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Welcome to Part Two of my “Ode to Thread: The BEST Quality Sewing Thread,” a series of blog posts dedicated to that little old thang that none of us could quilt without. If you missed Part One and want to hear about our thready superhero’s origin story: How Thread is Made, click here. If you don’t have a minute to read it, don’t worry. I’m sure Marvel will make it into a major motion picture soon.
This second installation is a good, important one. We’re talking about thread quality (any thread quality inspectors out there?) Like pizza, not all thread is created equal, but also like pizza, when it’s good, it’s so good. So what is it that makes good thread good? That’s what we’re about to find out.
The Best Quality Sewing Thread is All Wound Up
When you run into problems with your sewing machine, you can bet it’s one of two things: the needle, or the thread. If you’ve threaded a sewing machine before, you know all of the eye openings it passes through before it goes through the needle.
This means that your thread has to be fit and ready for the journey through your machine, but it also means it’s touching a lot of parts of your machine, and there’s a lot of room for error if your thread isn’t performing its job well. One thing that really messes with those tension disks is a thread with loose fibers.
If you have a microscope laying around (hey, some people do!), haul it out and take a look at a few of the different threads you have in your sewing basket. See any little stray hairs hanging off of the side? Now imagine that thread traveling through your sewing machine, and through the fabric of your latest project.
Those loose fibers can be left behind in your machine, gumming up your gears like nobody’s business, and they’ll leave behind a thinner, weaker thread after they leave. Many of the spools of thread you’re tempted to pluck from the bargain bin are loose and hairy like this, even if you can’t tell by looking at it with the naked eye (but usually, you actually can.)
You don’t want everything (or everyone) in your life to be tightly-wound, but when we’re talking about thread, that’s exactly what you want. If that means shelling out a little extra cash, it’s worth it in the long run. Whether you’re working with cotton, silk, or polyester thread, you will find different levels of quality from thread to thread. Go for the good stuff.
Choosing the Best Quality Sewing Thread for the Job
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that you and your sewing machine deserve the best, let’s talk about what kind of “the best” you need for your project.
Not everyone considers it polite to talk about weight, but when it comes to thread, you gotta get personal. Thread, like yarn, comes with a number, and in general, the lower the number, the thicker the thread. These numbers sometimes come to you in fraction form, but don’t freak out – there’s no serious math involved.
The top number represents the weight of the thread, and the bottom tells you the ply, or how many strands are spun together. So, for example, a thread that is 40/3 has a weight of 40, and is 3 strands spun together for strength. See, you already have it mastered.
Now, Let’s Talk Thread Specifics...
Handing Quilting Thread
You’ll notice that there are some threads labeled specifically for “quilting.” What they mean is “hand quilting.” Don’t be confused (cause I’ve definitely been there.) This thread has a special coating that makes hand sewing easier without the assistance of thread conditioner (Never heard of thread conditioner? It’s wonderful stuff for hand sewing. Click here for my favorite brand!)
Trust me, though, you don’t want to use this waxed thread in your sewing machine – very quickly you will start to hear clunk clunk CLUNK as your machine grinds to a halt and residual wax has coated your gears.
You can see from my FAQ page that I reach for DMC Pearl Cotton No. 8 thread when hand quilting. Other brands and thread sizes for hand sewing reach about 30wt. Anything thinner than that and your stitches will be too small and delicate. Also you will run into your thread knotting easily and breaking.
All-Purpose Piecing and Quilting Thread
40wt and up to 50wt are favorite threads for machine quilting and all purpose sewing. If you want to think less about thread and more about your beautiful fabric stash, buy yourself some 40wt. thread and use it for all of your quilting needs. You’ll be fine.
Like I said earlier, you can stick with classic 40wt. thread and be happy. However, if you are machine stitching appliqué pieces and want the stitches to be as subtle as possible, try 60wt. - 80wt. You may risk some breakage here, but you can use 60wt thread for quilting, piecing, appliqué, and embroidery.
Cotton vs. Polyester vs. Silk - When to Use What
There are key differences between these three types of thread that may make you want to keep all three on hand based on what kind of sewing you enjoy.
- Cotton Thread is both soft and strong. The lack of stretch in cotton thread makes it ideal for quilting projects because it won't lose its shape. Cotton also holds up under heat better than polyester thread, so if you’re a speed quilter who puts the petal to the metal, cotton will hold up under the heat of fast friction.
- Polyester Thread has a little bit of stretch to it, so if you are planning to wear what you’re sewing, use polyester or nylon thread. Also, one major perk about poly thread is that it sheds less lint than cotton.
- Pure Silk Thread is really pretty, and really durable. Although it comes in a variety of weights, it’s very fine and elastic, so it’s great for things that are just as pretty as it is: like lingerie.
And Now… the Best Quality Sewing Thread According to Moi
- Aurifil: With exciting designer collaborations giving us beautiful color collections, Aurifil is definitely one of my favs. This Italian-made thread seems to be a bit more delicate than the others I mention, so you may want to sew a bit with it before choosing between 50wt. and 40wt. for your piecing.
- Mettler: This thread is famous for its long staple spools (that means they’re spun from super-long strands of cotton – making this thread very strong and and less prone to breakage.) Get back to the basics with some popular colors, and a smooth, silk finish with their 100% cotton thread. Or try out the more high-end pure silk thread for a special project.
- Gütermann: This is another brand I know I can count on to go the distance without breaking down… err… breaking in general. Go for low lint levels with this polyester spool or stick with their sturdy inexpensive cotton.
- Coats & Clark: Many crafters looking to dabbling with sewing will not visit a "bonafide quilt shop," but rather, their local Joann Fabrics – and that's totally fine because even if you only have access to Joann's you still have access to great thread. Enter Coats & Clark. If you’ve heard of thread, you’ve probably heard of Coats & Clark. I like C & C because it's cheap and I can always find the color I want.
I hope this two-part series helps to detangle the vast and sometimes confusing world of thread. Now that you know my go-to brands, what are your favorites? Comment below!