Snowflakes and Thread Crochet
The most common size of thread is size 10, also known as "bedspread weight" (there seems to have been some historical variation in size here, but pattern publishers now say they're the same thing). Size 5 is thicker than size 10. Thinner sizes of thread go down from 20 to 30, 40, 50, and so on down to 100. As usual in the thread crochet tradition, bigger size numbers mean finer thread (and whose clever idea was that, anyway?). Brands available in sizes below 10 include DMC Cebelia and Cordonnet, Coats Opera and Big Ball, and Stahl Manuela. Threads below size 30 or 40 generally need to be mail-ordered, and the only brands that I know of that do the full range of sizes is DMC Cordonnet and Anchor Cordonnet (and I'm not so certain that Anchor still does). Check my links page to find out where to order exotic threads.
Certain thread crochet items like coasters or baby clothes need to be a particular size, and it's therefore a good idea make them in the size of thread that the pattern recommends, and with the usual attention to gauge. Other items like snowflakes doilies, and edgings can be made in whatever size of thread you prefer (well, depending on where you plan to put them...), and they look particularly lacy and delicate in finer threads. Snowflakes in particular are a great place to get used to finer threads, since they look truly impressive when worked small. If you've only tried size 10 thread, try a couple of of your favorite snowflakes in size 20. If you're used to size 20, give 30 a try. Snowflakes worked in size 80 tatting thread are to die for! I find working small incredibly addictive; you may too...
If you are intimidated by finer thread, here are two strategies for getting used to it. The first is to gradually work downward -- try going down one size at at time, keeping in mind that switching between a fine thread project and a bedspread-weight project seems to slow the acclimatization process. Whenever the size of thread that you're currently working with comes to feel normal to you (instead of challengingly small), switch to working with the next size finer thread. See how fine you get... This is a good strategy to try during snowflake season -- since each flake can be finished relatively quickly, you won't be leaving a trail of unfinished projects in several different sizes of thread. You will merely be expanding your stash of semi-used balls of thread <g>.
The other strategy is shock therapy --- try to get the finest thread and smallest hook you can find, much smaller than the thread that's your real goal -- if your goal is size 30 thread, play with tatting thread. If your goal is tatting thread, try fine sewing thread. Use a magnifier or strong reading glasses if you have (or can borrow) them, and just try doing something simple like blank filet or some other mesh in the much-too-small thread. Persist for a while, even if what you're doing looks terrible. Then pick up the thread size that was your real goal, and it will seem much more manageable in comparison!! Don't laugh -- truly, I've found that after spending an hour playing with sewing thread and a 0.4mm hook, tatting thread and a size 14 hook look like a thoroughly reasonable proposition!!
Some more traditonal Irish Crochet (as opposed to stuff publisted post 1930 or so) calls for at least 2 sizes of thread, a thick one for the cord and a finer one for most of the crochet (and sometimes an even finer one for the background mesh). If you get to see some authentic antique Irish Crochet, you'll be amazed to see what fine threads they used. On the other hand, when we're just learning how to do it, it's easier to start with size 10 for the crochet and size 5 for the cording, or maybe even size 5 for the crochet as you get used to the tricks of Irish crocheting, and in that case use a smooth mercerized cotton yarn (i.e. not sugar and cream -- it's too fuzzy!) for the cording. (Snowflake people wondering why I'm talking about Irish Crochet here: the website has plans to grow, and snowflakes and Irish crochet will share this page...)
Not all threads are created equal, and unfortunately the most readily available ones rarely the nicest. When I finally discovered premium crochet thread, I immediately regretted the years I'd spent using mediocre threads, both because of the pleasure of crocheting with silky-smooth thread, and the remarkable difference in appearance of items made with better thread. Considering the hours of entertainment each ball of thread provides, I soon decided that the extra dollar or two per ball for premium thread were dollars well spent.
Before I go on to my thread reviews, I'll describe some of the qualities of good and bad threads, so that the terms I use in the reviews will make sense.
