Are Satin and Silk Threads Worth Using?

I was recently contacted by a reader and she asked a simple question that I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer. “Is it worth using silk threads for a heritage project?”
 
I’ve known of both silk and stain threads (DMCs answer to silk threads, that are actually rayon) for a long time, but I only recently got my hands on them when I was completing my journey to owning all of the DMC embroidery threads. I started asking around, and my story was somewhat the common theme; everyone knew about them but didn’t use them.
 
So I picked up my needles, tested them out, and today, we’ll deep dive into these rarer threads, and ask if you should use them too.

DMC satin threads (Source: DMC.com)
DMC satin threads (Source: DMC.com)

Luster

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of silks is their luster or shininess. And the thought is 100% founded. These things are really shiny, and they ooze quality. However, as much as I tried to photograph them, I just couldn’t get the shine to show. I then tried framing the work and realized that once again, it lost its shine. Annoyingly, the shine only really works if the fabric is moving (or the light source).
 
Whilst I loved the look when it was in my hands, the shine disappears unless it’s handled. For me, this is a big thing. Why would you go through the effort, and cost of using silks or satin threads to lose the main selling feature by putting it up on the wall? If you’re going to sew on something like a throw, yes, 100% worth it, but for something framed? It’s just not worth it.

Price

So that said, let’s also talk about the biggest negative about these threads; price. The price of DMC threads varies massively anyway, but their satin range is twice the price for most. Then the actual silk threads are up to 4 times as much (although the price for different brands varies). So is it worth it?
 
I honestly think so. Yes, the price is high, and there are further issues which we’ll get to in a minute, but you don’t use silks all the time. It’s for those specific projects, those projects you want to use the best of the best for. The things that you want to last for decades. As an everyday thread, they aren’t going to win prizes for their cost, and the benefits are massively outweighed by their flaws, but for those special times; it’s worth it.

6 Purple Silk Threads from DeVere Yarns (Source: devereyarns.co.uk)
6 Purple Silk Threads from DeVere Yarns (Source: devereyarns.co.uk)

Availability

The next thing you need to think about is the availability, and in turn, range. In the DMC satins range, there are only 36 to 60 colors (depending on your country), a significant difference from the 500 standard cottons, so you’ll have to pick your pattern and colors carefully. For brands other than DMC, ranges vary, but many only stock less than 30 colors, and just like mixing normal thread brands; we advise mixing and matching.
Then, is getting your hands on them. Yes, most of the best online cross stitch stores have them, but finding them in stores can be a tough ask.

Care & Sew Quality

Finally, what about care? Turns out most silks and satin threads can put up with a lot of washing, but they tend to be weaker than cotton threads. This leads to both broken threads whilst stitching, but also damage to well-worn stitches. You do need to take a little more care than your normal stitches.

So, When Should You Use Them?

Now we have our analysis out of the way, when should you use them?
This, as ever, is a personal choice, but for us, it’s only those special projects that get silks and satins. Even then, picking specific projects that don’t have too many colors, gets handled, and aren’t subject to too much dirt. That seems like a pretty small list, but any heritage project, like throws and pillows, is perfect. You touch them, so the luster shows, you don’t put them through too much wear, and you keep them for decades.
 
But, we sent a few samples out to our stitchy readers and asked them for their feedback. It turns out, that silks and satins are a bit hit and miss. I personally fall in that middle group of “OK-ers”. So we suggest next time you see some, pick up a single skein. Just throw some cross stitches down and see how it feels. Maybe you’re a lover, maybe you’re a hater, or maybe you’re a bit like me.
 
Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

4 thoughts on “Are Satin and Silk Threads Worth Using?

  1. I agree with Kirei above – Satin floss is not the same as silk, and I avoid using satin (rayon) floss for cross stitching when possible, converting it to silk or cotton depending on what I want to achieve. I’ve not done Brazilian embroidery, but from what I’ve seen of it, the slipperiness of the rayon is probably needed for that particular discipline.

    I use a lot of silks – the Chatelaine Designs that are one of my favorites use several brands – Caron Waterlilies, Gloriana regular and Florimel, Dinky Dyes, Thread Gatherer, and NPI. I’ve used silks for over 20 years now, along with cottons and metallics. I haven’t even listed 1/4 of what’s out there, just a few of the ones I use a lot of.

    The first thing to be aware of is that, generally, if you stitch with any hand dyed or overdyed floss – cotton or silk – your work may not be colorfast, so will not be able to be washed after you have completed it. Some brands may claim colorfastness, but deep colors like reds and blues may still bleed. Due to this, I haven’t washed a non-DMC project in 20+ years. Take care with your project while you are working it, and you should be okay to not wash.

    As for the actual stitching itself, I personally stitch with silk the exact same way I stitch with cotton, though some will tell you they use shorter lengths; I’ve never felt the need to do so, though I do pay attention if I’m using an older needle whose eye might be rough from wear, or if my hands are dry and snaggy, so will put on some lotion before I start. Silks are like cottons – you may develop favorites and not so favorites. There are a few kinds of base silk that dyers use – I used to have a great link to an excellent article on silk floss basics, but that site no longer exists. Suffice it to say, the main differences are in the length of the fibers and the way they are spun to make the base thread. The base that Gloriana and Thread Gatherer Silk n Colors use is my absolute favorite; 12 strands that are plied in 3 sections of 4 strands each. Caron Waterlilies are very similar, just not the 3 sections of 4 strands, but still 12 strands. These brands are a bit pricey – around $8 for 5-6 yards of 12-strand. If you have a design that calls out one of these brands, and it is a highly variegated color, you very likely won’t be able to convert it to a more cost-effective cotton AND get the same look.

