Although every effort is made to make threads colourfast, no manufacturer guarantees that their colours wonxt "run." As dyeing by-products and waste can have a negative impact on the environment, manufacturers have changed their dyeing processes. To stitchers, this means threads which once were essentially colourfast may not be. This is also the reason some of the colours have changed slightly over the years

Therefore,it is necessary to "set" the dye on floss before using it so that excess dye is removed from the surface of the thread

Prewashing your floss is the only way to avoid the unpleasant surprise of completing a project only to have one of the colors bleed. Most floss colors these days are fairly color fast but there are always exceptions. Colours to be wary of are reds, dark blues, dark purples, dark greens, bright yellows, bright oranges. To be safe, prewash your skeins of floss one color at a time, in a small bowl or sink.

Pull off labels. Set aside in some sequence if you don't recognize the floss colors by sight

Take two (plastic preferred) twist-ties and fasten the skein at opposite ends so it stays in a loop.

Wash it with a gentle soap like ORVUS soap. This soap is used by museum conservators because it is non-abrasive and free of harsh chemicals. Rinse thoroughly, ten rinses for every wash . . The skein will be difficult to handle while wet; be careful you don't snarl it. Don't swish it around, for example!

If any of the floss colors begin to bleed, continue rinsing until the water remains clear. Lay the wet floss on a white towel and roll it up in the towel. Lay it out flat to dry. Be sure the floss is completely dry before stitching with it.

Although every effort is made to make threads colourfast, no manufacturer guarantees that their colours wonxt "run." As dyeing by-products and waste can have a negative impact on the environment, manufacturers have changed their dyeing processes. To stitchers, this means threads which once were essentially colourfast may not be. This is also the reason some of the colours have changed slightly over the years

Therefore,it is necessary to "set" the dye on floss before using it so that excess dye is removed from the surface of the thread

Prewashing your floss is the only way to avoid the unpleasant surprise of completing a project only to have one of the colors bleed. Most floss colors these days are fairly color fast but there are always exceptions. Colours to be wary of are reds, dark blues, dark purples, dark greens, bright yellows, bright oranges. To be safe, prewash your skeins of floss one color at a time, in a small bowl or sink.

Pull off labels. Set aside in some sequence if you don't recognize the floss colors by sight

Take two (plastic preferred) twist-ties and fasten the skein at opposite ends so it stays in a loop.

Wash it with a gentle soap like ORVUSx soap. This soap is used by museum conservators because it is non-abrasive and free of harsh chemicals. Rinse thoroughly, ten rinses for every wash . . The skein will be difficult to handle while wet; be careful you don't snarl it. Don't swish it around, for example!

If any of the floss colors begin to bleed, continue rinsing until the water remains clear. Lay the wet floss on a white towel and roll it up in the towel. Lay it out flat to dry. Be sure the floss is completely dry before stitching with it.

Setting Dyes

There are several "old stitchers' tales" floating around, such as "soak in salt water" and "soak in vinegar water" to set the dye.

I believe this is risky business. Because you don't know what mordant was used in the dye process, you run the risk of damaging your floss.

Another suggestion from that manufacturer deals with removing dyes that have already bled. Soak the piece in ice cold water until the color starts to come out. Then rub an ice cube over the area; put the piece back in fresh ice water and soak again. Repeat the process until the area is clear. It make take several times, but it apparently works.

18 inch (45 cm) strands of floss are convenient lengths. Use shorter strands of specialty flosses like metallics.

Separating floss

Since most embroidery floss comes in skeins or on spools and is typically sold in six-ply or six-strand packaging (Six threads twisted together) and most patterns suggest using 2 or 3 ply the floss must be separated before using.

Instead of trying to pull two threads apart from the 6-ply strand, pull them one at a time It's easier and it allows you to let each thread untwist itself by holding the cut thread in the air until it finishes untwisting.

The two separated strands will lie on the fabric more smoothly and flatter than if they were still twisted around each other.

Floss has nap. It's not very noticeable without a practiced eye or feel, but it can affect how often your thread gets tangled or how fuzzy it gets after repeatedly passing in and out of the fabric. There are several ways to try to figure which way the nap goes. Run the thread one direction through your fingers and then the other. Whichever feels smoother or looks shinier is the direction with the nap.

Make sure that both pieces of thread are running in the same direction for less thread tangling.

Never use knots in needlework. (Anchoring with knots tends to cause a bulge on the front of the fabric when the final piece is mounted.) To start, hold the end of the floss on the reverse side and stitch over it with the first couple stitches. To finish off a strand run the needle under a few stitches on the back. Avoid anchoring darker coloured threads under lighter threads If you work from darkest to lightest this is never a problem. The colour tends to show through to the front. Trim the tails.

