Everything you need to know about thread when you’re just getting started

Machine embroidery is exciting, yet daunting for a newcomer. Beginners tend to overlook the importance of understanding the different machine embroidery thread types and how to use them. You’re here because you want to know more, to be better, and to improve your creative knowledge and abilities. You’ve come to the right place. We’ll cover polyester, rayon, cotton, silk, and the slightly notorious metallic threads, and when to apply them in your work.

Machine Embroidery Thread on Rack

Think of embroidery as a recipe, and threads as an ingredient

Before we dive into threads, it is critical to understand that not all threads are alike, and not all machines are alike. Matching thread brand to machine and needle is like finding the perfect recipe. Some thread types and brands will work better with certain machines and needles.

It’s crucial to test your thread on a scrap of fabric first rather than your nephew’s favorite jumper. Ensure that the material you’ll be testing on is the same as the material you’ll use for your project. Order a small amount of thread first for proper testing to see what works best with your machine and your creative intent.

Polyester thread

Polyester embroidery thread

Polyester thread has become the industry standard and for a good reason. It is strong, durable, colorfast, and can even withstand chlorine bleach.

Polyester thread provides a sheen that makes your embroidery look professional and feel professional. This thread comes in a wide variety of colors and is known to run smoothly.

It is an excellent choice for general embroidery, especially outdoor clothing or children’s garments. We all know children are mess-free little angels but when they do make a mess, polyester will withstand the cleaning process.

The last thing any embroidery machine wants is a thread that continuously breaks. Your machine will be happy when using polyester thread in your projects. However, a polyester thread shouldn’t be used for all of your projects. I’ll explain further below.

Rayon thread

Rayon Embroidery Thread

Rayon thread is a common choice due to its incredible selection of colors and high sheen, even more so than polyester.

Its only weakness is its strength when compared to polyester. Polyester has a much higher breaking point than rayon. That is why it is essential to test different rayon thread brands with your machine to see how they hold up with stitch intensive designs and high-speed stitching.

Generally, rayon thread still performs well during high-speed stitching. It is softer than polyester and is more suitable for intricate work or work with freestanding lace.

Cotton Thread

Where polyester and rayon pride themselves on a high sheen look, a cotton thread has a beautiful soft sheen. You can order cotton threads with a matte finish to further your creativity. It performs well in most machines, but again, it’s good to test it out to make sure it runs smoothly.

Cotton threads can be purchased in standard thickness, but they also come in very fine varieties, suitable for incredibly intricate and delicate work. Keep in mind that the finer the thread, the more likely it is to break while embroidering.

Silk thread

Silk is luxurious and sought after in the fashion world, and is considered equally luxurious when it comes to machine embroidery. Silk thread is strong and fine, yet has a sheen and softness that is unmatched by both polyester and rayon.

For these reasons, silk thread can be expensive, and it might be challenging to acquire specific colors. It’s the thread you’ll want to use for high-end projects or embroidering on deluxe fabrics.

Metallic thread

Metallic Embroidery Thread

Ah yes, the thread that keeps on breaking. Metallic threads are notorious for breaking during embroidery. They provide beautiful colors and shines that other threads cannot emulate. Many new embroiderers are easily frustrated with this thread for those reasons.

These problems can be easily fixed with a few adjustments to your spooling technique and by making sure to use a needle specific to metallic thread embroidery. Click here to see a detailed explanation of how you can avoid metallic thread breakage.

Metallic threads are composed of a central core that is wrapped in metals or foils and then dyed with the desired color. These strands tend to fall apart easily, which is where the integrity of the thread seems to fail. Picking up the high-quality metallic threads will reduce breakage when embroidering, and are worth the extra penny.

More of a visual learner?

Here’s a great video from our Machine Embroidery for Beginners Series focused on thread types and tips:

A brief lesson on thread thickness

In the machine embroidery world, thread thickness is referred to by weight. The larger the number, the finer the thread, the easier it will break. Finer threads are good for heirloom quality embroidery, and thicker threads are better for general work. 

For example, the standard thickness for rayon thread would be referred to as 40 wt thread. A 20 wt thread would be thicker, and a 60 wt thread would be finer. When choosing thread weight, it all depends on the desired result or purpose of your project. 

For high quality, high detail designs over a small surface area, you might use a finer thread. For larger designs, maybe for materials that will be outdoors or in constant use, you might want a thicker thread.

However, in general, 40 wt thread should be your normal go-to as most embroidery designs (including ours) are created with this thread weight in mind.

So what thread is the best machine embroidery thread?

If you’re hungry for an answer, it’s polyester. If you’re hungry for the right answer, it’s whatever thread you need to give your project the embroidering integrity and creative genius it deserves. Polyester is an excellent all-rounder, but rayon is more suitable for softer work. A metallic thread might break easily, but it’ll give your piece that additional flair it needs. Silk is expensive, but it’ll add a luxurious look and feel to your projects.

When it comes down to choosing the correct thread for your work, remember to test it first. It is always best to have all the colors you need from a brand you trust. It’ll save you time, money, and headache. To learn more tricks and tips regarding embroidery thread watch our video here.

embroidery thread on machine

What is a bobbin thread? Why does it matter?

Without a bobbin and its thread, you wouldn’t have a stitch. It’s an essential piece of any machine, and you cannot embroider without one. A bobbin is located directly under the needle. When the needle plunges through the fabric, the bobbin wheel creates a loop with your main thread and wraps it around the bobbin thread, then pulls it tight. That’s how you get a stitch.

Bobbin thread can be a different color than your embroidery thread, but you’ll want to be sure it matches or is close to matching the color of your piece. Bobbin thread is seen on the underside of your embroidery, and can sometimes shine through your design. Have you ever turned over some embroidery and seen that the color of the thread on the bottom doesn’t necessarily match the top?

Depending on what you are embroidering, there are a few different options in terms of colors for your bobbin thread. Generally, you want the color of your bobbin thread to match the color or color tone of your piece. 

If you are embroidering a dark design, perhaps navy blue or black, you’ll want dark bobbin thread. If you’re embroidering a pale yellow or white, you’ll want a light bobbin thread. You can buy pre-wound bobbin thread in black and white to save time – you won’t have to wind it yourself.

If you want to ensure that your piece is flawless, you’ll want to use the same thread and color for your bobbin as you’d use for your embroidery. It might be hard to purchase pre-wound bobbins with the same thread as your embroidery thread, so you’ll have to wind it yourself. Most machines come with a bobbin winder, but if not, you can order one on Amazon.

P.S. Want to learn more embroidery basics? Check out our complete Machine Embroidery for Beginner’s Guide.

What’s Next? Start Thread Testing!

Now that you know how and when to better use some of your ingredients, you can start your recipe! Of course, before you can choose your thread type, you have to know what design you’re going to stitch out. But, please keep in mind:

Using embroidery designs that were not digitized properly is one of the main reasons you may experience thread breaks.

For this reason, it’s important that you use quality designs while testing out new thread types on your machine. Here at Embroidery Legacy, we personally guarantee that every embroidery design sold on our site was digitized properly (digitizing is the art of creating embroidery designs using embroidery software). For polyester, cotton, silk, and metallic thread we offer a large selection of close to 30,000 designs. Click here to view our embroidery design categories now. Or if you’re interested in using rayon thread, we offer many freestanding lace designs that were originally created in our family’s embroidery factories back in the 1950s. Click here to view our freestanding lace embroidery designs now

Happy stitching and please let us know which thread type is your go-to in the comments below!