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The Difference Between Embroidery Thread And Sewing Thread

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I started embroidering when I was a teenager and have since become a quilter who likes to embroider designs on fabric squares to make quilt tops. But, for someone who has never embroidered nor had a lot of experience with sewing, knowing the difference between embroidery thread and sewing thread would be difficult. So, what is the difference between embroidery thread and sewing thread?

To know the difference between embroidery thread and sewing thread, we have to understand that there are two different types of embroidery thread: (1) the type of thread used in hand embroidery, and (2) the type of thread used in machine embroidery.

In this article, we will discuss each type of embroidery thread and compare each one to sewing thread.

What Are the Two Different Types of Embroidery Thread?

The two different types of embroidery thread are:

1. The Thread Used in Hand Embroidery.

The most common type of thread used in hand embroidery is known as “6-strand cotton embroidery floss,” but better known simply as embroidery floss. Floss consists of 6 strands of cotton thread that are twisted together, but the individual strands can be pulled apart to use for finer work. You can use as many strands as you like.

You can definitely use regular thread to hand embroider, but embroidery floss is thicker, glossier, and shows up better in your embroidery pattern. Not only is embroidery floss thicker than regular thread and has a much shinier surface, but it is sold in skeins rather than wrapped on a spool. 

Sewing thread is a smaller thread than hand embroidery thread, or floss, doesn’t have a sheen like embroidery thread, and is sold on a spool, not in skeins.

There are many different types of thread that can be used in hand embroidery, although I used the most common type here, the 6-strand cotton embroidery floss, to compare with regular sewing thread. I do mention in this article a couple of other things that can be used, but here are some of the other types of thread that can be used in hand embroidery: knitting yarn, crochet thread, perle cotton thread, wool crewel yarn, tapestry yarn, ribbon, beading thread or cord, silk thread, variegated embroidery thread, metallic embroidery thread, rayon floss, and a special thread called Sashiko embroidery thread to be used in Sashiko embroidery.

Here is a quilt that I made a few years ago as a wedding gift. The top is made from pieces of fabric that I hand embroidered. The second photo is a closeup of one of the pieces or sections, all of which I embroidered with skeins of embroidery floss to create what I call “crewel embroidery.”

Please keep in mind that this quilt is 12 years old and has been well used and washed many times, and the embroidery design and colors are still in good condition. I used the complete skein when I did this work, which means that I used all 6 threads in the skeins threaded into the needle together.

Quilt With Embroidery
Embroidery on a quilt

What is Crewel Embroidery?

The term crewel embroidery originated many centuries ago with the use of wool yarn to make bold designs such as those found in tapestries. The word “krua” actually means wool, and so the term crewel embroidery, taken from the word krua, means “wool embroidery.”

Even though I did not use wool yarn when I made the quilt pictured here and instead used cotton floss, I call this work crewel embroidery because of the bold, solid look that you see in these pictures. Regular embroidery calls for the pattern to be outlined with embroidery stitches while crewel designs like mine have the complete design covered in bold stitches.

What Is The Best Thread to Use for Hand Embroidery? 

The best thread to use for hand embroidery projects are the skeins of cotton embroidery thread that are made of stranded cotton. The skeins of thread consist of 6 individual threads that are twisted together to form each thread, and each of those 6 individual threads consist of 2 threads that are twisted together. 

Your personal preference, the type of stitch you are making, and the look that you want to achieve will all determine how many of the strands you will use. You can use 1 strand, some of the strands, or all six of the strands. The instructions or directions for each particular project will call for the number of strands needed.

There is a type of embroidery thread, however, called perle cotton that is made to be used without dividing. This type of thread is made to be used whole and will create a more textured effect for your project which is very similar to the look you will get when using yarn.

Can You Use Yarn Instead of Embroidery Thread For Hand Embroidery?

Knitting Yarn

You can use yarn instead of embroidery thread to get a different look to your project. However, using yarn instead of embroidery thread will probably require a different needle because of the larger size of the yarn that must be threaded through the eye of the needle and stitched through the fabric.

How Many Strands of Yarn Should I Use For Hand Embroidery?

If you are using knitting yarn instead of embroidery floss for hand embroidery, I would recommend not trying to use more than one strand at the time. One strand of knitting yarn is the equivalent of using the entire strand of embroidery floss. Using more than one strand at the time would be difficult to work with and could damage the fabric you are embroidering.

What Kind of Needles Should I Use For Hand Embroidery?

