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Specialty Threads: Great Tips for Cross Stitch Success

specialty threads

Introducing specialty threads for stitching

As we all try to make an extra effort to add shimmer and style to our special occasion stitching projects, there are many challenges that may arise. We know how great specialty threads are – and what they can add to the finished results of our sparkling projects. Metallic or rayon/viscose threads can make the difference between a good project and an extra-special one.

However, these threads can be difficult to work with, and it can be tempting to lose patience with them when they tangle, break, fray and do not lie flat on the fabric as other cotton or silk-based threads do. Let’s see what we can do to make life a little easier…

Colorful specialty threads

Beautiful hotchpotch of specialty threads.

Understanding the common types of specialty thread, and their makeup helps us understand their frailties and how best to use them for stitching.

Here are some tips that may help you to make friends with these difficult but beautiful threads.

But let’s start off with some definitions:

Metallic Threads

Metallic threads are basic fibres coated with aluminium or made out of plastic to look golden or silvery. You can get these in a wide range of colours. They usually are produced as one ply thread wound on a spool, or as a stranded skein which you may separate. Sometimes a cotton ply is twisted around the metallic ply to add strength to the thread.

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Some metallic threads are relatively thick and therefore need to be couched* to the fabric. Some may be cross stitched as they are, and others should be mixed with another thread – these are called blending filaments. (See my recent Blog article on using blending filaments.)

Many effects can be created with these threads – shimmering leaves and waterfalls to holographic images. The artificial fibres that create the shining metallic look also produce a less flexible and more difficult thread to stitch with. They also are prone to fray at the ends, and also twist, tangle and knot while stitching, and may bulge from the fabric once the stitches are in place.

*In needlework crafts, couching is a technique in which thread is laid across the surface of the ground fabric and fastened in place with small stitches of the same or a different thread.

Rayon/Viscose Threads

Rayon threads are artificially-produced thread that is soft and lustrous with lots of shine. They are found in a wide range of colours as skeins with separable plies. They look impressive because they reflect the light so well, but they are very slippery.

These can be difficult to work with on account of their slippery feel. The plies can slip apart, become frayed and slip off the needle during the stitching process. They may also be difficult to lay flat on the fabric once they are stitched.

Other Specialty Threads

Perle cotton Specialty thread.

Perle cotton Specialty thread.

It is now possible to buy many different types of thread which can create different textures and visual effects in embroidery.

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One popular type is the fluffy thread. Firstly, you stitch the thread, then fluff it up with a soft baby’s toothbrush to create the look of fur, hair, moustaches and beards.

Another is perle cotton, which is a tightly wound single strand thread that will give your cross stitch a more textured effect.

Tips for working with specialty threads

Now – for the tips to make these potentially difficult threads much easier to work with:

Use the right length of thread

Most stitchers find that using a shorter length of thread reduces the number of problems encountered. Therefore, use thread lengths of no more than 12-15 inches (30-40 cm). This prevents stress and friction on the thread – so less fraying, tangles and knots.

Control the thread

This is best achieved by running the thread through wax before stitching. This smooths and straightens the thread. A good product that I’ve mentioned before is called Thread Heaven. This is a wax substance that comes in a little blue box. You place the thread under your finger on top of the wax, and pull for the length of the thread.

Another method is moistening the thread by running it gently over a sponge or wet towel. Also, placing the threads in the fridge or freezer overnight can make it easier to work with. (Beware: your family may doubt your sanity unless you can explain this.)

Use the right needle

Using a needle with a larger eye than normal can be very helpful. This will definitely help with threading a thicker speciality thread. It will also help to open the holes of the fabric so when the needle slides through it, there is less friction on the thread.

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Use special stitching techniques

heart stitched speciality

A tangle of bright colors

Stitch more slowly. Speciality threads, especially metallic threads, need a lot of patience, precision and care. They will not behave like cotton threads, so extra time will bring you better results. Some stitchers claim that completing every cross stitch before going onto the next one gives a much neater finish with speciality threads.

Also, these threads are prone to twist more than cottons. So every few stitches, allow your needle to drop downwards and untwist any threads that are starting to twist.

When stitching, pull the thread straight up or down through the fabric and not sideways, thus creating less stress on the thread. As soon as your thread starts fraying, stop, and use a new thread.


Here’s a video we found on youTube (8 minutes long) that is jam-packed full of clear and precise information on cross stitching with metallic threads. It’s well worth watching:

I hope you found the video both entertaining and informative; I certainly did. Amazon has a good selection of the large-eye stitching needles recommended in the video.

Stitchers who use speciality threads claim they are worth the extra effort for the spectacular results they produce! So, why not join them and see for yourself.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. I’d love to hear from you with any tips, in the comments section below, of your own experiences using specialty threads; I always reply to all comments.

Click here to check out the latest deals for Specialty Threads on Amazon

Happy Stitching!

Scarlet, In the UK

About the author: Hi, I’m Scarlet and have been an avid cross stitcher all my life. I’m a busy Mom with two young children, and am a contributor and editor on Patterns Patch.

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