Tips on Selecting Thread

Which threads work best for needlepoint

Which threads work best for needlepoint

Today we have a guest post from Brenda at Needlepoint for Fun that has tips on selecting thread for needlepoint.


Is the fiber colorfast? Most standard cotton and wool fibers are colorfast, but some of the boutique threads may not be. If even one fiber in a stitched design is not colorfast then you cannot wet-block it. To determine colorfastness, dampen a small piece of the yarn or thread and blot over the damp area with a paper towel. If the towel picks up any color then you know the answer!

What is the project going to be used for? Items that will be exposed to daily wear and tear, such as footstools and chair pillows, are best stitched in a heavier duty fiber like wool or cotton. Some fibers such as velvet and metallics do not wear very well when they are repeatedly pulled through the canvas during the stitching process. If the yarns are allowed to wear thin in this way the canvas can be exposed. Regardless of the thread you are using do not cut your thread lengths too long. Repeated pulling of the fiber through the canvas will rub off the nap of the yarn and it will start to thin out. This will affect the coverage you achieve on the canvas. If you keep your thread lengths short (say 18 inches, or shorter for specialty fibers), then they will not wear as much.

Will the fiber cover the canvas? Wool yarn is lofty and it gets flattened as it is pulled through the holes, and then it bounces back. For this reason it tends to provide good canvas coverage. Coverage is also affected by the stitch you use – straight stitches (vertical or horizontal) tend to need a thicker fiber than Tent Stitch, and cross stitches may need an even thinner fiber. As well as following the manufacturer’s advice the only way to find out for sure is to buy a small amount and try it out on your canvas. But, as a guide, here’s a list to refer to for some of the commonly-used fiber types. (For boutique fibers you should refer to the manufacturers’ recommendations).

  • Tapestry Yarn – Single strand thread, smooth and tightly twisted. Does not split, so can only be used as a single ply on 10-12 mesh needlepoint canvas for tent stitch.
  • Persian Yarn – Three-strand yarn, loosely twisted. Can be split down to individual strands. It does not make as smooth a stitch as tapestry yarn. As a 3-strand yarn, you can use it on 10-12 count canvas for Tent Stitch. Split the threads and use 2 strands on 14 and one on 18.
  • Crewel Yarn – Single strand, 2 ply loosely twisted, fine yarn. You can use on most canvas sizes, but will need multiple strands when stitching onto higher than Congress Cloth. Some stitchers with loose tension might be able to use one strand on 18-mesh, but most stitchers use two for good coverage.
  • Embroidery Floss – Usually made up of 6 strands that can be separated. Six strands will cover 12-13 mesh and you can split the fiber to use on smaller mesh canvases.
  • Pearl Cotton – A silky, high-luster, indivisible cotton thread. Comes in several sizes, #3, #5, #8, #12, and #16. #3 covers 12-13 mesh (Tent Stitch), #5 covers 14-18 mesh (Tent Stitch), #8 covers Congress Cloth. Thinner sizes than recommended work best for overstitches.
wooden laying tool

wooden laying tool

Should I strip the yarn? Any yarn or fiber that is more than a single strand has been loosely twisted together. Multiple strand threads can be stripped down and used in canvases of smaller mesh size. Persian wool and embroidery floss are examples of fibers that can be stripped. To strip the thread you need to separate each strand and then put the required number of strands back together again – strip and re-lay the strands even if you are going to use them all. To stitch with a stripped fiber, especially if you are stitching straight stitches, you may need a laying tool so that the individual strands lay smooth and flat on the canvas.

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