When I first started amassing threads in an effort to collect all 500 DMC threads, I came across the three threads that weren’t numbered like the others. These threads had special names, specifically BLANC/WHITE, B5200, and ECRU.
It’s that last one that interests me the most now as, despite the fact that I’ve had it in my collection for years, I’ve not once picked it up, not once used it. This is in part due to its lack of inclusion in patterns online, even though it’s always one of the first threads in thread inventories. So why does this thread, a thread that no one tends to use, have its own name?
I actually explored this ever so slightly in the ultimate cross stitch quiz but don’t spoil it just yet and take the quiz after you read through this post!
So let’s start with what color ECRU is, or more importantly, what it was. ECRU comes from the French word “écru” which means raw or unbleached. This is a massive clue. Cotton is taken from the fields and turned into threads, the color those threads start, before they are processed to add color, is ECRU. Due to this its very close to the color of unbleached linen or silk as well, meaning it used to be a very popular thread color back in the history of cross stitch samplers.
However, this isn’t the case anymore. ECRU is still that odd fawn color, but now it comes from a dye process, which results in it being darker than the previous, unbleached ECRU. We first found out about this when researching vintage threads for our posts on dye lot issues and buying second hand threads and its clear the color has changed.
“Why?” I hear you ask. Well, the quality of the cotton improved. Cotton is collected and packed into large blocks. In the past, these blocks were extremely expensive so you needed to get everything you could out of the block, but now with modern machinery, those cotton blocks are comparatively cheap. Now, machines pull these blocks apart and pick only the freshest, cleanest cotton to be turned into threads, which naturally has a lighter, whiter color. Therefore, dyes are now needed to put the ECRU color back in.
If you were wondering, the ‘dirty’ cotton gets sold to be turned into mattress stuffing.
Knowing this, you’re probably wondering why it isn’t used in many cross stitch patterns. Well, the honest answer is the color is a little…odd. It’s not cream, it’s not beige, it’s not brown, it’s just an unusual color. As a result, it’s rarely picked by pattern designers as there are many other preferred colors in the over 500 DMC threads that probably do better.
That does explain what ECRU is, but what about the other named threads? We start with BLANC/WHITE, a thread that is white, but everyone ignores and uses B5200 instead. Well, this thread is the next step in thread creation. Once the ECRU is made, it’s then bleached to produce a white thread, this is what we call white. However many people thought this wasn’t quite white enough, so produced B5200.
B5200 & All Other Threads
Once the bleached threads are created the dyeing process starts, and whilst B5200 is designated differently, its much like any other thread dyed. Unlike threads that are given strong colors, B5200 is dyed using titanium white, creating an even brighter white color than BLANC/WHITE.
Those US Threads
Inevitably, this brings us onto the question of ‘those US threads’ often described as discontinued threads. These are threads across the color spectrum that were banned in the EU due to the dyes they used is harmful to the environment.
If you’re interested in how DMC threads are made we have an awesome video with a factory tour!
This Post Has 6 Comments
I use ercu more then almost any other colour as it is my prefered base colour for caucasian skin. It makes a beautiful natural fair skin colour!
100% agree! ECRU is a major part of our fair skin colors in our perfect skin tones table.
I have a pattern that calls for ECRU. I am not familar with how to use ECRU Do I separate like with color skeins? Or use the whole thread as supplied?
Yeh, you just use it like any other thread. It just has a name rather than a number!
I’m one of these elusive people who like to use Blanc and Ecru, and also 3865 (Winter White). While B5200 sometimes looks too shrill to me, like excessively bleached teeth, or horrible polyester dresses. So when I’m choosing my own colours, unless I’m specifically looking for an over-the-top white, like for the sparkle of an eye, I will often pick Blanc.
Sometimes I’m similarly put off by very bright Aida or Linen, when left visible by a design. It’s not even that I’m particularly fond of beiges, ecru, eggshell and so forth, it’s just that B5200 or ultra-white fabric can sometimes feel very unpleasant to my eyes, very dissonant with other colours in the design.
Some of my favourite threads are “Cotons à Broder” like DMC Broder Special and Anchor’s Coton à Broder. They don’t come in as many sizes as they used to, according to my little stash of vintage cottons, and the finest sizes 30 and 35 have only 3 or 4 colours left (here in Germany, at least): B5200, Blanc, Ecru, and Size 30 is available in 3865. Which leads me to believe that there must be a few other non-white-white thread lovers still out there somewhere.
Haha, yeah, I for one (and I’m in Germany too :D). After reading this post I decided to keep my mind on using the Ecru intentionally in my next design. How appropriate – its name is Cinderella! 🙂