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When I started machine embroidering, I had no idea how long a spool of embroidery thread would last. As a result, I ran out of thread in the middle of a design a few times, which was NO FUN.
So, how do you prevent this mild fiasco and calculate how much embroidery thread you need for an embroidery design?
Furthermore, how many stitches are there per yard (or meter) of embroidery thread anyway?
I researched, made a few machine embroidery thread calculations, and created this post to report industry averages and then teach you how to answer these questions accurately for your designs and spool.
How many stitches per yard of embroidery thread?
On average, you can embroider 182 stitches per yard of embroidery thread. This converts to embroidering 199 stitches per meter of machine embroidery thread.
How did I get to this number? I first sourced information from multiple reputable embroidery thread brands regarding how long their thread spools last. The table below shows these values. (Sources: Sulky, Floriani, Madeira, and KYS for Robison-Anton.)
Then, I used my Excel sheet to calculate how many stitches you could get per yard and meter using this data.
As you can see above, while 183.5 stitches/yard was the average of the values, the Robison-Anton numbers were an outlier, so I chose the median of 182 stitches/yard and 199 stitches/meter.
However, this is an average only, and the actual number depends on your embroidery design and machine settings!
Here are a few factors affecting how many stitches a yard of thread can actually make.
1. Stitch Type and Length
Embroidery designs are composed of different stitches, each using different amounts of thread. For instance, wide satin stitches use more thread than narrow satin stitches or short running stitches.
Sulky and several other thread brands estimate an average stitch length of 4-5 mm. This doesn’t consider thread waste, jump stitches, etc., which I’ll mention in a moment.
2. Thread Tension
The bobbin and top thread tension are in a delicate balance on an embroidery machine.
While the general rule is that 1/3 of the thread on the bottom of a design should be bobbin thread and 2/3 top thread for satin stitches, a tension misbalance will result in a different amount of thread used than expected.
3. Fabric Thickness
Machine embroidery thread has to pass farther through a thick fabric than a thin fabric to link with the bobbin thread.
While the difference between embroidering on a thin vs. thin fabric is negligible for small designs, the difference can add up to threads running out sooner than expected on huge designs or during mass production.
4. Jump Stitch Cutting and Thread Waste
How many jump stitches per design and whether your machine cuts jump stitches (and how long the jumps are, if not) factor into thread usage.
Furthermore, whenever you stop a thread color, you have to clip thread near the spool and pull excess out through the needle. This is almost a foot of thread waste each time!
How long does a spool of embroidery thread last?
Knowing the above conversion, you can calculate approximately how long any size of spool or cone will last.
Just multiply the yards of thread you have by 182 to get the total number of stitches you can embroider.
Compare that number to the number of stitches in your design and determine if you have enough thread.
For those who hate math, on average, you again can conclude:
- 220 yd (200 m) spool of thread lasts approximately 40,000 stitches
- 550 yd (500 m) spool of thread can create close to 100,000 stitches
- 1100 yd (1000 m) spool of thread lasts approximately 200,000 stitches
- 5500 yd (5000 m) cone of thread lasts close to 1 million stitches.
In reverse, if you need to determine how many 5,500-yard cones (5,000 m) you need to complete an order, use this calculation:
(number of blanks x numbers of stitches in design) / 1,000,000 = number of cones needed
For example, if you need to embroider a 10,000 stitch design on 1,000 different shirts, calculate like this: (1,000 x 10,000)/1,000,000 = 10 cones of thread needed.
How much thread do you need per embroidery design? [Exact Embroidery Thread Calculations]
Using the above averages, you can estimate for every 1,000 stitches in your design, you will need 5.5 yards (5m) of thread or 55 yards (50m) of thread for every 10,000 stitches.
(For the record, Coats, another major thread manufacturer, is more conservative with their values and suggests 6.5 yards (6m) of thread per 1,000 embroidery stitches.)
If you need to know your design’s actual embroidery thread consumption, you can get the exact calculation for free with embroidery software, though! (You can also check a purchased design’s paperwork to see if the digitizer included this information already.)
If you already own software, check your manual to learn where to find thread length information.
But, if you don’t have software yet, you can download the free Embroidery ToolShed software, which I’ll use as an example below.
To check the length of thread required to embroider a design, first, load your embroidery design into Embroidery ToolShed. (I’m using one of their built-in free designs for modeling here.)
Then, click “File” and “Design Analysis.”
This will bring up tabs with the design information.
If you then click the “Colors” tab, you can see the number of stitches and the exact thread length needed for each color. How cool is that?
If you’re also a data nerd like me, you can even check “Statistics” for the average stitch length ranges and then “Production” (shown below) for how long the embroidery takes to stitch on your machine, given a maximum embroidery speed that you input.
If you also want to calculate how much bobbin thread you need, some embroidery software (like my Hatch 3 Digitizer) also provide that value.
The Hatch calculated lengths are also surprisingly accurate because you can input variables such as fabric thickness and bobbin thread length!
A Fun Application for the Meticulous
If you’re meticulous with recording how much machine embroidery thread is left on an embroidery spool, you can keep track by subtracting calculated thread usage for each design from the total amount of thread that came on the spool.
Keep track of this number by writing it on a label on the spool top or bottom and updating it when you use the thread.
This prevents you from having to estimate how much thread is left on a used spool!
I hope you enjoyed this crazy ride through the math involved with embroidery thread calculations.
Now you know how to find exactly how much thread you need for your next embroidery design AND know how long your spool or cone of thread will last!