Colors That Excel

You may remember that one of my earliest blogs discussed “Things I Wish I Knew When I Began Machine Embroidery.”  It had about 8 or 10 items that would have helped me save some of the money I spent and just some simple things that any newbie needs to know.

I thought:

  • Joe’s Embroidery Thread and Used Tire Dealership has a great deal on thread.  (I actually purchased a pack of colors from the Net.  I have so many unused colors from that group that I use them for basting and some test sew outs just to use them up.)


The reality is that:

  • A quality thread in ‘best seller’ colors is a better bargain.
  • What works well in one embroidery machine may not work as well in another. 
  • I personally purchase here at ATG because quality is of utmost importance to me.

I have not changed my mind, after 8 years of machine embroidery about quality thread.  I have, however, determined a few things that might be helpful to you.  As usual, I hope your ideas will be placed in the comments section, but this blog is about my experience and how I handled getting as much thread as possible for the dollars I have available (which tends to be very little. . . . )

First of all, I decided on a thread brand that I wanted to be my ‘main source.’  There are so many to choose from and some of them are (Prices are for 1100 mm spools unless otherwise noted and in no particular order):

  • Hemingworth – About 300 polyester colors with its own cover, it sells for $5.95, metallics for $8.50, very good quality.
  • Isacord – About 350 polyester colors with a ‘snap down’ base to hold thread, it sells for about $4.00 to $5.50, considered to be a ‘heavy-duty’ type of thread.
  • Robison-Anton – Approximately 350 colors of rayon, and sells for about $5.50.  It is available in Rayon, Polyester, metallics and is available in colors (500-yard spools) that ‘glow in the dark’ for about $15 each.  The base holds thread ends securely.
  • Sulky – About 300 colors in rayon and caps that hold the thread securely, the rayon sells for about $3.50 for a 250-yard spool.  Sulky also has a 30 wt all-purpose mercerized cotton which is truly a variable.  Rather than the linear variegation, this thread has a random splash of natural families of color (grass green has multiple colors including some brown patches to match my lawn).
  • Madeira – About 450 colors in rayon and used as a color suggestion guide by some designers, Madeira is possibly the most readily available embroidery thread.  Costing about $5.95 per spool, it is available in multiple sizes and usually has a cap that grasps the end of your thread.  It also leads the way in types of thread including a ‘Fire Safe’ thread used in firemen’s uniforms and a three-color ‘twist’ variety that has an excellent heather/variegated appearance.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing of threads and information is subject to change.  It is just to give you some idea of what is available.

I did choose Madeira.  My next decision was what colors to actually purchase.  I had saved $200 for this ‘major’ purchase and deciding on colors was a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.  I finally came to the conclusion that my interest was in ‘life-like’ designs as opposed to the cartoon/caricature variety of designs.  For cartoon or caricature designs, I could make a cat purple and a person green, but for true life designs, I would want multiple browns to beige for an animal coat and shades of green for a meadow’s beauty.

I selected 10 designs that I was drawn to and liked for attention to detail.  These are some of them.


flower 1flower 2

For the Spaniel, at first glance, one might think that there are about 6 colors, there are actually 8.  The really interesting thing is that there are 21 color changes.  What that means is that the design is ‘layered’ in coloring and shading to give a realistic, natural look to the dog.  I have sewn out this one several times and am always in awe of the beauty the digitizer has captured.  The Tabby has 8 colors with 27 color changes.  The Bleeding Hearts have 10 colors with 21 color changes.  The Gardenia bouquet has 9 colors and has 34 color changes.  (Photos are courtesy of

Among the other designs I selected for my review, I found that the numbers were much the same as the designs shown above.  Achievement of natural designs has a lot in common, detail and shading are just a couple of them.  I often see the question in the Forums of combining color stops in order to avoid that tedious task of thread changing.  This exercise showed me what the professional digitizers wanted to achieve.

I paid close attention to the brown/beiges, green/floral, reds, and blues. I then created a spreadsheet and started listing the color number and color name of each design that I selected.  Guess what?  I found that there were many repeating colors in all areas of the designs that I was attracted to.

So, I selected my colors from that group and included primary colors as well.  In the final analysis, after 3 years, I have used all but 3 of the colors from the group.

I have been able to accurately utilize many of the true colors as exchanged from Madeira to another manufacturer.  My natural items are more realistic, and I feel like I did not waste money on colors that were unusable.  During that same time, I have purchased other colors which were on sale and were interesting to me, but my base of colors have been used over and over again.

I feel like thread is the second greatest expense of my favorite craft and I have a comfortable handle on what I am using.  I hope this might help you find colors that will be useful to you as well.

Comments (14) -

I have many colors I haven't touched in the 13+ years I have been embroidering.   They looked so pretty in the store/catalog.  I, too, prefer realistic designs opposed to... well, not realistic!  

