Linen & Silk Fibers

Many manufacturers carry lines of threads that contain silk, wool, linen, and/or metallic. In this article, the items are grouped by thread type so if you are looking for silk threads, you can find them all together. The manufacturer’s suggestions, if any, are included on how to use the thread. As always, it is up to you to determine whether that recommendation covers your project correctly. Remember we all stitch differently and you may need to use a different ply count to get the results you want. Also included is where the thread is manufactured. How many countries have you "visited" with your stitching?

Cotton (not floss nor pearl cottons)

Click here to read about the process to make cotton in the Pearl Cotton & Floss Fibers Guide.

From the Rainbow Gallery Collection:

Bravo! – 100% cotton with 15 yards (13.7 meters) per card. It is a 4-ply thread; each ply is slightly larger than a strand of DMC floss and is equivalent to pearl cotton size 12. (Bravo! Encore! And Overture are dyed to match, however, not all the colors are in each line.) Use 1 ply for cross stitch, 2 ply on Congress cloth, or 3 ply on 18 count canvas. Made in the USA. Click here to view patterns that use Bravo!

Encore! – 100% cotton with 10 yards (9.1 meters) per card. This is a 4-ply thread; each ply is equivalent to pearl cotton size 8. Use 1 strand on Congress cloth or cross stitch or 18 count canvas. Made in the USA.

Overture – 100% cotton with 10 yards (9.1 meters) per card. This is a 4-ply thread; each ply is equivalent to pearl cotton size 5. Use 1 strand on 18 count fabric or 2 strands on 12-14 count canvas. Made in the USA. Click here for several patterns that use Overture

Pebbly Perle – 100% mercerized cotton with 10 yards (9.1 meters) per card. This is a 4-ply thread with a cabled look which can be used as it comes or split out. You need to be careful to maintain the twist as you stitch or it sill look uneven. This is one thread that if you need two ply, strip out one ply and double it over your needle. Wetting this thread also helps get the kinks out. Use as is on 14-18 count canvas or 2 strands on 22-count Congress cloth. Made in France.

Silk threads

Silk is very, very strong, even when it is very thin. Ancient Chinese get the credit for the discovery of silkworms and the process necessary to produce silk. That process has changed very little over the centuries. It all starts with silkworm eggs. After about 10-14 days they hatch and are the larvae are black in color. They are very, very hungry, but very picky only eating the leaves of the mulberry tree. In about 3 days, they have consumed several times their body weight and turn white in color. When they are about a month old they are 10,000 times their birth size. During this time their silk glands are filling with liquid. Once they are full, they stop eating. They attach themselves to a mulberry branch and begin to spin their cocoon which takes about 3 days. That’s when the cocoons are harvested. Then the trick is to find the end of the silk thread and start unwinding it from the cocoon and winding it onto a tool called a "silk reel" which is like a large spinning wheel. The threads are then spun for stitching. Usually a prepared silk thread will have several plies. One other important item to note: silk will dye better than any of the other natural fibers.

There is a lot more information about the actual process and history but not enough space in this article. If you are really ambitious, you can buy silkworm eggs and "mulberry silkworm chow" and go through the process yourself making your own silk. Check out these websites for further information:

From the Rainbow Gallery Collection:

Backgrounds – (Natural Silk, BG1) – 100% silk, 1 ply, with 20 yards (18.2 meters) per card. This is a Noppee silk and should be stitched using 12" length of thread or less to prevent fraying. Come straight up and down through your canvas. You might want to use a larger needle than normal. Made in Switzerland.

Silk n’ Cream – 50% Silk, 50% wool, 20 yards (18.2 meters) per card. This is a soft twisted silk and wool combination. This is a great choice for backgrounds and areas that use a lot of thread. Use shorter lengths to keep the best shine. You need to rotate your needle as you stitch to maintain the soft twist. Use 1 strand on 14-18 count canvas or 7-11 count cross stitch. Made in Switzerland.

Splendor – 100% silk, 12 ply, 8 yards (7.3 meters) on a card. The 12 ply is made up of three bundles of 4 strands each. The twist of the individual strands is tighter than other silks so it won’t snag on most hands. This line is dyed to match some of the Grandeur (size #5), Elegance (size #8), and Subtlety (size #12) colors. Use 4 stands on 18 count canvas, 2 strands on congress canvas. Made in France. Click here for patterns that use Splendor

Elegance – 100% silk, tightly twisted silk, 20 yards (18.2 meters) on a card. It is roughly equivalent to pearl cotton size 8. This is a very sturdy thread, great for pulled work and Hardanger. It has a nice, rich shine, so use short lengths to stitch. Use over 2 on 25-32 count fabric, over 1 on 11-18 count cross-stitch. Made in Switzerland. Click here to see some patterns that use Elegance

Grandeur – 100% silk, 10 yards (9.1 meters) per card. It is equivalent to pearl cotton size 5 and matches Elegance and Subtlety. It is a strong, twisted silk with a good shine so use short lengths to maintain shine. It is soft and will spread a little when stitched for good coverage. Be sure to maintain the twist as you stitch. Use 1 strand on 13-18 count canvas or 7-11 count cross-stitch. Made in Switzerland. Click here for patterns that use Grandeur

Splendor Silk Ribbon – 100% silk, 4 (3.6 meters) yards on a card. This ribbon is dyed to match Splendor Silk. It is 4-mm wide and used for embellishments. Set the ribbon by putting your needle back through the end of the ribbon before stitching. Made in Japan.

Subtlety – 100% silk, very tightly twisted silk pearl, 30 yards (27.4 meters) on a card. This is close to a pearl cotton size 12. Maintain the twist as you stitch and watch for knots on the back of canvas. This is great for fine counted work, including Hardanger. Very strong fiber that works well with pulled work. Use anywhere you would use a size 12 pearl cotton. Made in Switzerland.

From the Caron Collection:

Waterlilies – 100% stranded spun silk, 12 ply 6 yards (5.5 meters) per skein. Waterlilies are dyed white or natural Soie Cristale. Many of the colors match Watercolors and Wildflowers, but because silk fibers take the dye differently, they may be more subdued. For Needlepoint: 2 ply on 24-ct Congress cloth, 3 ply on 20-ct fabric, 4 ply on 18-ct canvas. For Cross Stitch: 1 ply on 28-32 ct, 1-2 ply on 25-ct, 2 ply on 18-22 ct or 2-3 ply on 14 ct fabric. For Hardanger – 2 ply for open work fillings. Imported from Italy. Handpainted in the USA.

Soie Cristale – (soie is French for "silk" and is pronounce SWAH) – 100% stranded, spun silk, 12 ply with 6 yards (5.5 meters) per skein. It is heavier than 1 ply floss. Use the same as you would Waterlilies. Imported from Italy.

Impressions – 50% silk, 50% wool with 36 yards (33 meters) per skein. The solid colors coordinate with Soie Cristale silk and the hand-dyed colors coordinate with Watercolours and Wildflowers. It is about the same weight as Wildflowers, but has more loft. The different fibers reflect light differently, so it adds an extra dimension to your project. This is a great thread to experiment with because adding and subtracting 1 ply will change the look. For Canvaswork: 1 strand for 24-ct, 1 strand for basket weave and 2 strand for upright stitches on 18-ct canvas. For Cross-stitch: use one strand over two threads on 24- and 28 ct. It is a little skimpy on 18 ct. Suitable for small areas on 32 ct. Use one strand over one thread on 14-ct and 18 ct evenweave and 14 ct Aida. 1 strand for 24 canvas,1-2 strands for 18 count canvas, one strand over two threads for #24 and #28. Suitable for only small areas on #32. Over one thread on #14 and 18 Aida. Solid colors are from Italy, variegated colors are hand-dyed in the USA.

