This is part 2 in a series designed to teach you everything you need to know about starting the art of cross stitching. If you missed step 1, please check this page to find it.
Let's get something out of the way right now - the stuff we cross stitch with is called "floss". I say this because I live with a philistine (a.k.a. my husband) who variably calls my floss "thread" and "string."
I'm not going to get into all the semantics of why it's not thread or string, if you're interested you're welcome to look at the definitions of why those words don't apply, but it doesn't really matter. I'm really only going on this rant because it's the only place where people might understand, and I want you to be prepared for when I use the word.
Traditional embroidery floss comes in a bundle called a skein and is made of 6 smaller strands which we will talk more about next week. This week is more focused on talking about what floss is and why you use it instead of spools of thread and a little bit about brands.
The first reason we use floss to cross stitch as well as to embroider is because its very, very strong. each strand is made of tiny cotton fibres twisted together. Because of this, it's really hard to accidentally break, especially when you start using more than one strand at a time.
Another reason is its texture. A lot of machine thread that I've dealt with is a little rough because once, it's inside a seam, who cares? Embroidery floss is usually mercerized - a treatment process I don't fully understand, but it makes the strands more hardy, smooth, and a little shiny.
The final reason I say floss should be used 100% of the time is colour matching. When you purchase a chart from my store, you'll see a table that gives you numbers that correspond to colours within the DMC brand (we'll get to that in a second). These colour codes will always yield the same colour. That means if you go buy a skein of #601 (a very bright pink) this week and then another one in a year, they're going to match so closely, your eyes cannot tell the difference - well, as long as you didn't leave your skein out where the sun would bleach it.
Okay, before I talk about brands I want to touch base on a couple of things:
First, I am the epitome of "generic" girl. There are very few situations where I say that a brand is better than a generic version. Floss is an exception (I'll explain why).
Second, no brand is paying me to endorse them. This is all my honest opinion. You'll notice that I don't sell floss (or other physical items) on this site, so it's not like recommending one brand or the other will benefit me in that way either.
Okay, there are 2 main brands in the world of embroider - DMC and Anchor. Embroidery flosses are kind of like comic book fandoms. I'm very much a DMC person, but there are others who would burn down anything to get to some Anchor. All of my charts are sold with DMC colour codes, but if you prefer another brand, that's fine. there are conversion charts all over the internet.
So why is brand a big thing when it comes to embroidery floss? Well, those brands have been around for...well, forever. DMC was formed in 1746 and Coats & Clark, the company who makes Anchor, was formed in 1812. At this point, they know what they're doing. You can find plenty of brands that tried to get into the embroidery floss market and failed (I have some really interesting brands upstairs that the local Embroidery League has never even heard of). There are also the options of purchasing generic/no-name brands, most commonly from a dollar store.
I tried the generic floss option once. The first thing you should know is that they usually only come in basic colours and have no colour codes or matching between batches. There is no way to know that the red you buy this time will match the red you buy in a couple of months. I bought a pack of black and white because I use a lot of those and they aren't hard to match. Though I was able to stitch with it, and the end result was pretty acceptable, the experience was fairly terrible.
Because generic brands tend not to go through mercerization, they tangle and knot like no one's business. If I weren't already fairly experienced in the world of embroidery, the experience would have been enough to make me never want to try the craft again. I think the white section of my Haida Hummingbird took three times as long because I had to deal with knots so often. When I looked at the difference in prices - 6 skeins of the generic brand for $1.25 compared to $0.60 per skein in my local craft store, I decided that it was totally worth my time to spend the extra $0.40 per skein. And, when I start a new, large project, I just wait until my craft store comes out with a 20% off an entire purchase coupon and go buy my floss then.
The other major concern when it comes to generic floss is its colour-fastness. DMC and Anchor have been shown to not run when they're washed. Generic floss, not so much.
If you still want to use generic floss to get started, please know that it's going to make your work much, much harder. Don't get discouraged if your floss makes you want to cry.