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 favors to test them all against some of the complaints 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. 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 mismatches. 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 halogen lights. The difference in these threads was astonishing. Far greater than the difference in the Chinese copies, the older DMC threads lost their luster 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 polyester 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 traditional standpoint, 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 fiber, 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 that 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 noticeable? 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 colorfast way, or a ‘quick dye’ which bleeds and runs. The Royal Broderie threads are a quick dye, so they bleed. It wasn’t obvious at 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 colorfast 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, it’s 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 for 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.
 

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Lyn

    Does anyone have a CMX to DMC conversion chart or k ow where I can find one. Thank you.

    1. LordLibidan

      Hi,
      I’m afraid I’ve never heard of CMX threads. I had a quick google and wasn’t able to find them either.
      Did you mean CXC?

  2. Desiree Barhorst-Weller

    CXC threads can melt, I swear! I tried to remove my Frixion lines with my iron after stitching a whole page of Mini Elsa (a HAED) with CXC threads and my floss melted!
    Nicole (the owner of one of the cross stitch pages I am a member of) wouldn’t believe me, even after I showed pictures of the result.
    I do have to say I was stupid enough not to use a piece of cloth between my iron and my stitched piece ánd I used the highest settings on my iron.
    I have learned from that experience, I had to start all over again.
    But CXC thread can melt, that’s for sure.

  3. Chris Wittin

    Hi Lord Libidan,
    Could you help me with a problem please. I ordered a cross stitch project from China and I’m two thirds on and are running short on threads! Is there anywhere in the UK that I may be able to purchase the short fall please?
    I can’t scrap the project I’ve been stitching away for nearly six months and it would break my heart!
    Any help you give will be very appreciated.
    Thanks for your time. Regards and fingers crossed

    1. LordLibidan

      Hey!
      Does the kit give you thread numbers and a brand? Without those two bits of information, you’re going to struggle I’m afraid.
      If you do know the brand and thread numbers, then you should just be able to go out and buy a skein of each thread and you should be fine. We have a list of the best online cross stitch stores, however as a fellow Brit, I would suggest Lakeside Needlecraft.
      Happy stitching!

  4. Cindy

    You said that CXC does not have colors 1-35. My project will be in all CXC. Will it look off if I use DMC 1-35 for those areas?

    1. LordLibidan

      I’ve never seen a whole project stitched with mixed threads, so it’s hard to say. However, DMC threads don’t have as much reflective qualities as CXC (due to the polyester in CXC), so those colors might look a little matt. I would say it depends on how much of the 1-35 color there will be in the project.
      If it’s a very small amount; should be fine!
      If it’s a large amount I would suggest sticking to all DMC for that project.

      1. Michele Steele

        Thanks for this cover on flosses—any updates? I have a huge bag of DMC from 2000’s and I usually buy my flosses (if needed) by what the pattern calls for. My other thought (being American) is that I like to support local shops and on-line US sellers as much as possible. I may buy a group of the CXC to see for myself what the differences are, since I’ve seen so much change over the years for DMC and am wondering if they will ultimately be around in another 5-10 years? Thanks again for having put this up.

      2. LordLibidan

        Considering their popularity, I would suggest that these cheaper threads are likely to be around more than 10 years. The huge price difference, for a very similar quality, will always succeed. The issue is if CXC is. The brand itself is doing a very poor job of getting their threads into the stitchers hands (outside of China), and this is their one downfall. Getting the threads is just so hard!