Introduction: Choosing Floss and Fabrics
Ive tried embroidering on just about everything with all types of thread and floss.
As you can imagine, this hasnt always worked out very well! Instead of leaving you to learn from your mistakes while nursing very sore fingers, I thought Id give a little guidance about what Ive found to work best. :)
In this lesson Im going to cover floss, pearl cotton, floss storage and how to choose fabric for embroidery.
Hand embroidery threads come in two flavors: pearl (perle) cotton and six stranded floss. In this class Ill be exclusively teaching with six stranded floss, just because its what I prefer to use.
Six stranded floss can be divided into smaller groups of strands for stitching different thicknesses.
Pearl cotton is not divisible, and instead comes single stranded in several thicknesses, including sizes 3, 5, 8, and 12. Size 3 is comparable to six strands of embroidery floss, while size 12 is comparable to one strand of embroidery floss.
While embroidery floss is flat and smooth when stitched, pearl cotton has a distinctive twisted look.
Floss comes in skeins and cones, while pearl cotton comes in skeins and balls.
Skeins are how most types of floss are found - the green floss above is in a skein! Skeins often contain 8.7 yards of floss. Cones are just what they sound like - the same floss, wrapped around a cone! Cones often comes in gram measures - 100 grams (450 yards for DMC) and 500 grams (2270 yards for DMC). Balls of floss come just like the purple pearl cotton above. :)
When buying embroidery floss, its important to be very careful about which brands you choose. Cheap floss is not likely to be colorfast, meaning it will bleed its color onto the fabric when it gets wet. Cheap floss is also rough and hard to work with, so it could make your embroidering look sloppy.
(Pearl cotton bought in craft stores is nearly always high quality, so you dont need to be concerned there.)
My favorite brand is DMC.
Its the most widely available floss Ive found in the US. You can find it at nearly every crafting, quilting, or sewing shop! I highly recommend it as I have been embroidering with it for my whole embroidery career.
I have never had issues with it bleeding, and its nice and easy to work with.
Other Popular Floss Brands
There are many more brands out there, but many of them are harder to find and require special ordering online.
Keep in mind each floss brand has its own numbering system when it comes to organizing and matching your floss. For example, black is DMC color 310 and Anchor color 403.
Buying in Bulk
As a beginning stitcher, I highly suggest getting a large variety of single colors. This will allow you to figure out which colors you use the most.
I only really buy black in bulk by the cone. I like to outline all my satin stitching with it and most of my text is done in black, so I use quite a bit!
If you start to find yourself going through a few skeins of a color in under a month, it may be a sign you should start buying in bulk. If you order online, you can get any color of DMC floss in a 12 skein box from Joann and other online shops.
How you store your embroidery floss is up to you, really! Some people leave them as skeins, some people take off the paper and keep them as circles of floss, and some wind their floss onto bobbins.
I like to use bobbins and organize my floss in plastic boxes as shown above. I try to keep only one bobbin of every color in the plastic boxes. I store my extra floss in a zippered bag to keep it safe from dirt and hair.
Bobbins are little plastic or paper cards you wind floss onto for storage, as shown below.
I write the color number of every skein of floss on the plastic bobbins in permanent marker. This allows me to easily replace floss when I start running low and helps keep me a little more organized.
To wind your floss skein onto a bobbin, pull the paper pieces off each end. Use your fingers to "open" the floss so it looks like the second photo - a circle of floss!
Now, find an end to the floss and pinch it against the bobbin card with your thumb, while gently beginning to wrap the floss around the card with the other hand.
Make sure you wind the bobbins very gently. If you pull too tight, youll warp and crease the floss.
The floss should still look fairly rounded! If its flattening out as you wrap youre pulling too tight.
Once your bobbins are wound, make sure to put them away in whatever container youre using. Especially if you have pets or kids. They love floss. ;)
P.S. Winding bobbins takes a little while, so its a great excuse to sit and listen to your favorite podcast or binge watch TV. :D
Threading the Needle
To thread an embroidery needle with floss, trim the floss end with sharp scissors so its even. Then, stick the end in your mouth to wet it. Press the wet floss end between your thumb and pointer finger to flatten it out.
You may think this is gross, but its the way its been done since the start. ;)
If youre having problems, I highly recommend running the end of the floss over a little Thread Heaven - itll stiffen and smooth the end, making it easier to push through the eye of the needle.
Dividing Embroidery Floss
When you need to divide your embroidery floss into strands, pick apart the strands in the middle and then pull it apart!
You can divide the floss from one end, but chances are it will curl and tangle around itself and frustrate you unless you have experience fighting with floss. ;)
First up, what not to pick:
Technically, you can embroider on just about anything. However, the above fabrics will be really tough for you to work with if youve never embroidered before. I dont want you to start this journey by rage quitting because the fabric is too hard to work with. ;)
My absolute favorite fabric to embroider on is linen.
I use this linen / rayon blend from Joann Fabrics almost exclusively. I have it in white and natural, but it comes in loads of other colors too! I always buy it in bulk when its on sale, since I go through about 8-10 yards per year with my embroidery work.
The other linens shown in the photo above are straight linen (no rayon or synthethic fibers).
I like to wash and pre-shrink the linen before I use it.
Other fabrics for embroidery:
I like to wash fabric before I embroider on it.
Many fabrics tend to shrink when washed, which is something you absolutely DO NOT want when embroidering.
Embroidering a piece on unwashed fabric and then washing the finished piece in warm water and soap or pressing with a hot iron after washing in cool water will cause the fabric to shrink. Your floss will not shrink at the same rate, which will lead to puckering and rippling. The stitching will look loosened and not be as tight as it should be.
It will make your pieces look like a mess, which would be a shame after spending hours on them!
How to Wash Fabric: