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Well. First let’s tackle the question of how many strands to use. It all depends on your project! Think of it like choosing a fat marker or a thin marker. If you’re drawing something pretty small, with lots of fine details, you’re going to use a thin marker/fewer strands of thread.
If you’re drawing something big and bold without a lot of fussy details, you’d choose a fat marker/more strands of thread.
But how do you know how many strands? Well – that involves a bit of trial and error, and a willingness to pick out your stitches if needed. Take your best guess. Stitch an inch or two and then take a look. If I think it needs to be fatter, I’ll unpick, add an extra strand, and try again. If I think it needs to be thinner I’ll unpick, take away a strand, and try again.
Note: I tell you how many strands to use in the color and stitch guide of all my embroidery patterns. 🙂
Of course – save all the strands you separated out! You can still use them.
Now – about separating those strands. First make sure you’re using the right kind of thread. Click on the picture at the top of the post. I loaded up a large file so it should fill the whole screen when you click and let you look very closely.
The thread on the right is called embroidery floss – or sometimes stranded cotton. It’s what I usually use – and I sell it in the shop here. It’s 6 strands of thread that you can separate into as many as you need.
The thread on the left is called perle cotton, pearl cotton, or sometimes craft thread. See how it’s twisted together? You can’t undo that – not without making an unholy mess. It’s lovely to stitch with – and you can buy it in several different thicknesses – but you can’t alter the thickness yourself. I sell some of my favorites here and here.
The tricky thing is that these two kinds of thread are often displayed together in the same section of the store. Luckily – it’s easy enough to tell the difference if you know what you’re looking for.
So – now that you have the right kind of thread – how do you separate it without ending up with a snarl?
Don’t cut your thread too long. The experts say it should be no longer than the distance from the tips of your fingers to your elbow – but I confess to cutting mine a bit longer than that.
Now – hold it up in the air so that the whole length of thread is freely dangling down. Tease out the number of strands you want and slowly pull them away from the mother strand. The strands are very lightly twisted together so there will be a bit of untwisting as you pull, but if you pull slowly it shouldn’t tangle.
Got any other sewing or embroidery questions? Send them to me here.