Are Cheap Embroidery Threads Worth It?

We’ve all heard the horror stories over threads about melting threads and bleeds, and as a result settled with DMC threads. Now, I’m a DMC fan, so I was thinking I’d try a few threads out, complain about how they sucked and go on my jolly way. Well, I was wrong. Turns out that all those horror stories are pretty much exactly that; stories. Whilst most do have some truth to them, cheaper Chinese copy threads aren’t all that bad.
I took a new DMC thread, a DMC thread from 1998, a DMC thread from 2016 that had been on a shop floor, an Anchor thread, a CXC thread (known as a Chinese DMC copy), and a Royal Broderie thread (a Chinese DMC copy that mostly goes without a brand name online). I then stitched some test squares, projects and a few party favours to test them all against some of the compaints people had.
Below are my findings which show that those Chinese threads aren’t that bad after all. I will state for the record, that I still use DMC threads though.
 

The Colors Don’t Match

FALSE(ish)

DMC 3861 dye lot differences
DMC 3861 dye lot differences. Courtesy of Cindi Csraze
This was the number one complaint I came across during my research, and I was expecting to see some serious color mis-matches. My first initial stitches showed a slight difference in color, but nothing great enough to phone home about. But then I got to some of the other DMC threads. I said above I used three DMC threads, new ones, ones from 1998, and some from 2016 that were stored on a shop floor under hallogen lights. The difference in these threads were astonishing. Far greater than the difference in the chinese copies, the older DMC threads lost there lustre and most looked a little greyed out.
This is an issue I’ve seen before. In fact, batches of the same color from DNC come out differently too. In the below picture you can see a significant difference between dye lots.

They’re Plastic!

TRUE(ish)
This rumor centers around the CXC threads in particular. They’re made from a composite of poleyester and cotton (much like a dress shirt is). Despite some online retailers stating they are 100% cotton, which is where this rumor comes from. Now from a tradition stand point, the threads of cross stitch should be cotton. However, does that mean you shouldn’t use the composite ones? I think not.
Now being plastic composite does have some impact on the threads, which we talk about below, but being part plastic isn’t a terrible thing.
In addition to this, its only CXC threads that are like this. The slightly cheaper, often no-brand, threads by Royal Broderie are 100% cotton.

They Melt!

FALSE
Yes, some threads include plastic. But melting? No.
Polyester is a high temperature fibre, and it does melt at some point, however the melting temperature is 50 degrees higher than the ignition point of cotton. Yes, you heard that right. The cotton threads would have had to burst into flames before the polyester threads started melting. This story has to be completely made up. I know a few people who know people who have melted threads, but no one could give me proof, and there is always a chance that it was some super cheap thread which might melt.

They Don’t Fit Needles!

TRUE(ish)
For some reason I’m yet to work out, the strands of thread in the Chinese variants are slightly thicker. This goes for both the CXC and generic threads. However, they are only slightly bigger. Increase the needle size by one, and you’re sorted!

They Destroy Needles!

TRUE(ish)
As per above, the needles used with these Chinese threads need to be slightly bigger. If they’re bigger, then there is no problem. However smaller needles will catch at the fibers, destroying your needle eye.

They Break And Knot!

JURY IS OUT
I tested 17 colors of each thread, and with it I got breakages, and knots. However they were all fairly spread over each brand. The cheapest Royal Broderie threads broke most, without a doubt, but the CXC threads didn’t break at all; instead they knotted a lot. In fact, CXC threads knotted a lot when being taken off the skein, however I have heard removing them a different way helps with this.
I know from experience that breaks and knots happen, and most can be avoided by good technique, but I didn’t find anything that suggested more problems with the cheaper threads.

They’re Dull!

TRUE
I don’t want to get too technical here, but both of the tested Chinese threads had less of a shine. Was it noticable? Yes. Is it a problem? Well, no. Combining the threads would look bad, you could see it as clear as day, however when only using the single brand it was hard to see any real difference.
In addition I feel Anchor threads have less of a shine than DMC, and they are one of the most expensive threads to buy.

The Colors Run!

