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  • Kat Waskett

How Long Should my Cross Stitch Thread Be?

So, how long is a piece of thread?

In cross stitch the answer is…as long or short as you like it!

Ok, I promise I’m going to get a bit more helpful than that, but one thing I can say for sure is that it won’t be the same for every stitcher.

I’m going to talk about what to consider when choosing your thread length and give you a few helpful tips along the way such as how to measure out your threads.

If you'd prefer to watch this as a video then just click below >>>

Cut length vs. working length

Just to make sure we're on the same page here, I want to say that there will potentially be a difference in how long you cut your thread and how long a thread you are working with, because you can us each strand exactly as it is, or fold each strand in half to use the loop start.

If the loop start is a new idea to you, then I have a video showing you how to do this from the back and the front of your work.

So, I will be referring to the cut length and also the working length. If you cut a 60cm thread, take a single strand and fold it in half you’ll have a 30cm working length.

A 60 cm piece of embroidery floss with 1 strand separated out and folded n half, and a 30cm piece of embroidery floss with 2 strands pulled out and laid together

If you're working from a kit then you might not have a choice of how long a thread to use because the lengths will usually be pre-cut. If they are longer than you like, you can always cut them shorter. If they are shorter than you like there’s not so much you can do about it, although you can always use 2 strands each time and not use a loop start, which will give you a longer working length.

Pros and cons of a longer thread

The obvious benefit of having a longer working thread is that you won’t have to start and stop so often. This is going to be especially beneficial where you are stitching large blocks of colour as it can save quite a bit of time. It can also be a more efficient use of thread as you waste less in securing your thread at the start and end of each piece.

And this is really the only benefit but anything that gives you more actual stitching time is a big benefit in my book!

But there are a few downsides to a longer thread…

The first one is that the longer you stitch with a piece of thread the tattier it will become at the end from wear and tear on the thread as it is pulled through the holes and rubs against the fabric, other threads and the eye of the needle. You might even have to ditch a bit more thread at the end than you would with a shorter thread because it’s become so scraggy that any stitches you make with it just won’t look as nice. And for me, it’s not worth eking out those last few stitches with a tatty end of thread. I also think that if you end up wasting more thread at the end that pretty much defeats the point of using a longer thread in the first place!

And this links with the next downside which is that the longer your thread is, the more prolonged the wear and tear on it will be and then it will be more prone to knotting and tangling.

The final downside is that stitching with a very long thread can be a little awkward from a practical point of view…there is a limit to how far you can stretch your arm when pulling your thread through!

General recommendations for thread length

I have seen recommendations for all sorts of lengths, but most commonly in the 8-18 inch range, so that’s 20-45cm in my world. I presume that is working length because even 45cm folded in half would be very short to work with and you wouldn’t get many stitches out of it!

If you are new to stitching then I recommend to start with a 60cm (24 inch) cut length, and use each strand folded in half to give you 30cm (12 inches) of working thread. And that’s somewhere in the middle of those recommended ranges above.

Now, I've been stitching for many years and find that I like my threads a bit longer, so I use 1m (40 inches) cut threads, with each strand folded in half to give me 50cm (20 inches) of working thread.

I don’t generally have any major issues with knots or tangles at this length, but any longer than this and I do find it a bit unmanageable...and it does rather risk my husband getting a poke in the eye when he's sitting next to me while I’m stitching!

How to measure out thread lengths

Here's another reason why I love 1m lengths; because each skein of thread is 8m, so I unravel the whole skein, and cut it into 8 x 1m lengths. That way I have perfect lengths for me to stitch with, and I know I won’t end up with a short piece of thread left at the end of the skein if I measure out as I go!

You can use the same technique to unravel the whole skein but cut shorter lengths if you prefer, and then you can put these lengths on a floss drop like I do, wind them all individually onto a bobbin, or keep them in small plastic bags.

A skein of pink embroidery thread, 2 plastic bobbins with pink and blue thread wound round them, and 2 plastic floss drops with pink and blue thread attached to them

If you want to keep your skein intact, or you want to wind the whole skein onto a bobbin in one long piece, then you can measure out your thread as you go.

You can just do this by eye, or if you want to be more precise you can use a ruler, or have a piece of string that’s your preferred length to measure it by.

You can also use body parts to help you measure the cut length - yes, really!

Hold the end of your thread between your finger and thumb then stretch the thread out to various points on your body to get different lengths!

- to my elbow (for me this is 40cm)

- to my shoulder (for me this is 65cm)

- to my nose (for me this is 50cm with my hand out in front and 75cm with my hand out to the side)

This is much easier to see on the video!

Of course, you can then double up these lengths if you are going to fold each strand in half so you want a longer cut length. For example you could measure hand to elbow and then double that up to give you 80cm cut length, and 40cm working length.

You can also use a certain number of twists from the skein because when you pull the thread out it has natural stopping points as each twist of the thread is pulled out, and each twist is about 30cm, so you could take 2 or 3 full twists.

When to use shorter lengths

Firstly, even though you may have longer cut lengths, if you come across a section with only a few stitches of a particular colour, you can always cut a shorter bit off of 1 strand.

I often cut my 1m strands in half or cut a tiny piece off to do 3 stitches!

If you're going to do this regularly, it can be useful to know roughly how many stitches you can get out of a working thread.

For example, I can get around 50 stitches from a 1m cut thread (using a single strand folded in half), so if I see a section with around 15-20 stitches, I know I could complete this by cutting a single strand in half and use a 50cm length folded in half to give me 25cm.

Secondly, I suggest you throw this all out of the window when using metallic threads and use much shorter lengths!

Metallic threads can be very unruly to work with and so prone to knots and tangles that a shorter length is super helpful. I cover this and lots more tips for stitching with metallic threads in How to use Metallic Threads to Cross Stitch.

So, whilst I can’t tell you how long a piece of thread to use because it’s such a personal thing, I hope that’s given you some things to consider.

Until next time, happy stitching!


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