Embroidery fabric and thread – choosing as a beginner

One of the questions I get asked a lot is this: Which fabric do you use? But it is not that simple – and yet it is very simple to answer. I don’t always use the same fabric for embroidery and neither should you!

However, in the beginning, it is hard to tell which materials work for embroidery and which are just way too hard to use for a beginner. Preferences also play a role in this game. Some people like more rustic middleweight linen, and some like thinner cotton fabrics or even felted wool fabric.

So don’t be shy and try out several fabrics that you have at hand (like an old pillowcase or fabric napkins).

Get even more embroidery tips for beginners in the beginner guide.

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Embroidery Fabric

There is not one embroidery fabric for everything. So the answer to which fabric to choose depends a lot on your project. However, there are some rules of thumb:

  • The smaller and finer your project is, the finer your fabric should be
  • evenweave linens or aids fabric is for counted cross stitch and other counted stitch types

Which fabric do I use for embroidery?

For most of my embroidery patterns (except cross stitch) I use fine linen or cotton fabric with 3 strands of 6stranded embroidery thread. The finer your fabric the fewer strands you take. For most quilting fabrics for example I would choose 2-3 strands of thread.

For my cross stitch patterns, I use a 20ct evenweave which results in 40 crosses on 4inch and use 6 strands of threads.

embroidery stitch sampler - beginner embroidery

The best beginner fabric for embroidery

Is your head spinning when you want to just buy a piece of fabric and see the vast amount of options? I get that! Here is what I find the easiest and cheapest fabric to start with muslin (called calico in the UK). There is another fabric also called muslin that is more of a cheesecloth – very thin and loosely woven. That’s not easy to use for embroidery, so check the work calico to be on the safe side.

I know the terminology of fabrics will make you run away pretty fast, so I’ll spare you the details and give you a list of search terms that you can use to get the right fabric in your local shop or online.

Beginner friendly fabrics:

Fabrics to avoid as a beginner:

  • satin and other very smooth and shiny fabrics
  • jersey and other stretchy fabrics
  • velvet, corduroy, and fleece
  • gauze and very thin and transparent fabrics

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embroidery floss and threads

Embroidery Thread

Like with fabric there are a lot of different varieties of threads available. To make the searching process easier for you here are the two commonly used types of embroidery thread. There are many more, both these two are the most commonly used ones in modern embroidery patterns.

6 stranded embroidery floss

Stranded embroidery floss is the standard material used for modern embroidery. The thread consists of 6 single cotton threads that you can divide easily.
The separate threads make it very simple to adapt the thickness of your thread so you don’t need a huge variety of different threads in each color.
Stranded embroidery floss is available in a huge variety of colors and is commonly accessible in stores locally and online.

Pearl cotton

Pearl cotton (also called Perle cotton) is a twisted thread that looks a little bit rope-like. It has a beautiful texture and behaves slightly differently than stranded embroidery floss. Pearl cotton thread is not dividable and is available in different thicknesses.
The higher the number of the thread (e.g. Pearl no. 5) the finer/thinner the thread. So Pearl no. 3 is thicker than no.5.
The pearl 3 is about the thickness of a full 6 strands of embroidery floss. A pearl 8 is about the same thickness as 3 strands of embroidery floss.

So which one should you use?

Most modern patterns call for stranded embroidery floss. If you want to start out, choose your favorite colors and go with embroidery floss.
However, pearl cotton tends to be a little bit sturdier, so if you plan to embellish simple motifs on bags or other items that are going to be used rather than displayed on a wall, pearl cotton might be the better choice.

You can buy embroidery floss colors individually for specific projects but if you want to try it out first, you might enjoy a color-coordinated set like this pastel one or this rainbow set from Sublime Stitching. Or go with Pearl cotton on Etsy.

Do you want more tips and tricks on hand embroidery?

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