Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tomato, Tomahto, What’s the difference? When to Choose Rayon or Polyester Embroidery Thread

I’ve been asked a hundred million times, “Which is better: Rayon or Poly?” What the askers really wanted to know is, “Tell Me What I Should Use: Rayon or Poly.”

The decision is being made in a variety of ways. If you’re buying an existing business from someone, you’ll carry on (at least in the beginning) with what was being used. If you’re starting a new business, you may use the recommendation of the machine sales person or continue using the thread that came on your new machine. If you’re the “creative” partner, you may take the recommendation of your “business-head” partner and choose Polyester over Rayon (“No-brainer, Dude, it’s 30% cheaper!”).

The most prudent way to make the decision should be based (85%) on the type of embroidery business you do (or will do) and the balance (15%) on what thread you like best. But you should understand the properties of both types of thread.

Rayon thread is made from wood pulp and is therefore a renewable resource (important to us “tree-huggers”). It takes the place of silk thread, which was used for centuries when all embroidery was done by hand (and I was young, so young!). Machine embroidery requires a stronger fiber, hence rayon. (I love saying “hence”.) Rayon has a soft hand, or feel, even when the stitch count is high, keeping the embroidery and fabric in balance. It has a silkier sheen and warmth; the color is especially sensitive to light refraction, which makes the embroidery look more vivid and appear to have more depth. Finally, its low elongation (stretchiness) and flexibility prevents looping and puckering (trust me Newbies, you don’t want looping or puckering). I should add that rayon is color-fast and responds very well to washing (203 degrees F) and dry cleaning, except where chlorine bleach is a requirement (No, no, no!).

Polyester is a synthetic fiber made from polymers (no idea what that is!), a by-product of petroleum (not a renewable resource!). Its use as an embroidery thread started to explode when embroidery went from mostly fashion wear and home decorating (remember, before NAFTA?) to include outerwear, sportswear, uniforms and corporate apparel. A more durable thread was needed, hence (love it): polyester. Polyester thread is shiny, strong, holds color very well and is impervious (liberal arts education!) to chlorine bleach. It has a stiffer feel though, especially in high stitch count designs, and the colors, while bright, are not as lively as rayon (my opinion).

The Decision!

So, if you are doing items that will be used more as fashion items (fine ladies apparel, formal gowns and lingerie, corporate wear, and leather jacket backs) or as decoration (lamp shades, draperies, table clothes, photo album covers), basically, items that will be handled carefully and not abused, go for using the rayon.

If you are embroidering something that is going to be receiving tough treatment (caps, denim jacket backs, chair backs, car seat covers, canvas boat covers, stadium blankets) or items that are going to be washed a lot (uniforms and baby clothes) by persons who don’t always read laundering labels, consider using polyester thread.

To pick the brand of thread to use, see my first Blog #1 – Choosing the Best Embroidery Thread.

By the way:
I know you read the manual that came with your embroidery machine and you’re current with all the Preventive Maintenance items for it. Nonetheless (guffaw) there may be occasions when, despite the TLC, your machine needs the attention of a technical specialist (and it’s out of warranty, of course), Ta Da!!!...

Welcome to Madeira USA’s newest service: Embroidery Technicians Page. Use this page to research a machine tech when you need one. We’ve researched and sent out queries throughout the U.S. to find the technicians who are best suited for your needs. Please visit this page to learn which techs service your machine, where they are located and how to contact them. Go to the Services tab at