SEWING MACHINE THREADS – how to select the best one for your project.

selecting sewing thread

Earlier I used to go to my favourite notions shop and show the fabric swatch. The guy there would match it with the thread available there based on the hue of my fabric and I will go home happy. Today that is not the case. I am a bit more choosy. If you know the options available you would be too.

  • Do you want to sew faster?
  • Do you want your project to be easier ?
  • Do you want a sewing session without interruptions by thread breaks, tangles etc.?

You want a thread that is smooth, strong and which will not tangle easily. It should be uniform in colour and diameter throughout. How to choose the best one for your sewing project?

The most important considerations when selecting the thread are –

Fabric type – A heavy weight brocade needs a different type of thread than a light weight cotton fabric

Type of stitch you plan to make – if you plan decorative stitches or top stitching you will need a smoother thread than for sewing the seams.

Machine you are using – For example If it is a serger or overlock machine, it is better if you use a thinner serger thread rather than a general purpose thread, to avoid bulk.

How to choose the correct colour thread for your project

It is comparatively easy to select the correct colour thread if the fabric is a single colour. You just have to select a colour that will blend with the colour of your fabric.

Basic rule is to select a darker colour than the fabric. If you choose a lighter or brighter color the stitches will look conspicuous against the fabric. You donot want that.

But what if it is a patterned fabric with multi colours, like plaids, tweeds and prints. You can choose a thread matching the background colour if it is prominent in the fabric or choose the colour of the biggest motif in the fabric. See what comes near the seams and decide on the colour. In patterned fabric you may have to choose different thread colours for different areas, if you donot want the contrasting colour to stand out. Take the fabric with you to buy the thread.

Sometimes you need a thread which is different from the fabric colour. A contrasting coloured thread is used for a visual effect usually when top stitching. A complementary colour is also used for an attractive look.

I always test the colour of the thread on a piece of fabric before starting sewing especially for topstitching or other decorative stitches.

What thread to use in the Bobbin?

how to select bobbin sewing machine thread

Typically one uses the same thread for the top thread and the bobbin thread. But for machine embroidery  we can choose to use a special light weight bobbin thread  to prevent a dense stitch in the underside, especially when sewing with delicate thin fabrics.

Most of the time, the colour of the thread we use in the bobbin also will be the same as for the top thread, as most of the time the two fabrics we are joining together will be of the same colour.

But if we are joining different coloured fabrics, we will choose to wind the bobbin in matching colour of the underside fabric. The fabric side facing you, will be having the top thread and the one under, will be having the bobbin thread. You will have to take into account that a little bit of the thread in the bobbin will be visible from the top on the right side, especially if the contrast between the colours of the fabric is vivid. 

Do not forget to wind a lot of bobbins with the matching thread if you are starting a big sewing project. You will not want to stop your sewing flow to wind bobbins. 

Types of threads according to the fiber. 

1.Cotton Thread

This 100% cotton thread can be used for Light and medium weight cotton fabrics. This thread is without stretch and has a smooth finish. Because of its heat resistant property you can safely press it with hot iron without fearing about it burning. Long lasting.

Because it does not have much stretch, there is a possibility of it breaking if used with anything other than 100% cotton fabrics.

2.Polyester thread

This smooth finish synthetic thread is suitable for all kinds of fabrics. But be a little careful when pressing this, as it may easily burn.This thread has a good stretch and is used to sew knits as well as woven fabrics.

I use this thread for top stitching , because it has a wax coating which makes this one very good looking. It almost looks like silk thread, with its smooth finish.

There are different qualities of polyester though and you have to be careful when selecting.

3.Nylon thread

This is a synthetic thread like polyester and is suitable for sewing all kinds of fabrics. They are available in different weights and a heavy weight nylon thread is perfect for sewing with heavy weight fabrics.This thread is very strong and semi transparent.

Be careful with an iron box though, as this thread could melt if too hot.

4.All-purpose thread

This is a thread which consists of both properties of polyester and cotton, being polyester thread covered with cotton.  I would think this the best for sewing with sewing machine.

