DMC (short for “Dollfus-Mieg & Compagnie”) is the world’s best-known brand of embroidery floss. In many ways, they were also the first—first to twist together 6 individual strands, and the first to “mercerize” their cotton to make it look more like silk, perfect for 18th century embroiderers with champagne tastes and a mead budget.
After 270 years of adding new products, however, things have started to get confusing. DMC now manufactures several different thread types that overlap in various ways, but without an obvious logic as to how they’re organized. For example, DMC’s “Light Effects” line is coded with the letter “E,” the “Etoile” line is coded with the letter “C,” and the “Color Variations” line (not to be confused with “Variegated,” which is not its own line at all) is coded with numbers from 4000–4265.
I spend way more time than most people thinking about embroidery floss but when it comes to keeping DMC threads straight, even I sometimes feel like
Not to worry, friends. I’ve straightened it out for you. Here are the seven types of DMC 6-strand floss:
What most people think of as the “regular” DMC Floss. Comes in 500(ish) solid colors.
Numbering: Coded from 01–996, skipping the 1000s and 2000s, then resuming from 3011–3895 (in the U.S. and Australia—otherwise the numbers end at 3866), with gaps in the numbering scattered throughout. I have no idea why DMC does it this way. I asked them but all they could tell me is that their numbering system is “exclusive to DMC, free-moving, and created in 1898.”
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Shrug emoji)
To add further complexity, Mouliné Spécial is also sometimes arranged into 20 color groups—Group 1 is reds, Group 2 is pinks, Group 3 is magentas, etc.—but because the groups are formed according to hue (their position in the rainbow) and not tint (how dark or saturated a color is), you will find lots of pinks and peaches across Groups 1–3 (as well as 15–17). These groups are arranged in (sort of) chromatic order but they do not correspond to the floss numbers contained within them.
Material: 100% cotton, dyed a single color
Suggested uses: Any surface needlework such as embroidery or cross-stitch, or small macrame, wrapping, or weaving projects (e.g. friendship bracelets).
Floss that provides variation in tint/saturation of a single color. Available in 18 colors.
Unlike their other types of color-changing floss, DMC does not treat variegated floss as a separate line from their solids, so you will need to locate them among the Mouliné Spécial line. They do have their own color group, however (Group 21). 19 of the original variegated colors have been discontinued, but if you search for one here, you can find the closest equivalent.
Numbering: 48–125 (technically through 126, but that color was discontinued), nestled in the middle of a bunch of solid colors. Again, I have no idea why. The variegated numbers do not correspond to their solid counterparts (e.g. Variegated Terra Cotta = DMC 69; Solid Terra Cotta = DMC 3830; Color Variations Terra Cotta = DMC 4135).
Double ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Shrug emoji)
Material: 100% cotton, with color changing gradually along the length of the entire 8m/8.7yd skein. One end of the floss is the lightest shade of the base color, and the other end is the darkest. It slowly fades from lightest to darkest through several intermediate shades with very slight variation along the way.
Suggested uses: Stitching a gradient or fade/ombré effect across a larger area, such as when stitching skies, water, or geometric blackwork patterns.
Floss that changes from one color to another within a single color family. Often inspired by nature, with names like “Autumn Leaves” and “Tropical Sunset.” This series is the color-changing middle child—bolder than Variegated, but less wacky than Coloris. Available in 60 color palettes.
Numbering: 4010–4240, with most floss numbers ending in 5 or 0.
Material: 100% cotton with 3- or 4-color striping, changing color every 4 inches
Suggested uses: Stitching multicolored landscape elements such as trees, water, or fields of flowers; simulating the iridescence of birds, insects, or seashells; adding visual interest to borders or text.
Bold color-changing floss that is not afraid to combine contrasting colors. Palettes inspired by place or mood, with names like “Wide Open Spaces” and “Christmas Story.” Available in 24 color palettes.
Numbering: 4500–4523 (with no numbering gaps! 😀)
Material: 100% cotton with four-color striping, changing color every 4 inches.
Suggested uses: Sprinkles, confetti, or other tiny, colorful embellishments; adding visual interest or a modern brushstroke effect to objects like leaves or letters.
Floofy with a delicate sparkle. Unlike its synthetic cousins, each strand of Mouliné Étoile glitters by way of one shiny filament twisted up with several cotton filaments. Available in 35 colors.
Numbering: Coded with “C” followed by its corresponding Mouliné Spécial number (e.g. C321 = Étoile Red).
Material: 73% cotton / 27% metallic Polyamide
Suggested uses: Designs that could use a subtle sparkle or a softer look. Popular with projects for kids and babies. Soft enough to use on clothing or linens.
A tricky series, consisting of shimmery metallics and pearlescents, as well as specially dyed fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark threads. Available in 36 colors total—33 metallic/pearlescent, 2 fluorescent, and 1 glow-in-the-dark.
Numbering: Coded with “E” followed by its matching Mouliné Spécial number, but given a unique name (e.g. E211 = Light Effects Lilac and 211 = Light Lavender), except for the fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark threads, which do not have a corresponding solid color. Originally coded with numbers in the 5000s, those colors were either discontinued or replaced with numbers with the “E” prefix. You can search for any old color number here to find its replacement or closest equivalent.
Material: 100% polyester, except for the fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark threads, which are cotton.
Suggested uses: Simulating metals like gold or silver, stitching shiny or glowing natural elements such as stars, snowflakes, or beetles, or simply adding a touch of bling to your project.
Slick and glossy, DMC Satin is the shiniest floss available, but the slippery texture and easily frayed ends can make it somewhat difficult to work with. Available in 60 colors.
Numbering: Coded with “S” followed by its corresponding Mouliné Spécial number (e.g. S469 = Satin Avocado Green).
Material: 100% rayon
Suggested uses: Stitching designs that could benefit from added sheen, such as hummingbirds, butterflies, or jewels; fancifying embroidery on clothing or linens. Not recommended for wrapping, knotting, or use with rougher fabrics (which can shred the fibers as they are pulled through).
More ways to use specialty threads
Wondering how to add a little dazzle to your needlework using DMC specialty floss? Check out a few of these awesome examples submitted by stitchers in the community.
Phew! Hopefully that was helpful in clearing a few things up. If you’re feeling inspired to try some of these out, you can pick up a skein or two right here.
Feel free to reach out anytime with questions or comments, and make sure to join the mailing list (signup in footer below) to be notified when the next post in the “Demystifying DMC” series is published.
Stay safe and stitch happy,
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