Embroidery thread is yarn that is manufactured for the purpose of embroidering. There are many different types of embroidery thread, including crewel yarn, rayon thread (embroidery floss), matte embroidery cotton, and tapestry yarn.
In the world of embroidery, rayon thread is generally the most popular embroidery thread due to the fact that it is inexpensive and has a high sheen. However, polyester embroidery thread is increasing in popularity because it tends to bleed slightly less than rayon.
Read our article on the differences between embroidery and quilting threads here.
What is Bleeding?
‘Bleeding’ is when the coloured dye of threads begins to run and transfer onto the garment. It commonly occurs with embroidery thread for two reasons.
- There may be excess dye in thread, which transfers to the surrounding fabric or other pieces of clothing when washed; or
- The dye is water soluble, meaning that it dissolves when coming into contact with water.
Dye that has been added after the thread yarn was made (for example in rayon thread) is often much more problematic than when the dye was added before the thread yarn was made, when it comes to embroidery thread bleeding.
While bleeding is highly inconvenient, and can be frustrating if it ruins a piece of embroidery that you have been working on for ages, there are some ways you can prevent it.
Will My Embroidery Thread Bleed?
In short, yes. While manufacturers do have the ability to produce 100% colourfast threads, the cost is simply too high, and the average consumer is not willing to pay the extra for this.
Often, not all colours and types of embroidery threads are susceptible to the same degree of bleeding. Machine embroidery thread are the types of embroidery thread most vulnerable to bleeding, and red dye is often the most challenging colour.
So, how can I limit embroidery thread bleeding and preserve my embroidered pieces?
How Can I Prevent Embroidery Thread Bleeding?
1. Pre-Wash Threads
A commonly-used technique among those who love to embroider is to pre-wash your embroidery threads. Since a large cause of embroidery thread bleeding is excess dye, pre-washing your threads can get rid of the surplus and help your threads to survive for longer.
The downside is that, because you’re rinsing out excess dye, the threads may not be as vibrant and beautiful after pre-washing.
To pre-wash your embroidery threads:
- Fill a sink or container with lukewarm or cold water
- Add two tablespoons of white vinegar and two tablespoons of salt
- Add your thread to the container and soak for up to two minutes (make sure to do this one colour at a time)
- Rinse the thread in clean, cold water to remove leftover vinegar and salt
- Remove the thread from the sink, dry gently with a towel and leave to air dry
- If colour from the thread transfers onto the towel then repeat the process until the bleeding has stopped
It’s important not to use hot water in the pre-washing process as it encourages embroidery thread bleeding and may result in you removing most or all of the colour from the thread.
2. Avoid Machine-Washing
Another way to prevent embroidery thread bleeding is to avoid washing your pieces, in particular machine-washing. This may be easier said than done, as it can be difficult not to get your beloved embroidered clothes dirty if you wear them often!
Machine-washing aggravates the dye in coloured embroidered threads, encouraging bleeding. If you are going to machine-wash you must ensure that your washing machine is on a cold, delicate setting to prevent the dyes from running. Read our guide on how to machine-wash embroidery here.
Hand-washing is generally a preferred method for preventing bleeding threads, so if your piece isn’t too dirty then you can always attempt this first. Be sure not to use harsh chemicals, and make sure the water is tepid.
If you don’t want to hand-wash or machine-wash your piece yourself, you can always take your piece to a dry cleaner, or specialist with embroidery thread bleeding. Bear in mind that there still won’t be a guarantee of no bleeding.
3. Wash Your Hands Regularly
A commonly-missed step in the quest for the ultimate solution to embroidery thread bleeding is to make sure your hands are clean at all times when handling it.
When you are embroidering a piece, you may find that some dye, particularly dye in rayon thread, transfers on to your hands as you work. This is because the oils in and on your skin encourage bleeding of the thread, and moist, warm hands can often lead to the dye breaking down.
To prevent this, make sure to wash your hands regularly when creating and handling your piece, and keep some wipes or a damp towel near you so that you can regularly wipe your hands.
4. Use Polyester Thread
Lastly, if you want your pieces to stand the test of time and be as vibrant and beautiful as the day you created them, consider using a polyester or polyester-blend thread. Polyester threads are typically much better at holding the dye than a rayon thread, mainly because the dye is integrated before the thread is made.
This means that the dye bonds more tightly to the polyester fibres than it does to rayon thread or wool yarn, and so is less likely to bleed when used or washed.
How to Fix Embroidery Thread Bleeding
So, you’ve machine-washed your favourite embroidered shirt and the red dye has bled throughout the garment. How do you fix it?
The simple answer to this is to rinse and repeat. Rinse the piece in very cold water, and allow it so sit for a few minutes. If the colour doesn’t start to come out by itself, then run an ice cube over the affected fabric until the colour comes off.
You may have to do this many times to get rid of the unwanted colour, but the effort will be well worth it!