Embroidery is a traditional sewing craft that involves decorative stitching by hand or machine. This art requires different types of thread, depending on a few factors, including what type of fabric is used, what stitch or embroidery technique is performed, and what kind of needle is required. Although embroidery and other needlework are traditionally done by hand, in recent years, sewing machines have been developed that can complete complicated embroidery patterns using software. There are seven common types of hand embroidery thread.
Embroidery floss is also called stranded cotton, and is comprised of six strands of thread. It is usually slightly shiny. Typically made of cotton, this type can also be made of silk or rayon blends. Embroidery floss is most often used for cross-stitch crafts, and is easy to divide into single strands.
Matte embroidery floss is similar, but is made of just five strands of tightly-twisted thread, instead of six. It gets its name because it is matte instead of glossy or shiny. This kind is also sometimes called embroidery cotton.
Perle, or pearl, cotton is an embroidery thread made of non-divisible thread, and a high sheen. Unlike other types of floss used, it generally comes in different, numbered weights. The heaviest of these is 3, while 16 is the lightest and finest. Perle cotton also comes in weights in between — 5, 8 and 12.
Crewel yarn is a two-ply thread. It is heavier than other embroidery flosses because it's made of natural or synthetic wool. It is often used for tapestry work or stitching on heavy fabrics.
Persian yarn can be made of wool or may be synthetic. It is comprised of three loosely-twisted strands, as opposed to crewel yarn's two. It is most often used in needlepoint.
Another kind of floss is called tapestry yarn or tapestry wool. This is twisted very tightly and is made up of four strands of thread. Yet another type, known as Medici, is also made of wool. This is a fine, lightweight type when compared to the other wool embroidery threads.
Machine embroidery thread is usually synthetic, and made of polyester or rayon. Metallic machine embroidery thread is also common. Both hand and machine embroidery threads come in a vast variety of colors. Dye lots are usually numbered, so crafters can match embroidery floss colors exactly.
Almost any material can be embroidered when the right type of thread and other supplies are used. Even paper and thin wood can be good mediums for this stitched art form. One of the most popular mediums for picture embroidery is 14-count Aida cloth, an open weave fabric. Plain or patterned material is suitable.