Pearl, or Perle, Cotton
A commonly used needlepoint thread, we tend to forget Pearl (perle) Cotton in the bustle of trying new threads and fibers. But it is a real workhorse, coming in many colors and adaptable to all kinds of uses.
Pearl cotton is made from mercerized cotton, so it has a bright sheen. Made from two soft strands, tightly twisted together; it cannot be split. As a result it comes in different sizes, used for different mesh sizes of canvas. I have always figured that it is called “pearl” becuase the structure of the thread makes it look like tiny beads on the canvas.
The name of this thread in French is perle coton (note the different spelling of cotton). Some manufacturers in English-speaking countries call is perle cotton. But there is no consistency in the use of either spelling. In essence both are correct. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Size 3 pearl cotton is the largest size available. It is the right size for Tent Stitch on 14-mesh canvas. It comes only in skeins. Size 5 is the most popular and is perfect for tent stitching on 18 HPI canvas. It comes in skeins (most common) and balls. Size 8 pearl cotton is thinner and works well for blackwork on 18 mesh. Size 12 is very thin and suitable for miniature work and some overstitching. Size 16 is even thinner.
Sizes 8, 12, and 16 almost always come only on balls. While 5 are more easily found in skeins. Man manufacturers no longer make #3 pearl and it is becoming hard-to-find.
If you try to restich with a length you have frog stitched, or stitched near the end of the thread, you will find it has gotten dull. This happens when the mercerized finish has worn off. You shouldn’t stitch with it. Parking your needle in one place along the thread instead of moving it will mimimize the problem.
DMC, Anchor, and Presencia are the largest makers of pearl cotton. The colors are dyed and numbered to match embroidery floss. Not all colors of floss are available as pearl cotton and not all colors which are available in one size are made in the other sizes. Presencia does make all sizes of pearl in all their colors.
Pearl cotton is a very strong thread, so it is an excellent choice for techniques where strength is important, like pulled canvas. It also has a definite direction to its sheen (directional light). Because of this horizontal stitches look like they are a different color from vertical stitches. This quality of pearl cotton is a powerful one to use in needlepoint.
In addition to the solid colors, many companies make overdyed versions of pearl cotton. These make for wonderful needlepoint thread.
But it is the solid colors of pearl where my thoughts keep turning. You get the wonderful range of color which you find in floss without having to strip threads. You get incredible sheen in your stitching which can add so much to your canvases.
If you haven’t used pearl cotton as a needlepoint thread lately — think of it again!