Gay Ann Rogers Needlework

Gay Ann Rogers Needlework

Lessons on Threads






New Lessons

Thread Lesson #1

In the Defense of Pearl Cotton

Pearl Cotton is much maligned but it is a favorite thread of mine: here are some examples of the reasons I love Pearl Cotton.

My love affair with pearl cotton began more years ago than I would like to admit. In this lesson I’m hoping to share why I still love this oft maligned but wonderfully versatile and (relatively) easy to use thread.


I spent the majority of my years as a needlework teacher/designer teaching at seminars for ‘the guilds’ (Embroiderers’ Guild of America and American Needlepoint Guild).

At one point toward the end of my seminar career I was teaching a relatively difficult sampler at a time when the silk profusion was in high gear and pearl cotton was at one of its lowest prestige points.


Within minutes of the beginning of my class,  one of my students asked me: ‘Gay Ann, do you consider Pearl Cotton the polyester of needlepoint threads?’


Sigh... the question implied that pearl cotton is a cheesy thread used only by beginners.

Poor Pearl Cotton.


I answered this way, 'I like Pearl Cotton and have included it in the sampler kit because it is the most appropriate thread for some of the techniques on the sampler' and let it go at that. I didn't add that the parts of the sampler executed in Pearl Cotton were by far the most difficult on the sampler, not cheesy, not for beginners.


 As the class progressed, the student who had asked the Pearl Cotton Question struggled and I confess, I smiled to myself -- all in defense of Pearl Cotton.



Most of the classes I taught at seminar were intermediate or advanced-intermediate classes; only once did I teach what I thought was an advanced class, and the kit for that class consisted of a piece of congress cloth and 20 balls of pearl cotton.


The single most difficult technique I've used with any regularity is a detached buttonhole stitch called Venetian Cloth Stitch. It isn't difficult to execute but making the tension look great can try one's soul and certainly isn't for the timid beginner.


Up there in difficulty, certainly not for the rank beginner:  a profusion of bullion variations that are more difficult than the basic bullion knot. Most people struggle with bullion knots; most people struggle with picots. Combine them into a series of bullion picots and as one of my students said, shaking her hands: ‘All that, for that? Forget it.’


For these techniques, the most difficult I have used, my choice of thread throughout the years has been Pearl Cotton. There are a couple of other choices (Cordonnet and Coton a Broder) but I've always preferred pearl cotton. Why? It isn't as stiff as Cordonnet and it often produces more definition that Coton a Broder.



Enough about difficult techniques and Pearl Cotton.  Pearl Cotton is also a great thread for very simple techniques with a great outcome. One of my favorite simple uses, good also for the rank beginner are very nice even attractive rows of Slanting Gobelin Stitch. The effect looks very satisfying, with little effort.


Isn’t it nice that something can be easy and gratifying? Why choose something difficult when a good choice can often be effective and relatively effortless? No laying tool needed, no picking apart strands of silk and carefully laying them side by side; instead, you can relax and enjoy doing something simple and know that the effect is very pleasing. What’s not to like about a thread that produces effective patterns in a relatively easy fashion.


Note that I have said relatively easy fashion. Here's the 'relative' part: when you are using Pearl Cotton, you do have to watch wear on the length of thread. It wears very quickly and the luster disappears and the thread can look ratty. Pearl Cotton isn’t a thread you can zone out and whip through without watching your progress carefully. And if you make an error in the pattern, you can’t unpick and reuse the strand. You need to use a new one.



On the left and below is a small gallery of my projects in which Pearl Cotton has played an important if not starring role. Please note that few of these are rank beginner projects and among them are some of my most popular designs.


Echoes of Elizabeth has extravagant use of Pearl Cotton in the borders, in the Tent Stitch ground and of course in the Reticella Squares. It is difficult to imagine that I could find a more appropriate thread for this sometimes difficult and challenging technique.


Most of the people who stitched my Elizabeth 1 portrait feared two areas: Elizabeth’s face and her ruff. There’s no Pearl Cotton in Elizabeth’s face, but many of the outlines and all of the pulled thread and detached buttonhole patterns to create the ruff are in Pearl Cotton.


The class I mentioned above, the one I billed as ‘Advanced’ is my Drawn Thread Sampler. As I said above, the whole sampler is in Pearl Cotton, only Pearl Cotton. 10  balls of it.


Reaching back a ways to what was at one point my most popular pattern ever, Strawberry Girl uses pearl cotton throughout.



‘Poor Pearl Cotton’ isn’t ‘Poor’ at all to me. In my stitching life it has had some great uses. To this day I use it in almost every project and cannot imagine my stitching world without it.


So here's the lesson: Please don't overlook Pearl Cotton. It is a wonderfully versatile thread with a texture that works well on its own and in combination  with what we think of as today's more sophisticated threads.


My World of Needlework


New Lessons


In 2015 I wrote a series of lessons for the beginner, intermediate and advancing needlework student.


I always intended to add to them but the year had a way of getting away from me, and here I am, a year later.


I'll do the best to add to my lessons as 2016 progresses.


If you have any topic you wish I would write about, please email me and I will see what I can do:


Click here for 2015's Lessons

For Beginning Students


Click here for 2015's Lessons

An Overview of Needlepoint


Click here for 2015's Lessons

For Intermediate Students


Click here for 2015's Lessons

For Advancing Students

My Drawn Thread Sampler, made on congress cloth with 20 balls of Pearl Cotton

My Elizabeth 1 Portrait: Ruff and Cuffs, two of the only challenging parts of this design are in Pearl Cotton.

Strawberry Girl: Most of her dress is work in Pearl Cotton.


Coming Soon in 2016

Lessons in Design

Echoes of Elizabeth Sampler. All Ecru parts of the design are worked in Pearl Cotton. They provide a nice contrast with the roses, beads, Scotch Stitch patterns and blackwork flowers.