Quilting Threads

Have you been into a quilt shop recently and noticed all the different colors and types of threads?

A new customer came into the store the other day, and said, “I never knew there were do many different types of thread in the world.”

The right Quilting Threads are essential.  To learn how to quilt required choosing the right threads and mastering how to quilt with them will make your quilting easier and you finished product better.

Take a good look sometime.  Examine the huge variety of colors, textures, finishes, fiber contents, and recommended uses.  Manufacturers produce so many different kinds of threads it can create a dilemma for the unsuspecting quilter.  You might even find yourself scratching your head puzzling over which thread to choose for your next project.  One customer just shook her head, and commented, “I just need ordinary quilting thread.”

My purpose in writing this short article is to help bring some order out of the chaos and a bit of  help for your next selection of quilting threads.

First, there are different purposes for thread.

Second, there are different sizes of thread.

Third, there are different fiber contents in thread.

Fourth, there are different finishes of thread.

Fifth, there are different qualities of thread.

Different purposes:  Before you set off for your local quilt shop, decide what kind of sewing or quilting you plan to do.  Upon arrival at the store, find a store attendant to assist you in locating the threads designed for your intended purpose.

Your purpose depends on your project and how to quilt it.  If you are planning to hand quilt a traditional quilt top, you will want the right thread for the job.  If you intend to do appliqué, you may need a different kind of thread.  If you are piecing, basting, embellishing, embroidering, or constructing a quilted garment or home décor project; you will need the right thread for the job.

Threads are commonly divided into four purpose groups: Hand Quilting Thread, Machine Quilting Thread, Embellishing Threads, and General Sewing Thread.  The key consideration is how to quilt the project.  Each type is designed for best performance in the specified application.

Hand Quilting Thread is commonly very strong and is often coated with a wax substance to make dragging or pulling through the fabric repeatedly easier.   Caution: never ever use hand quilting thread on your sewing machine.  The wax finish of the thread gradually rubs off on to the tension discs of your sewing machine making stitch quality impossible.  It can do serious harm to your sewing machine.  It is important to learn how to quilt using the right threads both to prevent problems and to achieve the desired results.

Machine Quilting Thread is designed to used on a sewing machine.  Ask yourself how to quilt your next step?  It is great for piecing, top sewing, and appliqué work.   Commonly the thread is hidden away inside the quilt holding quilt pieces together along quarter inch seams.  It needs to be strong and durable, but it should not be overlay abrasive.

Embellishment Threads include a wide range of  cording, decorative threads, and embroidery threads.  It is quite popular to do appliqué, machine embroidery, and similar activities to embellish a quit top.  Your local quilt shop staff will be able to guide you to just the right embellishment threads for quilting.

General Sewing Threads are used for many different purposes in quilting.  While primary designed with home decorating and clothing construction in mind,  general sewing threads are useful for basting, binding, and other practical applications.

Different Sizes or Weights:    What size should you use?   It can be confusing, but threads come in many different sizes or weights.  They will range from 28 to 60.  The smaller the thread – the bigger it is.  If you are doing very delicate sewing, you may want to use a 60 weight thread.  If you are doing embellishment, you may want to use the bold statement of a 30 weight thread.  The most common thread sizes are 40 and 50 weight.  To identify the size of a thread, just check the spool label.  If you are not sure, ask the quilt shop attendant for assistance.  You might see a notation like 40/2 which means the thread is 40 weight and there are two threads woven together forming 2 plies.  Treads often come in two to three ply.

Different Thread Fiber Content: You may have heard the saying, “What goes in is what will come out”.   This is pretty much the case with thread for quilting.  The fibers used in thread are very similar to those used in fabrics.  There are some natural fibers like cotton and silk; and many man made fibers such as polyester, rayon, plastics, and metallics.

Some threads are made with one fiber in the middle or at the core and wrapped with a second fiber.  This is quite popular as you may find in Coats And Clark’s Cotton Covered Polyester thread.  The thread is made much like cotton candy.  Tiny particles of polyester fibers are spun together to form the core of the thread.  This core is highly abrasive, but the core is then wrapped with cotton fibers which are much softer or less abrasive.  While this thread is very popular and sold very cheaply, it is not recommended for use on your sewing machine.  Why?  The cotton fibers peal off in the tension discs and at the eye of the needle creating many problems for the machine.

Better threads are made of long fibers or staples.  The most common quality quilting threads are made of long staple polyester or cotton.   The polyester is much stronger than the cotton, but it can be a bit more abrasive.  Polyester thread has a colorfast, non-shrinkable finish.  If you are quilting with cotton fabrics, it may be best to use the long fiber cotton fabric. Cotton thread is often it is treated or mercerized.  This is a process where the fiber has been made to swell and straighten out repeatedly, which removes any tendency towards fuzziness, and makes for a very high luster thread.  Cotton thread is available in 30 to 60 weight.

The right Quilting Threads are essential.  To learn how to quilt required choosing the right threads and mastering how to quilt with them will make your quilting easier and better.

Other fibers to be found in threads for quilting include rayon, plastic, and metallic.  These may be used for embellishment or specialty stitching.  Rayon thread is also highly lustrous.    Metallic threads may require more advanced techniques to achieve desired results, and may be best left to more advanced sewers. 

Natural fibers will rot, mildew, decay, and fade with time.  Exposure to moisture and sunlight can seriously damage natural fiber threads.  A big mistake is to use up your old thread first.  While this is generally a good idea, it is never good to use “old” threads.  The thread actually deteriorates on the spool on the shelf without ever being noticed.  Before you use older thread, test it first.  Pull off some of it fifteen inches or so, and pull it tight.  Does it break easily?  If it breaks in your hands, it will break in your machine and in your project.  The price of frustration is not worth the little money you may save using old thread.

Some manufacturers also produce special threads for embellishing, and you can find these at your local quilting store.  If you like to quilt by hand, you can use embroidery floss, available in a multitude of color and fiber.  Learning about the different kinds of thread can enhance your love of the craft of quilting.

Different Finishes:  Threads for quilting come in different finishes.  Some is dull, flat, or muted.  Others are satin finished, waxed, or have a special sheen.  What kind of finish do you want?  It all depends on your project.  If you are piecing, the thread will not be seen and a flat or dull finish is fine.  If you are embellishing, you want your threads to “pop” or grab the attention of the onlooker. 

Different Qualities:  Like almost everything in this world, there are poor, OK, good, better, and best qualities.  Some threads shed lint and fibers.  Some break easily.  Some rot quicker than others.  So, how can you tell quality of threads for quilting?   Ask your local quilting expert, your most experienced and knowledgeable attendant at the quilt shop, or another quilter you respect.  Find a quality source for your thread and stick with it.  Some stores carry only the best threads, while others only carry discount threads.  Always, remember you get what you pay for.  Find a trusted brand of thread and stick with it.

The more you know about thread and the other tools of quilting the better decisions you will be able to make in choosing your supplies.  When you use quality ingredients, the final product is always better.  Remember the right Quilting Threads are essential.  To learn how to quilt required choosing the right threads and mastering how to quilt with them will make your quilting easier and better.

Donna Trumble is a professional designer, seamstress, author, sewing educator, and sewing business owner. 



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