Another technique for anchoring floss is to separate one long strand of floss and then double it over on itself. This forms a loop at one end This method is not recommended as you then have the nap on the floss running in both directions .. This does cause a difference in how the light plays on the fibres. In addition, the one strand that was going in against the grain will be slightly more roughened by the stitching in and out of the fabric.

Anchor floss tends to give better coverage than DMC. DMC, being a little thinner has historically been used by cross stitchers and Anchor by needlepointers / canvasworkers because it gets better coverage. Although many of the colors are a good match, many are not. So, by using both you increase your color range. Needle Necessities uses Anchor as the base thread for the overdyes whereas Weeks Dye Works used DMC.


Estimated Stitch Counts

An estimate as to how many stitches can be obtained from an 8 m skein of 6 ply floss for various stitches per inch on canvas, based on figures obtained for different stitch counts.







  Two Threads    
Count Generous  Average Thrifty  
18 1800 2000 2300
16 1600 1800 2050
14 1400 1600 1800
12 1200 1400 1550
  Three Threads
Count Generous  Average Thrifty  
12 800 900 1000
10 650 750 850
8 450 500 550


You can calculate your floss usage by working a one inch square area in the desired stitch (cross-stitch, etc.) Before stitching, measure the length of your floss strands into equal lengths. Stitch the one inch area, keeping track of how many strands you use. Once the sample is complete, calculate the number of stitches in the square inch you did ( 14 count 156 stitches ) If the stitch count is given for each colour you can calculate how many skeins of each colour you will need

and calculate how many square inches your design area will use. For example, a 10" x 16" design is 160 square inches. Multiply the number of inches of floss by the number of square inches in the design. This gives you the total number of inches of floss needed for the design.

Read your floss label to see how many yards each skein contains most contain 8 metres or 8.7 yards. Multiply that yardage by 36 (36 inches in a yard) to see how many inches of floss are in your skein (313.2 inches).

Determine how many strands of floss you will use at one time. If you use all six strands of floss, your inches per skein remain as in the step above. But if you use only three strands of floss, you'll need to multiply the number of inches in your skein by two to determine how many inches of floss are available in that skein.

Next, calculate how many skeins of floss are needed. Divide the total inches of floss needed by the number of inches per skein.


The history of silk use in embroidery covers more than 5,000 years since it was first processed in China. Silk is an animal fiber made from the viscous fluid of the silkworm. Originally, silkworm cocoons were collected from trees. In 2640 B.C., a Chinese Empress discovered that a silk cocoon could be unwound to give a long filament if it was placed in hot water to soften the natural glue or sericin that held the cocoon together. Fo Xi, Chinaxs first Emperor, taught the Chinese people to cultivate mulberry trees and to raise silkworms.

The first variety of silkworm to be domesticated was the Bombyx Mori. Over the centuries, at least thirteen other species have been cultivated. In addition, there are more than 80 varieties of wild silkworms.

In the history of needlework, silk was a primary thread for embroidery, used in tapestries and garments, blackwork, and samplers. When the world was at war in the beginning of the 1940xs, however, the silk supply literally dried up overnight. Chemical companies developed synthetic fibers commercially, and these fibers replaced silk almost instantly. As a result, for more than fifty years, people have looked upon silk as rare, expensive and delicate.

Today, with the rising interest in natural fibers, embroiderers acknowledge silk for its practical and lustrous qualities. The translucent cellular structure of silk allows it to absorb dyes and to reflect light to a high degree, giving the finished product a pure color and a beautiful luster. When worked in specialty stitches and laid properly, silk has a bright sheen unrivaled by other threads. Due to the different cellular structures of silk and cotton, for example, silk is very smooth while cotton is fuzzy.

Silk also remains lustrous and strong over time, while cotton loses its luster and strength. Archaeologists found that silk in China, buried in tombs for 3,000 years, was the only fiber that remained intact and recognizable. Also, in Sweden, while dredging a channel in the harbor where an old warehouse had burned, black silk skeins buried under mud for 27 years were discovered. After cleaning, they found that the color, strength, and lustre still remained.

Choose silk thread for its unparalleled lustre, texture, and elegance. It adds a richness that raises your needlework to a higher level. Whether used in sampler work, needlepoint, or other techniques, silk threads enable needleworkers to play with light and with textures in their stitchery. It is an affordable thread that is perfect for treasured, keepsake needlework. Its softness, too, makes silk the ultimate in stitching enjoyment"Silk differs from cotton in that it possesses greater strength - 1.4 times as strong as steel of the same diameter - and a translucency that absorbs and reflects light, giving the finished product a beautiful, shimmering lustre. Silk also has 3 times more yardage per pound than cotton of equal diameter. Because of its smooth surface, silk flows easily through Aida, Canvas or any other fabric you choose to work with, and adds lustre unsurpassed by any other fibre.

