What is Embroidery Floss?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Embroidery floss, a thread composed of six loosely-twisted strands, has long been available in cotton, silk, and rayon, the last of which has the most sheen. Linen floss is rarer, and a new addition to some product lines; it is of particular use for making authentic period costumes. Embroidery floss is available in a wide range of solid colors, and some fibers are available in variegated colors as well.

Silk cocoons. Embroidery floss can be made with silk fibers.
Silk cocoons. Embroidery floss can be made with silk fibers.

Novelty Floss. Besides being available in different fibers, embroidery floss, like knitting yarn, has a range of novelty offerings. Metallic floss, in which metallic fiber is blended with viscose, is one, but there are also fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark flosses available, for example.

Embroidery floss can be used to decorate fabric.
Embroidery floss can be used to decorate fabric.

Length and Width. Floss may be used as purchased, or one or more strands may be separated to create thread of various thicknesses. Strands are generally size 25 on the thread system, on which the number gets higher as the thread gets thinner. The two standard lengths for skeins are 8.7 yards (~8 m) per skein and 10 meters (10.9 yd.) per skein.

Embroidery floss is used to embroider fabric.
Embroidery floss is used to embroider fabric.

Stitching. Embroidery floss is used for embroidery on fabric, such as cross-stitch, huck embroidery, miniature punch-needle embroidery, and so on, as you’d expect. It’s also used for embroidering in scrapbooks and on lampshades. Other needlecrafts that may employ it include needlepoint and crochet, and one can use this thread for appliqué as well.

Knotting. Several crafts use knotted embroidery floss. Some crafters, for example, like to use it to tie their quilts, an application that combines stitching and tying, often using a surgeon’s knot or a double-twist square not. Embroidery floss is recommended as lasting longer than, for example, ribbon or yarn in this situation.

The popular craft of friendship bracelets also employs knotted embroidery floss. Friendship bracelets follow some of the same construction techniques as macramé, but on a smaller scale. Adapting this to a larger scale, one can combine friendship bracelet techniques with macramé techniques to make larger products, such as change purses. This floss can also be used to make tassels and bookmarks, which can be decorated by threading beads onto the floss.

Wrapping. A less commonly found use of embroidery thread is decoration by wrapping. One can decorate pens or flip-flop straps this way, or wrap clean, empty food cans to make pencil holders. Depending on the item to be wrapped, an application of glue prior to wrapping may be helpful in keeping the floss in place.

Embroidery floss is available in a wide variety of colors.
Embroidery floss is available in a wide variety of colors.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


If you are looking for a fun Easter project, you can use embroidery floss to make some gorgeous eggs. All you need to do is get some small balloons and blow them up to the size you want your eggs to be. Then you will need some fabric stiffening solution in a dish. You should put your floss in the solution for a few minutes. You should have on some plastic gloves before removing the floss from the stiffening agent.

Once you have the floss out, wrap it around in whichever pattern you like and then leave it until dry. Make sure to leave a hole at the top in order to remove the balloon.

Once everything is ready, pop the balloon with a pin through the hole and take it out. Lastly, glue a ribbon into the hole so you can hang the egg.


I also fondly remember making bracelets out of embroidery floss when I was in elementary school. My girlfriends and I would sit outside at recess and make intricate pieces to trade with each other. Some of the more entrepreneurial of us would take their bracelets to craft shows and sell them.

You can still buy great books of patterns today, and if you have a daughter, picking up one, as well as some lovely embroidery floss can be a great gift.

If you have a daughter who likes certain characters look online for patterns that allow her to replicate them in bracelet form.


@starrynight - When I was in high school hair wraps were all the rage. You could get them done at the beach but my friends and I would do them for each other at home for free! Our parents weren't very happy about the bright embroidery floss colors we used but as long as we took them out before school started in the fall they turned a blind eye!


Oh wow I remember using Coats embroidery floss to make a ton of friendship bracelets for my friends when I was younger! I usually made ankle bracelets and my friends and I would wear them around all summer long.

I'm not in touch with any of those girls anymore but I actually do have one of my old friendship bracelets in storage somewhere!


@sobeit - Whether you use silk or cotton embroidery floss, you'll want to clean your sewing projects the same way.

You can wash the fabric in lukewarm water with a mild detergent and rinse several times in cool water. Don't squeeze it to dry it, instead, roll the entire piece in a towel to remove the water. Unroll and lay it flat to dry.

If you need to iron it, do that also between two towels on a warm setting, not hot. But if you need to use steam, do so and then place in a plastic bag to keep it dust-free.

One other tip I've used to clean a bit of oil that dropped onto my embroidery project - sprinkle some powder on the oil spot, let it sit to absorb the oil, then use a small paint brush or other clean brush to remove the powder. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Good luck.


I have been making cross stitch projects ever since I discovered the craft as a teen in Greece. It was a popular hobby for girls who carried their projects around in a purse. It was easy to work on anywhere; waiting in line for a bus or a ferry, sitting in a restaurant or an airport; basically it was a great hobby for people who traveled and got tired of reading.

I still have some old embroidery floss thread that looks amazing, but one of my projects is half finished and needs to be cleaned first. How do I do this without ruining the work I already did?

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