Why separate embroidery thread?

Being able to separate embroidery thread is one of the most important skills to learn in embroidery. Many stitchers worry about mastering the skill but it's easy when you know how!

Most embroidery thread is called '6 stranded' all this means is that each piece of thread is made up of 6 thinner strands twisted together and embroidery patterns will often ask you to stitch with a certain number of these thinner threads.

You need to be able to separate the 6 strands in the skein of thread and select the number of individual threads you need. This could be 1 single strand or all 6, depending on the pattern, varying the number of threads will give your stitches a different thickness and effect.

Here you can see how the same stitch looks when the thread is separated into different combinations of strands. 

Each curl is stitched in stem stitch, starting with one strand all the way up to the full six strands.

You can find a guide to stem stitch here

The lines become thicker as more strands are used. Detailed and delicate areas can be stitched with a single thread, whereas a bold chunky outline would use all six.

a single curl stitched with stem stitch and separated embroidery thread

How to separate threads: Step-by-step guide

When you separate embroidery thread for the first time can be a little tricky, keeping the thread short can make things easier. 

You can see how it's done in the video above or follow the steps below.


Step one

Cut about 30cm (12") of thread. A great tip for measuring your embroidery thread is to hold one end of the thread in your finger tips, stretch it down to your elbow and cut the thread there. This will give you a piece of thread that will be easy to separate.


Now take one end of the thread and separate out the number you need. In the photo you can see the thread has been split into two groups of three strands. 

separating a piece of embroidery thread at one end


Now put one finger of your right hand in between the separated strands and gently pull downwards whilst untwisting the threads with your thumb and other fingers.

This can be tricky at first but will become easier with practise.

separating embroidery thread into strands

Here you can see another example of using one type of stitch, stem stitch, with varying numbers of threads.

Stitching the largest rose petals with 4 strands of embroidery thread makes them more prominent in the embroidery design and the more delicate details of the leaf veins and fronds are stitched with a single strand.

This example is the back of a sweater stitched using the 'Rose Bouquet' iron on embroidery transfer pattern.

close up of hand embroidered roses stitched with stem stitch

We hope you have found this guide useful and will feel more confident next time you separate embroidery thread. 

You can find more useful guides on our beginners embroidery page.

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