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There are so many machine embroidery threads available that you may not know where to start as a beginner!
I, too, had many questions when I first started embroidering. For instance, what is the best embroidery machine thread? What thread goes in the bobbin? What material and weight of thread do I use?
There were so many things I needed to learn.
Thanks to years of embroidery experience, I’ve discovered which threads my embroidery machine loves. I also learned the hard way that not all machine embroidery threads are created equal.
So, how do you choose the best embroidery thread for your machine?
Let’s discuss the different types, weights, and finishes of embroidery thread and how to pick the best machine embroidery thread for your next embroidery project!
How to Check for Quality Embroidery Thread
Not every thread you see online or in-store is a good-quality embroidery machine thread. Nor is the 30-year-old embroidery thread I inherited from my grandmother and once tried to use for that matter.
Choosing a poor-quality or incompatible thread can lead to threads breaking, shredding, or fraying. This is not fun, especially if you’ve decided to embroider something expensive or sentimental!
So what should you look for?
Run your fingers along a small length, ensuring the thread is smooth and uniform with no lumps, bumps, or visible fibers sticking out. Smooth thread minimizes frictions at the eye of a needle when the embroidery machine is stitching at top speed.
Also, grab two sides of the thread between your thumbs and forefingers and give a tug to estimate tensile strength. If the thread breaks without much effort, toss it. Your machine will do much worse to it!
Embroidery Thread Weight Explained
Threads are characterized by weight (wt), a measure of thread thickness.
The bigger the weight number, the thinner the thread. Thus, a 60 wt thread is thinner than a 40 wt thread, and a 30 wt thread is thicker than that 40 wt thread.
Finer threads work well on delicate fabrics, while thicker threads are better suited to heavyweight fabrics, providing better coverage for those fill-stitch designs.
Choosing the correct weight of thread is very important to the finished product!
Unless otherwise stated, machine embroidery designs are digitized for 40 wt thread (the most common). Thus, use a 40 wt thread until you learn how changes affect design stitch outs.
Also, changing thread weight may necessitate changing the needle size to get an eye that better accommodates the thread diameter. (Learn more about choosing the best embroidery needle size!)
Lastly, before selecting an uncommon thread thickness, check your machine’s manual to confirm your machine can accommodate it. My Brother embroidery machine is not compatible with 12 wt thread, for instance, in the top thread.
7 Best Embroidery Machine Threads
There are three primary types of embroidery thread to use as the top thread: polyester, rayon, and cotton.
Then, there are several types of specialized threads that also work great on an embroidery machine with extra care.
Let’s discuss upper thread options first before moving onto bobbin thread options.
1. Rayon Machine Embroidery Thread
Thanks to its gorgeous, lustrous, and reflective sheen, rayon embroidery thread is a longtime favorite of embroidery enthusiasts.
Shinier than most other thread types, it’s also strong and durable and comes in an extensive color range. Made of organic cellulose, rayon thread is soft to touch.
It’s been decreasing in popularity over the years and being replaced by polyester thread. Why?
Some rayon threads bleed when washed, don’t withstand bleaching well, and fade over time and in the sun.
When I first bought my machine and was looking for the best embroidery thread, several dealers recommended against rayon. I live in the hot, humid South and was told that rayon thread doesn’t hold up as well as in lower humidity, cooler climates.
2. Polyester Machine Embroidery Thread
Polyester embroidery thread is becoming more popular over time thanks to its outstanding properties.
It has a beautiful sheen and luster and a wide color range. It’s also super strong and resistant to shredding from friction as it runs through the eye of the needle.
Often, polyester and rayon threads are interchangeable when stitching designs. So, is rayon or polyester better?
Well, rayon threads have a better luster, but polyester threads are usually stronger, won’t fade over time or in the sun, don’t bleed in the washer, and can withstand bleach.
I’ve found that the best embroidery thread for my Brother machine is polyester thread. It’s what was initially recommended to me, it’s affordable, and since I’ve never had problems with it, I’m sticking with it!
3. Cotton Embroidery Machine Thread
The least popular of the three main types of thread, cotton embroidery thread is formed from natural fibers and comes in the largest variety of weights.
30 wt is the most common for machine embroidery, but there are thicker and thinner varieties available.
Most cotton embroidery threads have a matte finish rather than the glossy sheen seen with rayon or polyester. This is great if you desire a more natural finish, for instance, when embroidering lace.
As a downside, cotton embroidery threads are fragile due to a lack of elasticity. Thus, they break more easily than the types above.
They can also shrink when washed (unlike polyester), can fade in the sun, and can fuzz up your embroidery machine if used with complicated designs.
I buy Brothread 30 wt cotton thread, which works great with my machine.
4. Silk Embroidery Thread
Also a natural fiber embroidery thread, silk thread is a specialized type of thread that is strong yet luxurious.