Hand Embroidery Needles

There are special needles available in most stores where needles are sold that are made specifically for hand embroidery. But, you can also use regular needles. The main three characteristics that you should look for in either a hand embroidery needle or a regular hand craft needle are:

  1. It should be of medium length;
  2. It should be thick enough to make a hole in the fabric large enough to pull your thread through; and
  3. It should have an eye large enough to accommodate the size of the embroidery thread that you will be using.
Hand Sewing Needles

2. The Thread Used in Machine Embroidery. 

While at least some of the hand embroidery thread is remarkably different from sewing thread in appearance, machine embroidery thread is very similar in appearance to sewing thread and is sold on spools that look exactly like the spools for sewing thread.

The primary difference in machine embroidery thread and sewing thread is their texture. While embroidery thread has a sheen that most sewing threads do not have, it is very difficult to tell which is which by just looking at them. But, the two types of thread are similar in that they are made from different types of yarn and that they are available in different weights.

Can I Use Sewing Thread For Machine Embroidery?

The short answer is yes, you can use sewing thread for machine embroidery or hand embroidery, and the sewing thread will be as easy to work with as the embroidery thread.

The primary difference in using sewing thread for either machine or hand embroidery will be in the way it looks. And that difference is due to the fact that embroidery threads are made with a high sheen and the sewing threads are not.

What is The Best Thread to Use for Machine Embroidery?

Machine Embroidery Thread

The thread most commonly used for machine embroidery is either polyester or a polyester and cotton blend. And the weights most often used are 40-weight, 60-weight, and 100-weight all purpose thread. Polyester thread is very durable and holds up well during cleaning or washing.

Rayon thread is very popular with machine embroiderers because it is easy to work with and looks good. The only drawback to using rayon thread is that it is not as strong and breaks more easily.

What Kind of Thread Should I Use For Bobbin Thread in Machine Embroidery?

Bobbin thread label

It is recommended that a 60-weight polyester filament thread be used in most regular sewing machines and home embroidery machines. The thread should be smooth, lint free, and durable to be effective for machine embroidery.

And, since the bobbin thread isn’t visible from the top, it isn’t necessary to match the color of the top thread, and many people use a white or clear thread for the bobbin thread for their machine embroidery project.

There are pre-wound bobbins available that are already filled with assorted types and colors of machine embroidery bobbin thread that you can purchase which save a lot of time while you are working on a project. Just be sure that the ones you buy will fit your machine. Most of the newer machines use a size A, class 15 bobbin, but some of the older machines take a different size.

What Kind of Needles Should I Use For Machine Embroidery?

Machine Embroidery Needles

There are sewing machine needles made specially for machine embroidery. They are different from regular sewing machine needles in that they have larger eyes and are sharper than regular needles.

But, if you will be using regular needles for machine embroidery, it is recommended that you use one size larger than the size recommended for your particular project to accommodate the larger thread and different types of fabric. For example, if your project calls for a size 50 embroidery needle, you can use a regular sewing machine needle in a size 60.

What is Meant by the Weight of Thread?

In discussing the weight of thread, the smaller the number, the thicker the thread. The weight is determined by the length of thread it will take to weigh 1 kilogram.

For example, a 50-weight thread will take 50 kilometers of thread to weigh 1 kilogram. A 100 weight thread will take 100 kilometers of thread to weigh 1 kilogram.

How Can You Tell the Weight of the Thread?

Since it is very difficult to tell the weight of thread by just looking at it, the weight is usually indicated on one end of the spool. The important thing to remember is that the higher the number, the thinner or finer the thread.

Embroidery thread will range from 30 to 120 in thickness. While it would be very difficult to tell the difference between a 50-weight thread and a 60-weight thread just by looking at it, it would be easier to tell the difference between a 40-weight thread and a 100-weight thread, because the 40-weight thread would be significantly thicker than the 100-weight thread. The 100-weight thread would be very fine.

Final Thoughts

Even though I recently bought a home sewing machine that will do machine embroidery and quilting, I personally prefer hand embroidery and quilting, but I’m in the process of experimenting with machine embroidery and am intrigued by the range of beautiful machine embroidery threads that are now available.

While both types of embroidery, hand and machine, give you beautiful results, hand embroidery allows you to use a greater variety of stitches and types of fabric and thread to create unique work that would be difficult to duplicate, and machine embroidery allows you to create multiple items which are identical.

If you are new to embroidery, I would recommend that you try both hand and machine embroidery to see which you prefer. You can then determine which would be a better fit for you.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss What Is the Strongest Sewing Thread?

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