FALSE & TRUE
Cotton can be dyed in two ways, a color fast way, or a ‘quick dye’ which bleeds and runs. The Royal Broderie threads are a quick dye, so they bleed. It wasn’t obvious as first, however you can simulate wear on threads by washing with higher heats, which shows a very clear bleed.
CXC threads on the other hand, don’t. This is probably due to their polyester cotton blend, which needs the color fast dye method to dye them in the first place.

They’re Hard To Get!

FALSE(ish)
You can get either CXC threads or Royal Broiderie from ebay, amazon or alibaba. Getting them to your house quickly; that’s harder. Getting exact colors; also hard.
Now, in recent times picking up specific colors has got a lot easier, however in general you pick up packs of 50 threads, random colors. This can work out really well (you can get a full set quickly and cheaply), however picking a single skein of a specific color is still a pain to do. Most of the time they come from China (being Chinese and all), so postage is a few weeks.
So long as you prepare ahead of time, its not a big deal.

TL;DR

If its a no-brand Chinese thread, its terrible quality, don’t touch them.
DMC is superior to CXC, but consider the downsides to cost, as it may be a viable thread, especially for people starting in the hobby.
CXC threads tend to knot, they are duller than DMC, they aren’t 100% cotton, you needle to use a larger needle and they can be fiddly to get hold of sometimes. I know a lot of people that will be turned off by this list, myself included, however the price difference between DMC (£0.89 at the time of this test) compared with an average CXC skein (£0.22 at the time of this test) is a massive difference. Using a slightly inferior thread for less might be a viable option to many. They really aren’t as bad as some of the rumors suggest…
 
I just wanted to thank a few resources that have done similar test; reddit comparison by Damaniel2, crossstitch forum and thread-bare
CXC threads forum comments

8 thoughts on “Are Cheap Embroidery Threads Worth It?

  1. About the not-melting of the thread: that’s not completely true. I use CXC and it díd melt when I use the highest setting of my iron, while my DMC thread didn´t melt. However, if I use a lower setting, i.e. between 1 and 2 dots, there´s nothing bad happening. No melting, whatsoever.
    It´s still the best to keep a towel between the iron and the thread to prevent melting.

    1. Hi Desiree,
      After this post I became aware that there are a lot of people selling sub-standard threads but plastering the CXC logo on them. I think you may have got one of these not-actually-CXC threads if you suffered melting.
      However I would agree with the towel; always use a towel 😀

  2. Great review! I have to comment on one thing though, I did a colour fast test on royal and it did not bleed. Also, cxc has MORE of a shine in general than dmc. The older version of cxc must have been dull because older posts say that is so, but everything I have bought in the last year has great lustre, so they must have changed their manufacturing or something. Also, do you have pics of the factory? Would love to see them! And finally, there are several people selling cxc in the UK now as well as the US 🙂

  3. I only use Anchor because where I used to live the only shop that sold cross stitch threads only had Anchor so I built up a collection. Now I can’t switch because I have so many Anchor threads and obviously can’t mix Anchor and DMC. The only issue I’ve ever had is that all the cross stitch magazines only use DMC when stitching their examples so I never know how mine are actually going to look until the end!

  4. Great comparison – we’ve added a back-link from ours (the more information, the better!)

    The latest argument we’ve started seeing (as the others are debunked) is that “they must use child labor as they are Chinese” which seems a little, well, racist stereotyping. China is a huge manufacturing base not just for cheap products but also high-end, big name brands like Apple and it’s unfair to tarnish any manufacturer without any evidence whatsoever.

    Things like that can also make people feel bad if these cheaper threads are their only option – the price of DMC can simply put the craft out of reach for people who maybe on a low fixed income so it can make the difference between being able to pursue and enjoy their hobby or not.

    Of course it’s not all just about cost – many use it simply because they prefer the coverage they get and the price is just a bonus.

    1. I can’t really comment on the whole child labour thing, just because its cheaper doesn’t mean it has to be produced with child labour… But if anyone wants to know about poor working conditions Apple is a prime example. That said, I’ve reached out to CXC and they’ve actually sent me a photo of their factory. Looks newer and fancier than the DMC factory tbh.
      You know, I really was surprised, I expected them to be bad. Turns out they’ve been in kits for the last 10 years in this country…

  5. Hi, as a point of reference DMC skeins are 63p from Lakeside Needlecraft so they are able to be found for less than the stated 89p above. thanks

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