In the Kreinik collection:

Silk Mori (also known as Milkpaint) – 100% pure silk, 6 ply, 5.5 yards (5 meters) in a skein. Made in the USA. Click here for patterns using Silk Mori

Silk Serica – 100% Three ply filament silk, 11 yards per spool. Colors match Silk Mori. Use as is on 18 count canvas. Plies can be separated. Use one strand as it comes off the reel for 18 ct canvas or in a variety of stitches on 28- to 32-count linen or evenweave fabrics. Made in the USA. Click here for some lovely patterns using Silk Serica

Silk Bella – Three ply finely twisted filament silk, 20 meter spool. Dyed to match colors in the Silk Mori and Silk Serica line. Great for fine work in Hardanger, Stumpwork, pulled work, couching, silk gauze and other fine embroideries. Use it straight from the reel as a 3-ply twisted thread for satin stitch, kloster blocks and other stitches that showcase its texture. Made in the USA. Click here for several patterns using Silk Bella

From the Thread Gatherer:

Sheep’s Silk – 50% Silk/ 50% wool on a 25 yard (22.8 meter) skein. Use as it comes off the skein – do not ply down. For needlepoint use one strand for 18 count canvas. For Cross stitch use one strand on 18 count over two. Will give a tighter and fuller stitch on 28 count fabric. Made in the USA.

Silk ‘N Colors – Hand dyed, 100% silk, 12 ply, strandable, with 7 yards (6.4 meters) per skein which separates into 3 groups of 4-ply. Before stitching separate and put together the desired number of ply. For needlepoint use 4-ply on 18 count canvas and 6 to 8 ply on 12 to 13 count canvas. For cross-stitch use 1-ply on 30 count or finer, 2-ply on 28 count linen, or 4-ply on 18 count. Made in the USA.

From Dinky Dyes:

Dinky Dyes overdyed silks – 100% 6-stranded spun silk with approximately 8.7 yards (8 meters) per skein. Dinky Dyes are hand dyed, so buy enough threads from the same dye lot to complete your project. Can be used the same way as cotton floss. Manufactured to specification in Thailand. Click here for a great selection of patterns that use Dinky Dyes silk

From YLI:

YLI Silk Ribbon – 100% Kanagawa pure silk ribbon, available in three sizes 2 mm (1/16″) wide, 4 mm (1/8″) wide, 7 mm (1/4″) wide. Five yards (4.5 meters) per reel. Made in Japan.

From Treenway Silks:

Treenway silks – The Montano Series includes 3.5 mm ribbon – 100% hand-dyed ribbon, 5 yards (4.5 meters) on a card, and Buttonhole Twist (fine cord), 10 yards (9.1 meters) on a card. Great for the silk ribbon projects outlined in Judith Baker Montano books (link to her books.) Made in China.

From Access Commodities:

Soie d’alger (Au Ver a Soie) – 100% pure silk, 7-ply stranded silk with 5.5 yards (5 meters) per skein. This silk is loosely plied and can be split easily. It doesn’t come from Algeria. The name “Alger” refers to a special domestic process. Comes from France.

Soie 100/3 – 100% silk, single ply highly twisted spun silk with 54.5 yards (50 meters) per spool.. It can be used as is on 30 to 40 count linen or on silk gauze. Great for cross stitch and is perfect for weaving the bars in Hardanger. The sheen adds an extra luster to your project.

Soie Perlee – 100% 3 ply twisted silk filament yarn with 15 yards (13.7 meters) on a spool.

Trebizond Silk – 100%, 3-ply twisted silk that comes 11 yards (10 meters) on a spool. It is a long-filament silk thread perfect for needlepoint and Hardanger. It is equivalent to pearl cotton size #5. You can use the individual ply for special effects. Click here for a few patterns that use Trebizond Silk

From Needle Xpress:

Needlepoint Silk – 100% pure 8 ply Chinese silk with 5.5 yards (5 meters) in a skein. Some colors also come in hanks of 45 yards (41.1 meters). Click here for a great selection of patterns that use Needlepoint Silk

Here are some resources for silk usage:

  • One of the biggest complaints is that silk catches on dry hands. Keep your hands in great condition with a non-greasy hand lotion.
  • A good laying tool will help control stitch placement so that the light reflects correctly.

