Thread Primer: An Introduction to Selecting Embroidery Thread

The purpose of this article is not to cover the entire science of how thread is manufactured along with the details of every potential embroidery thread available. Instead, we’ll give you a brief overview of how to select and use common embroidery threads.

Here are the two most basic criteria when selecting threads for your design:

  1. Always use a high quality thread designed for embroidery; this includes bobbin thread.
  2. Look at the design’s color reference chart to see if any and what types of specialty threads are used.


Attempting to reduce your embroidery costs by purchasing cheap thread is not a good economical decision; price is not the only cost involved with thread. Cheap thread breaks and shred more easily. Thread that is abraded simply going through the sewing process will result in embroidery that looks “sand papered.”

Your sewing time will increase, your frustration level will increase, and your sewing quality will decrease. Is that worth saving a little money? Embroidery lasts the lifetime of the garment so use quality ingredients!

A good quality embroidery thread not only makes an embroiderer’s work possible, but it also makes it more appealing to the eye, and to be perfectly honest, worth more money.

So what constitutes a good thread? First of all, select one that has been specifically made for embroidery, which means both the needle thread and the bobbin. Don’t be tempted to substitute serger thread for embroidery bobbin thread.

My preference is for spun polyester pre-wound bobbins. If I’m using a machine that requires a machine-specific bobbin, I simply wind one of those bobbins from the prewound.

A good-quality thread is smooth and feeds evenly. A poor-qual

ity thread has thick and thin areas that restrict the smooth flow, causing excessive lint and strip-back. Hold a light thread against a dark fabric and a dark thread against a light fabric to check the quality. Look for color fastness, which is the ability to retain color during normal use, including under proper laundering conditions.

Color fastness does not mean bleach fast or even bleach resistant. Check also for the ability to retain color when exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.

Embroidery threads are not highly twisted and are the right weight and strength required for decorative stitching. Thread manufactured for regular sewing is highly twisted and is stronger and heavier than typical decorative threads designed for decorative stitching and for these reasons it is unsuitable for embroidery.


Up to the early 1990s, rayon was the overwhelming thread of choice for embroidery. It had the strength, luster, and softness to run smoothly in the machine and produce a beautiful, consistent stitch.

With today’s high-sheen trilobal polyester threads, it can be difficult to tell the difference between rayon and poly. Polyester has improved immensely in sewing quality since the mid 90s and has gained in popularity and today is the fiber of choice for most embroiderers.

Poly wears better, stands up to strong/frequent laundering, is bleach resistant, and resists a breaking during sewing better than rayon. In my experience, polyester tends to pucker more after embroidery, especially if machine tensions are overly tight.

This has to do the thread stretching during stitching. Once the item is removed from the hoop and the thread relaxes back to its normal length, it will pull in puckers. Choosing a high quality thread that controls stretch along with managing machine tensions and slowing down sewing speed can eliminate this problem.


When selecting threads for your design, first look the design’s color reference chart to determine what colors were used and if any specialty threads were used. Reputable digitizers will test their designs using any required specialty threads because adjustments must be made during the digitizing process.

If you opt for a different type of thread, you may get undesirable results. For example, if you substitute in a metallic thread for embroidery thread, the design’s stitch length may be too short and/or the density of the area may be too high to permit smooth sewing. Translation: lots of thread breaks!


Thread weight is an indicator of size or thickness but not a measurement of it. Instead it is a measure of the length of thread  in kilometers required to weigh one kilogram. Therefore, a greater weight number indicates a thinner thread. However, that doesn’t mean that all 40 wt. threads are the same thickness.

Thus, 60 wt is finer than 40 wt, which is finer than 30 wt. In general, most designs are digitized for 40wt rayon or polyester thread.

Yes, technically speaking, there are ever so slight differences in how thick these threads actually are but for our purposes it is not worth considering. Other thread types may weigh out as a 40 wt but actually be thicker or thinner than rayon or poly.

Note that the 2-color twist threads are typically 35 wt and will result in a thicker feel but in most cases can be substituted for a 40 wt.

The important take-away here is that the higher the weight number, the thinner the thread. This is opposite of needle measurements, which measures the shaft diamete


I often find myself in this situation. For monochromatic (single color) designs, this is not an issue at all.

And many times you are selecting colors based on the fabric choice or personal preference. I’m also confident in my ability to pick colors that blend well even in most multi-color designs.

Consider the situation where you are embroidering a design with many colors featuring tight blends. In this instance, substituting brands might pose a problem if your brand doesn’t offer a comparable color range.

I ran into this issue with a series of dogs I digitized in a brand of thread that wasn’t widely available to home embroiderers. I simply could not find the range of browns, beiges, and caramels I needed in the brand popular at that time.

So if you need a color in a different brand, get it! If you have comparable colors in your collection that you are happy with, then by all means, use those instead. There are no thread color police (that company is out of business) who will harass you if you don’t use the same color as the original designer.


Thread can age rapidly if exposed to sun, light, heat, moisture, dust, dirt, and dryness. Old thread breaks and shreds more easily.

Thread fibers can become bruised through dropping or bumping and oils from your hands can break down some fibers. (Rayons are more susceptible to these problems.)

I especially like the new threads from Hemingworth. Their plastic caps protect thread from bumps and dirt. eliminate tangling, and keep thread running smoothly on the machine. Plus, they feature a beautiful color range.


No discussion of thread is complete without also talking about needles. The needle has the ultra important task of carrying the thread through the fabric, picking up a loop from the bobbin to form the stitch, and then pulling the thread back out.

The correct needle is the smallest one that can do this repeatedly without damage to either the fabric or the thread and without causing excessive needle deflection. For 40wt thread I prefer a size 75/11 needle unless the fabric is “tough” and then I’ll move up a size to the slightly heavier 80/12.

Synthetic fabrics will wear down a needle faster than natural fibers so be sure to change the needle as nece ssary. As with cheap thread, cheap needles or using a needle too long is false economy.


So, there you have it. Yes, there are other things to know about needles and thread but these are the essentials for getting off and running with your embroidery machine.


  • Choose high quality threads designed specifically for embroidery
  • Refer to the design’s color reference chart for color and type selection
  • Protect thread by storing in a temperature and humidity controlled area and protected from direct light, dust, and dirt. Handle with care to avoid damage to fibers.
  • Use embroidery needles in a size appropriate for your thread and fabric choices.

All Hemingworth spools come complete with the patent pending spool, cap, and stopper system. Remove the soft plastic stopper but leave the clear plastic cap on while stitching, for perfect tangle free thread delivery. When storing, reinsert the soft stopper for hassle free thread storage.


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Fine Print: Lindee G Embroidery is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Lindee G Embroidery is also an affiliate for Embroidery.comNancy’s NotionsEmbrilliance, and Craftsy. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, which helps to offset the cost of running this site. 🙂


As always, I recommend supporting your local dealer but if they don’t carry this incredible thread, you can easily shop online:


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