Silk is easier to use than cotton because it is "smooth" whereas cotton is "fuzzy" due to differing cellular structures. Silk remains lustrous and strong, while cotton loses its lustre and strength over time. In fact, archeologists found that silk in China, buried in tombs for 3000 years, was the only fiber that remained intact and recognizable. Also, in Sweden, while dredging a channel in the harbor where an old warehouse had burned, black silk skeins buried under mud for 27 years were discovered. After washing, they found that the color, strength and lustre still remained.

You have the option between spun silks (similar to cotton floss in that it has a "direction") and filament silks (which are one long filament of silk from the cocoon and have exceptional sheen) in the silk arsenal. I am most familiar with the Kreinik threads so I can tell you that their Silk Mori is spun and Silk Serica is filament. I also have a bit of Ping Ling which is filament. Spun silk strands should be separated and recombined just like cotton. Filament strands can be used right off the reel if you wish or can be separated.

Silk looks delicate but is actually a very strong fiber. Short lengths are used to maintain maximum sheen. I keep my silk dry at all times and make certain hands are clean. I use gauze mounted in mat board so I don't have to touch the fabric/fibers as much. I am becoming quite addicted to silk and think the only real downside is there aren't enough colors...yet!

Although silk is a very strong fiber it is extremely vulnerable. It is an animal fiber composed of protein which can be deteriorated by strong alkalis. In high humidity these fibers can absorb about 20 percent of their weight in water, and when wet, they lose strength. It is the most sensitive of all natural fibers to sunlight. Air pollution can take a terrible toll on it. The sunlight accelerates decomposition, while even the oxygen in the atmosphere causes fibers to lose strength and eventually be destroyed. Silk is also a poor conductor of electricity, especially at low humidity. It builds up static charges quickly. Silk decomposes in rot producing conditions such as moisture. One other note here use a needle one size smaller than normal when stitching with silk. For example on 28 count fabric use a # 28 needle. It may cause you to have to thread each strand individually, but because there is less area in the eye for the thread to travel and wear

Kreinik Mfg. Co., Inc. in Parkersburg, West Virginia, offers stranded silks in over 300 vibrant colors. It is recommended that you order enough of each color for your project to obtain the same dye lot. To ensure lasting beauty if your piece becomes soiled, have it dry cleaned. Do not wet block any silk work. If you are using silk for highlights only, do all other areas first, block the work, and then complete the canvas with the silk. This process also applies to highlighting over any other yarn.


Try to work one color at a time (do a large area first) and plot your traveling before you stitch-no traveling allowed; it shows through the silk.

Keep your hands VERY clean. It is not recommended to wash silks in any project.

Filament silks are created from long, continuous strands as they are unwound from cocoons. They have a very high sheen.

Spun silks are made of shorter fibers. They come from broken cocoons or the beginning and end of cocoons. This gives them a creamier luster.

Eterna Silk

Eterna Silk is a 100% silk filament thread, available in these thread types: Stranded, MiniTwist, Silk Twist, and Overdyed Silks. Affordably priced and available in a wide range of colors.

2 strands together equal a thread weight slightly heavier than one strand of popular cotton flosses. 1 single strand can be used for delicate embroidery.

Stranded is a virtually flat silk, resulting in a very high luster. Stranded is suitable for embroidery, satin stitch, cross stitch, braiding, kumi-himo, Japanese silk embroidery, fly-tying, beaded flower stem wrapping, or any application requiring a very high luster. Available in paper wrapped skeins, pre-wound on cardboard bobbins (extra charge for pre-wound bobbins), or plastic zip lock bags.

545 solid colors; colors are labeled with a large "S" after the color number. 12-strand, 5 meters

100 Overdyed Silk shades, 12-strand, 5 meters

Available in these popular thread sizes:

Silk Twist 3, Silk Twist 5, Silk Twist 8, and Silk Twist 12

Kreinik's Silk Serica is a filament silk and is used just as it comes off the spool.

Kreinik's Silk Mori is a spun silk that comes in strands of six threads, which can be separated easily by holding the strand between the thumb and forefinger of one hand while gently pulling on a single thread with the other hand.


Silk Mori -- 6 ply, easily divided, comes in 75 colors (same as are available in Silk Serica)

Soie d'Alger -- 7 ply, easily divided, comes in 416 colors

Soie Noppee -- a single, thick strand; comes in 52 colors


Silk Serica -- 3 ply, can be separated but individual strands have very little to no twist on them, comes in 75 colors (same as are available in Silk Mori)

Soie Gobelin -- 2 ply, easily divided (each strand is twisted), available in 82 colors

Soie Perlee -- 3 ply, easily divided (each strand is twisted), available in 52 colors

Soie Platte -- no ply, also called 'flat' silk because it's completely without twist, *very* high lustre, availalbe in 52 colors

Ping Ling -- 6 ply, can be separated but individual strands have only a small amount of twist, available in 112 colors.

