of room temp water, you shouldn’t have any problem. That said, it never hurts to test, test, test. I’ve never had a problem damp blocking embroidery with Soie d’Alger, when misting the embroidery. I have had color run when I’ve soaked the embroidery, especially if the water is at all warm.

  61. Just wanting to make sure Soie d’Alger silk is the right silk for a beginner with silk and for Cross-Stitch. Can only use Aida, do mostly 18 and 20 count.

    Thank You, Mary, love your site, great information.

    Thank’s again Carolann

    1. Hi, Carolann – Thanks for your note! Yes, Soie d’Alger is an excellent silk for beginners and beyond.

      Did you know that there are low count linens that work great for cross stitch, too? There are 20 count linens out there!

      I always contend that, if you are investing in silk for your thread, then you’d probably want to work on the best quality ground fabric (which, in the scheme of things, is not that expensive, if you are purchasing a piece cut to the size you need). Aida is not a great quality fabric, and while it is very stiff and easy to work with for counted work, over time, it is not going to hold up as well as linen. It also will now show off your embroidery as well.

      Of course, this is only my opinion, but it seems to me that, if you’re going to put the expense into silk and the time into your embroidery, you’ll want a fabric that has a better chance of lasting longer, and that, overall, will show off your embroidery better.

      Anyway, I just thought you should know – since you’re exploring silk (which is no small investment) – that there are low count linen needlework fabrics available that you might also enjoy working with. 🙂

  62. Mary,

    Of all the gin joints in the world of silk threads, I just happened to walk into a shop selling Kinkame Japanese silk threads and was lost for all time!! I urge everyone to order a couple of colors and see for themselves. Try KimonoMomo or KimonoYukiko, both on Etsy. A superior thread that I will never be without!

    1. LOL! Yes, they are nice silk threads! They’re the weight and structure of a buttonhole twist, though, so the user is limited in what they do with them. They’re best for things like Japanese ring thimbles, any type of crazy quilting seams treatment, any type of line stitching where a more tightly twisted texture is desired, etc. They aren’t so great for very smooth satin stitching, for long and short stitch shading, and the like. But yes, they are lovely threads, and good quality.

  63. Thank you for such an informative tutorial! As someone who has not done any hand embroidery for many years, your article was a revelation and so much appreciated! I had wanted to make something using Aurafil wool thread, but the cost was too prohibitive for me at this stage. I do like the idea of trying my hand using silk, but will begin with the spun silk. I am working on a piece now, using cotton thread and enjoying myself enormously. I had forgotten how therapeutic it was to do hand embroidery! I am looking forward to incorporating it into my quilt making. Thank you, again, for your generosity in sharing your knowledge.
    Brendaria Harvey
    Warwickshire, England

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