Preparing your Thread

Preparing your Thread
Using modern mercerised threads, the preparation of thread is not as important as it once was, but a few little things do make a difference!

The first step to understanding is to know how thread is made. Embroidery thread is spun in a twist pattern, and the hank of thread is spun using a series of smaller bundles of raw material spun tightly together to make one long strand of thread. Several of these strands are then spun together to make different weights of thread, or wrapped together to make stranded thread.

Floss, the traditional name for stranded embroidery thread, is usually made of silk using a flat spun method, where the silk thread is unwound from the cocoon in one long strand, and then the thread spun in that length. It makes a truly delightful thread to work with and looks like candy floss with a beautiful texture and feel. That said – it really does take practice to work with – and the preparation of the thread.

For the most part, the preparation of your thread is pretty similar for all types. It doesn’t take long, but will make a difference.

Is it Colourfast?
With most commercial threads (e.g. DMC, Anchor), colourfastness is not a problem. The way the thread is made ensures that the colour will not bleed or run. You will find that it is the specialty “art” threads (e.g. hand dyed, special dyed) that can have colour run.

However , it never hurts to check, especially with the deeper colours (deep reds, blacks, etc) no matter what thread you are using. The easiest way is to cut off a small piece of thread (about 5cm) wet it and then lay it on a piece of paper towel to dry. If there is any run or bleed of colour, you will see it on the paper towel. Of course, if you hold it in your hand and find the colour in your hand, then you know that there is a fairly serious colour run problem!

All the colour run means is that there is excess colour on the thread that has not been rinsed out in the final step of the dying process; similar to what happens when you colour your hair.

You need to rinse the colour out, and then set the rest of the colour. The easiest way to do this is in a salt water solution. I make my weak solution using boiling water and ground table salt. The boiling water helps the salt to dissolve into the water. Mix the two in a bowl stirring until the salt dissolves. Once dissolved, allow the solution to grow cold. Take your thread and unwrap it, untwisting the skein until you have a loop of the thread. You don’t need to completely undo the skein – in fact if you try to do that, then you will just end up with a tangled mess. Gently place the skein of thread into the water and push it underneath until it is thoroughly soaked.
Allow it to sit there for half an hour. At the end of the half hour, check. If the water has not changed colour, then you will not have any problems with colour run. Take it out and rinse under cold water (to get rid of any salt) and lay on a paper towel to dry.

If there is colour in the water, then remove the thread and rinse in cold water until the water runs clear. Place on a paper towel to dry. If there is still colour on the towel, the repeat the rinsing process. I have rarely had to repeat this step. If so much colour comes out that the thread actually changes colour and is clearly a different shade to the original, or if the colour has bled unevenly and the thread is blotchy (and the company’s colour charts) then return it to where you bought it. As you have only used a mild salt solution on the thread, they should have no problems in taking it back. It is important that you do not use any chemicals, as they can (and often will) change the thread colour.

How does it Twist
No – I’m not talking about the dancing prowess of the thread here. I’m talking about the way it is spun.

Most thread is spun as a twist and that twist will either be twisted up or down on the skein. Pull a piece of thread and then look at it. You will see it twisting and can easily see if the nap of the thread lies down or up.

Most thread has the nap twisting down, which is what you want. The reason for this is that as you pull the thread through to the right side of your work, the action of the thread passing through the fabric strokes the nap down, and it lies smoothly on the fabric, without any “fuzzies”.

It is also important if you are using wool or crewel thread that has “fuzzies” as part of the thread that you think about this when using more than one strand for your stitching. If you double the thread in the needle (i.e. using one strand to make two strands), then you will have the nap facing one way for one strand and the opposite for the second strand, causing a situation where it is not always lying completely flat and smooth on your fabric. It is something you need to think of when planning your work.

Strand by Strand
This pertains to stranded thread and preparing to stitch using multiple strands.
Stranded thread still has the individual strands twisted together, however because it is designed to be pulled apart, the strands are not tightly twisted together. Because of this twist, the thread does not lie completely flat on the fabric.

When you need to use multiple strands, you should cut the thread, then pull the strands you need out, lie them flat and then thread your needle with them. This will make the threads lie next to each other, as opposed to twisting around each other. They will lie flatter on the fabric, and will give a better touch and feel to your work.
This is especially important if you are using silk threads, as the best properties of silk – the sheen and the touch – are somewhat lost in the twisting process.

Even if you are going to use all six strands of thread in your stitching, you should do this, and for the same reasons as using fewer strands.

Wax or No Wax?
Some stitchers will not set a stitch until they run their thread through some beeswax first. Others won’t have a bar of it.

This is a personal preference. Sometimes, if you are using stranded thread that seems very “fuzzy” it can help if you run it through the wax – but make sure that you run it through the correct way to lay the nap down.

Otherwise, personally, I have seen no real benefit to it. If you have another experience, please post in this thread in the forums and let me know!

Length of thread
You may think that the longer the piece of thread you use, the faster it is to stitch. However, always remember that you are passing this thread through the fabric multiple times, and each time it passes through fabric, it causes friction on the thread. This will have two effects on the thread – the first is that it will roughen the thread, causing the nap to fluff up and the thread to become fuzzy. The second is that the thread wars a little, and it can cause it to break (which then begins a whole other world of pain as you try to unpick stitching to finish the thread off neatly).

Of course, the longer piece of thread you use, the more chance there is of kinking and knotting as you work. This is especially the case if you are using a metal thread.
I try to keep my thread no longer than 30cm (1 foot) long.

Thread Quality

This one is easy. Only buy good quality thread. The better quality thread, the better your work will look. Colourfastness is usually not a problem at all with good quality thread, and it will also make the need for preparation less.

Bulk packs of “no-name” or unknown name threads may seem a good idea, but you just cannot guarantee the quality like you can with known brands.

My preference for cotton threads is DMC, Anchor or Madeira. For silk, I love Eterna and Au Ver A Soie. If I’m buying crewel wool, I like Appletons or DMC Tapestry Wool.


DMC Prism Six-Strand Floss Jumbo Pack, 105-Pack

DMC Special Floss Gift Pack

100 Anchor Embroidery Cross Stitch Threads Floss/skeins from ThreadsRus

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2012 Megan McConnell

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