I've learned over the years that unless it's usable, and you need it for a project, something on sale isn't necessarily a bargain.  If you spend $1.50 per spool for 10 and never used them, that's $15 you could have put toward your regular thread.   We must be savvy shoppers!


designerone51 5/30/2009 10:55:59 AM

I just recently bought the 160 spool set of thread from thread art.  So far I really like it. I have not however done a really deatailed design yet.  It was on sale and came out to about a.69 a spool.

I also use ThreadArt thread and have been very happy with the quality and results.  It is significantly less than the major brands (reg price is $1.69 for 1000M and $4.99 for 5000M) and I have had no problems.  There are not as many colors as the brands that Pat listed but so far I have been able to match everything I wanted to stitch so it looks good.  In fact I have had more problems with shredding and/or needle breaks when using the brand recommended by my machine manufacturer.

These are interesting comments.  Thanks for your input.  

I do know that when I need to do a kitten, I need to have many different yellows, beiges and browns.  Once, I tried to skip some of the colors, and found that the depth ended up appearing strange.  

Many of us can be so critical of our own work.  Unless the kitten has 3 eyes, you probably have a great sew out.  Only another embroiderer may (or may not) see your errors.  

I enjoy doing the realistic designs, but the simple items can be so much fun as well.

Thanks again for the comments, they make the time I spend on the posting all worth while!


Thanks for more info on thread.  I've really gotten into lacing these past few weeks and have been doing lace bookmarks for friends and future gifts.  Since lacing takes quite a bit of thread for top and bobbin stitches, I've found it a great way to use some of those "funky" colors I have in my "thread sets" I've purchased.  Thanks again for all your info.

Thanks Deb - I too use the 'funky' colors when I do FSL.  I am always looking for ways to use it up and not discard it.  I hate being wasteful.

If anyone of you are new to my blog, or an experienced reader, would you do me the favor of answering the following questions?

What is your first impressions? (newbies)

What do you first think my blog was about when you arrived at it?

Did you find it easy to read/navigate/understand?

What suggestions do you have on how I could improve my blog?

What questions did you have having surfed my blog?

What are the main things that you remember about my blog 10 minutes later?

What suggestions do you have from a users perspective?

I am interested to know about any input you all have about the blog itself.  

Thanks if you have a moment to participate, and thanks anyway if you don't.  You can send me a note by clicking on my name in any of my comments and select 'email Pat71896' on the left side of my profile or place your comments right here for all to see.

Best wishes to you and yours, Pat

Pat, as usual you are full of information.  You do a great job with keeping you information simple and easy to understand.  How someone else looks at things always help me put things in a better perspective.

Linda 6/2/2009 5:27:23 PM

Hi Pat,

I find the longer I'm into ME the more I think twice, or thrice, about purchasing the "must haves". I remember going to a sewing seminar early on and purchasing humongous spools of metallic thread that I will not use unless I live to be 110. Like you and others I tend to realistic colors and find I use the same colors over and over.

As to your question about your blog- I have never read one that has been disorganized or unclear to sewers at any level. Your diagrams and pictures are always helpful. I say, stick to the basics of ME because we cannot be reminded enough about the use of needles, thread, stabilizers, etc.

Thanks so much for your enthusiasm.

Nancy in IN

I am having difficulty trying to determine pricing for embroidered items.  Sometime ago, I remember reading that you had a Excel spreadsheet to help with this.  Can you please send me the information?


Teacher in San Diego

Pat, I loved your articles - been reading you for a while & most of the time they're so good I print them out & save them for future reference!  

Regarding thread purchasing . . . when I was first starting out, I felt I needed to stock up on a variety of supplies & of course thread was one of my first of many major purchases - I felt I should go in a wide range of colors, not knowing what I'd need.  I think it's great that you took the time to analyze your embroidery choices.  

Anyway, I found some online (bulk buys) & really haven't been disappointed w/ the color choices - true shome are not being used, but I believe they will be -- someday!  I got rayon & polyester first, & later on added metallics & variegated.  When I found out that rayons were not color-fast, my heart sank -- those are truly the only threads I rarely use now.  Sure, there are a few colors that are getting used more often & now I find I look for the in-between colors for more natural shading.  

I like how you organized your thread list - so helpful when shopping!  I hadn't thought of using them up for FSL, but thanks to debgamble for the suggestion.  

Regarding thread storage, I started out w/ clear plastic bins, then moved to a stack of clear drawers, but now I have them on lazy susans in my glass-fronted corner cabinets -- they make a nice, colorful, dust-free display & I can find the color I want fast.  

Thanks, Pat, for another great blog!  

Thanks again!  I love the lazy susan display idea, it must be attractive as well as protected from dust.


nellyvaldesdemar 6/29/2009 7:06:05 PM

Please, help me to find the spreadsheet fro excell, I have been all over and I couldn't find it.

Thanks for your help.

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