Cotton is a cellulose fiber, a plant fiber, and unlike silk, it has an excellent longevity record, but it can be damaged under certain conditions prolonged exposure to strong daylight will cause yellowing in bleached or very white cotton fabrics. Cotton has strong resistance to alkalies and weak resistance to acids. It is much stronger when wet and will disintegrate when overbleached. Lastly, silk is very susceptible to moths and carpet beetles whereas cotton and linen textiles are not generally consumed by insects.

Don't try to squeeze that last stitch in with the tail of the thread. They eye of the needle rubs on the thread as you stitch so the thread up to about a mm down from the eye gets slightly worn. When you hold the completed piece up to the light, that last stitch will reflect the light differently that the rest of the stitches. If you are stitching anything like smyna's or eyelets, the effect is really noticeable.

Don't use the same needle for silk that you use for metallics. I usually just use a brand new needle when I stitch with silk. But then, I got through needles fairly quickly. The metallics abrade the inside of the eye of the needle. When you use it for silk after stitching with a metallic thread, the needle eye chews up the silk fibers.

Don't use old, tarnished needles with silk thread. The outside of the needle is slightly rough and will disturb the silk fibers of previous stitches. This is most noticeable with eyelets and causes fuzzy centers instead of a clean hole.

When stitching with silk, keep your hands clean and don't use hand creams before stitching. A lot of the oils in common hand creams leaves a film on the silk that dulls the sheen. A few that contain lanolin actually will yellow the silk.

Nothing destroys silk faster than bleach.

If the silk has picked up a lot of static run the thread across your forehead. (You can't be wearing makeup on your forehead, obviously!) The slight amount of body oil immediately tames the silk.

SPUN SILK is silk which comes from a pierced cocoon or one from which the moth has already emerged. Because of the way light reflects on the short fiber lengths, spun silk has a rich "creamy" lustre.

FILAMENT SILK comes from the unwinding of the cocoon and each ply may be up to or more than 1 mile long. This silk is very lustrous and many filaments are combined to make a single yarn.

MULBERRY SILK is another name for the silk produced by silkworms fed on the leaves of cultivated mulberry trees, as distinguished from wilk silk formed from silkworms feeding on oak and other leaves. This is a premium silk and its natural color is cream.

TUSSAH SILK also called wild silk, comes from the cocoons of uncultivated silkworms, usually found in India and Northern China. It is less lustrous than mulberry silk and is coarser, tan in color and not easily bleached. However, it is stronger and more resistant to sunlight and chemicals than cultivated silk."

Check out the Au ver a soie website to learn even more about caring for silk.

Dry cleaning is recommended for silk.

Silk pile: the silk pile is a one ply of raw silk generally twisted from left to right at 3000 T/M.

Trame: the trame is made of several high twist strands put together generally from left to right and raised to 100/150 T/M.

Crèpe: the crèpe is made of several trames which have been twisted at 2000/3500 T/M.

Organsin: the organzine is a silk thread composed of two or several strands in which each strand has received a first twist from right to left (500-700 T/M.) and the thread another double twist from left to right (475-600 T/M).

Grenadine: the grenadine is a double or multi organzine raised to a very high twist.

Dyeing: the silk must be degummed before dyeing. This is the reason why it is dipped into a very hot soap solution. During this process, the silk looses 25/30% of its initial weight.

the difference between Sampler Threads, Overdyes and Varigated

Sampler Threads & Needle Necessities overdyed are hand dyed; Waterlilies are silk and are hand painted. Weeks Dye Works are dyed. These threads—overdyes, floss, metallics, braids, etc.—are used to achieve really neat effects. Because of the special uses, these threads are usually only found in specialty needlework shops.

Variegated are mass produced with a regular repeat (usually 1 meter) in shades of one color. DMC has a line of these varigated threads in stranded cotton floss. J&P Coats used to make some too, but we're not sure if they still do. Theirs had color combinations with pink, blue, lavender, green and yellow.



This is made when a single color of floss is overdyed with one or more other colors.


Sampler Threads are the name of threads hand-dyed by a company called The Gentle Art. Sampler Threads and Weeks Dye Works threads are made in a similar fashion—a color of floss over dyed with one or more other colors. They are great for samplers because of their old-time look. They are very subtle, nice, muted colors with interesting names like Cinnamon and Desert sage. Sampler Threads are available only at shops - the manufacturer will not retail.

