You may be confused when you hear the term pearl or perle cotton, but they are just variant names of the same item. Pearl cotton is a 2-ply, hi-sheen, non-divisible twisted thread used in many forms of needlework. Although this thread is sometimes described as being “one strand,” this may be due to confusion over the non-divisible 2-ply thread. In any case, pearl cotton is a popular and versatile thread.
A list of the uses to which pearl cotton is put will help convey its broad range of applications. It is used in appliqué, blackwork, crochet, cross-stitch, cut work, drawn threadwork, hardanger embroidery, huck embroidery, knitting, lacework, needlepoint, pulled threadwork, quilt tying, redwork, smocking, and tatting. The thread can sometimes be substituted by crochet cotton, embroidery floss or other threads or yarns, depending on the size of the thread and the particular craft.
Though not all companies make all sizes, pearl cotton is available in sizes 3, 5, 8, 12, 16, and 20. In this scheme, the largest diameter of thread has the smallest size. Some crafters use sizes 5, 8, and 12 in their sewing machines or sergers.
Sold in skeins and balls, pearl cotton is available in a wide variety of solid colors as well as variegated hues. Multicolor thread is also sold in a few color combinations at size 5. In general, sizes 3, 5, and 8 have the widest color choice. Metallic thread, incorporating polyster and viscose, is also manufactured.
Pearl cotton is sold both in twisted skeins and in balls. Unlike some yarns that are only sold in skeins by length, this type is sold both by length and by weight, for example, in 5 or 100 gm (0.2 or 3.5 oz) and 16 or 27 yard (14.6 or 24.6 meter) skeins and in 5, 10, or 50 gm (0.2, 0.4, or 1.8 oz) and 49, 87, or 131 yard (45, 80, or 120 meter) balls.