Needlepoint silk, also called needlepoint thread, floss or yarn, is a silk thread used for the art of needlepoint, a type of embroidery that has been in use for hundreds of years. Needlepoint differs from other types of embroidery in that needlepoint is stitched on a stiff, open weave canvas material. Stitches can cover the underlying fabric entirely or leave some exposed. Needlepoint thread can be made from cotton, wool, silk or blends of different fibers, though silk thread is preferred by experienced needlepoint artists because it is smooth and easy to stitch. Even if the thread is made from a different kind of fiber, it may be referred to as needlepoint silk.
Needlepoint thread, sometimes called floss, is characterized the weight of the thread, the type of fiber and the number of threads or strands that are twisted together to make one thread. Thread weight is referred to by numbers, with lower numbers being heavier than higher numbers. The type of fiber used to make the thread is also part of the thread description. For example, needlepoint can be made from thread called pearl cotton, needlepoint silk, or tapestry wool. The number of strands or threads within the floss is referred to as ply. For example, needlepoint thread with two individual threads is referred to as 2-ply, and thread with five strands is called 5-ply.
For needlepoint, wool and silk thread is often used because the natural fibers take dye very well and can be found in many different colors. The colors are identified by number and color numbers from a thread company called DMC are commonly used, even though the actual thread may be from another manufacturer. The colors are sorted by dye lots as well, and projects requiring multiple skeins of the same color of needlepoint silk should be done using skeins of the same dye lot to ensure the color matches exactly.
In thread used for needlepoint, silk and wool blends not only are also used because of the rich colors, but also because of the smoothness of the finished thread. While cotton embroidery thread can be used for beginner’s cross-stitch projects, fine needlepoint silk is recommended for more elaborate projects. Higher quality needlepoint silk may also be stitched on top of cheaper, lower quality threads to give the finished project a rich look without using lots of expensive thread.
While needlepoint thread is available at most hobby and sewing shops, high-quality needlepoint silk should be purchased from a retailer who is familiar with needlepoint techniques. For the best quality needlepoint thread, needlepoint enthusiasts should purchase needlepoint silk from a retailer who also sells needlepoint supplies, such as canvas, needles and other needlepoint accessories. In terms of thread quality, it also important to remember that quality is directly related to price — bargain-bin thread typically will not be a high-quality product.