It is soft, beautiful, rich in color, and has been used in needlework for centuries: silk thread. Does it sound too expensive and fragile to use in your stitchery? Let me debunk both misperceptions, because I want you to try stitching with it at least once. Your fingers will love it, and your needlework will look gorgeous. So let’s talk a little about this unique stitching fiber.
Silk is very strong and quite durable; you can even use it in fishing. While it isn’t as cheap as a cotton embroidery floss that you find in a discount store, it isn’t outrageously priced. It’s about the same as an overdyed floss or metallic. There are times when using silk thread is absolutely worth it. Just as quilters know to use the best quality fabrics for a lasting quilt, better quality threads will raise the bar on your needlework. There are many reasons to use silk, but here are three common ones to get you thinking.
1. For historical tie-in. Silk was traditionally used in samplers, blackwork, ecclesiastical embroidery, Chinese and Japanese embroidery. Imagine the silk embroidered hand bags, evening gowns, even gentlemen’s waistcoats of Jane Austen’s time. Go to a sampler exhibit at a museum and see how little girls used silk threads in cross stitch. It is even documented that Benjamin Franklin used a silk thread to attach a key to a kite he flew in a thunderstorm to study lightening. So silk thread has been used for centuries, and is a perfect floss to use for historical reproductions or just to link yourself to history through your needlework.
2. For texture. Silk is stronger and shinier than cotton or wool floss, so it gives you the perfect opportunity to show off stitches, either in quilts, embroidery, samplers or needlepoint. It comes in two forms: spun silk with a softer texture, or filament silk that is very shiny. You can use either kind alone or combined for even more visual interest (imagine a shiny fiber next to a matte fiber). They can be combined with any other type of fiber as well, so you don’t have to stick to an all-silk project if you’re so inclined. Silk and metallics together are just as gorgeous, for instance, as silk threads on silk fabric. It’s ok and actually fun to combine textures. It makes your project more visually interesting.
3. For any heirloom design. Since silk does cost more than discount floss, use if for those special projects. Are you stitching a wedding gift, Christmas ornament, holiday stocking, or any other design meant to be cherished for a long time to come? Consider silk.
This unique natural fiber is so soft that it will spoil your fingers, while your eyes will love the rich color and vibrant texture. It is truly part of a fiber artist’s basic thread palette, but accessible to stitchers of all levels. Look at your next project and see if silk thread would make your design better, even more beautiful and meaningful.