Knots. Tangles. Fraying. Breakage. UGH! These are the most frustrating things that can happen while hand sewing. What can you do to prevent them? Use thread conditioner! Most thread conditioners are made with all-natural beeswax, and while using it or not is an optional and personal choice, this handy little notion has many benefits. And as an added bonus, it comes in a wide range of tantalizing fragrances!
If you're ready to stop yelling at your thread (it can't hear you!), keep reading to learn what thread conditioner is, when to use it, and where to buy it. Plus Suzy and I share our favorite conditioners!
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What Is Thread Conditioner?
Thread conditioner goes by many names. Gloss, beeswax, and conditioner are all commonly used by different businesses. But each product has the same goal—to make hand sewing easier for you!
Beeswax has been used as a thread conditioner for generations. There are synthetic competitors now that you'll learn more about soon, but almost all conditioners are made entirely or mostly using beeswax. So what's the buzz about how thread conditioner helps your hand sewing? Here are some benefits:
- Prevents tangles
- Decreases fraying
- Reduces thread drag (the resistance to pulling you can sometimes feel when moving thread through fabric)
- Reduces static
- Increases ease of use when sewing
- Strengthens thread
All of this sewing magic is made possible because beeswax naturally holds the fibers in threads closer together. While there are many benefits to using thread conditioners, most people generally use them to prevent tangles and decrease fraying, two of the most frustrating parts of hand sewing!
How To Use Thread Conditioner
Thread conditioner is most useful when hand sewing with natural threads, like cotton or linen. You can use conditioner for synthetic threads, but it's less necessary since most synthetic threads are designed to prevent the problems that come with natural threads. Good examples of thread types to use a conditioner with, especially for quilters, are 80 wt cotton thread, 50 wt cotton thread, and embroidery floss.
You might want to use thread condition when binding a quilt, doing needle turn appliqué, wool appliqué, or embroidery. Some hand quilters use thread conditioner, but many also find that the thickness of perle cotton can get gummy when passed through a conditioner.
To use a thread conditioner, use your thumb or finger to hold your thread on the top of the conditioner and then pull your thread across the top of the container. Two or three passes should be more than enough! If there is any extra residue on your thread, run your fingers down the thread to remove excess.
Where To Buy Thread Conditioner
Everyone who uses thread conditioner has a favorite, and we're sharing our favorites today plus some of the most popular choices!
Most Creative: Ponderosa Thread Gloss
This lusciously fragrant thread gloss from Etsy seller Ponderosa Creative comes in 14 different scents, and each is adorably creative. Suzy's favorite is the Cascades Blend, which is a mix of beeswax and coconut oil, with blue spruce, Fraser fir, lemon, and cedar bark essential oils, giving it a smooth and elevated feel.
But the best part of each blend is the description! The Cascades Blend "smells like the hike to the Diablo Lake overlook, minus sunscreen and sweat. Or try the Daydream Blend, described as being "reminiscent of reading books on rainy days during college, looking out the window, pondering the future, with a vintage record playing in the background. A peaceful, calm scent blend."
With 12 more creatively named scents, you're sure to find one that suits your personality perfectly.
Most Sustainable: The Small Circle Thread Wax
Available in three delicate and subtle scents—Rainwashed, Citrus Forest, and Winterlude—The Small Circle's signature thread wax is made with sustainably-sourced beeswax, plant wax, and essential oils. It feels better than any thread wax I've ever used, and I have noticed a significant improvement in my tangles, fraying, and ease of sewing since I started using The Small Circle's thread wax.
Not only is the quality amazing, but I love the packaging! This thread wax comes in a chapstick-style tube that you push up from the bottom instead of a tub. That means you can push the thread wax up as you're using it and clean excess fibers off of it very easily. And the packaging is even biodegradable!
The Small Circle's commitment to sustainability is also a big draw, and you can read more about how they center the environment in all of the quilting and sewing supplies they make here.
Most Scents: Sew Fine Thread Gloss
If you want to collect thread conditioners and use different scents depending on your mood, Sew Fine Thread Gloss is definitely the conditioner for you! With over 20 scents, including fun holiday scents, this gloss is stylish while smelling great. Try Pink Macaroon, Pumpkin Latte, or the fun sugar cereal inspired Floop Floop. If you're sensitive to fragrances, they also carry a Natural gloss with no added fragrances.
Sew Fine is also known for its collaborations with quilt designers like Carolyn Friedlander and Libs Elliott which include cute stickers on the tins inspired by their fabric designs. Coordinating your thread gloss with your quilt is adorable!
Cult-Favorite: Thread Magic
Long-time sewists are likely to have a tiny blue cube of Thread Heaven that hoard and only bring out for the most special projects. Thread Heaven was a popular synthetic competitor to natural beeswax, and many quilters swore by it. Then...poof! It was discontinued! Quilters rioted in the streets. There were runs on quilt shops. Every tiny little blue container of this precious commodity was sold out. Some started appearing on eBay for $35 or more (that last one's not a joke!).
But don't fret, Thread Heaven loyalists, Thread Magic came along to save the day! After the makers of Thread Heaven retired, Thread Magic was introduced as its replacement.
Why choose a synthetic conditioner over beeswax? There really isn't a right or wrong answer here. Thread Magic is great at reducing static electricity which can be more common in synthetic threads, and some people like that it can leave less excess residue on thread. A big selling point for me as someone trained in museum preservation is that it is inert and an archival-friendly option.
But our best advice is to try it out! Pick a beeswax conditioner and sew with that for a while, then try out Thread Magic, and see which one you prefer!
Most Affordable: Dritz Beeswax for Quilting Thread
Hands down, the most affordable thread conditioner on this list is the classic Dritz beeswax circle that comes in a clear plastic container. You've seen it at every big box sewing store! It may be the most economic choice, but this does have some downsides.
Cleaning the thread fibers that can accumulate after many uses is hard because of the container that is designed for pulling thread across the sides of the wax instead of the top. Because this is pure beeswax with nothing extra added, it crumbles and flakes easily, making it a messier option. It also technically requires heat-setting with an iron, which is an extra step most quilters don't want to take. With that said, it's much more affordable and a great option if you aren't sure if you'll like thread conditioner!
Keep in mind that thread conditioner lasts for a very long time. Way longer than you'd imagine when you buy a tiny container! So it's a notion that's worth investing in if you're able because you'll likely be using the same thread conditioner for months or years depending on how often you hand sew.
Try Thread Conditioner on Your Next Project!
Are you planning to try out a thread wax for your next sewing project? If you already have a favorite that isn't on our list, tell us why you like it in the comments!