Waterlilies base is Soie Crystal, a silk floss. Waterlilies are lovely to the touch. Because these are silk and have the labor of the hand-dyed process, these fibers are on the pricey side wash Waterlilies, but with great care. You might want to "test" them first. Like most silks, they will release excess dye. So washing is usually not recommended. Pre-washing the fibers will probably change the color. So if you are used to washing all your work after stitching, you may need to try a new technique when using these fibers. If you pre-wash your fabric and mount on stretchers, you do not need to launder the finished piece.

. If you use "The Stripper", you'll also find out if a thread is "leaking". The Stripper is a thimble-like gadget with a piece of the soft velcro attached to it. It helps you separate and dampen your threads before you begin stitching. You dampen the soft velcro with water, and run your floss over the velcro. If your threads have a tendency to bleed, it will be apparent on the velcro.

Varigated threads aren't as easy to find as regular floss. In some areas, there is not much of a call for them. And because they tend to be more costly than stranded cotton floss, some shops have difficulty justifying a substantial inventory. They are widely available via mail order sources and by special order.

Fiber sample cards are available for most of the lines. This way you can view the different threads and see all the colors and variations. For example, a Caron color card is available at a reasonable price to consumers. And Fiber Fantasy has an excellent thread cross reference, though it does not touch overdyeds. There are also color charts online, although they may not match the dye lots.

One thing to watch for in these specialty fibers are skeins that do not match in color. So when purchasing, make sure you get enough of the same dye lot. Caron dye lots are very uneven, so buying a Caron through the mail can be a little unnerving. The dye lots change due to the dye manufacturer; Ms Caron has no control. Sometimes the differences are dramatic.

blending filament seems to be one of the most often used metallics. The most popular is Balger blending filament, manufactured by Kreinik. It's a very fine fiber meant to be used in a blended needle with floss, and it comes in a variety of colors. With most projects, depending upon the thread count of the fabric being used, the needle will have 1 or 2 strands of floss with 1 strand of blending filament. It comes in shades of silver and gold, but it also comes in a wide variety of other colors, as well, and adds glitter to the parts of a design in which it is used.

Stitchers can encounter several different challenges when they use blending filament. One of the most common complaints is that the filament ravels at the ends. The good news is there is a way to stop the raveling. :-) Many of you who have been coming to chat for a while know I try very hard not to use damaging chemicals on any part of my needlework, but here, I make an exception. After a strand of blending filament has been cut for use, it can be kept from raveling by applying a tiny amount of Fraycheck to each end of the strand. Fraycheck is a liquid fabric stiffener that prevents fraying. I recommend letting the Fraychecked ends dry before using the filament for stitching. This takes only a few minutes. To avoid making the Fraychecked portions a permanent part of a piece of needlework, you can leave a long tail when you anchor your blended needle. After you're finished stitching, you can snip off the long end to remove the treated portion.

Another common complaint about blending filament is that it tends to twist and to break. It is of a very different consistency from regular embroidery floss and does require some patience. There are several things you can do to help prevent twisting and breakage. One is to use short lengths of blending filament. It's easier to manage shorter lengths, and because a short strand won't pass through the fabric as often as a longer one, there's less friction against the filament to cause it to strip itself or to break. We didn't talk much in either chat about preventing twisting, but one suggestion would be this: every few stitches, allow your needle to hang down. When you do so, both floss and blending filament will untwist if they've twisted at all as you've been stitching. Some stitchers recommend dampening the strands of blending filament before stitching with them. This seems to help prevent twisting and breakage, as well.

Blending filament and floss do not have the same degree of elasticity, so stitching with both fibers in a blended needle can create a problem in which the filament ends up seeming shorter than the floss. Again, using short lengths of filament and floss together can be a solution. There is also an alternative preferred by many stitchers when they are using blending filament. Rather than to use a blended needle containing both floss and filament, they prefer to do their crosses first with the floss alone. Then, they will go over each x with filament alone. In addition to avoiding difficulties from a difference in elasticity, stitching over top of the floss with blending filament will give more glitter to the embroidery. In a related thread of conversation during the Monday night chat, it was noted that because it's heavier than filament, when you stitch with a blended needle containing both floss and blending filament, the floss floats to the top, covering the filament. A suggested way to prevent this from happening is to use a laying tool. Rather than to have our chat on metallics become one on laying tools and how to use them, we'll schedule a chat all about laying tools in the future. :-) There is a website that will give you an idea what laying tools look like. The address is Laying tools are used to help smooth fibers as you are stitching with them and to keep them from twisting. There are a number of laying tools on the market, including trolley needles. You can also use a toothpick, a thumb or fingernail, or a second tapestry needle. The way to smooth the blended needle and to have the filament lie next to the floss is to make your stitch. Then, before you pull it tight, slide the laying tool underneath the stitch and smooth the fibers with it. Finally, pull the stitch tight with your usual tension.

