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 color 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. Thread for knits with a little stretch should be used to sew with knits.

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.

The Sewing 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

Thread size – If you find numbers on your sewing machine thread you should know that 60-90 is the average sewing thread size (for cotton and synthetic thread) and 50-60 for silk threads and the lower the thread number, the thicker the thread; you should not even attempt to use any thread which is lower than 20 size on your sewing machine. A size 30 thread can be used for sewing thick fabrics. 

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 do not 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 do not 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.

top stitching

I always test the colour of the thread on a piece of fabric before starting sewing especially for top stitching 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. 

Match thread with fabric – I mean the type. Cotton fabric with cotton thread ; Synthetic fabric with synthetic thread etc.

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

A silk finished cotton thread is as beautiful as a silk thread with all the qualities of cotton thread and colour fast as well.

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. It may break cotton fibers after a long time as cotton is weaker than polyester. But this is applicable only for things which should last a long long time. Polyester thread has a lot of advantages and I tend to overlook the breaking cotton fabric for all its good points. When you have to rip stitches, be aware that the cotton fabric may break before the thread.

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. You should always use a 90/14 to 100/16 needle with this thread, whatever the fabric and needle.  

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

4. All-purpose thread

This is a blended 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.You can use it to sew woven fabric, knits or synthetic, manmade fabrics.

The polyester element in this thread gives it stretch and cotton gives it ease in sewing. There is also no problem with heat so if you have to press the fabric as you sew with high heat, this thread is good.

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. The size of silk thread used with sewing machine is within the range of 50-60.

You can use this thread for applique work as the thin thread looks almost invisible but gives a lustrous beauty as well.

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 do not 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.Check out this post on using the elastic thread to create shirring

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 and also for hemming as it is thin and lightweight.

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.

12. Invisible thread

This is a polyester thread which is so colourless it looks almost invisible. It is great for hemming

13. Button and Carpet thread

It is basically a hand sewing thread  and it is a very heavy sewing thread made of cotton covered polyester. You can use it in your bobbin for bobbin embroidery work  and create beautiful designs.

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 do not 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 colors 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 color 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 get some moisture back into the thread and make it usable again. A tip I learned somewhere, but yet to be tried.

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17 thoughts on “SEWING MACHINE THREADS – how to select the best one for your project.”

  1. I had a bad stroke a few years ago, I have just started sewing again. I have found your site by accident and am I glad I did. Thank you for all the useful information. I plan on doing simply things at first then hopefully moving on to more complicated stuff. Wish me luck!

    1. Hi Robin
      Happy that you are recovering and enthusiastic about taking up sewing once again. Best wishes.

  2. We are facing a trouble to find a suitable thread for interlock fabric with loop.
    That fabric , only one loop brushing .
    Fleece structure is building in single jersey Knitting machine.
    Have spandex also.
    Fabric Composition is 9% Spandex 91% Polyester.

    What is the exact suitable bagging thread/yarn for this above fabric.

  3. Carole Rae Moss-Bennett

    I happened on your site while looking for the best thread for sewing machine clothing construction…..and, a hour later I was amazed at all you freely shared. Thank you very much for a most informative blog which I have bookmarked. Thanks very much, Carole, Brisbane

  4. Iam sewing leather car apholstery using a Brother Industrial Sewing machine. Sometimes the thread bunches on the needle. I am using a polyester thread. Can you recommend the most suitable from your range? I was told that maybe a nylon size 69 (what ever that means) might be suitable. Also should it be a waxed thread?

  5. ros littlejohn

    n you tell me the best thread to use on my Brother CS-8080 automatic threader as the cotton thread I have been using has just run out and I cannot seem to get one that will work in my machine . If you have any idea’s I will be most please to hear from you.
    Thankyou for your kind attention
    Ros Littlejohn

    1. When you change threads you may need to adjust tension and confirm you have the top and bottom both threaded properly. If they are not threaded properly, even if you think you did it right… (90% of the time I thought I threaded it properly, but the thread missed or jumped out of one guide or another before I completed the process) Also make sure the thread weight you are using is appropriate for the needle being used and the needle being used is appropriate for the stitch being sewn (also that the stitch settings, width, length are correct for the other variables) Also, if you have been using cotton for a while you do need to blow out and vacuum the bobbin chamber frequently due to lint accumulation.

  6. Amazing tricks. Thanks for sharing these tips and tricks for choosing the best thread for sewing. Very unique and informative article.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

      1. Hello
        Please tell me what tension and what thread I use for polyester fabrics on my sewing machine. Because my sewing won’t come straight. It looks gathering. I am looking forward to hear from you . Thank you

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