Threads and floss for hand embroidery, pearl cotton, Cotton floss
Tools and materials,  Embroidery tips

Embroidery threads

All you need to know about hand embroidery threads and floss

There are 3 essential groups of hand embroidery tools: the fabric, the thread, and the needle. If you don’t have one of these, you will not be able to do any embroidery at all. Some time ago, I wrote about the needles for hand embroidery. You can find out “Everything you need to know about hand embroidery needles” here

In this article, I will talk about the second group of hand embroidery tools – the threads. When we talk about the thread, I see a lot of embroidery beginners asking the same questions:

What is embroidery floss used for?

What is the difference between embroidery thread and embroidery floss?

What is the best thread for embroidery?

What are the types of hand embroidery thread?

Is embroidery thread the same as a sewing thread? 

Can I use regular thread for embroidery?

What threads should I use?

Is embroidery thread colorfast? Does embroidery floss bleed when washed?

So, in this article, I’ll try to answer all these common questions about hand embroidery threads. 

What is embroidery floss used for?

So, first things first. What is embroidery floss? It is a loosely twisted, slightly glossy 6-strand thread. Usually, it is made of cotton but also manufactured in silk, polyester, rayon, and linen. It’s obvious that embroidery floss is used for embroidery. Also, you can use embroidery floss to do any other forms of needlework like cross-stitch, counted thread embroidery, needlepoint, smocking, crewel, punch embroidery, applique, and quilting. Besides that, embroidery floss is used to:

  • make friendship bracelets, 
  • create dream catchers, 
  • for weaving, 
  • making tassels, 
  • creating jewelry with beads, 
  • wrapping hair braids, and 
  • in general, anywhere where colorful threads are needed. 

Because of its durability and the wide choice of colors, cotton embroidery floss has extensive use in all types of crafts. 

What is the difference between embroidery thread and embroidery floss?

When you read about hand embroidery, you can find that some authors refer to embroidery floss and some – to embroidery thread. So, what’s the difference? Embroidery floss is a mercerized cotton embroidery thread composed of 6 individual threads or plies, which can be separated. Any number of strands may be used in the needle, depending on the desired thickness of the thread, or the pattern instructions. So, all 6 threads together is a floss. And separately, they are called a thread.

What is the best thread for embroidery?

As mentioned before, embroidery floss has extensive use in different crafts. And what about hand embroidery? Can we embroider only with embroidery floss? No! There are many types of threads that are created for hand embroidery purposes. Your choice will depend on the fabric you use, the style of the embroidery, and the effect you want to achieve. Let’s see in detail what types of thread there are available and how to select the best thread for your project.

Types of hand embroidery thread
  • Stranded Embroidery Cotton (known as Embroidery floss or cotton mouline). It’s a classic go-to for any traditional hand embroidery project from cross-stitch to silk shading
  • Pearl cotton
  • Rayon Floss
  • Metallic threads
  • Crewel yarn
  • Tapestry Wool
  • Silk Threads
  • Ribbons
  • Sashiko thread 
  • Floche
  • Coton a broder
  • You can read more detailed information about each type of thread here.
Embroidery floss, pearl cotton and variegated floss, hand embroidery thread
Is embroidery thread the same as a sewing thread? 

The sewing thread is not on the list of hand embroidery threads. Why? The critical difference between embroidery thread and sewing thread is their texture. The embroidery thread is a particular type of yarn and has a distinctive sheen, whereas most sewing threads do not have a sheen. 

Can I use regular thread for embroidery?

You can embroider with a sewing thread if you want to. Still, the embroidery may lack the desired effect that only embroidery thread can give. So, don’t waste your time and choose the right threads from the beginning. In general, in hand embroidery, you can use any thread that can be threaded into the needle and passed through the fabric. Knitting yarns can be couched with sewing threads. The mix of all possible thread combinations and techniques can be used in one piece to create the original fiber art. So, if your original idea requires a sewing thread, use it. But don’t try to replace an embroidery floss with a sewing thread.

What threads should I use?

There are 3 main criteria when choosing the right thread for the embroidery:

  • Type of the embroidery you are going to make. Crewel wool for crewel work, sashiko thread for sashiko, and so on.
  • The fabric on which you are going to embroider. Don’t waste silk threads on cheap synthetic materials. Use embroidery floss for all kinds of cotton and linen. For wool fabrics and knitwear, use wool threads, and you’ll be covered.
  • The quality of the thread. Embroidery projects take hours to be made, so don’t save pennies buying the low-quality threads as they may ruin your work.
Is embroidery thread colorfast? Does embroidery floss bleed when washed?

This is a big pain point for embroiders. No thread is guaranteed colorfast by manufacturers. Bleeding colors are reasonably rare, but they do happen. Maybe I’m just a lucky one or never used the “wrong” colors, but it never occurred to me. Still, I’ve heard a lot of stories about how red or blue floss bled onto white fabric. So, If you are going to do embroidery on white fabric and it is meant to be washed, take some precautions. Wet the piece of thread and the material and watch if the thread is bleeding. If so, set the color by prewashing. Fill a bowl with 4-5 liters of cold water, add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Soak your thread, one color at a time, in the mix for 10 minutes. Remove the thread from the water, blot it with an old, clean towel, and allow it to dry naturally. Keep in mind that hot water or using the steam iron can re-activate the dyes and could cause bleeding. 

Final thoughts

I hope that I’ve answered all the questions you had about hand embroidery threads. If you would like to know more about each and every type of embroidery thread, check out this post “Types of hand embroidery thread.”

If you would like to learn some embroidery stitches, sign up for my newsletter. You will get access to my FREE online course, “The top 10 hand embroidery stitches – The essential stitches you need to start hand embroidery.”

all you need to know about hand embroidery thread and floss


  • Claudia Giraldo Ramirez

    Hi, I am kind of a beginner when it comes to embroidery, so sorry if this is a silly question. Regarding cotton floss, is 100% Egyptian cotton floss any better than say a 20/80 cotton blend? (20% Egyptian cotton / 80% regular cotton).

    If the 100% Egyptian cotton is better… in what way?

    Thank you and love the page, it was very helpful.

    Claudia Giraldo Ramirez

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