Selecting the best sewing thread can make or break your carefully planned, designed and executed sewing project.
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 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 in sewing thread types and sizes, you would be too.
You can buy cotton thread, polyester thread, or a combination of the top if you are looking at funtionality and if you are looking for decoration, you can opt for rayon thread or top stitching thread or metallic threads.
And as for sizes, they are available from 20 to 100 and all good for different purposes.The options are almost endless.
I would be looking at many factors.
- Type of fabric I am using and match it with the fiber of the thread
- The thread size suitable for the fabric I have
- Color of the thread and if it goes well with the shine on the fabric or patterns.
- Type of stitching; For basting I need a thinner, easily breakable thread and not the regular sewing thread and for top stitching I would need a thicker and smoother thread.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to top stitch or seam stitch or embroider?
- Do you want strong seams?
- Do you want to sew faster?
- Do you want your project to look professionally made ?
- 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.
So, How to choose the best sewing thread for your sewing project?
The most important considerations when selecting the thread are –
Matching sewing thread with Fabric
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. Thicker fabrics call for thicker thread
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
Sewing threads come in different weights and not all of them are suitable for all of your projects.
The sewing thread size is determined by us by the numbers given on it.
How to determine which thread to use according to the number on the thread?
If you find numbers on your sewing machine thread you will be able to know the thickness of the thread.
Sewing thread size of 60-90 is the average sewing thread size for cotton and synthetic thread; 50-60 is average for silk threads
Lower the thread number, the thicker the thread
So a 100 thread will be the finest and threads which are in the range of 20-30 will be very thick.
No. 50 thread is usually used for quilting and for sewing buttonholes. A size 30 thread can be used for sewing thick fabrics.
A lower number thread will be easier to thread through the needle.
You should not even attempt to use any thread which is lower than 20 size on your sewing machine.
If you see a double number on the thread the second number indicates the filaments present in the thread.
How to choose the correct color thread for your project
It is comparatively easy to select the correct color thread if the fabric is a single color. You just have to select a color that will blend with the color of your fabric.
Basic rule is to select a darker color than the fabric. If you choose a lighter or brighter color the stitches will stand out against the fabric. You do not want that.
But what if it is a patterned fabric with multi colors, like plaids, tweeds and prints. You can choose a thread matching the background color if it is prominent in the fabric or choose the color of the biggest motif in the fabric. See what comes near the seams and decide on the color.
In patterned fabric you may have to choose different thread colors for different areas, if you do not want the contrasting color to stand out. Take the fabric with you to buy the thread.
Sometimes you need a thread which is different from the fabric color. A contrasting colored thread is used for a visual effect usually when top stitching. A complementary color is also used for an attractive look.
I always test the color 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?
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 color 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 color.
But if we are joining different colored fabrics, we will choose to wind the bobbin in matching color 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 colors 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.
Sewing thread Types
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.
Out of all the cotton threads, choose a mercerized cotton thread – the quality is better. Most cotton threads in the market already are, but it is better to check. A silk finished cotton thread is as beautiful as a silk thread with all the qualities of cotton thread and color 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
Cotton thread is the best thread for sewing natural fabrics like cotton, linen.
The problem with cotton thread is that it produces a lot of lint – and when you sew a lot (like quilting) this can be irritating and machine-stopping. A double mercerized and gassed cotton thread made of staple fibers may be your saviour.
2. Polyester thread
This smooth finish synthetic thread is suitable for all kinds of fabrics. This thread has a good stretch and is used to sew knits as well as woven fabrics.
Its best advantage over cotton thread is that the thread produces little to no Lint. It also has more stretch and give than cotton threads so it is better than cotton for stretchy fabrics and knitted fabrics. It is also very strong.
There are many types of polyester threads and they have different qualities and you have to be careful when selecting – Corespun polyester threads are the most strong -because it consists of more than one fiber of polyester twisted over a cover polyester fiber.
Monofilament polyester thread is very popular because of its stretch. Spun polyester thread is cheap and produces no lint but it maynot be as strong as the others.
You can use a special heavy polyester thread with a high lustre for top stitching, because it has a coating which makes this one very good looking. It almost looks like silk thread, with its smooth finish. There are specially coated polyester threads that resist rotting or fading in sunlight – these are useful when sewing outdoor clothes and other outdoor projects.
Polyester thread has a lot of advantages. But there are some disadvantages too. When you have to rip stitches, be aware that the cotton fabric may break before the thread. 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
Be a little careful when pressing this, as it may easily burn.
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. The best thing about nylon thread is that it is super strong – It is use to prevent seams splitting.
A heavy weight nylon thread is perfect for sewing with heavy weight fabrics and also for sewing leather
But the thin type of nylon thread is not recommended for everyday sewing. It is more trouble than it is worth.
Bonded nylon thread is very strong. You should always use a 90/14 to 100/16 needle with this thread, whatever the fabric and needle. Monofilament nylon thread is a clear nylon thread – not so much suited for regular sewing but it has its uses.
Be careful with an iron box though, as this thread could melt if too hot.
4. All-purpose thread/Cotton wrapped polyester thread/Poly-cotton thread
This is a blended thread which consists of both properties of polyester and cotton, being polyester thread covered with cotton. You can use it to sew woven fabric, knits or synthetic, manmade fabrics. A favourite of all who sew.
I would think this the best for sewing with sewing machine – has qualities of cotton and polyester. 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
Metallic sewing threads are used for decorative purposes. You need a special needle for sewing with this thread.
To sew 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, but it is usually used with silk fabrics. It is made of 100% silk.
It is best for sewing with delicate fabrics, as the fine thread would not leave any holes in the fabric.
You can use it in areas or fabrics where you do not want to leave holes (for eg. basting and removing thread will make holes in fine fabrics. You can use this thread without fear of this).
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 can look like silk thread.
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
You need a special thread that will withstand the pressures of serger sewing. This thread used in sergers is 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 colors 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 colorless it looks almost invisible. It is great for hemming.
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.
Classification of threads according to construction.
1. Spun thread
Spun thread is made by twisting several stable fibers together to form an elastic thread. It can look like cotton thread but have the qualities of polyester thread with stretch, and less lint. It is not a very strong thread.
Corespun thread has a core fiber over which the staple fibers are twisted. This is a very strong thread and produces very less lint. Usually polyester.
3. Mono-filament thread
This is a shiny, very fine synthetic thread made of a single filament. It has excellent stretch, very little lint, but not the strongest thread available.
4. Bonded thread
This is a very strong thread with a resin coating; the coating makes it very strong and it can be used for heavy-duty sewing for upholstery purposes
Is Brand important in sewing threads?
Yes, brand is important. If you do not select a reputed brand and go for a cheaper one, you will encounter many problems like uneveness of stitches, breakages in the middle of the stitching, frayed thread, even skipped stitches.
So if you have a reputed brand in your country, with good reviews, go for it. Gutermann and coats are two such reputed brands, whose threads do not go wrong by far.
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 colors. (I use Grey as a substitute for many colors if the particular color 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
It is important to store your thread properly. You do not want it to disintegrate in storage and it does.
So it is also important that you do not buy very old thread. Old thread can break midway on your seam.
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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Updated on November 16, 2022 by Sarina Tariq