A Quick Lesson on Embroidery Thread

Here is a look at different types of embroidery thread and some of the terminology associated with them.  Different materials and manufacturing methods of thread can lead to different results in finished embroidered designs.  Northwest Custom Apparel uses Robison Anton super-strength rayon thread in all of our embroidery, but we are capable of special ordering most different types of thread to meet customers’ specific requests…

Here is a look at different types of embroidery thread and some of the terminology associated with them.  Different materials and manufacturing methods of thread can lead to different results in finished embroidered designs.  Northwest Custom Apparel uses Robison Anton super-strength rayon thread in all of our embroidery, but we are capable of special ordering most different types of thread to meet customers’ specific requests.

TYPES OF THREAD

Rayon Thread – Thread formed of thick rayon has long been a standard in the embroidery industry and comes in several weights and grades. It is important that embroiderers assure their thread is designed for use on high-speed embroidery machines, as some grades still may break under modern high speeds and tensions.


Po
lyester Thread – Made from artificially created fibers derived from petroleum products, it comes in several weights, grades, and sizes (twists). Generally stronger than rayon, polyester tends to elongate before bursting or breaking. This stretch can cause certain loop formation problems under improper tensioning. The lubricity and elongation of this thread also can cause it to loop when sewn with stitches placed too tightly together and/or sewn with too small a needle eye and too light a take-up spring snap. Also, after extreme stretching, many brands of polyester will contract back to original size and cause a type of pucker around sewn areas. Polyester fiber melts before it burns and suffers less from UV exposure than other threads. Colors are generally colorfast and can handle bleach, but some may react to dye strippers in commercial laundries if in combination with certain industrial chemicals that may be used at wearer work sites.

 

Cotton Thread – Made of natural fiber cotton of high strength, this comes in several grades and sizes (twists). It does not elongate when stretched but breaks instead.

Dyes may be colorfast. Lubricity of this fiber is low, but it will cause lint to form from abrasion rather than stretch. This thread is considered the standard for fine monograms. Cotton bobbins usually require that lint be regularly cleaned from the machine’s hook area.

Metallic Thread – This thread is usually a rayon core wrapped with shiny Mylar strips to offer a metallic sheen. If the Mylar strips off the core, the dyed under thread does not sparkle or glitter. As a rayon core, it offers little elongation and many brands break easily under higher tension. Because of the Mylar stiffness, thread breaks from uneven flow through the needle and off-timing problems with the hook are common. This is one of the more expensive threads to produce and use.

Yarn – Thread that is generally thicker than normal embroidery weights and may not have a consistent or tight twist. Composite yarns may include a weave of metallic Mylar into the fiber for a flecked appearance. The term may also be used interchangeably for thread.

Poly/Cotton Thread – A blend of cotton and polyester, giving a thicker buildup, less elongation, and good strength. Its sheen is lower than that of rayon and modern polyesters and can be compared with the straight cotton colors. Embroidery colors are usually colorfast and bleachfast. It is sometimes used for bobbins.

Acrylic Thread – Made from acrylic manmade fibers, this thread has a durability of wear in excess of that offered by rayon but may not be as tough as polyester. It is offered in two weights (twists) for embroidery. Some colors may not be colorfast. It melts before burning and may suffer from sun rot from UV exposure, particularly if treated with chemicals such as those used to protect vinyl.

Embroidery Floss – A loosely woven yarn, often measured in deniers and usually used for merrow machine edges on patches. May be made in rayon or polyester and offers good sheen and colorfastness.

THREAD TERMINOLOGY

Elongation – A property measured by looking at how far a thread will stretch under tension when sewing before it breaks. Often memory will allow a thread to return to normal length if allowed to sit under pressure. This elasticity is not a desirable quality if higher tensions are needed for sewing.

Lubricity – A measure of how lubricated the thread is to pass through the eye and sewing area. Thread generally passes 80 or more times through the needle eye and the garment, and is pulled by the take-up lever and spring-in action with the needle to make a stitch. So, how slick it is in running through the eye is important to surface wear on the thread and stitch formation if low lubricity causes elongation and loop problems.

To increase a thread’s lubricity, it can be passed through a silicone lubricator as it pays out. Or, it is also possible to sew through a silicone-lubricated piece of backing to transfer the lubricant to the thread and needle as it sews.