You know the items: belts, dog collars, shoes, rugs, church kneelers . . . They are not always treated kindly and, often, they have to stand-up to years of use. With all the love and work you put into making that needlepoint, don’t you want it to last and look lovely throughout its life?
I know I do.
I have had too many instances where my needlepoint hasn’t worn (for example the pillow that pilled when you looked at it cross-eyed) and ones that held up surprisingly well (hello checkbook cover) that I have created my own guidelines for threads to use.
When does my needlepoint get lots of wear?
Your needlepoint needs to stand up to wear if one or more of these conditions occur:
- it will be used by someone who doesn’t do the maintenance on items, such as kids or animals
- it will be used repeatedly under less than optimal conditions (i.e. shoes)
- it will be used for decades without cleaning (i.e. prayer kneelers)
- it’s too cumbersome to remove for cleaning or to put away (i.e. upholstery)
- it will be exposed repeatedly to sunlight for long periods of time
Wool: If I had to pick only one thread for these locations, it would be wool. Wool wears like iron. The colors are lovely and it rarely shows wear. I have items kept in my purse for years and they still look new. It’s my go-to thread for hard-wearing places.
Cotton: Cotton is a strong fiber that is widely available. When found in its common single-strand form, i.e. pearl cotton, it is great when you want a combination of hard-wear and a bit of shine. Because it comes in several weights you can match your thread to the canvas and still use a single-strand. There are other cotton threads that are hard-wearing depending on your mesh size. I am a huge fan of DMC Matte Cotton which is now being brought into this country again. It’s very soft, like an old T shirt. I have also seen cotton ribbons. Cottons like Pebbly Perle and High Cotton, although stranded and no longer made, are exceptions to the no stranded threads rule because they are very sturdy.
Silk: Silk is an extremely strong fiber but it is also extremely thin. This combination can make silk problematical for hard-wearing needlepoint. That’s because the construction of most silk threads makes them tend to snag or allows the strands to break causing pilling. The best way to tell if your silk will work is to look at the thread. If it is not really slick and shiny, like Trebizond and has a fairly tight twist, like Grandeur, it should work. If it is soft and fluffy the less you can squeeze it, the better it will work. In this case Pepper Pot is a better choice than Vineyard Silk.
My top choices for silk would be Grandeur/Elegance and the Pepperpot.
Metallics: Metallics are mostly made from polyester and are finished so that they do not pill. Even so, it isn’t clear how well they will wear long term so keep their use to a minimum.
Synthetics: I do not recommend threads containing polyester, except metallics, for needlepoint. It pills. Nylon is better but many nylon threads can unravel easily and may not be able to stay securely ended and begun. Rayon can also have this problem. With synthetics I recommend avoiding them if possible and, if not possible, only using them in small amounts.
For hard-wearing applications I recommend wool for matte textures and pearl cotton for shiny ones. Other single-atrand cottons also work well.
Blends: Threads that have a mix of fibers take on the characteristics of all the fibers in them. If the different fibers wear at different rates, the threads will wear unevenly. We usually see this because the stitching pills. Unless you have tried a particular thread and know it does not pill, avoid it for these applications.
Stranded Threads: Any stranded thread, no matter what it’s made from, will snag. The thinner strands of stranded threads make it easy for them to catch. This makes the needlepoint more fragile. While this us not a problem in most applications, it is a concern for hard-wearing needlepoint.
Look for substitutes that are single-strand or flat threads.
Sun-damage, a special case
All thread will show damage after long exposure to the sun. Sunlight fades colors and weaken fibers. Happily while all fibers will show this damage, some show it faster than others. Silk is one of the worst.
If you cannot avoid the sun for your application and cannot take means to prevent it, do not use silk.