Luster: Luster means a shimmery, satiny shine; think of pearl cotton, the way it softly reflects light as you move it. Mercerization is a chemical process done to most crochet (and other) thread, which chemically burns the fuzz off of thread, and hopefully makes it shimmer in the light the way satin does . Almost all crochet thread is mercerized (I know of only one exception), but it's apparently a kind of tricky process, and some threads come out better than others do. Look at DMC Cebelia, Coats Opera, or any of the premium threads to see what I mean by an attractive luster: Leisure Arts thread patterns from the early 90's (before their deal with Soutmaid) have photos of pieces worked in Cebelia, and you can see how it shines. Egyptian cotton thas the best luster of all, but it's expensive and can be hard to find (Regina is made of Egyptian cotton, as are some of the more shimmery cotton yarns you see at high-end yarn boutiques).
Fuzziness: Pretty much the opposite of luster. Fuzzy thread can feel nice and soft (at least the kinds without starchy sizing), but fuzz works against luster, so things made from fuzzy thread won't have that satiny shine when completed. But the major problem with fuzzy thread is that it makes your finished work more likely to attract and hold dust, pet hair, and other airborne fluff. Worse yet, items made from fuzzy thread tend to get fuzzier with even gentle washing, so each effort to get rid of the aforementioned fluff simply renders them increasingly attractive to future fluff.
Twist: Better thread has more twist. Thread with insufficient twist can cause you to split stitches, where your hook pierces the thread (more common in yarn crochet), which can make a very visible boo-boo in your finished item. Also, if your thread is insufficiently twisted, it can visibly separate within your finished work, which makes it look as though you were crocheting with several separate strands of sewing thread, giving oddly stringy-looking results. Finally, and really most importangly, thread without enough twist gets increasingly fuzzy just from the friction of making stitches, and it gets even fuzzier if you have to undo and redo parts of your work, and fuzzier still if your finished product ever needs washing. Thread with a good twist stays smooth and even with wear, and retains its luster through use. You can tell how twisted a thread is just by looking at it -- look at the enlarged scans of thread down by the reviews to see the difference. Six cord thread has a double twist, btw: it's made up of three pairs of cords, each pair twisted together, then all three of those twisted pairs are twisted together in the opposite direction. Dare that stuff to fuzz!
If you're not used to working with thread that has a good twist, it may take a little while to get used to. For the first month after I switched to premium threads, I would accumulate twist in my tension hand, and have to remove the hook and let my snowflakes dangle and spin to unkink the string. But after a couple of weeks I seemed to adjust, and this just wasn't a problem anymore.
Stiffness: There are two reasons for thread to feel stiff instead of soft. Some threads seem to have some sort of starch or sizing on them, which makes them stiff. Other threads have such an intense twist that they feel firm instead of soft. Tightly twisted thread bends nicely when you crochet it, but starchy threads bend in a more awkward way, which can make your stitches look loopy and uneven. Also, I find that starchy thread leaves a weird residue on my hands, which I find mildly disgusting. There are, however, some crocheters who like this kind of pre-starched thread, because it saves them having to starch their work afterward. My objection to this is that I always wash my work after finishing it, and have found that thread which depends on starch for its body gets pretty limp and fuzzy after washing (though a dose of starch fixes the limpness, if not the fuzz). Thread which is firm because of its twist will retain its body after being worked and/or washed, but this may not be a good thing -- a christening dress, for example, should be soft, so thread with a moderate twist might be more appropriate.
!! Perpetually Under Construction !!
(I'm always looking for more threads to review...)
So here are the thread reviews. Yes, I actually went out (or online) and got a ball of every brand of crochet thread that I didn't already have on hand, and made a snowflake or two with each, so that I could feel like I was giving each kind a fair side-by-side comparison to all the rest. I used white thread of each brand, so I wouldn't be influenced by stiff dyes or seductive colors.. It was pretty interesting -- some were better than I'd remembered, some much worse. As far as the non-exotic stuff goes, I find DMC threads to be quite superior to threads by Coats & Clark (a.k.a. J.P. Coats, Southmaid, Aunt Lydia). The big exception is Coats Opera crochet thread, which is hard to find, but I think it's one of the best threads out there, soft and pleasant to work with, and with a lovely shimmer. Keep in mind when you're doing your cost-benefit analysis that balls of premium thread look small, but that's because dime store thread is wound around those huge hollow cardboard tubes. Premuim thread usually comes in 50g balls, which contain 250 or more yards of thread. Finally, yes Virginia, these threads really are all different. After doing all these thread reviews, I can pick up an anonymous thread end from my sample box, and after a bit of fiddling, accurately guess exactly which thread it is!
