Updated December 29, 2020.
Today we have a guest post from Michelle Huffford, who owned oCome to the Point in San Rafael, CA. This explanation of floss is from a newsletter and is reprinted by permission.
What Is Floss?
The term floss refers to a short, untwisted fiber used for embroidery. The most common types of floss are bamboo, cotton, and silk. Rayon flosses such as Marlitt from Anchor Threads sand Fiesta from Rainbow Gallery have been discontinued, but are available in limited quantities by special order.
Bamboo floss has a matte finish. The colors are also more muted than the others, due to the nature of the plant fiber. I have seen this used to great effect on animal designs. The only line of bamboo floss is Mandarin Floss from Rainbow Gallery. This six-ply thread comes in 20-yard cards and is available in 130 colors.
Cotton floss has the least sheen of the three. It is also the least expensive. If the item will be used, such as a pillowcase, this is the best choice. It is washable in cool water, and should not bleed. Reds can be problematic, so test first. This durable thread comes in hundreds of colors.
If you’re looking for shine, silk floss is your thread of choice. There are many lines of silk floss. Which to buy is a matter of preference. The plies range from six to twelve. It is the most expensive, and also the most delicate.
What is “Plied Thread”?
A phrase such as “six-ply” indicates that the fiber is composed of six individual strands. Threads come in any number of plies. “Plied thread” is synonymous with “floss.”
Why Do I Want To Pull Floss Apart Before Use?
This extra step plumps the thread, and makes it lay flatter on your stitching ground. Plying thread also ensures better coverage. Accomplished stitchers can tell at first glance whether or not thread has been plied. It is a key indicator between an amateur and an expert needle artist.
On rare occasions, you will choose not to ply your thread, and use it as it comes when cut from the skein. Stitching with unplied floss achieves a noticeable effect, such as when I deliberately chose to work with Splendor without plying it, in order to replicate a wall. Under normal stitching conditions, floss is always plied. The work is well worth it.