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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Choose the Best Thread for your Sewing Project


As I have taught friends and family to sew, I have discovered that many think all threads are the same with the exception of the color.  Not true.  Threads are different - in blend, color, texture, shrinkage, and their ability to work well in your machine without breakage.  Finding the best thread for your sewing project can be daunting, so I thought I would share with you some information that I have learned in my years of sewing and quilting that may be helpful for anyone just starting out or wanting to understand better how to choose thread wisely.

First of all, be familiar with the type of fabric you will be using for your project before you pick a thread.  Start by understanding the various types of thread, their usage, and their weight (size) - I have provided that information below.  The higher the number, the finer the thread where "50" is the median size.  Sometimes the size will be indicated by a letter, in this case "A" is fine thread and "D" is heavy thread.

The thread you use for your projects should be similar in fiber content to that of your chosen fabric.

General Purpose:

Spoolsofthread7 There are a number of general purpose sewing threads, and understanding how to read the spool is key to understanding what you are getting.  For instance:

Cotton: You can find a wide range of colors in a medium thickness weight (size 50).  This thread is used for sewing on light to medium weight cottons, linens, and rayons mostly.  Most cotton thread is mercerized, which simply means that it has been through a finishing process that makes it smooth and lustrous allowing it to take dye better as well.  This is important because if you use a dark color thread in your project, you don't want it to fade over time and with each washing.  Cotton thread is NOT a good choice when your sewing project involves stretchy fabrics.  If you use a cotton thread on stretchy material like knits, your stitches will break.

Cotton - Polyester Blend:  I think I have more of this thread in my collection than any other.  This is an all-purpose thread (size 50) for sewing on knits, wovens, blends, synthetic, and natural fibers.  The polyester core provides this thread with additional strength and elasticity, and the cotton exterior makes it strong and heat resistant.

Silk:   Silk thread is great for sewing on silk and wool and I love it for projects like silk and wool dresses, silk scarves, and even satin and chiffon.  The thread is fine (size A) and makes it ideal for basting as well, on all types of fabrics, because it won't leave "holes" or imprints in your fabric after you remove the basting stitches.  I like to use silk thread for basting my quilts before machine quilting.  Silk thread has elasticity too, and is suitable for your stretchy fabrics like knit. Use this fine thread with very thin, delicately woven fabrics like lingerie or sheer garments.

Spoolsofthread8 Nylon:   Nylon thread is suitable for sewing light to medium weight synthetics (size A) and is especially suitable for projects using nylon tricot, suedecloth, Faux Fur, and Fleece, as a few examples.

Polyester:  Polyester is an all-purpose weight (size 50) thread, and is suitable for most all types of fabrics, particularly woven synthetics, knits, and stretchy fabrics of any fiber.  Most of your polyester threads contain a wax or silicone finish enabling them to slide through the fabric with minimum friction.

Metallic: You can use metallic thread for both machine and hand embroidery and thread painting, just make sure that if you use this thread for machine embroidery that it is labeled suitable for use in your machine sewing.

Quilting:  Quilting thread is suitable for all your hand and machine quilting projects.  I've been asked if the "hand quilting" thread is suitable for the machine and the answer is "yes" you can use the hand-quilting thread in your machine.  Most quilting thread is "all-cotton" and has a finish that makes it easier for the thread to slip through the fabric and cotton layers.

Heavy Duty Threads:

Spoolsofthread9 Cotton; Polyester, and Cotton-Polyester BlendThese are coarse threads (size <40) and are necessary for sewing heavier fabrics such as heavy vinyl or upholstery fabrics.  If you use a size 50 weight or above, chances are that your thread will break during the sewing of your project.  I used a heavier thread to make the Happy Back PakSaks for my children this past summer.  I trusted that the heavier thread would not break while machine stitching over layers and layers of heavy fabric and batting.

Be careful not to fall prey to the 10 spools for 4.99 deal.  Chances are that these threads are not the quality that you require in your sewing projects.  Just remember - you get what you pay for, and that is not to say that you can find some good deals on good quality thread, just "know" your thread and understand what you are looking for before you tackle your project.


Do you try to match the color of your thread exactly to your project?  Suggestion - buy a thread that is 1 shade darker so that it blends in harmoniously.  If you have a multi-color print or a plaid fabric, you should pick a color thread that is the most dominant color in the fabric.

Spoolsofthread5 When threading your machine, be sure to put the top part of the spool "up."  Finding the top of the spool isn't always as obvious as you might think.  To determine which part of the spool is the top, hold the spool horizontally by the top and bottom.  Unroll about a foot of the thread.  If the thread hangs freely, you unrolled it from the top.  If it twists back on itself, you unrolled it from the bottom.

Don't use old thread you find laying around just to use it up. (I'm guilty of this).  Give it the yank test.  If the thread breaks simply by yanking it off the spool, it will break in your machine.  Toss it out.  DO NOT save it for a craft project, and definitely do not throw it out for the birds (this can be fatal to them).  Also, do not donate it to charity either.  Put it out with your garbage and purchase a new thread for your project.  

If you will be sewing with specialty threads you will want to use the appropriate needle for your project and adjust your machine tension. Remember to always adjust the upper tension of your machine with the foot down.  Your machine may not register the change if the presser foot is up.  Once you find a setting you like, write it down!  I keep a notebook of sewing tips, including samples of stitches and tension information for reference. If you play with the tensions, you will see the different effects that you can achieve by "pulling" the bobbin thread up to the top of your fabric.  Many threads perform better in the bobbin with a cotton or invisible thread in the needle.  If you like the effect, consider buying a separate bobbin case and leaving the tension set up for bobbin work.

Problems with Decorative Thread?  Try these suggestions and see if they help:

  • Slow down.  Decorative thread and speed don't mix.
  • Re-thread your machine.  Experiment with not putting the thread through the thread guide that is above the needle.  Also, make sure that when you are threading your machine, that the thread is between the discs in the guide of your machine.
  • Change the needle. Are you using the proper size?  A too small needle will shred medium and heavy threads.  Make sure the eye of the needle is large enough for heavier threads.  Always be sure that the needle is appropriate for the fabric and the thread that you are using.
  • Lower your tension.  When the top thread loops on the bottom, the tension is too loose 
  • Try another brand of thread.  Sometimes, simply changing the thread to another brand will do the trick.

If you are going to be embroidering with your machine, choose your thread weight according to the design.  Embroidery thread is available in sizes ranging from 30wt (heavier thread is good for lots of fill) to 60wt (thinner thread for more detail.) Embroidery thread can be rayon, polyester, cotton, or silk.

My favorite place to shop for thread is Red Rock Threads

My favorite brands of thread are Robison-Anton and Mettler.  I also like Superior-Masterpiece thread for quilting projects and cotton fabric projects.  Floriani has a beautiful line of embroidery threads.

I've noticed that Coats & Clark threads are not as reliable as they used to be.  You can find C & C in most fabric stores, however I haven't been as impressed with the quality since using other brands.  True, some are more costly, but ultimately, the durability of my project is dependent on the quality of my thread as well!

I hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something valuable about choosing thread for your sewing project.  I love to hear from my readers!  Let me know what you are working on! 



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