Welcome to Part Two of my “Ode to Thread: The BEST Quality Sewing Thread,” a series of blog posts dedicated to that little old thing 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.
Find these pretty bundles above at PurlSoho.
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. For more specific info on cotton vs. poly thread, check out this post!
- 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!
52 thoughts on “Sewing Thread Part II: The Best Quality Sewing Thread”
for general sewing, Gitterman
for quilt piecing , Aurifil, Superior Masterpiece sometimes Gutterman
for machine quilting,depends–heavy wt Superior King Tut, light wt Connecting Threads poly cone
but there are so many others!
Great round-up and explanation, Suzy! I got a little scared when you started to talk about the 40/3, but I got through 😉 Thanks for sharing!
I’m surprised you didn’t mention Superior Threads. I loved King Tut 40 wt variegated for my quilting top stitching. They are fantastic threads!!
I have used and like King Tut thread, so thanks for the reminder. It could just be my local shops, but I have a hard time finding a store that carries it.
You can order it directly from SuperiorThreads.com And bonus – they have thread swatch cards (with real thread) available on all the many varieties they sell. From strong quilting, to fine bobbin weights, Kevlar to Stainless steel (yes… to sew those LED lights into a circuit on your Halloween costume – really!) They source the best fibers in the world and are a USA based company! They also have a “School of Threadology” if you want to learn more about thread, they are the place to go! I love their “Bottom Line” 60 weight thread for fine work like machine applique or embroidery bobbin thread.
What type of thread for needle turn app and single or double thread?
Thanks, I was quilting along and Suddenly my tension was Off! Read your article and I’m up and running again.
Appreciate your help. You made my day.💕
Love Gutermann thread!
That’s wonderful! Tension issues are so frustrating!
What about Madeira threads? Or is it only used for sergers? Speaking of sergers, can you use serger thread for regular sewing?
I’m not familiar with serger thread, but if it is an appropriate weight for your machine, I think you could. I like to piece and quilt with 40 – 50 wt.
I wouldn’t use serger thread in your sewing machine, only I’m your serger. Serger thread is much lintier and less strong than machine thread, because it’s used combination of 3,4, or 5 threads at once, and therefore doesn’t need to hold as much tension. And serger thread is for finishing edges on wovens or seeing with knits, which is also why it isn’t strong enough for seam piecing.
No dont use serger thread for your sewing machine.
I have been working on a little sewing project. My serger is to my left with my lamp shining through the threads. My, my but there are lots of stray fiber ends and lint on the serger thread. I also know that it is not as strong as other threads.
Thanks! This was helpful for me as I am a beginner sewer and quilter.
Absolutely, you should research Superior threads! One of the best on the market. Many, many long armers depend on it. Their website has wonderful videos.
If you talk to a quilt shop owner who sells and repairs sewing machines you will learn to never use Coats and Clark thread in your sewing machine. It causes massive lint build up and will lead to actually breaking your machine. He can always tell when someone uses that kind of thread. If you want to speak with him yourself call Quilter’s Haven in Overland Park, KS. We are a suburb of Kansas City. Don’t ever recommend that thread!
That is what I’ve been told as well from the shop I purchased my machine from. I was wondering what everyone thought about Sulky thread.
I’ve been told the same thing about Coats and Clark thread. I have some but will only use it on my vintage machines – never on my new machines.
Apparently C&C used short strands of fibre to wrap around the core and that creates a lot of buzz and dirt on the inside of your machine. And I’ve read their polyester can cause static – which isn’t good on a computerized machine.
I can clean my treadle machine and 60 year old Elna myself with no problem. My new machines are computerized, and I am not comfortable taking them apart, so Coats and Clark are out of the equation.
In basis of your post; its apparent you’ve an ample amount of knowledge in regard to, in particular, the quality in terms of name brands of threads Thus; ate you familiar with Threadart threads? And, if so; is Threadart a thread you would recommend opposed to not? I ordered 160 spools 40wt polyester for $189.99 plus tax, of course. I’ve read a lot of conflicting reviews and; I just hope I didn’t make the wrong decision. If so; please do tell. I have no qualms about sending ot back if need be. Thank you for any response if you will.
Thanks for the great info SuzY! I have to admit I was a little bit surprised to see Gutermann and coats and Clark’s in your recommendations. Most of the Gutermann I find at Joannes is sloppy and poor quality. I tend to use Aurifil, 50 wt. for piecing and just starting to use Superior King Tut for quilting as it’s a 3 play and they have a large range of solids and variegated colors. I use Superior So Fine 50 wt as well as Isacord poly for bagmaking. Isacord is a beautiful thread and is very affordable with a large color selection. I typically stock up on my superior thread at QuiltCon and Road to California as typically have a booth. Even if I have to shop at the website it’s only $50 for free shipping so that’s a pretty good deal.
I meant “slubby “! LOL
I agree. I got the pack of gutterman with the case. Although convenient for color choice I hate the thread for sewing as it shreds terribly even when I slow down. I won’t be buying again. Coats and Clark while a less expensive brand and many do not like it seems a far superior thread to me. I see that sewing with 40 wt for piecing is recomented so I am guessing I could use my 40 wt machine embroidery thread. I did not know that.
I do commonly use Guterman thread for regular sewing and sometimes quilting projects. I used to hate Guterman thread because it had so much lint, but what I have used more recently has had less lint. If your sewing machine has a horizontal spool pin, you will want to use cross-wound thread such as Guterman, Aurafil, Mettler, and some others. Coats and Clarks thread is wound parallel and should be okay to use with a machine with a vertical spool pin.
I have a horizontal spool pin on my Juki and it did not like some thread. I found putting the thread on a cone holder, so it was upright, made my machine like it a LOT more. Methinks horizontal spool pins are not the best way to go.
