8 Best Embroidery Machine Thread Types Explained

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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. 

Let’s discuss the different types, weights, and finishes of embroidery thread and how to pick a machine embroidery thread for your next embroidery project!

Best Machine Embroidery Thread

How to Check for Quality Embroidery Thread

Not every thread you see online or in-store is a high-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 friction 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

embroidery thread weight

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 and are perfect for small lettering, 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.

The Best Embroidery Machine Threads

What is the best machine embroidery thread?

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. 

I’ll discuss upper thread options first before moving on to bobbin thread options. 

1. Rayon Machine Embroidery Thread

rayon embroidery machine 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 for high-speed machines and comes in an extensive color range. Made of regenerated cellulose, viscose rayon thread is soft to the touch.

It’s been decreasing in popularity over the years and is 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 Embroidery Thread

polyester embroidery thread

Polyester embroidery threads are becoming more popular over time thanks to their outstanding properties. 

This synthetic thread 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.  

My personal preference is trilobal polyester thread, as 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! 

My favorite polyester embroidery thread is DIME Exquisite thread, but I also use the more budget Brothread without issues. 

3. Cotton Embroidery Machine Thread

cotton embroidery 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 a lace design.

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!

(One other natural fiber thread is wool thread, although it’s equally difficult to find and is also more expensive than cotton.)

5. Metallic Embroidery Thread

best metallic machine 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.

This type of specialty thread breaks easily at high speeds and requires 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 and do some decorative machine embroidery!

6. Glow-In-The-Dark Thread

glow in dark 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 thread

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. 

8. UV Color-Changing Thread

UV color changing thread

Brothread has now brought UV color-changing thread back onto the market and into style!

This type of embroidery thread portrays one color inside and then changes to another completely different color when exposed to UV light or taken outside!

Some of the threads change colors more than others, but these are fun threads to have around when embroidering for kids. Check out some of my color-changing embroidery threads in use!

Bobbin Thread for Machine Embroidery

best 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 embroidery thread if the back isn’t seen. 

Thus, there’s no need to change the bobbin thread color after every color change! 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 I Recommend Buying

machine embroidery threads

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 of small spools, although I have probably 400 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 substituted 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.) 

As a fun aside, if looking to know how much embroidery thread you need, check out my embroidery thread calculation tips

The Best Brands of Machine Embroidery Thread

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 machine manufacturers 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.

More examples of thread brands not already mentioned include Sulky, Gutermann, Coats and Clark, Madeira, Isacord, Floriani, Simthread, Robison-Anton, Exquisite, and Embroidex.  

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 much less popular than most. 

My Best Tips for Use

how to properly change embroidery threads

  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!

types of machine embroidery threads on a stand

I also 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 embroidery machine thread

So, what do you prefer to use for your embroidery projects? Rayon, polyester, or cotton? And if you’re looking for storage inspiration, check out my wall thread rack redos and other storage ideas


  1. From a new beginner to machine embroidery, I have lots of questions. You have answered one of my biggest questions. The shop where I bought my machine carries only one brand. I had no idea there were so many options! Thank you very much for your invaluable information.

  2. I am trying to get answers on what machine embroidery thread to use on hot pads, can you help? My machine in the NQ 1600e brother. I know that cotton does not melt, what would you suggest?
    Thank you

  3. Thanks for all of your information. Very easy to understand and concise. You answered so many of my questions. Thanks also for the references and tips.

  4. Thank you for the education on threads! I am new to machine embroidery. I have a Bernette b70 deco and it wasn’t cheap. It is a machine I want to use for years so I feel that proper thread is important. I am happy to see the thread removed method and why its important! Thank you !

  5. Hi, thank you for all the information given. I have a Brother PR 655 embroidery machine. So far I have been using Brother Thread, Thread Art Polyester and now there’s a shop selling Madeira Polystitch n Polyneon.

    BTW can u help me where I can get help for Marathon Viscose Rayon to Thread Art Polyster Thread Conversion since I have abt 180 Thread Art colours? I have been searching without success. I have Brother Software PE Design 10. I m not technology savvy, as I m a senior. Still learning along the way. I sew to relax, as I grow up without watching TV.

    1. Do you have an iPad? Since thread conversion charts are sometimes really hard to find, I like the app ThreadBook. It has hundreds of charts for threads (many of the obscure brands, too!) and it’s really easy to make your own custom charts. It wasn’t free when I downloaded it, but I figured the time saved from searching hours for charts would be worth the money ha. One other thing to consider is reaching out to Thread Art directly and see if they have that resource they can email you or direct you to!

  6. I’m trying to embroider a monogram on a 100% cotton duffel bag and can’t seem to get the stitches right. It appears to be a tension problem, but that could be deceiving. I have a Brother SE 1900. I’ve changed needles, rethreaded, changed tension. Nothing seems to work. I’ve stabilized it with a cutaway. Bobbin is coming to top.
    Any help would be appreciated.

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