Linen threads

The use of flax for linen production goes back for over 5000 years. The flax plant was native to eastern Mediterranean to India. The Puritans brought the plant to North America. It is primarily grown commercially in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. The entire plant is pulled up when harvested to allow for the maximum fiber length. The process begins by separating the flax fibers from the stalk. Then the stalks are "retted" which is a fancy term that means letting the inner part of the stalk rot. This leaves bunches of slimy flax. The next step is called dressing the flax and it consists of three parts: Breaking to break the left over straw into shorter segments; Scutching to remove the straw from the fiber, and heckles which is a combing process, also known as towing, to clean, split and polish the fibers. The flax plant is very versatile and can be used to make fabric, dye, paper, soap, medicines, or ornamental plants in gardens.

Folk lore for Flax: In English, blond hair is traditionally referred to as "fair" or "Flaxen," The expression "tow-head" used to describe a person with blond hair, comes form the name for the fine, often tangled fibers left behind in the hackles, when processing flax into linen." ( Towhead also refers to a person with light blond hair. This is based on the hair’s resemblance to tow which is coarse or broken flax prepared for spinning (,

Linen thread is often shown as two numbers for example 50/3. The first number refers to the diameter of the finished thread where the higher the number, the thinner the thread. The second number refers to the number of ply twisted together. However, the thread is not divisible. So size 50/3 means there are three single strands twisted together to make a size 50. Swedish and Belgian linen threads are usually 2 ply.

From the Rainbow Gallery collection:

Rainbow Linen (being discontinued) – 100% Linen, size 16/2 with 20 yards (18.2 meters) per card. Use as is on 18-24 count canvas, 14 count Aida. Made in Sweden.

Londonderry Linen:

This thread is wet spun linen which means it goes through a unique process to make it smoother. We carry several sizes of Londonderry:

DMC announced in April 2008 that they will no longer provide linen floss as individual skeins.

Inquiring Minds

We have space for a few Qs & As..

Q. What are chainettes?
A. They are like a chain of crocheting. Because each chain is tucked into the one before it, there is nothing really to stop it from unraveling. You crocheters out there know what it is like to drop your hook and have your work unravel. Chainettes are a great choice to cover canvas and they tend to be less expensive than braids. To help with the fraying, use a larger needle than normal or fray check the ends of the chainettes.

Q. Does it matter which way I use my thread?
A. Most fibers have a grain or nap. Jay from Rainbow Gallery explains it best: Nap is the direction that the little fuzzies stick out. If you are stitching with a very furry fiber the nap is important. The best way to determine the direction of the nap is to run it through your fingers both ways. If one direction feels smoother, that is the way you want to stitch it through your canvas…

Q. How do I work with silk to keep it clean?
A. Projects with silk threads should only be dry cleaned. Do not wash or wet block silk work. Do not use an embroidery hoop with silk thread in hand stitchery, as the rings, markings or folds left in the fabric cannot be removed by washing the piece. Instead, use stretcher bars, Q-snaps, or scroll frames. Keep your hands clean. To help keep your fabric clean try frame covers.

Q. What should I do if my pattern calls from something that I can’t find on your website?
A. Great question! As much as we would love to carry everything, we just can’t. However, many times we can special order the threads you need. Call customer service and they will be happy to see if they can assist you.
Conversion and color charts:

For more information (and some free patterns) go to these websites:


Several people have inquired about the origin of the word "orts". As amazing as it sounds, it is not an acronym but an actual noun that dates back to the 15th century German orte. It usually appears in the plural and means a morsel left at a meal, a small detached piece (a scrap of paper), or the least bit (not an ort of evidence) (

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was published by Nordic Needle in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their newsletter, visit”

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