Check what country the Gutermann is actually made. Not all gutermann is made in Germany. If it’s not made in Germany it’s not the same quality. If you bought it online, it may not be the one made in Germany
Suzy, I just finished piecing a whole twin size quilt with 30 wt thread! (I’m a fairly newbie). Is that bad?
Congrats! And no, it’s not bad at all. You may find that choosing a thinner thread, such as 40 wt. is easier for you in your next quilt. Experimenting is one of the fun things about quilting, so experiment away!
I did not know,anything and decided I was,gonna make a quilt comforter for our bed. What was supposed to be 108 became 60 and my thread issues almost had me ready to throw everything away. I looked for the #s you mention and there were none. 🙁 I was ready to never do this again, but after reading your article …. I will buy some good thread and give it a whirl. 🙂
Suzy, when you mention that 40/3 is the weight of the thread and the number of strands, would the 40 be all three spun together? So a 40/3 would be the same weight as 40/2 but stronger because it has more strands? Thank you for the constant inspiration!
Good question! I’m not sure how strength plays into that. I think what the difference between those two options would be the thickness of the yarns being spun together.
Both Guterman and Coats&Clark break constantly when used on my sewing machine. Is there a thread that doesn’t break?
I’ve found Sulky to be a really sturdy thread. I would also recommend a polyester or poly blend instead of cotton. Cotton threads tend to break more. Here’s an article on the difference between the two – https://suzyquilts.com/the-difference-between-cotton-and-poly-thread/ If you have been using 50 wt., try bumping that up to 40 wt. It’s a slightly thicker thread and shouldn’t break as easily. Lastly, if you are still having thread issues, it may be as simple as getting a new needle. If using 70/10, you could change to 80/12. This may require some experimentation to find out what your machine likes.
I would check your machine tension. Thread breakage is often resulting from tension being set too high or the machine being improperly threaded.
I know this is an older question but had to answer because I had the same problem. My machine has a horizontal spool pin and thread would break constantly. I started putting ALL my thread (didn’t matter the brand, weight, or spool size) on a cone holder so the spool was vertical and the thread breakage diminished to almost nothing.
It never hurts to try this.
Yes! And start with a freshly wound bobbin when you change over to a vertical 😅
I have trouble with some Coats and Clark Dual Duty XP thread. All purpose. If its 100% polyester thread I can use it but I bought a spool of the same thread somewhere, I assume JoAnns and it would not work on my Brother machine I finally found in small print that it was 100% polyester covered polyester thread. Why the difference?
Just to clarify, it sounds like you have two different kinds of thread – one is 100% poly and the other is a poly-coated thread. Is that right? It’s possible that the poly-coated thread is coated in a durable resin, which can be really great if you are sewing with upholstery fabric. However, if you are just using light-weight quilting cotton, it is overkill and could cause tensions problems. It also might be messing things up if you have a different thread in your bobbin.
Maybe next time, pass on anything that says “Dual Duty” and look for 40 or 50 wt thread. If something says “machine quilting thread” that’s perfect.
Thank you! Good information. I appreciate all the great information you and others post.
Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!
I’ve just retired and finally can enjoy sewing without interruptions. I am very slow and make all possible mistakes on EVERY STEP of a project. I keep going because I love sewing so much.
I learn so much.
I found your article very interesting AND SO FUNNY! ( the part about weight !!) although you went fast on silk thread.
But it’s OK . You enlightened and delighted me.
I will continue my search for info. The world of sewing is filled with very very kind people willing to help beginners.
Thank you all for your kindness.
what thread do i need too buy that replaces star mercerized number 8 thread in black=white=red=blue,
i don’t need a lot of jibbersh about material weights etc
What brand of thread? I like DMC 8 wt. or Sulky 12 wt. if you’re ok getting something a bit thinner.
Coats and clark literally has the shittiest thread! it just jams machines and breaks easily 0/10 dont recommend
The threads in my house must be literally 30 years old, as I use them so rarely. I had no idea how much you should take care of them!
I am a quilting newbie and so appreciate your info and reading all the comments from others! My question is that I am in the process of converting to the use of cotton thread (Aurifil) whereas my past stash is mostly poly blend Gutterman. Is it bad to use/mix both types of thread, when piecing my quilt, as I have not built up enough colors of the costly cotton yet. Also, a side question… when piecing dark to light, say black and cream, should I use dark or light thread? THANKS SO MUCH!
It’s totally fine to mix cotton and poly threads. A lot of quilters actually do that intentionally and use poly in their bobbin and cotton as their top thread. Your next question is a matter of preference. I typically piece everything with a light cream/beige thread. It’s something I don’t have to think about and I buy huge spools of it. However, if you are piecing with a lot of dark fabric, it’s not a bad idea to match your thread to that fabric – especially if you like to press your seams open. When pressing open sometimes the fabric can stretch slightly and show the thread more.
Hi, what color would you suggest using for sewing together pieces for a multi color project?
I typically use a neutral colored thread for piecing. Something light gray if the colors are darker and a cream if the colors are lighter.
Which is better for handquilting, 12 wt or 40 wt. thread? Which is usually used. I know 12 wt for big stitch, but how about regular quilting.?
If you are hand quilting in the tradition way with very small stitches, steer away from thick thread like 12 wt. 30 or 40 wt. would be better. This post on how to hand quilt offers more information.
I had a large box of variety sewing threads, I donated the whole box and started fresh with Aurifil thread! Love it! I use it in all my quilt piecing!
oh my gosh thank you so much for this article. i’m hand-stitching with cotton thread (must be cotton for a microwave heat pack,) and it’s been a huge learning curve.
i would like to know more about kevlar threads.