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Choosing Thread For Your Quilting Project

Summary

We all know that choosing thread for your quilting project is important, but how do we choose the right thread? We cover the important considerations.

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Choosing Thread For Your Quilting Project

It seems like choosing a thread for your quilting project would be as easy as choosing a contrasting or complementing color. But, while those are important considerations, there is more that should go into the decision.

First, it is important to understand that there are different threads for hand quilting and machine quilting.

Choosing Thread For Your Quilting Project

 

Hand quilting thread is generally 100% cotton, while machine quilting threads can be made from 100% cotton, polyester, a cotton polyester blend, rayon, mono-filament, or metallic. Hand quilting thread may be coated with a wax, which makes it stiffer and easier to glide through the fabric. It also helps prevent tangling of the thread. You can easily use machine quilting thread to hand quilt, but hand quilting thread should not be used to machine quilt. Can you imagine the mess that the wax can make as it melts from the heat generated by your machine? Awful!

 

How Thread Is Made

Sewing threads can be natural or synthetic. Natural fibers come from plants and animals. Synthetic fibers are made from chemicals and are sometimes combined with natural fibers.

Natural or synthetic/natural fibers are spun and pulled into strands called plies. Individual strands are then twisted together making them stronger. When looking at a spool of thread, the term thread count is the thickness of each individual strand. The larger the number, the smaller the thickness of the strands. Ply lets you know how many strands are twisted together to make the thread. For instance, if you see 40/3 printed on the spool, it means that the thickness of each strand is 40 (a popular thickness for hand quilting) and they used three strands to make the thread.

 

Thread Quality

Like almost everything else, thread comes in different qualities. Cotton is classified by the length of the staple (or fiber). Long Staple or Extra-Long Staple threads are higher quality. The longer fibers create a superior thread that has low lint and is much stronger than shorter fibers. This means less breakage, less lint in your machine, less slub (clumps of excess lint spun into the thread) providing a nicer, flatter seam in your finished work. If your thread does not say Long Staple or Extra-Long Staple, it is made from shorter fibers. Some threads made of shorter fibers will work just fine and provide a decent seam, while others will leave your frustrated and unhappy. Choose your thread carefully… this is not an area in which you want to skimp.

Polyester thread that is not mixed with a natural fiber can be extruded into one continuous filament, making it very strong and resistant to breakage.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Threads

Cotton thread: Traditional quilts are made from 100% cotton. For quilts that you want to last for many years, 100% cotton thread will be your best choice, particularly with a pieced quilt top. A typical thread for sewing machines is 50/3. Some people like to use 60/2 in their bobbin, allowing a fine, smooth seam.

Polyester thread: Polyester thread is stronger than cotton, and comes in a variety of weights, colors, and finishes (matte or high sheen). It is more colorfast than cotton, and is strong and durable. 40 weight is typical for quilting, 60 weight for appliqué. The continuous filament is not linty like cotton. Polyester thread can cut through cotton fabric and is not as soft as cotton thread, so it is not a good choice for heirloom quilting.

Polyester Core Cotton thread: is a polyester core encased in cotton. This provides a strong thread with the traditional look and feel of cotton.

Nylon thread: Another continuous filament thread, nylon is referred to as invisible thread because it is so thin. When choosing nylon thread, you will want a very fine thread, like .004 or .005, either clear or dark, depending on your project. Invisible thread is good for appliqué or other applications where you don’t want the thread to show. You must be careful when ironing because this thread can melt or become yellow and brittle.

Decorative threads: Rayon, metallic, wool, and silk are all specialty threads used mainly for decorative purposes.

 

Exploration

When you have a few extra minutes, it would be time well spent looking at thread manufacturers web sites. There is a wealth of information about thread, and you will find hundreds of varieties and colors so you can match or contrast almost any project you can think of.

Remember, choosing the correct thread will help you create smooth, flat seams in a professional looking quilt.

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Glossary

Appliqué
Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Applique
Bobbin
A spool or reel that holds thread or yarn for spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, or making lace.
Hand Quilting
A running stitch that is made through all three layers of a quilt to hold them together.
Invisible Thread
Nearly invisible thread.

Same As: Monofilament Thread
Ironing
Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Machine Quilting
Creating quilting stitches on a quilt using a sewing machine instead of sewing them by hand.
Pieced Quilt
The most commonly seen quilt type which is made up of many small pieces of fabric sewn together by hand or machine. Often called Patchwork in some countries outside the USA.

Same As: Piecing Quilt
Ply
Used to describe a single strand of thread. Thread can be known as one, two or three ply thread based on the strands.
Slub
A term which can be applied to a fabric texture and which is caused by small bumps or nodes in the yarns which are formed during spinning and add to the texture when the fabric is woven.
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