About the Scans: There are two scans of each kind of thread. The one on top is how it looks when it's fresh off the ball, and the second scan is how it looks after it gets worn. To simulate wear, I crocheted and frogged the second piece of thread 5 times before I scanned it.
These are all such nice threads, it's hard to recommend one over another. I've gathered the 6-cord cottons all together at the end of the premium thread section, just to have some kind of order and differentiation in this list. You may find that you need to mail-order most of these threads, except for Cebelia and Opera, which are carried by some craft stores. Sources for all of these threads are listed on the Links page.
3 cord cotton
approx. $4 per 50g ball (size 5 ~190y, size 10 ~250 yds, size 20 ~440 yds, size 30 ~540 yds)
sizes 5, 10, 20, 30
Opera is my favorite. It has the luster and soft texture of pearl cotton, but it wears like a premium crochet thread, staying satiny and smooth-looking like good thread should. It's softer in your hand than Cebelia, which is why I like it just a little bit more. Opera's thread sizes seems to run a little smaller than Cebelia's in sizes 20 and 30 (tho' maybe a touch bigger in size 10), and it has a very distinct twist, which may take a new user a bit of experience to get used to. For some reason, most stores only carry Opera in size 5, but it's available in sizes 5, 10, 20, and 30. I think white, cream (resembles DMC ecru), and ecru (darker than cream) are available in all sizes, but then the color/size availability is weird. Size 5 colors are mostly very bright, dark, or otherwise intense. Size 10 and 20 come in pale pastels, a few lovely antique colors, then some ordinary colors. Size 30 is available only in white, cream, and ecru. It can be purchased at Herrschners and Patternworks. For some reason, Opera is not mentioned on the Coats and Clark website, though it has their logo on its label...
3 cord cotton
$3 - $4.40 (usually about $4) per 50g ball
size 10 ~280 yds, size 20 ~415yds, size 30 ~560yds
sizes 10, 20 30 in 30 colors, size 40 in white and ecru
Cebelia is smooth, shiny thread with a good twist, available in many colors and sizes. Most of the early 1990's Leisure Arts thread crochet patterns have photos of items worked in Cebelia, and you can see it's wonderful luster (notably lacking in the example photos taken after Leisure Arts did their deal with Southmaid). Cebelia is the most available premium thread, but still sometimes a little hard to find -- at least now Michael's carrys it in white and ecru. Cebelia comes in 30 colors, and all colors are available in sizes 10, 20 and 30. Cebelia also comes in size 40 in white and ecru, but I've only seen one place that carries it. Cebelia is the least soft of the 3 cord premium threads (it's more like a 6 cord thread in texture), but it's very shiny, and retains that shine with use and wear. It's the thread I have most of, being of excellent quality and reasonable availablity.
Regina [Mondial, imported by Skacel from Italy]
3 cord Egyptian cotton
$4 per 50g ball, ~450 yards
size 16 (close to size 20), 8 (very pastel) colors
A ball of Regina is so lustrous, you have to reach out and touch it -- Egyptian cotton is amazing stuff, totally smooth and silky-shiny, yet not at all hard feeling. Both as you work and after it's been worked up, it's still silky soft to your hand, like pearl cotton but better. The odd thing about it is that it comes in size 16 (apparently perle cotton sizing??), which looks pretty close to our size 20. It's imported from Italy by Skacel.
Six Cord Cottons
Six cord cotton comes apart into 3 plies, each of which is made up of 2 smaller plies twisted together in the opposite direction. All this twist means that the following threads are all very smooth, dense, and shiny. They're all absolutely non-fuzzy, and they wear very well, without fuzzing, fraying, etc. Use this kind of thread for heirloom items , the things that you hope your great-grandchildren will pass on to their children. The downside is that these threads tend to feel smooth and solid, almost hard, as opposed to soft and silky like Opera or Regina.
