Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hey, Larissa, what do you mean by "4 strands of floss"?

If you are working on any of my hand embroidered projects, like the Twelve Days ornament series, you'll notice that I specify how many strands of floss to use on each step. If you are new to embroidery, you may be wondering what that means.
Wonder no more!

DMC embroidery floss is made up of six cotton threads that are twisted together to form one strand of floss. On my patterns you will find the number of strands specified, for instance:
4 strands of contrasting floss + whipstitch
That means you'll separate and remove 2 strands of thread and use the remaining 4 strands of floss to do the whip stitches. (Contrasting just means a floss color that is not the same color as the felt and that will show up well.) It's important to follow those steps if you want your stitching to have the same look as my samples because I obsess over tailor the number of strands used to best highlight my designs.

You'll find I use 4 strands the most, but I also specify 2, 3, and 6 strands at times. I don't recall ever specifying 5, but it's a possibility! It's a good idea to set aside the strands you peel away because you might get a chance to use them later in the project.

Q: So what's the best method to separate them? 
A: You'll find if you just grab 2 strands and try to peel them away the floss sometimes gets snarled or twisted. Who has time or patience for that? Not me.

Start with about 18-20 inches of floss. (Avoid cutting strands much longer because this process just gets too tricky.) First I'll tell you about the DMC recommended method. And then I'll tell you mine.

DMC approved method: Pinch the floss between your fingers near the end and slowly pull out one strand at a time, until it's all separated, then reunite however many strands to thread your needle. This has the advantage of removing any twisting and will keep your embroidery smoother and less snarly. Here's an excellent visual tutorial for that method:

Larissa's quicker method: My non-DMC approved method is to hold one end of the floss in my teeth and at the other end grab two threads with one hand and four with the other. I peel them apart that way to keep the floss from twisting on itself. Then I run my pinched fingernails down the strands a few times to untwist them. Voila. There still might be an occasional twist in the floss, but I usually don't sweat that.

Q: What needle should I use? 
A: Most of my patterns specify a size 5 embroidery needle (also called crewel needles). If that's the only size you have, you can do most all of the embroidery and sewing with it. However, it will make your job easier and your fingers happier if you have a variety of needle sizes at hand. Also having multiple size 5 embroidery needles is a great idea so you don't have to unthread every time you change a color. 
Make sure your needles are good and sharp. (Avoid tapestry needles. While they have nice, big eyes, they also have blunt tips. Chenille needles have sharp tips and long eyes, but be aware their sizing numbers are completely different for whatever reason!)

- I use a size 5 embroidery needle for 3 and 4 strands of floss.
- I use a smaller sized regular hand sewing sharp for 2 strands (or you can use a size 8 or 9 embroidery needle).
- I use a larger size 3 embroidery needle for handling all 6 strands or anytime I'm making a French knot with 4+ strands. The larger eye and needle shaft make it easier to pull French knots through.
- I use a small slender sewing sharp for sewing on seed beads and sequins. A beading needle is also great for that, but I prefer a sewing sharp because they are just easier to thread. (Disclaimer: I do sometimes run into seed beads that will not fit over my sewing sharp, but with a beading needle you will not have that issue.)

DMC also has a needle guide here

Q: I hate stripping floss. Can I just use different sizes of DMC Pearl Cotton?
A: In theory, yes. Yes, you can. I just have no experience with that, but I don't see why not. DMC pearl cotton comes in several sizes. Send me pictures if you've used that for the ornaments!

Cheater Note:
After the embroidery's all done and you sew the ornament parts together, I specify 2 strands of matching floss for that. BUT. You can cheat. If you have a large library of sewing threads like I do and they just happen to match the felt color, then feel free to use a double strand of sewing thread for that instead. (Remember this is for sewing the parts together only – not for embroidery.) It's way less trouble than stripping more floss. BUT. It is less likely you'll find a matching sewing thread for every felt you have because they come in fewer colors. I just use it if I have the matching thread. And, yes, I have plenty of samples that are sewn together with both floss and doubled thread. It's hard to tell unless you really look closely!

I hope this guide has been helpful! Happy stitching!


  1. Hmm... now I’m going to have to try your method of separating the strands!

  2. I have moved over to perle cotton to eliminate stripping threads altogether. I understand your frustration with it.
    perry94022 at hotmail dot com

    1. Hey, Pauline, it is a little frustrating stripping floss, but I still prefer using it. Do you find that Perle Cotton comes in as many colors? I never seem to see very many at the store so maybe you have to special order.

  3. Funny - I too figured out the exact same method years ago, but I didn’t like putting the end of the floss in my mouth. After learning DMC’s version later, I’ve never looked back. I love your drawing, though!

    1. haha! Thanks, April. Maybe I'll convert at some point...but I'm all about speed.

  4. I have to laugh. My mom taught me the same method of separating floss when I was a little girl. I love your graphic.

  5. what is the meaning or "use 3 strands embroidery, 2strands"? do i need to use 3strands or 2? im so confused 🥺

    1. Hi Carmela, can you tell me where you see that? That sounds like a typo. You can get more timely answers if you message me via my Etsy shop:


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