It was also noted that blending filament tends to slip more through a needle than does floss. Yes, there's a solution for this, too If you purchase blending filament spools that have been put on cards, you'll find instructions enclosed for attaching the filament to your needle. What you'll do instead of threading your needle with the blending filament is to fold over one end of the fiber about an inch and a half. Where it loops, you can put the filament through the eye of the needle so you'll have a loop coming out the other side of the eye. Then, you'll take the 2 ends (one short, one long) of the filament through that loop and pull them tight. This creates a slip knot on your needle. In most cases, you'll be using floss in the same needle, so you can go ahead and thread the floss as you normally would. You may wish to use a needle a size larger than ordinary, but blending filament is very fine, so the slip knot will not affect your stitching. If there were an exception, I think it would be very fine thread-count linen, such as 40; however, one would ordinarily only use 1 strand of floss on 40-count linen, anyway. Then there are all those other wonderful metallics out there just waiting for us. :-) Some are as fine as blending filament while others are thicker. Both DMC and Kreinik put out a variety of metallic fibers, and I'm sure there are others of which I'm not aware. As with other cross-stitch supplies, there will be some you'll like and some you won't. Most of the heavier metallics are meant to be stitched by themselves instead of in a blended needle with floss. I never try to promote or to bad-mouth any business or company that offers us cross-stitch supplies, but I have my likes and dislikes. ;-) For example, I have a hate relationship with the DMC 280 (NOTE: I gave the wrong series number at chats) series of gold and silver metallics that come on spools. They are rough, they twist no matter how I handle them, and I simply refuse to use them any more. To me, they're like stitching with barbed wire. DMC has recently come out with stranded metallics offered in skeins. These rayon fibers seem to be much smoother, and I understand the stitchers who have used them like them much better than they do some of the spooled metallics. Kreinik offers a variety of braids and cords of different weights, in additon to blending filament. So, what to do if you dislike the metallic called for in a pattern? You can do as your hostie does if you have a well-stocked cross-stitch shop near you. I will go, take a look at the metallic recommended for the chart, decide whether I think I'll like using it or not, and if not, take it to the areas where other metallics are kept. I try to match both color and thread weight (thickness) with something I think I'll like better. I realize this is a problem if you don't have a shop near you. Because I'm never opposed to going to my favorite shop, I'm willing to help you out if you need it. :-) If you don't like the metallic you're "supposed" to use, just drop me an email telling me what that fiber is and what color it is. I'm happy to go searching for a matching alternative for you. I can make suggestions after searching, but the final decision will need to be yours.

Have you ever seen the beautiful garments that priests and some clergymen wear? These ecclesiastical garments typically are decorated in places with gold and silver embroidery done in "metal threads". Garments in Japan, China, Thailand, India and other Oriental countries also are decorated in these lovely threads. Metal threads, however, can be very intimidating and even if you are an experienced embroiderer the chances are that you avoid using them because they must be treated differently from those which you ordinarily use. This will be of help as it explains the differences in the threads and something about the techniques for using each of them. Even though they are classified as "threads" some of them are combinations of materials put together to make a new unit which will not go through a fabric as we know threads will, but for our purposes here we will refer to each of them as "threads".

Metal threads commonly come in the following categories:

1. PASSING This thread was originally named for "passing over the surface" of any ground but has now come to be known as a thread small enough, and durable enough , to go in and out of the ground and be sewn. If it is not sewn it is couched with only the ends plunged into the fabric.

SMOOTH PASSING- A flat, extremely thin wire, typically wound around a thread core in a spiral manner. Thread is slightly stiff and not fluid.

WAVY PASSING- Also known as Glace'. Same construction as smooth passing but goes through the fabric with difficulty because of a slight crimp.

2. TAMBOUR A very fine passing thread which is used for sewing.

3. JAPANESE GOLD Commonly known as "Jap", this thread is the only metal thread used in Oriental embroidery. Coming in many sizes, it was originally made of real gold beaten into a sheet thinner than paper

Which was then cut into very narrow strips and wound in a spiral manner around a core of silk. While real gold is still available at a very high price, the most common Jap now on the market is imitation, and instead of gold it may either be an alloy or a metallized polyester bonded to a paper base. The core can either be rayon or silk, depending on the manufacturer, but one works just as well as the other so it is not important to specify. Colors of the tread can vary from bright and brassy to a warm pinkish gold. Sizes come in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13, 2 being the very fine and 13 the very heavy. Always couched, usually in pairs of two threads, best wound on a Koma. (See below)

4. CRINKLE Also know as "Rococo", this is a wavy thread which must be couched. Flat metal wound around a thread core, it is similar to passing thread until it is crimped on a machine. Comes in about four different sizes.