DMC Cordonnet [DMC]
6 cord cotton
$3 - $4.50 per 20g ball (yardage varies w/ thread size)
sizes 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70. 80. 90, 100 (yow!)
sizes 20 and 40 have been sighted in 14 colors, size 30 in 8, the rest in white and ecru
Cordonnet is a deluxe crochet and lace-making thread that's available in the U.S. usually in only white and ecru, but in a remarkable range of sizes (see Lacis for colors). It's especially good for Irish Crochet, since you can have different sizes of the same thread for the cording versus the actual crocheting, plus you can get it fine enough to be pretty authentic (if you ever see actual antique Irish Crochet, the first thing you notice is how incredibly fine the thread they used was!!). It's also great for snowflakes since it comes in snowflake colors, and it lets you make them as tiny as you can bear to work. Tiny snowflakes look really cool!!
Optima [imported by Skacel from Slovakia]
6 cord cotton
$3.50 - $4.50 per 50g ball (~300 yards)
size 10, 22 solid colors, 6 variegated colors
Most of the retailers who sell Optima only sell its variegated colors, but it comes in very nice solid colors as well. It's very similar to Nicola, but a touch firmer and finer. It's so smooth and shiny that for a moment I thought it might be made of some sort of nylon (but it's really cotton!). I've heard of people who aren't used to 6-cord cotton being disturbed by its texture, but that's how it's supposed to be, exceptionally smooth, solid, and unfuzzy.
6 cord cotton
$4-$4.50 per 25g ball (variegated), $6.50 per 50g ball (solid colors)
sizes 5, 10, 20, 30 --
sizes 10 & 20 in 11 variegated colors, size 20 in 50 colors, others in white & ecru
Another thread that usually only appears in its variegated forms, though solids do exist. Manuela's variegated colors are often more than different shades of the same color -- some are ranges of pastels, others ranges of brights, all sorts of colors. Very smooth, shiny thread that just about glistens in the light. A little finer than Optima or Nicola, and just a hair fuzzier (though none of these threads has much fuzz!)
Nicola [Shoeller Esslinger, imported by Skacel from Germany]
6 cord cotton
$4.25 per 50g ball (~235 yards)
size 10, at least 16 colors
Similar to Optima, but springier to crochet, and a touch thicker. Also remarkably smooth and shiny, with an interesting texture because all 6 plies are visible, making it look more braided than simply twisted (though that's an optical illusion). I feel that its springiness makes it a lot of fun to work with, more bouncy than most 6 cord cotton. But again, I've heard people who aren't used to 6 cord cotton say that they're weirded out by its texture.
Eaiser to Find Threads
I've listed these in order of my preference, from good down to merely OK. The truth is, alas, that you get what you pay for. Most of these threads cost only half as much as premium threads, but they do suffer by comparison.
Pretty Good Thread
3 cord cotton
$2.50-$3.50 per ball (400 yards white & ecru, 350 yrds colors)
size 10, 12 colors
A newer thread from DMC, their attempt to break into the $2 per ball market. It's definitely smoother and shinier than Knit-Cro-Sheen (or any of the threads I rank below that). Upon close examination, the thread is significantly more uniform and tightly twisted than other thread in the $2/ball range. It's not as smooth and shiny as Cebelia, but it seems to be superior to other threads in this price range.
4 cord cotton $1.30 - $2 for small balls
(225 yards in white, cream & ecru, 150 yards for colors, 100 yards in metallic/pearl) $2 - $2.60 per large ball
(325 yards, white, ecru, cream & natural)
size 10 only, 31 solid & variegated colors, 8 metallic, 2 pearl
Knit-Cro-Sheen comes in lots of cool colors, and it has more luster than the rest of Coats' threads. It's a 4 cord cotton, and more cords usually mean better thread. My main gripe is that it's got this weird starchy stiffness when it comes off the ball, which can transfers to my hands and make them kind of sticky. Some crocheters like this, since it acts as a kind of built-in starch. I find that the stickiness of this stuff makes Knit-Cro-Sheen generate more friction (less smoothness, more effort) as I poke the hook into stitches and pull my thread through, so it takes more work to crochet smoothly or fast. It also fuzzes with wear a bit more than premium threads do, though not as badly as some other threads. I buy it pretty often because it's available in lots of stores, has some luster, and comes in lots of interesting colors. Do be aware when pricing threads that balls of colored Knit-Cro-Sheen have only about 150 yards on them, so it's actually more expensive than it looks.
