Thread: the Good, the Bad, the Fabulous!

We get a lot of questions about thread in the Fun With Free Motion Quilting and BabyLock Tiara FB groups. What is “good” thread? What is “bad” thread? What “cheap” thread should I buy; I am on a budget? Can I use the thread from my late auntie’s stash? What about poly thread; is it good? Is cotton better? Can I quilt with invisible thread? What about metallics? Can I use my embroidery thread stash to quilt?

After 5 years of experimentation, research, and pondering the myriad of thread questions in my quilting groups, I have gathered some insights and resources into what every quilter, applique and sewer uses every day regardless of their machine, skill or pocketbook… Thread.

First, a peak into my own thread journey. Up until 2015, I had used primarily Coats & Clarks thread. It’s what my mom used when she made our dresses; it’s what we used in home ec in high school in the late 60’s; and it’s what was sold at the fabric store I worked at for a while in the early 80’s. I was content stitching with C&C on my old White machine. I sewed apparel mostly; shirts for hubby and prom dresses for my girls; halloween costumes; swim suits; an occasional dress up outfit; wedding dresses.

But then I started making quilts; and then I retired and decided to learn free motion quilting. I bought a second hand Berninia 350 and a Tiara sit down mid arm quilting machine. My relationship to thread was about to change dramatically.

The BAD. My Tiara was so beautiful (if a bit scary) and my stitches were so BAD. Ugly bad with impossible tension that left the bobbin thread lying flat against fabric instead of neatly tucked into the batting. I was using the “quilting” version of the same thread that I used in high school. Why? Because it was what I learned when I was 14. For a year, I persisted in this madness and became increasingly disappointed and frustrated with my FMQ attempts. I experimented a bit, bravely trying Aurifil and Gutterman. I started giving my old thread away. Don’t worry, I didn’t have very much. Yet.

The GOOD. The second year that I attended the Puyallup Stitch & Sew Expo, hubby marched up to the Superior Threads display and said “try it”. I was tentative, but desperate. I marveled at the glossy, lush colors of Magnifico and Fantastico. Contemplated the matte So Fine and the cotton Egyptian King Tut. And I bought a modest amount, reveling in the wonderful color selection.

Threads used in my Queen’s Gambit quilt. From left, the Fantastico multi is on the dark flowered border; the purple/blue Fantastico is on the purple triangles; the sage Fantastico multi is on the narrow beige border; the beige tonal Fantastico is used for the feathers on the border and sashing around the applique blocks. The off white So Fine is used for the applique background. The MonoPoly in foreground was used to SID around all the quilt blocks. The Fantastico in the foreground was used on the topstitching on the binding.

The Fabulous. Another year passed. My FMQ improved and I LOVED sewing with poly. The combination of good quilting thread, saturated colors and lots of practice (I made 36 quilts that year.) changed my life. I was a quilter. The next year at the Expo, I shocked hubby with the amount of thread I bought and I expanded my repertoire into metallics and MonoPoly. I took up applique that year, too.

Queen’s Gambit quilted.
Queen’s Gambit back side! Using bottom line 60 wt pre wound bobbin in white.
Applique silk on silk with Fanstico and Magnifico.
Red Delicious pattern applique with Magnifico and Fantastico. SID with MonoPoly.

Answers to the most frequently asked thread questions.

  • What size needle should I use with my thread? Match needles to thread weight! Always! Thread lies along the long groove down the length of the needle. The thicker the thread, the larger the groove needed for it to lie nice and flat along the needle as it penetrates the fabric. What happens when you don’t match thread wt to needle size? Shredding and breaking. You may also get thread poking up in little loops on the top of your stitching!
Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle and Functions - Textile Learner
  • Thread weight confuses me, how do the numbers work? The higher the number, the thinner the thread. Typical quilting wt thread is 40-60 wt. Micro Quilter and MonoPoly are 100…super thin. Thread weights thicker (like 30 and 28) than quilting weight will be more challenging to work with and you will need to make tension adjustments.
  • What is a good thread that doesn’t cost much? If it is super cheap thread, don’t expect much. We invest so much in our machines and keeping them in working order. Quilting fabric is not cheap. Our time is valuable. Why do we penny pinch on thread? Good quality machine quilting thread, whether cotton or poly, will give you better looking quilting and avoid a lot of frustration. Every time.
  • Help, my thread is breaking and/or shredding! https://cag-st-images.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/EducationalCenter/EcPdfs/troubleshooting-guide.pdf The most common reasons for breakage and shredding is having a dull needle or using the wrong needle size.
  • What is better? Cotton or poly thread? What about embroidery thread? The best type thread is the one you like! Modern threads are light years ahead of those from 40 or 30 years ago, which ever type you prefer. Polys will not “cut” cotton; they will outlast the cotton in your quilt, as cotton is organic. Embroidery thread can be used, but rayon may break or shred because it is not as strong as poly. A monofilament poly embroidery thread will work well.
  • I have my great aunt’s thread stash, can I use it for my quilting? I cannot recommend it for quilting. It was likely not made for machine quilting. If it is cotton and older than 20 years, the cotton is likely deteriorated as cotton will degrade over time. Old poly threads may actually be nylon, which becomes brittle over time and also melts under an iron. Find another use for old thread if you must; use the spool in a craft project, but don’t quilt with it.
  • What thread is best in the bobbin? You can match your top thread in weight or color, but it is not necessary. I do match the type (poly/cotton) thread I am quilting with, but not the weight. Once is discovered Class M pre-wound bobbins for my Tiara, which also improved my tension, I never looked back. Bottom Line is a 60 wt./2-ply polyester thread that has been designed to be used as a bobbin thread. It’s fine diameter helps it to blend well and its filament construction makes it extremely smooth, so it glides through fabric when stitched. AND it is virtually link free, which also saves problems with link build up.
  • Why is my thread so linty? Threads made of natural fibers like cotton will have shorter strands, which produces lint. Egyptian cotton will have the longest strands and cost the most of the cotton threads. Core spun poly is a long strand of poly wrapped with shorter poly filaments. It is strong, and costs less, but will be a bit linty. Monofilament poly is one long, single strand and therefore almost lint free. There is a direct correlation between the cost and quality of the thread and the amount of lint produced! I have succumbed to buying better thread having a lot less lint in my machines.
  • More details in the link. https://www.superiorthreads.com/education/thread-characteristics
Lily Rose quilted wall hanging. Magnifico back ground. Metallic applique in gold, and silver mulit tone. MonoPoly to outline applique elements and SID.

Resources

Superior Threads (my favorite) has excellent reference guides on their web site including videos, thread weight/needle size charts for both domestic and long arm machines, and videos! https://www.superiorthreads.com/reference-guides

Maybe you like Glide, or Sulky, or Isacord, or Madeira. Maybe Quilting Connections lower cost thread is your thing. Try GOOD quality threads and find the thread that (with a lot of practice!) makes your quilting fabulous.

Happy quilting all! Lennea

6 Comments

  1. Great read with lots of information and such a great help. Thank you Sooo much Worth printing off and have hanging on the wall for reference . SO much to learn and so little time. Hope the packing is going well. Hugs from OZ

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s