11 Different Types of Machine Embroidery Thread  – Choose Wisely

Machine Embroidery Thread Every time you create an embroidery design project you are creating art. In your mind, you have an image of the project outcome before you ever start. You want your butterflies to soar, water to flow, and certain things to pop. You know exactly what your finished project should look like. But does your embroidery design project always turn out the way you want? Yes, No, sometimes???

Machine embroidery thread helps you create the allusions you want to see in your project. Thread adds dimension, color, sheen, and character to every design. And there is no reason you can’t mix different types of thread together in one design.

How much machine embroidery thread is too much? Is that a trick question? You can never have too many spools of machine embroidery thread. And you can have the perfect machine embroidery thread for every project… every time.

But what if you don’t know what type of embroidery thread is available to you?

The One Thing You Must Understand Before Selecting Your Threads

Besides thread type, you should consider thread weight. Thread weight is the thickness of the thread. Or how much space the thread takes up in your design. Do you want your project to look fuller and denser? Is the fabric delicate or thick?

Thread for machine embroidery comes in weights from 30 to 100 weight. The higher the number the thinner the thread. The lower the number the thicker the thread. Do not confuse the thickness and strength of the thread. The strength of the thread comes from the material used and thread process, not necessarily the thickness.

If you aren’t ready to experiment with thread thickness — yet. Use 40 weight thread created for machine embroidery.

Use the following as a guide for thread weight. Remember this is just a guide. Half the fun of creating… is experimenting too.

  • 60–90 weight thread is typically used for bobbin thread if you are not doing a reverse design. You can find bobbin thread in pre-wound bobbins and in spools to create your own bobbins. They come in an array of material from cotton to polyester and mixed. As well as several colors.
  • If you’re creating a reversible design use the same thread for top and bobbin.
  • 40 weight thread is standard machine embroidery thread.
  • 30 weight thread has been standard sewing thread for generations. But they work great on designs for a thicker look and feel.

Remember the thicker the weight the more space the thread takes up in the design.

11 Common Machine Embroidery Threads And how to Effectively Use Each One.

1. Polyester

Polyester thread is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. The thread starts as polyester chips, which get spun into long filaments or strands. The strands get twisted, spun and dyed becoming polyester machine embroidery thread.

Polyester machine embroidery thread is one of the most common thread types in the industry.

It’s one of the shiniest threads giving your embroidery design a shimmery look.


  • There are 100’s of available colors to choose from.
  • It’s many times cheaper to buy than other thread types.
  • Its popularity has made the thread more available than other thread types.
  • It has strong wearability. It doesn’t shrink or stretch even in hot water. It doesn’t fade with washing or normal bleach usage. And it doesn’t fade in the sunlight.


  • Not well suited for projects that are meant to be used in the microwave. You can not put polyester into the microwave for it can burn and catch on fire.

Project Usage:

Polyester thread is a good go-to thread for the majority of your projects.

2. Rayon

Rayon thread comes from mixing wood pulp with chemicals. The wood gets chipped into small pieces before it’s processed with the chemicals. After boiling, washing, drying, spinning, and dying you have rayon thread.

Rayon thread was once the go-to thread but no longer is. As of 2018 some manufacturers no longer sell it.

The thread has a sheen to it, but not as bright as polyester and silk.


  • The thread comes in 100’s of colors and is available at most thread stores.


  • The thread is not washer friendly.
  • It shrinks, stretches and fades with washing over time.
  • It fades in the sunlight and isn’t as strong as polyester.

Project Usage:

You can use rayon machine embroidery thread on any project you would polyester. But keep in mind the downfalls of this thread for the longevity of your project.

3. 100% Cotton

Cotton thread comes in both organic and non-organic spools. At the current time only one company imports organic thread into the United States. And it is not specifically machine embroidery thread. Organic thread isn’t grown or processed with hazardous chemicals.

Currently, the standard of making cotton thread includes large amounts of chemicals. The cotton is picked and made into large cotton bales which go to the processing plant. The bales get washed which removes the dirt and debris from the cotton. The cotton fibers go through a spinning and dying process which creates the cotton thread.

Cotton thread looks and feels naturally soft. It isn’t shiny like polyester, but very strong.


  • There are 100’s of colors available from many manufacturers.
  • It is easily found in the thread section of your embroidery store.
  • Cotton thread is washable and come in weights from 20 to 100 for different projects and looks.


  • If you’re looking for a shiny effect cotton thread isn’t as shiny as other machine embroidery thread.

Project Usage:

You can use 40 weight cotton thread on any project you would use polyester thread. Cotton thread is the only thread you should use on projects that go into the microwave. Projects like soup warmers, potato cooking bags or heat packs. Cotton thread looks and feels less stiff on lace projects.

4. Silk

Silk embroidery thread comes from the silkworm. There are two types of silk harvested. Nett Silk comes from harvesting while the worm is in its cocoon without disrupting the worm. Schappe silk comes from harvesting after the worm matures and the moth leaves the cocoon.

Silk is the shiniest of the machine embroidery threads.


  • Silk is one of the strongest threads available.
  • It comes in brilliant color shades not found in other thread.


  • Silk is one of the most expensive threads available.
  • It may be difficult to find.