It’s costly and challenging to find but pairs well with super delicate fabrics like silk and satin!
5. Metallic Embroidery Thread
Metallic machine embroidery threads have an internal core that is wrapped with metal foil. I recommend KingStar Metallic threads!
While metallic threads produce a shiny, fantastic finished product, they are notoriously tricky to embroider with.
They break easily at high speeds and require a special needle and fine-tuned thread tension. Here are some tips for embroidering with metallic thread if you want to give it a try, though!
6. Glow-In-The-Dark Machine Embroidery Thread
Glow-in-the-dark thread is a fun addition to my thread collection, and I’ve enjoyed using it!
Need a cool Halloween project? Consider glow-in-the-dark thread!
This embroidery thread type also requires a special needle and can be finicky to set up. (Read: how to use glow-in-the-dark thread!)
It comes in a fair variety of colors, but they mostly glow different shades of greenish-yellowish. Some colors are brighter than others, though.
7. Variegated Embroidery Threads
Variegated embroidery machine threads are made from two or more colors in a variable pattern. They are composed of rayon, polyester, cotton, or even silk fibers.
Using variegated thread is more straightforward than using other specialized embroidery machine threads like those pesky metallics.
Bobbin Thread for Machine Embroidery
Unlike sewing, where you use the same thread in the bobbin case as on the spool, the bobbin thread for an embroidery machine is typically finer than the top thread.
Because the thread is lighter weight, embroidery thread bulk is reduced, meaning top stitches lie smoother and dense designs don’t become too stiff or puckered.
The best bobbin thread for my embroidery machine is 100% polyester 60 wt thread. Some machines may require a different weight. The best thing to do is check your machine user manual to figure out what your machine requires.
One great thing about bobbin embroidery thread is you can use white thread if the back isn’t seen.
Thus, there’s no need to change the bobbin thread color after every color change! What a time-saver. Of course, if your bobbin thread will show on the front of the project or be visible (like embroidering free-standing lace), choose similar colors.
You can wind your bobbins if you want from bobbin thread (it only comes in limited colors), but I prefer to buy pre-threaded white bobbins, which are so convenient!
How many colors of thread do you need?
With sewing, while you can get away with white, black, and a few neutral colors of threads for most projects, embroidery is different. Photo-stitched and intricate designs can feature over three dozen colors!
So, should you buy the 30 pack or go all out on a 200+ pack?
I think the sweet spot for beginners is a 60 pack, although I have probably 300 different threads now that I’ve been collecting for years.
However, when I first started embroidery, I began with a 30-pack of 40 wt polyester thread. This gave me an idea of my frequently-used colors, and I made substitutions when embroidery designs called for threads my collection didn’t contain.
Turns out, white, black, and red are my three most frequently used colors by far! When I ran out, I bought the humongous spools of those colors to be most cost-efficient. (Note: these giant spools may not fit on your machine’s spool holder, so you’ll need a separate one.)
What’s the best brand of embroidery machine thread?
There is no best answer to this question!
You can ask ten embroidery enthusiasts their favorite threads, and you’ll get at least five different answers.
First, there’s the rayon vs. polyester debate. Then, some machines recommend certain brands, and some machines stitch better with specific brands, which is often a matter of trial and error. Cost plays a part (embroidery supplies are not cheap!), as does the intended use of embroidered items.
Also, you do not need to purchase thread of the same brand as your machine. For instance, the best embroidery thread for a Brother machine is not necessarily Brother embroidery thread. In fact, Brother embroidery thread is relatively unpopular!
Embroidery Thread Tips for Use
1. When changing thread colors, don’t pull the thread out of the machine back towards the spool.
Instead, clip the thread before entering the thread guides, and pull it down and out. You may risk offending your tension discs if you pull the thread the wrong way.
2. Replace your needle if you have skipped stitches, threads breaking, or other stitching problems that don’t have a known cause. Sometimes a dull, bent, or nicked needle can wreak havoc!
3. Threads are commonly wound in two ways: cross-wound or stacked.
Stacked threads have parallel threads and generally work best on vertical machine spools.
Cross-wound have a crisscross formation and perform better on horizontal machine spool holders. I use all my threads vertically, and my machine doesn’t complain, though!
4. I love my thread stand!
Since a multi-needle embroidery machine is not in the budget, I line my embroidery threads up in order on the thread stand.
Thread stands also work well for holding large spools of embroidery thread and are helpful when using metallic threads.
Best Thread for Machine Embroidery – Final Notes
I hope you’ve now learned how to choose the best embroidery machine thread for your project. So, what do you prefer to use? Rayon, polyester, or cotton?
And if you’re looking for storage inspiration, check out my wall thread rack redos and other storage ideas.