3 cord cotton
$2.40 - $3.60 per 400 yard pull skein
bedspread weight (size 10) only, 8 colors (white, ecru, black, Christmas red & green, baby blue, pink and yellow)
Baroque is the thread I recommend for thread crochet beginners. It is a bit thicker than most size 10 or bedspread weight cotton, which makes the transition to thread a little easier. It is soft in your hand and easy to work with. It has a good twist, but it's less shiny than other DMC threads (their blurb says it has a "soft sheen", which is pretty accurate). Though it's kind of fuzzy, it has enough twist not to get more fuzzy with wear -- though it starts out looking more drab than Knit-Cro-sheen, it seems to wear better. Baroque comes in white, ecru, black, christmas colors, and baby colors, though mostly one sees just white and ecru in stores. I've noticed that JoAnne's is now carrying it, to name a common chain. It's the only crochet thread that comes in sausage-shaped pull-skeins, not in balls. Just the thing for baby clothes.
Aunt Lydia's [Coats]
3 cord cotton
$2.50 - $3 per small ball (Aunt Lydia's Classic Crochet)
400 yards white/ecru, 350yrds colors, 300 yards shaded colors
$5 -$6.50 per 1000 yard ball (Specal Value: white only)
size 10 only, 31 colors
A pleasantly soft thread with no starchy sizing, Aunt Lydia's is a little thicker than the usual size 10. It has a good twist so it doen't separate, and tends to wear a bit better than threads below it in this list. The problem is that it is naturally quite fuzzy . This makes it have less luster than Knit-Cro-Sheen, but the real problem with this fuzziness is that it makes this stuff awfully attractive to lint and cat hair, even sitting there still all wound in a ball. I find it very pleasant to work with, but I have reservations about its fuzziy lint-magnet magic, and I wish it had a bit more luster. The big balls are a great value when you can find them on sale, but even at $5 for 1000 yards, it's a steal. Another good thread for beginners.
Grandma's Best [Caron]
3 cord cotton 400 yards white/ecru, 350yrds colors, 300 yards shaded colors
$2 - $2.60 per small ball
400 yards white/ecru, 350yrds colors, 300 yards shaded colors
Large balls 650 yards white/ecru, 500yrds colors, 400 yards shaded colors
21 colors Color Card Available Online at caron.com
A pleasantly soft thread to crochet with, since it has no starchy sizing. It doesn't have much twist, so it tends to separate a bit when being worked. I find it very similar in quality to Aunt Lydia's, but with a bit more sheen -- I just wish it had a better twist, so it would wear better. I used to hate this thread with a passion, but it seems to have improved since Caron bought the line My memory of it was that it felt like cardboard to crochet, and then the doily I was making with it got limp and fuzzy before I'd even finished it! It's definitely much improved since Caron took over. This is the sort of soft thread that's good for baby clothes.
I just can't recommend these threads. My apologies to all who favor them, but I found that they suffered badly in comparison to all the other threads I reviewed.
Old Fashioned [Coats]
3 cord cotton
size 10 only
The old-fashioned thing about this thread is that it's not mercerized, so that it has no luster at all, and is significantly less smooth-feeling than mercerized thread -- kind of opposite to the satiny quality of fancy threads. Because it's not mercerized, this thread's fuzz in longer and more ziggy-zaggy than the fuzz on other threads, which may account for the kind of friction-y, scratchy feeling as I draw the loops of my stitches through each other. It also doesn't have much twist, so stitches split easily, though this spliting isn't as bad as with Southmaid since the splitting isn't as visible in the finished work. It also has less weird starchy sizing than Southmaid, but it still seems to have some (probably not enough that you could skip starching things that need starch, unless you're a very tight crocheter). It's not the very worst thread I've ever seen, but I can't find much to recommend it but the price. It's certainly the least attractive ball of thread in my samples box, and upon close examination the thread itself is the lumpiest looking. I can't say how it wears since I haven't got anything around that I made with it long ago, but it doesn't look or feel like thread that wears well.
