Saturday, October 20, 2012

Perles of Wisdom

No, the word 'perle' isn't a misspelling. Perle cottons are a species of embroidery thread that comes in several weights. Perle is a two-strand thread, not meant to be divisible like floss. The term perle came about when thread makers were trying to market a cotton embroidery thread that would compete with more expensive silk threads. They finally got it right after mercerizing cotton fibers (treating the thread with an acid and heat) and the result was a glossy, strong, and affordable thread. Embroiderers and quilters loved the stuff. The word 'perle' was all marketing. The shiny thread was said to have a pearl-like finish. So the French and most Europeans spell it 'perle' and Americans label it 'pearl.' Same thing.

The thickest perle is #3 and then the sizes become thinner. You'll often find the #3 weight perle used together with thinner weights in dimensional embroidery stitches. The most popular for crazy quilt embroidery is #5 and that's also the easiest to find size of perle cotton.

The next size is #8, used for Big Stitch quilting and for sashiko.

Then there's #12, a finer perle that I use for both embroidery and some hand quilting. Quiltmakers who love wool use all three weights (5, 8, and 12) when doing buttonhole stitch or other applique techniques in wool.

Lastly #16 is the finest of the perles, loved by knitting fanatics and tatters who work with super-delicate thread. A few hand quilters have also discovered that #16 also works for quilting.  Presencia is the only company to make the complete range of sizes of perle cotton.

You can leaf through the Presencia catalog online here  but you won't find Presencia thread  in chain stores. Look for Presencia perles being sold by independent retailers and needlework specialists.