thread prek patchwork Quilting 101 | all about thread- kinds, styles... | patchwork posse
quilting Quilting 101 Becky  

Are You a Thread Snob? Sewing Thread Unraveled

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Sewing thread can send me into a mix of emotions.  I mean there is a reason that everyone says ‘thread candy’.  It’s yummy to the eyes.  The colors, hues and shiney qualities make us all go -ooh and awe-.

There is however a dark side to thread.  It can cause a lot of problems when you sew.  It breaks, it sheds, it twists, it bunches in a birds nest.  You name it, thread can do it!  And when it does it it will cause you tears of frustration. {believe me, I have been there!}.

thread prek patchwork Quilting 101 | all about thread- kinds, styles... | patchwork posse

So, today how about let’s review a little bit about thread.  We won’t be going into brand names or companies— just simply thread talk.  What do all those terms mean? What’s best to use? When? All that good stuff.


Different kinds of sewing thread-

These are the kinds that we find most often in the store and in our machines.  I have always believed that I will not be sewing a quilt that is going to be around for 100 years…but using quality fabric and thread is important, whether you want it around or not.

  • Cotton – is created by spinning cotton fibers together, and then pulling and twisting a narrow strand of yarn away from the mass. Individual strands of the narrow yarn, each called a ply, can twisted together to create a stronger thread.  100% cotton thread can shrink though and seam puckering might give you a problem after washing.
  • Polyester-  a synthetic product, can be spun together in a similar way to create threads that look like cotton, but have more stretch. Polyester can also be drawn out into long, continuous-filament threads. Polyester thread may, over time, cut through cotton fabric, and create a need for quilt repair.
  • Synthetic –  The most common synthetic threads are polyester and nylon which were developed to perform well on synthetic fabrics and withstand the chemicals and heat of durable press treatments. Compared to cotton threads of the same size, they are stronger and more resistant to abrasion, mildew and ultra violet radiation and have less shrinkage.
  • Rayon – is derived from cellulose, but is not classified as a natural fiber because the transformation requires quite a bit of manipulation. Colorful rayon threads are very popular with quilters, and are typically used for machine embroidery and other decorative work. Rayon thread is not used to sew patchwork.
  • Nylon – is a synthetic product used to make transparent monofilament thread (one ply), which becomes fairly invisible when used for machine quilting. However, it can melt under an iron, it sometimes discolors, and often becomes brittle with age. A very fine transparent polyester thread is a more durable choice.
  • Silk – threads are sometimes used for applique — they are fine and make stitches that seem to disappear. Silk threads are also a good choice when beads are added to fabric.
  • Metallic – are typically made from a core of nylon or polyester that’s covered with a decorative product. Quality metallic threads also have an outer coating to help protect the delicate metallic layer.
  • 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.
  • Combinations – are one of the most common threads in use today. These threads are a combination of cotton and polyester, which combines the sew ability of cotton with polyesters strength and resistance to abrasion.
  • Mercerized – Cotton thread is processed with chemicals that give it more luster, improve strength and help it retain dyes.  The caustic solution creates a smooth, strong, lustrous thread.   The process also makes thread more fuzzy, which is reduced by putting it through a gassing or singing process
  • Water soluble threads dissolve when a project is washed. They are used for basting, or for any task where temporary stitches are needed.
  • Fusible threads are used to sew a typical seam, but when pressed they stick the sewn fabrics together. Binding and applique are two possible uses for fusible threads.  I have seen this thread in action {actually just to jog my memory, I might have a spool sitting around}.  It is a pretty neat idea and works great!

Thread choice is really up to the you, the sewer.  Your thread choice depends on what you are trying to achieve, or prefer to use.  With a little bit of experimenting you might find one type a better fit for your project than another.  Ask around and see what others use and what their experience with it was.  Pick up a few of what they recommend and give them a try.

Now that we know the types, let’s talk about quality.

First off-  as thread is guided through the sewing machine it passes through many eye openings and through tension disks.  This can cause it to shred or leave lint behind.  You’ll find this fuzzy bundle of goodies inside your bobbin case, or at your needle eye.  

If you have a cheaper brand of thread, you will find that you have  a lot of problems with breaking thread or lint left everywhere!  Another way of finding out if it’s good or not- give it the ‘yank’ test.  Pull on that string and if it breaks easily, you are strong….and your thread is weak.  It will give you problems and break when you are sewing.

This totally stinks and just for those reasons you should run as fast as you can from the cheap thread {you know it when you see it for sale 5 for a $1}.  If you find yourself still using it quickly chuck it into the trash and then take the trash out {that’s for those who dig through and use it again, I totally do this. It’s horrible}.  So yes, take the trash out. 

There is no reason to spend a lot of time on a fantastic project and have it fall apart because you used cheap material or thread.

sewing studio thread organizer patchwork posse

Did you know?

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.

Quick Hint when sewing with specialty threads-

  • Use the appropriate needle for your project
  • 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, keep track of it by writing it down.  Keeping notes in a stitching journal is perfect for this kind of information.

With all this being said, there is little room to talk about color of thread!  I find that for typical piecing, using a neutral color is the best.  It hides well, but I do suggest using a dark thread when sewing dark fabric and a white thread when sewing white fabric.  The neutral or tan color is great for everything in between.

Bobbin Thread– I match it to the top thread.  Again, dark when dark or light when light.  I also find my machine likes it better when the same weight of thread is used in the top and bobbin.  When they don’t match, watch the tension and adjust it if needed.

This is part of the Pre-K Patchwork Series.  Click here for more Quilting 101 tips.

pre-k patchwork Quilting 101 Series | patchwork posse #quilting #sewing #tutorials

Q & A- Do you have a favorite type of thread? Have any secrets that you’d like to share with us?  Leave us your hints in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Are You a Thread Snob? Sewing Thread Unraveled

  1. Anne

    Great info! I’m a little bit of a thread ho, willing to use just about anything. 🙂 Though I have quit buying the super discount threads. I do notice my stitches are nowhere near as uniform or pretty when I have the awful thread. I’ve linked to your post over at Craft Gossip:

  2. Arlene

    I would like to know what is the best type of thread You would recommend to use for machine embroidery and appliqué work please. I’ve found some threads break a lot and this is very frustrating when doing a project
    I have a Jamome MC1000 sewing machine
    Thank you

  3. DIANA

    What are your thoughts about pre-wound bobbins? I buy 50wt white usually, and have been pretty satisfied…but I hate to think it’s a mistake…

  4. Becky

    Diana- I love, love pre wound bobbins. They pack a lot of thread and last for ever! If the tension is right and everything works smoothly then go for it. I would keep with well known brands to avoid the lower end thread.

  5. Arlene

    Is there any particular brand of embroidery thread you would recommend???

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