3 cord cotton
size 10 only
The only good thing that I can say about this stuff is that it's everywhere, and in lots of colors. The problems are legion. Everything I've made with it deteriorated rapidly with the least amount of use or wear. It has minimal luster, and so little twist that the cords within the thread separate not only as one works it (increasing the likelihood of making split stitches), but even in finished work (leading to an odd, stringy looking products). The thread's peculiar stiff texture comes from some sort of starch or sizing, means that washing your work (or crocheting with sweaty hands) leaves it limp and fuzzy. On the bright side, if your work doesn't get washed, the sizing acts as built-in starch, which some crocheters like. I find, however, that the sizing prevents the user's stitches from flowing smoothly, leading to recognizably loose and uneven stitching that screams out to me "Made with Southmaid!!". Things made with it have such a distinctively funky look to them that some of us can even recognize it in pattern photos! If you want my true unvarnished opinion, I think this stuff is truly nasty, and my hope is that if enough of us refuse to buy it, stores will notice and increase the availability of some nicer thread!! If your budget is really tight, perhaps you could upgrade just a little...
Other Kinds of Thread
DMC Tatting Thread [Coats]
6 cord cotton (gee, it practically took a microscope to figure that out!!)
$1.75 - $2 per 5g ball
size 80 only (I keep hearing it used to be 70??)
This used to come in almost 70 colors, but they reduced the line. The trick to actually see them all without ordering a color card is to print out the full list from a web site that carries them all, then look up the color numbers at the DMC embroidery thread display at your local craft store (or, if you do Xstitch, on the handy DMC embroidery thread color card that you happen to already have). Actually, that only works for the non-variegated ones... gonna have to order that color card!
Pearl (Perle, etc.) Cotton
This stuff is meant for embroidery, but it's so soft, shiny, and colorful that it's really tempting to crochet. If you do, use it only for items that don't get much wear. Because it has such a gentle twist, it doesn't wear well at all, and turns into a limp, fuzzy lint-magnet much faster than anything but the cheapest crochet thread.
Threads I haven't reviewed yet
$4 - $4.25 for 135y (10), 220y (20)
sizes 10, 20 in 33 solid colors, 10 variegated colors
From Germany, another Cordonnet type thread.
$5.50 for 50g balls (~300 yards size 10, ~450 yards size 20)
sizes 10, 20, 10 variegated colors
Another 6 cord cotton from Slovakia (like Optima).
An inexpensive 6 cord cotton from Mexico.
They make various crochet threads that are maneuvering toward my pipeline, but not yet in my hot little hands...
From England, several kinds of thread, including Southern Comfort. Herrschner's now carrys this.
Finca Perle Cotton
Another Egyptian cottton in various perle cotton sizes (3 5, 8,12,16), recently recommended to me. Lots of pretty colors & variegated too...
A Turkish thread that comes in lovely solid & vairegated colors. It's Turkish size 50, which is apparently equivalent to size 30 (or slightly larger?). Someone generously tried to send me a few balls, but it appears to have gotten lost in the mail... Life is Cruel!
Always Seeking More Thread
If you have threads in your stash that I haven't reviewed, email me and let me know what they are, where you got them, etc. I'd also like to review some of the thread that comes on big cones, but if you stop and think about what this project must have cost me thus far, you'll see my difficulty. If you have such a cone, and happen to still have its manufacturer info and even perhaps remember where you got it, do you think you might be able to (please please) snail mail me a sample of it? Do let me know...
To Jennie Gaskin of Country Yarns for her quick shipments, good memory, and interesting emails.`
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions, complaints, links, patterns, reviews, etc.
© Copyright 1997, 2000 Noël V. Nevins