One of the questions I get asked the most about embroidery is 'how many strands?'. I use stranded embroidery thread for all my patterns, mainly DMC but sometimes a little bit of Anchor. The only reason I try to focus on DMC threads is that they are more widely available globally, I love Anchor threads too. The patterns do contain notes on the number of threads I've used in various areas of the stitching but it's not necessary to follow them exactly depending on the effect you want to create.
when I draw with micron pens I have a range of different nib sizes and I swap pens according to the thickness of line that I want. I do exactly the same thing with embroidery threads. However I do have a go to number of threads, if in doubt I will automatically stitch with 2 strands. A lot of the pattern stitching will use 2 strands of threads.
Above you can see backstitch created using varying numbers of threads. As a rule I don't go above three strands for backstitch. This is mainly because a lot of my designs are quite delicate and anything thicker can look a little heavy. But I will occasionally couch six strands of thread with two strands of another colour, this makes a nice outline or decorative effect. I especially love the effect of a single strand of thread
my 'catching wishes' design was stitched using a single strand because I really wanted to keep the sketchy ethereal feeling of the original drawing which was done in pen and ink, so quite scratchy and fine. It helps to have a magnifying lamp (or very good eyesight) for stitching with a single thread.
another place I almost always use a single strand is for stripes on socks, sleeves etc. It stops the legs looking too heavy and the tights or socks from looking too thick
Stripes to fill a larger area are a perfect place to play around with numbers of strands. In the image above I used 4 strands of blue and 2 strands of green. I find it more interesting to look at than even stripes of two strands each. If I use an even number of strands I will often use three colours rather than two (for example I would use blue green and perhaps an orange if I were using two strands for each of the colours) which again makes it more interesting.
Another place where the number of strands you use can make all the difference is in french knots. In the past I would wrap the thread around twice if I wanted a bigger knot but a lovely embroiderer told me that she had been taught to increase the number of threads rather than the number of wraps to create a larger knot. This method is much more satisfying and keeps the knot clearer. So above you can see a range of knots from two strands to six strands. It's worth just messing around with numbers of strands to see which you like the best. I do love three strands personally.
In the past I haven't used a lot of chain stitch but recently I've been quite drawn to it. It's a little more involved than backstitch and I find I have to concentrate more, I don't find it as easy to get into a rhythm but it creates beautiful hair and chains for bunting. I tend to use 2 strands, I find 3 strands is a little too bulky and needs a bigger stitch but it would make a great outline stitch if you wanted a bold slightly frilled edge. I do like the delicacy of the single strand chain, it feels loose and would make a great chain for your bunting.
Stitching up little samples of basic stitches using different numbers of strands of threads is a fun thing to do. You could keep it in a stitch notebook or file for future reference, noting the numbers of threads that you used.
Now back to stitching up my new caravan embroidery design (designed to fit inside a hoop) ready for the end of the month.
I hope you are managing to find little pockets of time to do a little stitching in the summer months (unless of course you are in the depths of winter and cosy by the fire)