Does Embroidery Thread Shrink When Washed?


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It’s an awful experience to pull a piece of clothing out of the dryer and realize it has shrunk. It’s even worse when that piece of clothing has a beautiful piece of embroidery on it that you spent hours working on. What actually happened? Is it the embroidery thread that shrank in the dryer?

Cotton embroidery threads can shrink in the dryer, but this is rarely a big problem. When shrinkage and puckering occurs, it’s usually due to the fabric that the embroidery is on. It’s important to pre-wash fabric you plan to embroider on and hand wash it after your embroidery is complete.

Your fabric and your embroidery thread have a very important relationship. Each needle prick into your fabric is intentional and holds your embroidery thread in the exact spot where you intended it to.

Now, let’s say that your fabric shrinks. Suddenly, your needle pricks have moved. This means that your embroidery thread isn’t being held in the same place as it was before. It’s not where you intended it to be!

When we think about embroidery thread shrinking in the dryer, we’re missing the bigger problem. 

If the garment you embroidered on shrinks, there will be a much bigger impact than if your embroidery thread itself shrinks.

In this post, we’re going to cover both issues so you have as few shrinking problems as possible, both with your threads and with your fabrics. 

Important note: I don’t recommend putting your embroidery projects in the washer or dryer to begin with, which we’ll talk about later in this post. 

To be comprehensive though, we’re going to start off by talking about which embroidery threads are prone to shrinking. Again, I don’t advise putting your embroidery projects in the dryer to begin with, so this shouldn’t even be a concern.

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But, it’s important to cover. Alright, let’s dive in.

Cotton Embroidery Thread Will Shrink More Than Polyester

Cotton is more prone to shrinking in the dryer than polyester. If you want to prevent shrinking in the dryer, consider using polyester embroidery thread instead of cotton. When exposed to heat, cotton releases the tension that was applied to it when it was created, which causes it to shrink.

When cotton is made, tension is applied to it. When put in a dryer and exposed to heat, this tension releases and the cotton shrinks back to its original size (source).

On the other hand, polyester is mainly made of plastic. It doesn’t naturally shrink in the dryer and you’d actually have to make a concerted effort to shrink it (source). 

It’s very important to be careful with high temperatures around polyester though (source). Plastic+heat=not usually a great combo

So, from an embroidery thread standpoint, polyester thread will be less likely to have shrinking issues.

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Remember though that thread is very different than an entire garment, mainly due to their sizes. 

The concern with shrinking should be surrounded around the garment being used and not the thread. We’ll notice much bigger issues with a garment shrinking than with the embroidery thread shrinking.

To avoid shrinking issues on all levels, there are some proactive and ongoing steps to take when washing and drying your embroidered projects.

Pre-Wash the Clothes and Fabric Before You Embroider Them

Pre-wash and dry the garment or fabric you plan to embroider on before you start your embroidery work. Cotton clothing shrinks most dramatically the first time you wash and dry it, so pre-washing your garments can eliminate the most severe effects of shrinking before you embroider on it.

Cotton can shrink every time you wash and dry it, but the most dramatic effects will happen after your first wash and dry cycle (source).

As we’ll talk about in the next section, I don’t recommend machine washing and drying your garments once you’ve embroidered on them, but doing a pre-wash and dry before you get started can help prep your garment and eliminate the majority of the shrinking issues your could see in the future.

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Hand Wash Your Embroidery Projects

Once you’ve finished your embroidery project, gently hand wash it in cool water every time it needs to be cleaned. Hand washing will not only prevent your fabric from shrinking, it will also protect your delicate embroidery work from any damage that could be done in the machine washer or dryer.

If your washing machine is like mine, there are times where I think it’s going to spin so fast that it’s going to take flight. While I know this is making my clothes very clean, I also always think of the rough journey they’re going through.

This is fine for my snowman pjs, but not so fine for my embroidery projects that I’ve worked so hard on.

Shrinking aside, machine washers and dryers can be rough on delicate materials. Don’t subject your precious embroidery projects to that. It’s way too easy for your embroidery to get damaged. Especially when you’re first learning embroidery, you want to take precautions before you know the ropes.

Hand washing your embroidery projects will also protect them from shrinking. Again, the biggest concern with shrinking is related to the fabric or garment itself. We don’t want those needle holes moving around and distorting your embroidery work.

Your washing machine can potentially damage your embroidery projects but, as long as you’re using cool water, it’s not until you reach your dryer where the real shrinking issues can occur.

Air Dry Your Embroidery Projects

If you’re worried about embroidery shrinking, it’s best to air dry them. Dryers can be rough on embroidery projects and the heat can cause your fabric to shrink. Your thread may shrink as well, but it’s the fabric or garment your embroidery project is on that will have the most shrinking issues.

Air drying is the best way to go for your embroidery projects. Again, cotton fabrics shrink when exposed to heat, which can distort your embroidery.

While air drying takes longer than your machine, it will save you stress and headache in the long run should you find that your dryer damages your embroidery.

At the end of the day, you want to be as cautious as possible with any embroidery projects you’ve worked hard on. Take the extra time to hand wash and air dry your projects and only do so as needed. Excessive washing can take a toll. 

If you take the right precautions, avoiding shrinking of your embroidery projects will become a natural routine.

Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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