Project Usage:

Silk works well for an array of complete projects and accents within projects. Projects created with delicate materials are especially suitable to silk thread.

5. Wool and wool blend thread

Wool thread starts as sheered fiber or hair from a sheep. The fiber is processed, spun and dyed. Wool blends may have other natural and synthetic material added to it.

Blended wool thread has more of a sheen then 100% wool thread. Both have a fuzzy feel or look. The thread can have a solid color or a marbling look, which is unique to wool and wool blended thread.


  • It adds a soft feeling to the design.
  • Wool adds a fiber look you won’t find with another thread.


  • Not as many color choices to choose from compared to other threads.
  • Thread may be more difficult to locate.

Project Usage:

Wool and wool blend thread adds dimension to almost any project with the exception of fine material such as silk. Wool thread works well on heavy material such as denim and canvas.

6. Metallic or Mylar

Metallic or Mylar machine embroidery thread comes in round or flat. Whichever type you choose to use is purely your preference.

Round metallic thread is created from metallic foil. The foil gets wrapped around a round center core making it look round like other threads.

Flat metallic thread is created with piles of metallic or mylar film. The film becomes layered together then cut into slices forming thread. Flat metallic thread looks flat and not round.

Flat metallic thread tends to shred and break while embroidering more that round.


  • Metallic thread looks like it sounds shiny and metal, giving your design a different dimension and look than any other thread.
  • It’s available in a large range of colors and shimmers. You can find gold, silver, and sparkle colors as well.


  • Metallic thread is more expensive than other threads.
  • You need to be mindful of the speed of your machine and the size needle you use. Embroidering too fast or using too small of a needle adds to thread breakage and fraying.

Project Usage:

Use metallic thread to add accents or pizazz into your project. Do not use it on projects going into the microwave. Be mindful of projects on delicate fabric that the thread doesn’t cut the fabric. Experiment with entire designs and accents within the design.

7. Neon or Poly-Neon

Neon thread comes from polyester thread dyed with a neon or fluorescent coloring. Poly-neon thread is brighter than polyester thread.


  • Neon thread is becoming more available to buy.
  • It ranges in colors from translucent to a shimmery appeal.


  • Not well suited for projects that are meant to be used in the microwave. You can not put polyester into the microwave for it can burn and catch on fire.
  • Not all polyester colors are available in neon.

Project Usage:

Any project you create with polyester machine embroidery thread can use neon thread.

8. Sun changing or solar reactive

Solar reactive thread comes from polyester, rayon, or a combination of the two.

It changes its appearance in direct sunlight. When you first embroider with the thread it looks white or very pale. The absorption of sunlight causes the design to change into different colors. Once the design is no longer affected by the sun it returns to its original coloring.


  • Solar thread is the only thread that gives you a drastic change for your design in the sun
  • Strong
  • Washable


  • Not available in many colors
  • Might be hard to find in local stores.
  • The design looks bland when not solar activated.

Project Usage:

Sun changing thread is great for outdoor uses or wearable projects. Projects used at the pool or beach such as towels, clothes, and tote bags come alive.

9. Glow in the dark

Glow in the dark thread has the opposite effect of sun changing thread. It’s made from polyester, rayon, or a mix of fibers.

The thread color embroiders as a white or slightly white. The thread absorbs light energy from the sun or indoor lights. Once darkness surrounds your project the thread turns to bright glowing colors.


  • This is the only thread that gives you a drastic change for your design in complete darkness
  • Strong
  • Washable


  • Not available in many colors
  • Might be hard to find in local stores.
  • The design may look bland in the light.

Project Usage:

Any project designed to shine in the dark. Halloween costumes and decor look awesome with glow in the dark thread.

10. Variegated or multi-colored

Variegated thread comes in any combination of polyester, rayon, or cotton.

Instead of one color throughout a spool of thread, there’s a multicolor pattern. As you embroider the thread changes colors every few inches forming a pattern.


  • You can gain a different look in one design over several projects.
  • Large fill areas will have multiple colors without changing thread.
  • Easily found.


  • It is impossible to have the exact look in more than one design because of the pattern change.
  • Variegated thread doesn’t work well with reversible designs.

Project Usage:

Variegated thread works best in large areas of a design where the project isn’t a reversible design. Use it on any design you want a color change without actually changing your thread.

11. Twists or color twists

Twists come from polyester, rayon, cotton, or a combination of fibers. It’s created by twisting two solid colors together to make a new color blend.


  • The twist is uniform in a color throughout the entire spool of thread, creating a dimensional look with both colors.
  • You can recreate the pattern within a design over many projects.


  • Very few colors are available compared t other types of thread.

Project Usage:

Twists look great in all your projects where you want an added color dimension. Reversible projects such as lace or ornaments work well with twist thread too.

Picking the Right Thread Takes Your Designs to the Next Level — Every Time.

Start your next project now. Or finish one you’ve already started. Use thread to take your project vision to reality. Add metallic in the water to let it sparkle. Or use twists to make butterflies soar. And don’t forget to mix different thread types together in one design or project for a unique one of a kind look.

No more guessing what type of embroidery thread you should use. And no more thinking you can’t mix and match thread types in one design. There isn’t one specific thread type you have to use on any project. It’s all about how you want your project to look and its purpose. The sky is the limit.

Now go create!


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