    Dinky Dyes and NPI and some others I don’t use as often use a slightly different base fiber. I like the feel of the Gloriana & TG better, I personally feel like I fuzz up the DD a bit easier than the other brands, but I am in the minority of say, Chatelaine stitchers. Many find no difference. When it comes to the NPI – which are solid colors, no variegation in their line – I often convert these to DMC, if there is a good match, to save myself a few bucks; I absolutely go for the splurge if the called-for color is a key element of the design.

    That all said, can you tell the difference when stitched, aside from colors specific to a dyer? You will get differing answers depending on who you ask. In my opinion, once stitched, I absolutely cannot tell the difference between a cotton and a silk. Others will tell you they absolutely can. I guess it’s just something we each have to decide for ourselves. For any of the designs I’ve done in silks and cottons combined, I cannot tell you today, aside from the obviously variegated vs. non-variegated colors, which is silk and which is cotton….

    The reason I continue to use silks is because I 100% enjoy the feel of handling the fiber. It’s nice to run the floss between your fingers to get your needle threaded; it slides through the fabric like “butta”; some of the colors you get with silk just can’t be duplicated in cotton, due to the way the different fibers take dye.

    There are definitely some silk “snobs” out there, who demean anyone, especially sampler stitchers, who use cotton. I don’t understand that attitude. While I absolutely love my silks, I use materials appropriate to the project – not everything is intended to be an heirloom, and even more importantly, there are no stitch police. My advice is always, use what makes you happy

    I would suggest, in order to get an idea of what’s out there, to find a needlework shop that has a Fiber of the Month club, especially if you can find one that gives you a mix of dyers. You might get some colors that you will never use, but you never know! I encourage everyone to give silks a try, even if you save them for only those very special projects. There are so many dyers out there now, everybody ought to be able find something they’d like to try.

    That said, dye lots are uber important in these overdyed threads, so if you are planning a project with silk, make sure you buy all you will need (and then some, to account for frogs), as it’s not like DMC, you can’t count on being able to buy another skein a year from now and them being an exact match.

    1. Hey fellow Chatelaine stitcher! Haha we share the frustration with rayon thread, especially trying to do specialty stitches with them. I don’t convert them for chatelaines just for the textural differences, which are..minor.

      Btw when I tried to do some investigation couple years ago, I’m pretty sure Gloriana, Thread Gatherer use the same base as rainbow gallery’s Splendor and the associated collections (not hand-dyed, so slightly cheaper). Waterlilies use the same base silk, but is spun slightly differently in Italy. Dinky Dye used to be Australian but was bought out so I’m not sure what they use now.

      Since they are in the similar price range and are both chinese silks, I much prefer Silk mill to NPI personally.

      Personally, I find it somewhat amusing that that the shinier the silk is, the harder it is to handle (usually). Spun silks are mostly like cotton.

      Agreed, “___” snobs are just frustrating and to be ignored. (Also deeply ironic with samplers because historically most of them used whatever they had on hand) It’s a hobby, people should do whatever they like at the end of the day.

      Cheerios

  2. Hey, I also work some needlepoint and non-counted work, but mostly just love all sorts of threads…so a couple of thoughts.

    I really don’t think satin thread and silks should be lumped together, other than the fact that they are not-cotton and more expensive than normal DMC floss.

    Satin thread is rayon and straddles the line between natural/synthetic, it handles very differently and is more slippery (?) and can snap in my experience. DMC may only have 60 colors, but Edmar has a more extensive range of both solids, shaded and variegated threads since it’s used in brazilian embroidery. For satins, I’m personally on the hit-or-miss, usually miss except for a few “highlight” stitches.

    Silk is a whole other thing but definitely hit, hit, hit (except the price tag). I think it’s first important to break it down to spun silk – which has a natural sheen, VS filament/reeled silk which is almost glossy. Then there’s twisted/VS untwisted, and that also affect the shine. There is absolutely an easily noticeable difference between filament silk VS cotton imo.

    The absolute gold standard is au ver a soie, their most commonly carried line Soie d’Alger comes in 600+ shades and is often the choice in historical samplers. It’s 7 strands in 5m so you can control the thickness and just a joy to stitch with. There are some not-very-good DMC conversion floating around, but you definitely won’t lack for colors.

    Then there are all the overdyed, hand-dyed floss – Caron Wildflowers, Gloriana (they also dye from soie d’alger in their florimell line), Thread Gatherer, Dinky Dyes etc just off the top of my head. Absolutely beautiful colors…but like most overdyed it is not very color fast. Most of these companies use stranded silk.

    For AVAS I’d recommend Soie d’Paris for their filament silks. For other “cheaper” filament silk options (aka not AVAS) with large color ranges, reasonable delivery prices consider – The Silk mill (700+ colors, buying packages is cheaper), Tudor’s floss silk, Japanese silk, and Chinese mulberry silk *really shiny, soft, but very different to handle, with occasional quality control issues (they have a store on Etsy, if you can navigate Taobao, it’s much cheaper there).

    *Silk is a very strong fiber, but it is weak when it is wet. Filament silk is even stronger. So don’t use the trick of wetting on a sponge to smooth out a thread. But the worse issue is with silks not being colorfast enough to wash.

    If stitching a heirloom is as much about the process as the final product, imo stitching with silk is like driving a Cadillac. A much more luxurious experience, the threads are buttery smooth, the sheen/shine is beautiful.. but you get to your destination in the end.

    It’s never worth it to not stitch because the threads are too expensive

    1. You have a lot of knowledge of silks! I also wasn’t expecting “buttery” at the end there. 😛
      DMC satins and silks are always a good place to start, but your comment is a fantastic place if people want to move on to “proper” silks.

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