5. LUREX A term mistaken for a thread, the word "lurex" is a copyrighted name for a manmade synthetic. Many different threads are made of Lurex and some are simply known as Lurex followed by a number. Lurex is not a thread construction but a material of which the thread is made. Lurex is used in threads in categories 1, 2, 9, 10 and 11.

6. PEARL PURL Also known as "Jaceron" this unique thread is actually a stiff wire which has been wound in a spiral around a thin tubular form, resulting in a hollow spring-like coil. It is often difficult for the novice to differentiate between Purl and Pearl Purl. Just remember that Pearl Purl is stiff and firm while Purl is fluid and soft and easily manipulated.

7. PURL Often called "bullion" this is a hollow coil which must be handled in a very gentle manner. It is a fragile corkscrew of soft pliable wire which once distorted cannot be restored to the original shape. Most often cut into tiny pieces and used just as you would use beads It comes in three finishes:

A- SMOOTH PURL- made of a flat wire with a bright, shiny reflecting surface, this is perfectly round.

B- CHECK PURL- also called "Frize" this is a flat thin wire wound tightly around a triangular form. The tightness is then released resulting in a facetted thread that reflects light with a shimmer and sparkle.

C- ROUGH PURL- also called "matte" this is made from a round wire, instead of flat wire, resulting in a slightly dull surface with little reflection.

8. BRAID There are two types of braid, flat and hollow, which in turn come in different sizes. Use sparingly, watch quality as some can look rather sleazy depending on content.

9. CORD Cords come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, shapes and construction. They can be many cords intertwined, single cords braided around a single core, or a flat single band of Lurex wound around a heavy core. Different number designations are used on some cords. For example, 4 x 2 means that 4 threads are twisted together, and then 2 of these are twisted together again. 4 x 2 x 2 means that 2 of the 4 x 2 cords are twisted together again to make an even larger cord. The numbers, no matter what they are, tells you the number of strands and how many twists there are in the cord you are buying.

10.TWIST Twists are made up of individual Passing threads of varying numbers wound together, with the resulting cords wound together again to make even larger cords. Used mainly for textured effects where little reflection is desired.

GRECIAN TWIST-- this unusual thread is made with strands of bright gold and dull gold twisted together for a striped effect.

11. PLATE As the name implies, this is a narrow band of metal, sometimes cut in strips and sometimes wound on a spool. This material takes an experienced hand to manipulate and is better avoided until you have mastered the other threads. Comes plain or embossed.

12. WIRE This is exactly what the name states, it is wire. It can be colored wire for beading, used for fastening other metal threads or it can be couched. It is much too stiff for stitching but usually comes in several colors.


* When you purchase metal threads you will sometimes see the name "gilt" used in the name. This is not a connotation of tinsel quality but refers to the fact that the thread has first been plated with silver and then with gold. It denotes a high quality finish on the thread

* All metal thread work should be done on a frame with the fabric taut at all times.

* Most handmade metal threads can be hand washed, but like all needlework should be treated gently at all costs. Dry cleaning is never recommended for any needlework. No threads made in Japan should be exposed to either process.

* Any metal thread that is wrapped around a core should be handled with the greatest care as once the outer layer has started to unwind there is not way to restore the original character of the thread.

* Purls are especially fragile and must be treated with extra care. They can be extended by gentle pulling but once this is done the thread will not retract to the original length.

* Most metallic threads are "couched" onto the surface of the ground fabric, that is they are laid flat on the surface and fastened by stitching over and over with a silk thread to hold the metallic in place. Couching stitches are always laid at right angles to the thread that is being couched. Obviously, when you couch a thread onto a fabric the cut ends of that couched thread are exposed and so a small hole is made in the fabric with a large needle or a stiletto and the ends are gently worked to the back of the fabric. This is called "plunging".

* When using Jap it is best wound on Koma. Koma look like the old wooden spools that, in years past, were used to hold sewing thread, except that Koma are square so they will not roll like the sewing spools did. This is for a very good reason. To use Koma you wind it with a supply of Jap; if you are couching two rows at a time you would wind two Koma. When couching either one or two rows, the tension of the thread is maintained by the manipulation of the Koma with the left hand while stitching with the right. Koma are much more satisfactory than fabric or felt tubes as these tend to slip. Do NOT try to roll Jap into a ball!.

* Two layers of fabric are not necessary for the laying of metal threads unless you need the second layer for supporting a very fine ground fabric and are using real gold which is heavy. Man-made threads are quite light in weight.

* Do not use silk embroidery floss for couching metal threads. Use a fine quality Japanese hand sewing silk. Also it is not necessary to wax the thread for strength. Silk is one of nature's strongest fibers, stronger that steel, and wax discolors the thread.

