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.


  1. Never thought if #16 for tatting or quilting. I will have to try it. I always find such good information here.

  2. Thank you for an (as usual) informative post. I think years ago (at least 30) DMC used to manufacture cotton perle in sizes 40 to 60 - very very fine, which I used for making Irish crochetted lace. Apparently these sizes are extinct now.

    1. Hi AdyQuilts,
      Presencia does indeed make a 3-ply thread, Eyptian long staple cotton, for crochet. The size I see most advertised is 60 and it's called Fincrochet and comes in white and ecru. Please call 1-800-963-3353 and ask to speak to someone about the Fincrochet thread--tell them I sent you.
      Happy crochet-ing!

  3. thanks for the good article - I have been wondering about this thread but have not used it - the information you gave will come in handy if I decide to use it in any particular upcoming project.

  4. Hi Pepper, I remember(and enjoyed)you being on Alex's show!!! Anyway, I can't find the thread at colonial needle, just needles.......but whilr there ooowee, I found a 28 chenille needle!!!! Am going to order some of those too, yea!!. I want to get some #12 perle cotton in some particular colors, and a color swatch chart if possible too asap, I have to design something for a February hop and want to experiment/stitch with the threads that are being provided...(what I have done so far is in floss would rather it be what we're using for hop.) :) Some special sized balls are supposed to be in mid Nov. But I want to try now (I am like a kid with a new toy!!! :) I was just going to order regular size balls rather than the mini because I want to try it for the twilling I do as well!!! Where do I go, or who do I ask?? I realize you guys are probably in or on your way to Houston. Seems it's where most of the quilty/stitchy people are right now. Say Hi, & Happy Birthday to my friend Dawn Heese, Linen Closet Quilts(she's splitting time between Henry Glass & KC Star Pickledish booths). She loves doing big stitch on her applique quilts. I'd bet she'd love to try your threads too. Let me know, one of your new stitchy fans/friends, Cyndi Hoeller at Bee Tree Designs