Types of Needlepoint Thread
The easiest way to classify a needlepoint thread is by its shape. In stitching you can most easily substitute one thread with another thread of the same shape (or type).
All needlepoint thread of the same type will share characteristics which affect the overall look of your stitches. For example, round threads, whether they are pearl cotton or a metallic braid, will create stitches which are crisp and distinct. Ribbon threads, however, will create a seamless look which sometimes looks like a piece of fabric.
Knowing the characteristics of the thread also helps you know when to use a laying tool, how the thread will cover, and other useful characteristics of each individual thread. In fact, this seems like such a useful bit of information I am going to add it to my notes in the fiber notebooks I am making. It will make your needlepoint look better and be more fun.
Round, Flat, or Stranded
All needlepoint thread can be classified as one of three types: round, flat, or stranded.
Round threads cannot easily be divided into smaller groups (i.e. they can’t be plied). And, quite often, the twist of the thread is obvious. Some types of round threads are pearl cotton, Filament silk, metallic braid, or silk perle. If a thread says it is a perle or pearl, that’s a sure tip-off it is a round thread.
Popular types of round threads include, Kreinik metallic braids, Treasure Braid, Trebizond (silk), Silk & Ivory, Grandeur, tapestry and crewel wool, and all sizes of pearl cotton.
Round threads should be used when you want each stitch to be distinct and for padding under top stitching. Often they look better in diagonal stitches than straight stitches.
Chainette threads are a particular type of round thread. They look like a long line of crochet loops and cannot be divided into strands. They can be made thinner, however, by pulling on one end to open the loops. GoldRush from Rainbow Gallery is a chainette thread. They are more popular in Europe and Australia than in North America.
Flat threads are also not divisible and are flat, like ribbons.They are wider than they are thick. They cannot be divided. Silk ribbons for embroidery are one major type of flat threads. Other popular types of flat threads are metallic ribbons and rayon ribbons, like Neon Rays, Flair, or Ribbon Floss.
Flat threads are wonderful for longer stitches because those show off the long straight length of thread. If done in blocks or over a larger area, they can almost look like fabric. This look can be enhanced by padding underneath the top stitches.Most of the time, they need a laying tool to make them look flat.
Some, but not all, flat threads are sized by their width. Silk ribbon, for example, is measured in millimeters, with 4, 7 and 13 being the most common sizes. Kreinik metallic ribbons, however, are measured in inches and come in 1/16 and 1/8 sizes.
Flat threads are also fantastic for Bargello because the stitches are long and the thread fills up the area nicely.
Stranded threads are all those threads which can be easily divided. This encompasses everything from embroidery floss to Persian Wool. Stranded threads are the most flexible threads to use. Because you can divide them, called plying, you can recombine them into smaller or larger groups. Because of this they will work on almost any size of canvas.
When unplied, stranded threads are round. When plied and recombined, a stranded thread becomes a flat thread. This adds to their versatility because you can use them where you would use either of the other types of thread.
The single strands in a plied thread are also round, not flat. This is easiest to see in a thread mostly used plied. Watercolours as it comes from The Caron Collection is a stranded thread, made up of three, two-ply strands, which divide easily. On 18 mesh canvas, one strand is used, and this single strand looks almost like a strand of #5 pearl cotton, a round thread and acts that way in stitching.
Here are some common needlepoint threads and their types:
Pearl Cotton: Round
Persian Wool: Stranded
Kreinik Braid: Round
Embroidery Floss: Stranded
Ribbon Floss: Flat
By remembering the different types of needlepoint thread, you will be able to choose your threads and stitches more carefully.