All Things Thread: Machine Embroidery Thread 101

Which thread types make for great embroidery designs? The answer isn’t as easy as you may think. Read on and stock up on the thread you’ll use most so you’re prepared for whatever project comes your way.Screen Shot 2019 02 20 at 1.26.07 PM All Things Thread: Machine Embroidery Thread 101

From rayon to polyester to cotton and more, the thread you choose greatly impacts the final embroidery stitchout, and it’s best to have a plethora of thread types, as well as colors, on hand in your sewing room so you’re ready for whatever design, project and fabric type you want to sew at any time.

Depending on the machine brand you own, there’s a suggested thread brand to use. The color identifier for the built-in designs in the machine will correspond to the suggested thread brand. Some machines have the capability to convert the thread brand on screen or in software so you’re able to match the design colors with what you have on hand or your preferred thread brand. Color charts for each thread brand are also available to download online, so you can match the digitizer’s intended colors exactly (or at least come really close). 

Here you’ll see many thread brands featured to showcase different colors, types and weights of major manufacturers in the embroidery industry. Decide which brand is right for you or purchase different brands, depending on the type, weight, spool shape and size you prefer.


Not too long ago, it was general practice to use rayon for all embroidery stitchouts. The sheen and strength unsurpassed many other thread types, and rayon was the most readily available specialty thread labeled for embroidery use.

It’s common practice now to use other thread types for stitchouts, depending on the fabric weight and intended end result. From rayon to polyester to wool and metallic, a few tweaks to the thread delivery (horizontal to vertical, external thread stands and various spool-pin cap sizes) and stitchout speed allow for much more thread experimentation. Plus, each thread brand provides great support on their websites to guide you through the embroidery process, leaving no stitchout to chance.

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Rayon is still the most preferred thread type for machine embroidery due to its high sheen and reflective nature. It’s made from cellulose and can withstand the high speeds of most embroidery machines without breaking and shredding.


Polyester threads are similar to rayon in durability, but they aren’t as shiny and reflective as rayon. The thread is man-made from oil and is synthetic. It’s fade-resistant and colorfast, making it a popular option for projects that may suffer from frequent washing and/or wearing.
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Cotton threads are softer than rayon and polyester and more susceptible to breakage; however, slowing down the embroidery speed should eliminate the probability. Cotton thread is most suited to lightweight fabrics and also produces delicate freestanding lace. The matte finish of cotton produces great tone-on-tone embroideries that have a subtle finish rather than high-gloss impact.

Wool thread isn’t widely used for machine embroidery because it’s most suited to heavyweight fabrics. The thread is bulkier than its cotton counterpart, often resulting in a nubby texture, which may be desired for a hand-embroidered or crewel-type look. Wool thread comes in different weights and it’s best to choose embroidery designs that are digitized with this thread bulk in mind.


Silk threads are the best choices when working with delicate fabrics, such as satin, charmeuse and organza. Silk is surprisingly strong and can withstand the high speeds of most embroidery machines. It has a nice sheen and produces luxurious stitchouts that feel soft and supple. Use silk thread for lingerie embroidery or special-occasion garments when a couture result is desired (and when your wallet is full!).

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Bobbin thread labeled as such is designed for use only in the bobbin for machine embroidery applications. It’s lightweight yet durable and well suited for high-speed stitching. Typically in white or black, chosen depending on the stabilizer and thread colors, bobbin thread comes in many sizes and should match the thread weight that’s used in the needle. The bobbin thread shouldn’t be visible when a balanced stitchout is complete. If the thread is seen, adjustments are needed including, but not limited to, rethreading, using a different needle size or type, rewinding the bobbin or slowing the machine speed. If the problem persists or the design is visible on the project wrong side when using or wearing, wind the bobbin with the same thread that’s used in the needle and plan to switch bobbins with each color change.

TIP: Choose the embroidery needle size based on the thread type and weight. Run the thread through the needle eye before installing it onto the machine to ensure it passes through without interruption.


The wide availability of specialty threads is part of what makes machine embroidery so fun! Most threads in this category require a specialty needle in order to ensure a balanced and proper stitchout. Many require a slower machine speed or a different threading method to ensure the thread doesn’t twist or break on its way to the needle eye. Consult the thread manufacturer for specific tips regarding the thread in question. A couple of quick modifications are likely all you need to achieve a professional finish when using these threads.

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Metallic threads are fragile, especially when used at a high speed. Use a vertical spool pin, whether on the machine or as an external attachment, to greatly reduce breakage risk. Make sure to use a metallic embroidery needle, in the size appropriate for the thread weight.


High quality glow-in-the-dark thread is polyester. The glow can last up to 10 hours in certain thread types; some need to be “charged” by putting the thread up to a light source, while others produce a subtle natural glow. Glow thread works best with dense fill stitch designs because the multiple thread layers produce maximum glow. Stock at least one glow spool in your sewing stash for Halloween décor, fun monograms or designs for kid rooms.


Glitter thread is also flat, but it’s twice as strong as traditional Mylar thread. Use a topstitch needle and slow the machine speed to its lowest setting for best results.

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Not to be confused with glow-in-the-dark, neon thread is bright, strong and has a high sheen. Typically polyester, neon thread is colorfast and easy to sew.

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Variegated threads have a multi-colored dye pattern throughout. They are excellent choices for quilting designs, as the thread will stand out from the fabric to result in a striking finish. Variegated thread also works well for fill designs that lend themselves to a repeating color pattern.


Speaking of quilting designs, monofilament thread is used when invisibility is desired. Quilting in the ditch or embroidering the final step to secure an applique design is done with professional polish using these types of invisible thread. Depending on the type, the thread may stretch when used at high speeds, so use caution when winding bobbins and embroidering certain design steps.

For a full list of sources, check out the full article in CME Jan/Feb 2019.



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One Response to All Things Thread: Machine Embroidery Thread 101

  1. Very very good content thanks for sharing

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