* Real silver threads will tarnish, real gold ones will not.

* Use a special pair of scissors to cut metal threads and use them for no other purpose. The metal will chew up scissor blades and make them unusable for any other embroidery. Disposable blade cutters and single edge razor blades can also be used, carefully.

* A piece of heavy felt on your cutting surface helps when cutting metallics. Its sponginess lets you hold the metallic in place with your fingers while snipping the threads with your scissors without damaging the shape of the thread itself. It also prevents the threads from jumping around when cut.

* A pair of pointed tweezers is a great help when handing metal thread.

* Before cutting any multi-stranded Twist or Cord, wrap a piece of scotch or masking tape completely around the thread on both sides of the place where it will be cut. Be sure the tape overlaps itself so that when you make the cut neither piece will unravel.

* Purl can be cut in tiny pieces and used just as you would a bead.

* Look at some ecclesiastical pieces to see what you can do with metal threads.

* Don't be afraid to try this beautiful type of embroidery. It only takes practice and patience.

Applications depend on the size, but include: blackwork, costume making, , cross stitch/counted thread, needlepoint/canvas work, smocking, stumpwork

Hand Embroidery

Japan Threads bring a unique beauty and grace to needlework. They are excellent for fine stitching, outlining, couching, and laid work. Having the appearance of a real metal thread, Japan Threads remind us of antique samplers and ancient tapestries in which real metal threads were used. These threads are easy to use and their smooth, refined sheen will not tarnish.

Japan #1 may be used as a stitching, or "passing," thread. However, Japan #5 and #7 should not be used to stitch in and out of fabric or canvas; they are attached to the surface of a piece of embroidery by couching with a corresponding color of Japan #1 or Kreinik Cord.


Kreinik Japan Threads should only be dry cleaned. Do not hand or machine wash.

History of Japan Threads

Historically, Japan thread embroidery began in China with gold, silver, and copper metalwork. Gold and silver yarns were made by pounding gold and silver stock into extremely thin leaf, which was sliced into very narrow strips and then rolled around a core and twisted into yarn. With time, the gold yarn was modified to a gilt yarn, which was silver with a gold overlay. The Japanese later developed a method of making metal threads by depositing a coating of gold or silver on rice paper, which was then cut into fine strips and wrapped around a thread core. This became known as Japan Gold or Japan Silver. However, dampness caused the rice-paper backing to deteriorate. Modern technology has eased the process of making Japan threads, and Kreinik now offers Japan Threads in a variety of thread sizes for hand and machine embroidery.

For a free copy of Kreinik's Color Reference Chart, showing pictures of all metallic colors and indicating which color comes in which thread size, send a #10 self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

"Color Chart"


3106 Lord Baltimore Drive, Suite 101

Baltimore, MD 21244 USA.

Japan #1 comes on a snap-spool. Both sides of the spool open; look for the side where the thread end is located. Insert your thumbnail under the cap, and rotate the spool while gently lifting the cap to release the thread (the cap should not pop off). Snap the lid shut to secure the unused portion. x To open a skein of Japan #5 or Japan #7, hold the skein by the loop with one hand and gently pull off the paper label. Hold the skein and insert one or two fingers into the loop end that does not have the knot. Separate the twisted threads by running your finger slowly down the middle and gently pulling them apart. Lay the skein on a table and untie the loose knot located at one end. Insert your finger in the loop at the end opposite the loosened knot. Place your other hand in the center beneath the loop and very slowly separate the twisted threads. Cut the threads at one end and then use the appropriate length for your stitches. The remaining Japan Threads should not be folded, but rather wrapped on komas or loosely wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.

x You may wish to knot Japan #1 onto your needle for greater control. Cut the required length and fold about 5 cm (2 inches) from one end.

Insert the loop through the eye of the needle and pull the loop over the point of the needle.

Tighten the loop at the end of the eye to secure the thread to the needle.

Gently stroke the knotted thread once to 'lock' in place.

x When using Japan Threads in the Kreinik Braids, stitch more slowly and attentively for greater control and ease of motion.

x Use a laying tool, your needle, or your finger to lay the Japan Ribbons flat as you stitch or couch them.

For actual sample strands of every Kreinik metallic thread color, ask for the Kreinik Metallic Thread Color Card at your local needlework shop or call Kreinik at 1-800-537-2166 for mail order sources.

The consensus of opinion from stitchers who have used metallics is that finished projects containing metallic threads are beautiful but that most metallic fibers are not always much fun to use.

I'm not sure whether they're available in the U. S., but I do know of one place in the U. K. which manufactures real gold threads for use in embroidery. They do the manufacturing the same way it was done hundreds of years ago