The polyester element in this thread gives it stretch and cotton gives it ease in sewing.

5. Metallic thread

They are used for decorative purposes. You need a special needle for sewing with this thread. An ordinary all purpose or bobbin weight thread is used in the bobbin. There are chances of thread breaking if you sew at high speed. Careful sewing will create great looking embellishments when sewn with this thread.

6.Silk Thread

This is a fine lustrous thread which can be used for all fabrics. It is best for sewing with delicate fabrics, as the fine thread would not leave any holes in the fabric.

It is a very elastic thread, which is also very strong. The only deterrent in using this one regularly is that it is expensive.

7.Rayon thread

A thread with a beautiful finish, this is used for decorative purposes. It is very delicate and prone to breaking more than any other thread so donot use it to sew seams

8.Woolly Nylon

A type of stretch thread used when you want stretch seams.


Classification of threads according to their uses.

1.Serger thread

This thread used in sergers are not as thick as the regular thread used in sewing machines. That is ok when used in a serger as a serger typically uses more than one strand to sew. So that makes up for the thinness

2. Elastic thread

This is a very convenient thread which immediately gathers and elasticizes your fabric. Shirring is done with this thread in the bobbin.

This thread has to be hand winded on the bobbin.

3. Machine embroidery thread

This is a thread used in machine embroidery and comes in cotton, rayon and polyester. It is available in all the colours you want.

4. Bobbin Thread

This is a fine delicate thread which is usually used in the bobbin when doing machine embroidery so that the back of the design does not look cluttered. This thread can be used for machine basting.

5. Basting Thread

This is a lightweight thin thread used to baste fabric. It is easy to remove this thread compared to the strong regular thread.

6. Lingerie Thread

This is a strong nylon thread with  a stretch. Can be used as a bobbin thread in machine embroidery and for bead work.

7. Washaway thread

As the name suggests this thread washes away after the stitching is over. Perfect for basting stitches

8 Ribbon Floss

100% ribbon braided thread. This thread is great for decorative stitches, smocking

9 Fusible Thread

This is a nylon thread which looks like dental floss and melts at low temperature. It is great for fusing applique pieces in place

10. Top stitching thread

This is a heavy thick and strong polyester thread used for top stitching and heavy duty stitching

11. Quilting thread

A very strong and durable thread which is used to do quilting ( hand and machine) You can use it for gathering without fear for it breaking in the middle

Important points to remember when selecting the sewing machine  thread

  • It is better to avoid the discount thread available at the local store and go for that branded high quality one for your sewing project. You donot want a weak seam on your clothes. 
  • Always carry a big swatch of fabric with you when going for thread shopping, especially if it is a patterned or printed fabric.
  • Buy enough thread to last for your sewing project. One spool is usually enough for most tops and skirts. Two may be needed for dresses and more for gowns with elaborate embellishments.
  • Keep threads in basic colours always at home. It is convenient to buy big spools of these colours. (I use Grey as a substitute for many colors if the particular colour is unavailable and if it is in an inconspicuous place)
  • As mentioned before wind many bobbins in the colour you want before starting sewing to prevent interruptions.
  • Make sure that you have threaded the machine properly before sewing. Otherwise it will result in thread breakages and frustrations. I know. 
  • One most important thing to keep in mind when selecting your thread is the type of your fabric. Use extra fine thread like the silk thread or embroidery thread for sheer and  delicate fabrics. Use all purpose thread or other varieties for others
  • Maintaining thread
    It is important to store your thread properly. Keep your thread away from direct sunlight and dust.
    If your thread is old, dry and brittle this will cause thread breakage.If you keep the thread in the freezer for some days the moisture from the freezer should be some moisture back into the thread and make it usable again.

Comments 7

  1. I have been sewing for YEARS but threads have changed so much over the years that it’s nice to revisit the different types. Also, with the Internet it is a lot easier to purchase threads that aren’t readily available in your area.

  2. Very useful blog for beginners, waiting for chudidhar or kurthi step by step measuring,cutting n stitching article.. Can u please post…happy to find your blog

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