Today’s Topic: Ten Essential Tips for Choosing Quilting Thread
Welcome to Week Twelve of The Better Machine Quilt-a-long based on my book 25 Days to Better Machine Quilting.
Find all of the previous Lessons HERE.
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Good Morning, Quilters!
If you’ve been following the quilt-a-long for the past several weeks, I am certain your confidence is growing and your skill at creating beautiful motifs is fast improving. Once you begin to understand thread and how to choose the right quilting thread, you will notice a big jump in the overall look of your quilting–guaranteed!
Thread is to quilting as paint is to painting! Just like an artist wouldn’t use dime store watercolors or leftover house paint to create their masterpieces…Neither should YOU pick up any old thread to create YOUR quilts. It is worth your time to learn about thread and then invest (over time) in the best thread available.
Design Goal Determines Thread Choice
As we discussed earlier this week, your design goal determines thread choice. If you would like to create texture only–use thread that is lightweight and matches the color of your fabrics.
On the other hand, if you want the motif to be highlighted–a focal motif-use a heavy weight thread in a contrasting color. Many quilts use both to create interesting effects.
Texture Motifs-Choose a lightweight (fine) thread (50, 70, 80, 100wt) in a matching color.
Focal Motifs-Choose a heavy weight thread (50, 40, 30, 28 wt) in a contrasting color.
Needle Size/Thread Weight
For all sewing and quilting, the size of the needle is determined by the weight of the thread. The heavier the thread, the larger the eye of the needle needs to be. The smaller (finer, lighter) the thread, the smaller the eye-to prevent too much movement within the needle. Skipped stitches and broken thread are signs the needle is the wrong size.
(A similar chart can be found on page 63 of 25 Days to Better Machine Quilting)
For quilting, my favorite needle is the Topstitch needle. It has a large eye and a deep groove in the shaft to protect the thread. Other needles to try: Quilting, Denim, Universal, Metallic.
There are many excellent thread manufacturers and they all offer a variety of lines of thread. There is not a consistent standard for labeling threads, which adds to quilter’s confusion. In addition, there is not a standard way to weigh threads. For example, fixed weight (wt), fixed length (tex) and number English (ne) are three different ways manufacturers determine thread weight. (And why I recommend an inspection method for determining thread weight.)
Some manufacturers use color coded spools for thread weight, while other brands give threads a name unrelated to fiber or weight–and you must review the thread or go to their website to determine exactly what it is.
Tomorrow, I will share some of my favorite manufacturers and threads. The key is to know there is a wide, wide world of threads and if one doesn’t work for you, try another brand, weight, fiber….
Quilting Thread Fibers
Quilting threads are made of a variety of fibers and manufacturers sometimes combine fibers to take advantage of different fiber properties. Some of the most common fibers are:
Cotton-Cotton thread is made from short fibers that are twisted together. The longer the length of individual fibers the better. When you see Extra Long Staple (ELS) or Long Staple (LS) on the label, expect a smooth, lovely thread and a higher price point. If a thread is made with very short staples, it is often fuzzy and lower quality. This cotton is not desirable for quilting.
Polyester-Polyester thread is strong and durable and is an excellent choice for free motion quilting. It can be low to high sheen and a moderate price point.
Rayon-Rayon is a high-sheen thread made from cellulose. The tensile strength of Rayon is lower than polyester or cotton and therefore it is not a good thread for piecing or construction. However, tensile strength is less important for machine quilting and because of the range of colors, high sheen and moderate price point, it is one of my favorite fibers for free motion quilting.
Silk-Silk is a beautiful and strong fiber, perfect for machine quilting. It is unwound from the cocoon of a silkworm larvae in a long continuous fiber. Silk is available in a wide variety of colors and weights. The major disadvantage to silk is the price!
Wool-Wool thread is made from carded fibers from sheep. It is usually combined with acrylic to increase strength. It is always very fuzzy and used for special effects.
Nylon-Nylon is smooth and slightly elastic. It is often very fine weight and used to create texture effects.
Monofilament-Monofilament thread is a single strand of polyester fiber. It is similar to fine fishing line and is creates an almost invisible quilting texture.
While most sewing machine manufacturers recommend using the same thread in the top and the bobbin, that is not practical for machine quilting. For example, we would never want to use 12 wt thread in the bobbin. It is difficult for the machine and the bobbin would only accommodate a small number of yards.
I recommend using 50 wt cotton or polyester in the bobbin. 50 wt thread is easy for your machine–it’s the weight most machines are calibrated for, and it goes a long way. I also recommend using the same thread most of the time. In that way, if you have any problems, you will know your bobbin thread is reliable.
When choosing bobbin thread color, try to match the top thread. Slight tension issues are less obvious when the colors match.
Cross Wound or Straight Stacked Thread
Thread is either cross wound or straight stacked on the spool. Cross wound thread looks like angled lines across the spool, while straight stacked is smooth line.
Straight stacked thread should be placed on a vertical pin with the thread exiting from the back of the spool. It unwinds without twisting when correctly placed.
Cross wound thread should be positioned on a horizontal pin to prevent adding twist to thread.
If you don’t have the correct pin option, try a thread stand.
Thread stands are a great way to give the thread more time to relax before hitting the tension disks. This is especially important for specialty threads which often have a lot of memory.
Another option is to place the thread in a large mug off the sewing machine and tape a paper clip to the machine to redirect the thread toward the tensions disks.
Broken or frayed thread is usually the result of an old needle. Replace your needle regularly. Other causes include: incorrect needle size, a burr along the thread path, improperly threaded machine. Sometimes, old or damaged thread will break and fray.
Quilting Thread is NOT for Machine Quilting!
Thread labeled “quilting” is for hand quilting NOT machine quilting. “Quilting” thread is coated with wax or resin to improve strength and sheen. These coatings may build up in your machine and are not recommended!
One Final Thread Test
The ultimate test for quilting thread is whether or not YOUR machine likes it! No matter how lovely a thread may seem on the spool, if YOUR machine says “NO”–you may have to listen….
Find threads YOU like and YOUR machine LOVES! The key to happy quilting may be compromise….(Is there a life lesson here?)
Jack of All Trade?
Remember the expression, “jack of all trade is master of none” This certainly applies to quilting. There is no such thing as an “all-purpose” thread. It’s a wide, exciting world when it comes to thread!
Your Thread Nerd,
PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy Quilts and are intended for personal use only. Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to LKQ. For all other purposes, please contact me at Lori@LoriKennedyQuilts.com. Thank you!
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