Embroidery Floss: Tips and Tricks for Stunning Stitching

Embroidery floss is a shiny, 6-strand cotton thread. It comes in a skein and in many colors.

In my childhood, I would explore my grandma's full box of embroidery floss.

The array of colors captivated me.

Each skein seemed to contain a unique story, ready to be woven into a masterpiece. From fiery reds and deep blues to gentle pastels and natural shades, the spectrum of choices lay before me like an artist's palette.

I vividly remember the first time I held a needle and thread, the excitement growing in me as I selected the perfect color to bring my embroidery to life.

That was when I understood the true magic of embroidery floss - its ability to transform a simple piece of fabric into art.

So, appreciate the charm of embroidery floss and let it take you into a world of creativity and craftsmanship.

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced stitcher, embroidery floss is the perfect partner for your creative journey. Its user-friendly nature and durability make it a versatile option for any project. The sleek floss moves smoothly through the fabric, enabling you to stitch with ease and accuracy.

embroidery floss on rack

Separating the strands of embroidery floss

To use it effectively, there are some basic techniques to master. For instance, you won’t use all six strands at once.

Instead, you will separate each strand and thread the number of strands you want to use into your needle. This number will depend on the fabric you are using (more on that soon).

So, the first skill you will need to learn is how to separate each strand. It's easy to get tangled if you don’t know how. I made a brief video to demonstrate the easiest method. Give it a try, it will save you a lot of frustration.

How many strands of embroidery floss to use

The following table shows how many strands to use for cross stitch on different fabrics. If you are doing a different type of embroidery you may need to use more or less, as well as a different needle. 

Pick a needle that will comfortably hold the number of strands you want to use. You can learn more about needle sizes here.

Fabric Count

Number of strands





2 or 3



1 or 2

28 (over 2 threads)


32 (over 2 threads)

1 or 2

32 (over 2 threads)

1 or 2

36 (over 2 threads)



Is it worth economizing?

threads on bobbins

You might be tempted to use cheap cotton thread. But it's better to choose a reputable brand like DMC, Anchor, Madeira, or Susan Bates.

Quality thread matters in needlework. Your hard work in embroidery deserves good thread, not cheap alternatives.

Each brand has a unique color numbering system. To match colors between brands, use a conversion chart. Usually, designers stick to one brand, only switching if they can't find a specific shade.

Can you embroider with sewing thread?

Sewing thread, typically found on a spool, is designed for use in machine sewing and dressmaking.

Usually thinner than embroidery floss, good quality threads are often composed of long staple cotton, which provides strength, durability, and a smooth finish. This makes them useful for constructing completed garments and textile products.  

Securing your embroidery floss

A typical question I often get at classes is, can I begin with a knot?

Avoid knots if you can. They make an ugly lump on your work's rear, and knots might untie! So, how to secure the loose end?

Try the loop method!

This is a simple, tidy start if your design needs two floss strands. Cut a floss length twice as long as usual. Fold it in half, pairing the two cut ends. Thread these into the needle's eye until the ends are a third of the looped end's length.

loop method

Pull the needle through the fabric, leaving a thread loop at the back. Take the needle to the back and slip it through the loop. Then, gently tighten the initial stitch. No knot required!

However, it has its limitations. If you miscount, undoing your work becomes difficult.

If this worries you, start again with a longer thread piece. Start in the middle and push the needle through the fabric. Leave about half the length on the surface for later use.

Start stitching with the first half, keeping the "tail" aside. When you reach the first end, you can re-thread the tail and continue from there. A pair of magnets, on either side of your fabric, can hold the tail.

Starting with a waste Knot

Starting with a waste knot is a valid method.

Begin by tying a knot at the end of the floss. Insert the needle from your work's front side, following the path of your stitches. As you start, work over the thread lying on the fabric's back to secure it. Once you reach the knot, cut it off.

Starting with an away waste knot

If you worry about causing a mess on the back by stitching over the thread tail, use an away waste knot.

Position it to one side where you won't stitch over it. After several stitches, cut the knot and secure the loose end by threading it under six stitches at the work's back, then snip it near the stitching.

I use this method for a lot of my hardanger and pulled work.

Other thread options

Specific embroidery techniques, like Hardanger, work well with various weights of pearl cotton. This is a non-divisible, lustrous, smooth cotton thread.

Pulled work, a technique that puts a lot of strain on the thread, needs a robust fibre like linen. These threads are also handy for needle lace and stumpwork.

If you want a high gloss effect, rayon thread or silk are good options, although they can be more challenging to work with due to their slippery nature.

Crewel wool, on the other hand, is a great choice for projects that require a matte finish.

Ready to get stitching?

Embroidery floss opens a world of color and creativity. Like a painter with a palette, you can create artwork with your needle.

No matter if you're a beginner or experienced, remember the thread's quality is as important as the effort and passion you put into your work.

Explore different techniques, threads, and methods to find your best fit. Don't fear mistakes. Each strand, stitch, and even knot, is part of your unique embroidery journey.

Grab your needle, select your thread, and begin stitching.

What Other Visitors Have Asked

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Purchase all floss for cross stitch project? 
I am starting a cross-stitch pattern purchased online. I have done cross-stitch kits only. The new pattern gives the chart with floss colors and numbers …

Vintage Anchor embroidery floss 
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Knotting and restarting thread 
How do I knot my thread and then restart with a new thread?

Anchor silks - Old numbers to current ones 
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putting floss onto LR cards 
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Carrying thread across the back 
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How do I separate my strands? 
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Twisting Thread 
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threading the needle and satin stitch 
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