Needlepoint Embroidery Floss

Ways to Use Embroidery Floss in Needlepoint

cards of colorful embroidery floss
Getty Images

Embroidery floss is the term used to describe a loosely twisted thin thread consisting of six strands. Although usually spun from natural fibers like cotton, silk, and hemp, embroidery floss can also include rayon, linen, and other synthetic threads. Even so, cotton remains the most popular.

Floss comes in 9-yard skeins and is perfect for most types of embroidery—even needlepoint. Also known as stranded cotton, silk floss or rayon floss, it is tough enough to withstand normal wear and tear of a completed needlepoint design.

This inexpensive thread comes in hundreds of finely graded colors. The six strands can be separated and then put back together to fit any shade or color combinations you desire.

Cautions When Using Needlepoint Embroidery Floss

Also known as stranded cotton, silk floss or rayon floss, it is strong enough to withstand normal wear and tear of a completed needlepoint design. However, like any needlepoint thread, embroidery floss will fray under these conditions:

  • Lengths that are too long for stitching – A good working length for embroidery floss is 20 inches. Using longer lengths will cause the floss to fuzz as you stitch, which may lead to fraying and breaking.
  • Floss that is too thick for the canvas – Embroidery floss can be used whole (all six strands in the needle at once), or the strands can be separated and used in smaller groups depending on the canvas mesh size. Before using more than six strands, check to see if the threaded needle will pull smoothly through the canvas. Remove strands one at a time until you get the desired result.
  • Low quality stranded floss – Embroidery floss is the least expensive of all needlepoint threads. You can buy it virtually anywhere, with the best selections at fabric shops or general needlecraft supply stores. Take care when purchasing it to make sure it is the best quality. Two manufacturers, DMC and Anchor, have the best quality floss.
  • Poor quality needlepoint canvas – If your canvas has burrs and minimal sizing, it could cause the embroidery floss to catch and pull as you stitch back and forth.

    Some stitchers will not use embroidery floss believing that it frays when working a needlepoint project. This belief is unfounded, as many top designers use embroidery floss in their kits.

    Keep these things in mind when deciding whether to use floss in your needlepoint project.

    • The intended purpose for the finished needlepoint.
    • The amount of wear it will receive.
    • How frequently it will be washed or dry cleaned.

    Don't Fear the Floss - Get Excited About Using It!

    Use Embroidery Floss on tighter canvas mesh-like #18 and congress cloth. Base the number of strands you should use on the size of the canvas and the stitch you are making.

    There is no cut-and-dry formula for how much to use. You should experiment on a scrap piece of canvas until you are happy with the thread coverage.

    Tips for Using Embroidery Floss in Needlepoint

    • When using embroidery floss, it helps to “strip” it before working with multiple strands to make the thread lie flat and smooth. The easiest way to do this is to separate the strands, lay them side by side, and then thread the desired number in the tapestry needle.
    • You may need to use shorter lengths and change the thread more often, or use different threads altogether if you find that the embroidery floss is not working as you desire.
    • Embroidery floss has a distinct nap—just like Persian yarn. For best results, you should use the thread as it comes from the skein. Gently pull the thread end that’s visible from the wrapper and cut the appropriate length. After stripping, thread your needle with this cut end and make a knot at the end that you pulled from the skein.
    • When working with rayon or slippery fibers, use short lengths and lightly dampen each strand with a sponge that has been thoroughly wrung out, before placing them together for threading. Doing this will make it easier to stitch and keep the floss from fraying.