When Janome introduced the concept of machine embroidery to the home sewing market, there was suddenly a big increase in demand for embroidery thread. There are now many different brands of thread available for embroidery, in a variety of types. Choosing the best thread to use for a project can be challenging.
There are three primary types of embroidery thread: acrylic, polyester, and rayon. Other types exist, such as cotton and silk, but the goal of most embroidery projects is shiny, attractive, and colorful thread. When choosing the thread for your project, it’s important to consider how the embroidered piece will be used.
When Janome released the Memory Craft 8000, they introduced their own acrylic embroidery thread at the same time. Initially only 24 colors were offered, but this eventually expanded to the 78 colors now in the default Janome thread palette. This thread has a good shine and is relatively strong. It is color fast and washes and dries well. However at higher embroidery speeds it tends to fray, and it’s expensive compared to other types. As a result it’s not very popular now.
Rayon thread is smooth and has a beautiful sheen. It sews well at all speeds and is a good choice, unless the item being embroidered will be washed frequently. Rayon thread is not color-fast in bleach and does not hold up well with repeated washing and drying. If the project will not be laundered, then rayon thread can be a good choice for your project. It’s readily available in almost unlimited colors.
Because of the shortcomings mentioned, the most popular embroidery thread type is polyester. It’s very strong, inexpensive, and can be washed and bleached without losing color. These characteristics make it almost perfect, but not quite! The strength of poly thread makes it somewhat springy when coming off the spool, as it “remembers” the shape it had when wound. This can cause it to flex at an inopportune time, causing a skipped stitch. That will appear as a loop on top of the fabric. While a number of machine problems can result in loops on top of embroidery, a loop or two in a design containing many thousands of stitches is often due to the polyester thread. In most cases the problem can be dealt with by snipping the loop out of the design and using a hair dryer to heat the affected area. This will usually cause the cut ends of the loop to shrink into the fabric so they are no longer visible.
Embroidery thread is sold in varying weights, with 40wt being the most common. The weight is a measure of how many kilometers of thread are needed to weigh one kilogram. So 40wt means that 40,000 meters of thread will weigh approximately one kilogram. The smaller the thread weight, the thicker it is. Thread weight is very important in machine embroidery. If you choose, for example, to use 30wt thread in a design that was digitized for 40wt thread, the extra thickness can create stitch problems like thread breaks or loops, or embroidery that is what is often referred to as “bullet proof”.
By changing the weight of thread used, you can sometimes solve problems. An embroidery design that continually results in thread breaks, jams, or loops with 40wt thread may stitch beautifully with 60wt thread. This is one way to deal with designs that are overly dense, whether due to digitizing or reducing the size in the machine. As the industry has matured, finer threads are more readily available, with 60wt sometimes sold for micro embroidery.
Thread weight is critical when stitching freestanding lace. Most of these designs will work with 40wt, but you generally don’t want to use anything heavier unless the designer calls for it. Intricate lace designs do best with 60wt or finer.
Most sewing machine dealers carry one or more lines of embroidery thread that they have found to be reliable with the machines they sell. In search of a bargain you may be tempted to invest in unbranded thread. The Internet has an almost unlimited number of threads available at attractive prices. Before investing in these you should check with friends, online forums and groups, and even your dealer. The money you save by purchasing inferior thread can be dwarfed by the cost of machine repairs and frustration in trying to use it.