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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Learn to Sew: Thread

Last week, I had a reader ask a question about thread. So I thought I'd expand on my reply. Thread (along with needles) are a very important but often overlooked part of sewing. 
First of all, if you live near a fabric shop (not a chain/big-box store), talk to them. They know their brands and can recommend the best thread for your project. Most fabric shops cater to quilters who typically use 100% cotton thread; if you are making clothing, home dec, or accessories, cotton thread may not be your best choice. BUT...they can help you with that.

But I'm guessing that, if you are reading this, your shopping is limited to Joann Fabrics, Hancock Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, etc. They carry popular, mass-marketed brands and a limited supply of specialty threads. And it may be overwhelming when you first glance at all those spools. Here is the low-down on thread that you'll probably find at those stores - I'm keeping it simple:

Embroidery Thread
1. Embroidery Thread: As you walk around the thread aisles, you'll be drawn to the shiny, bold, beautiful thread. You'll want to scoop up handfulls of every color because it is so pretty. This is embroidery thread and it's designed for machine embroidery or decorative stitching. It's not really recommended for construction of anything. It's usually rayon or polyester.

2. Bobbin Thread: While you are looking at embroidery thread, you'll see bobbin thread. This is thread for an embroidery machine and to be used for machine embroidery. It's super fine and not designed for construction. It typically comes in two colors: white and black. 

Serger Thread
3. Serger Thread: The next thing you'll be drawn to are the big cones of thread. You'll want it because you get a lot of thread for not a lot of money. It seems like a major deal but it isn't. It's probably serger thread. Serger thread is designed to be used in conjunction with other thread, usually in multiples of three to five. The combination of the threads makes it strong...but on it's own, it's not that strong. So unless you want your projects to rip apart, put it back.

Upholstery Thread (Black) and Top-Stitch Thread

4. Upholstery and Top-Stitching Thread: Although these are different threads, you'll run into the same problem: they are thick. Threads come in different weights - the smaller the number, the thicker the thread. Most regular sewing thread is a 50 wt. Embroidery thread is 30wt to 40wt and so is upholstery and top-stitching thread. You can see this when you look at the just looks thick. So when you sew with this, it's adds bulk to your seams; plus it's often nylon...ick. Plus, you need a different needle to accommodate the thicker thread.

Monofilament Thread

5. Invisible/Monofilament Thread: You may not see this (ha! get it?!), but there is such a thing as invisible or monofilament thread. This polyester or nylon thread is designed to NOT be seen. It's not for construction, instead you'd use it for quilting when you don't want to see your stitches. It comes in different sizes (thickness) and can be tricky to work with. 

Metallic Thread
6. Metallic Thread: This thread is beautiful and shiny and fun to look at. It's a pain to sew with because it breaks if you don't have everything just right. It's designed to make things look pretty. 

7. Glow-In-The-Dark Thread: Again, totally cool for decorative stitching, but not for construction. BTW, it really glows in the dark. It's great for applique on a Halloween tote bag!

Cotton Machine Quilting Thread
8. 100% Cotton Machine Quilting Thread: This is designed for machine quilting; not to be confused with hand-quilting thread which you don't want - it's waxy. I use this thread to piece. The orange spool is my favorite - Aurifil. Love it.

All-Purpose Thread
9. All-Purpose Sewing Thread: This is the thread that I use the most - for making my handbags, totes, home dec projects, etc.  It's 100% Polyester. 

So there you have some of the basics of thread. There is A LOT more out there. To see a close-up of different thread (and better understand quality), please check out this article, complete with pictures!


  1. This is really good info. I was really frustrated on a recent project and realize now that I had the wrong thread. You are correct also that I went for all the pretty embroidery thread. What to do with all of it?

    1. Yes, there is something about that thread that draws me to it! Before I bought an embroidery machine, I used that thread for decorative stitches on my crazy quilted purses. I still dig it out to add a little pizzaz.


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