'Should' you use thread conditioner for cross stitch?
Is thread conditioner the best thing ever to keep your threads well behaved, a disaster waiting to happen...or just a waste of time?!
Thread conditioner can be a bit of a controversial subject but I’m not one to shy away from controversy, and I’m also not going to tell you there’s a right or wrong answer here, so let’s talk about it.
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What is thread conditioner?
If you’re wondering 'what the heck even is thread conditioner?' then let’s start with that.
It’s essentially a product that you can use to coat your embroidery threads to make them potentially easier to cross stitch with. I say 'potentially' because as you'll see later, it's not as simple as that!
There are 2 types;
Synthetic silicone based products
The most common of these is Thread Magic, which has really been seen as a successor to the previously very popular Thread Heaven (which is what I have) which was discontinued...to much outcry!
These are blocks made from 100% beeswax, that often come in cute shapes, and you definitely want to look for 100% beeswax, not a mix with any other ingredients.
Benefits of thread conditioner
The first benefit of thread conditioner is to strengthen the thread but this isn’t really something that’s needed for cross stitch.
It's a big plus point if you are sewing something that needs to stand up to some use but for purely decorative items...maybe not so much!
If you are making a cross stitch item that is intended to be used in some way rather than to put on display, then maybe it could be useful, but even then I probably wouldn’t use it for this purpose.
The big benefits to cross stitchers of using a thread conditioner are that the thread can glide through the fabric more easily to give you a nicer stitching experience and it can reduce the risk of the thread getting tangled, knotted or frayed.
Now, that sounds great doesn’t it?
Well yes, but I would also argue that embroidery threads don’t really ‘need’ you to do this to them so it could be seen as a waste of time that you could be spending stitching!
Downsides to thread conditioner
Other than a possible waste of good stitching time, the other main downside is that you are basically coating your thread in something that could potentially affect your thread in a number of ways, such as causing the thread to deteriorate over time.
There really isn’t a lot of hard evidence on this either way, so it may not be something you want to waste time worrying about unless you are creating something that will be an heirloom piece and you want to be absolutely sure it will stand the test of time without deterioration.
Now, the consensus seems to be that synthetic silicone thread conditioners would be more likely to affect your threads and cause them to deteriorate over time than 100% beeswax.
The other thing you may notice if using 100% beeswax is that it can change the appearance of the threads; a number of resources say that it darkens the thread slightly as soon as you put it on, and it may even darken further over time. The threads can also lose some of their shine and their 'springiness' so it’s definitely worth testing to see if any of this is something that bothers you.
Finally, thread conditioner, especially beeswax, can make your threads more likely to catch hold of any dirt or grime that touches them and this might not be so easy to wash out afterwards. This is something to think about, especially if you are using it with light coloured threads that could more easily show the dirt.
How does the stitching look and feel with conditioner?
I stitched sample hearts using synthetic and beeswax thread conditioner, and also one without to compare how they felt and looked.
The middle heart is no conditioner, the one on the right is Thread Heaven and the one on the left is 100% beeswax.
First up I will say that I didn't find the stitching process any easier with either thread conditioner. I couldn't feel any difference when using Thread Heaven and if anything, the beeswax made the thread slightly thicker, which actually made it very slightly harder to pull through the fabric holes.
I didn't see any difference in the finished stitching with Thread Heaven, but I did think the beeswax gave the stitches a more matt finish. I'm guessing some stitchers might prefer that 'soft focus' kind of finish but I think I like the slight shine to my threads.
Alternatives to thread conditioner
If you don’t want to use thread conditioner, one trick you could try is to run your thread through a damp sponge to smooth it down. I’ve not tried this because I don’t really find it necessary, but a number of stitchers have reported great results with this.
I have also seen recommendations for running your thread through tumble dryer sheets and I can see the logic of this because they reduce static which reduces the risk of tangles and knots, just like thread conditioner. But I wouldn’t do this as I have concerns about the effects of the chemicals from the tumble dryer sheets on thread integrity over time, but you’ll have to make your own mind up on this.
When to use thread conditioner
In my experience the tendency of threads to knot and tangle does seem to vary, and you can actually feel that some thread brands feel rougher when you handle them. I almost always use DMC threads and generally find them nice and smooth, but I have had kit threads that felt quite rough by comparison. It also seems to happen more with certain colours of thread, and this is noticeable even with a few DMC threads, and this may be related to the dyes used as they can leave some threads smoother or rougher than others.
So you might want to consider using thread conditioner for any very rough feeling threads or if you find you are getting a lot of knots as you stitch. On a related note I do think thread conditioner is extremely helpful for metallic threads as some of these really can be quite rough…although not all of them!
If cross stitching with metallic threads is something you find a bit of a struggle, then check out my post on How to use Metallic Threads to Cross Stitch which covers both tips for cross stitching with metallic threads and which brands I find the nicest to stitch with.
I guess the final verdict here is…you decide what works for you!
Using thread conditioner is far from essential but if it makes stitching easier and more fun for you, and you don’t mind if it changes the finished look slightly, and it’s not a piece where you are concerned about the longevity of it, then it could be well worth it.
Until next time, happy stitching!