Sewing Thread Primer

When embroidery machines for the home market were first introduced in the early 1990's, thread choices at the retail level were limited. Walk down the thread aisle of any fabric store now, and you'll likely be overwhelmed with the choices. The most experienced sewer and embroiderer can often have trouble finding what they need -- I can't even imagine what must be going through the mind of the newbie who is trying to choose a thread for their project.
It can be tempting to gravitate towards the prettiest, or shiniest, or coolest thread on the rack, but there is much to consider when making your choice. For sewing, you need to consider the fabric (it's content, and weight), the function (seaming, or top stitching for example), and the size of the needle you'll be using. Click "Read More" to continue...

Don't underestimate the importance of the weight of the thread you choose. Thread weights are exactly the opposite of what you would expect -- a 30 weight thread is actually heavier than a 40 weight thread for example.
If you're just beginning your adventure in sewing choose a good all purpose sewing thread. Coats & Clark Dual Duty Plus is a cotton covered polyester thread, Mettler Metrosone Plus is a polyester thread, as is Gutterman Sew-All -- all 3 are quality threads, and are readily available. All purpose threads are usually 40 weight threads that will perform well with a 70/10, or 80/12 size needle. Most of these threads have a dull finish.

If you want your top stitching, or button holes to stand out more, you can choose a heavier (30 weight) thread. Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP Heavy is an example of a 30 weight thread. Choose a heavier thread if you're hemming jeans, or sewing denim, duck, canvas, or thick home dec fabrics. You'll need to use a larger needle for 30 weight thread -- depending on how thick your fabric is, and how many layers you're sewing through choose a 90/14, 90/16, or 90/18 needle.
If you're looking for a lighter weight thread, then look for a 50 weight. Usually available as a cotton quilters thread, it's also a good choice if you want a more delicate thread for heirloom stitching.

Within the range of 40 weight threads, there are several varieties. Again, what you choose will depend on your fabric, and project. Here's a little help:

Cotton Thread: Often the thread of choice for quilters. While this is a good choice when using all cotton "ingredients" for your projects, I would not use it with other fabrics. If you're making something with a cotton fabric, and you're going to dye or tye-dye the item once it's done, then cotton thread is a very good choice as it will "take" the dye. In that case, be sure to use cotton thread in the bobbin as well.

Cotton Covered Polyester: This is my thread of choice for all purpose sewing. Most of the threads in my sewing box are of this variety. It has the strength of polyester, but with that lovely finish of cotton.

Polyester Thread: Another good choice for all purpose sewing, decorative stitching, and embroidery. It's a strong thread, with a matte or dull finish. It won't bleed onto lighter color fabrics, and it can withstand bleaching without fading.

Rayon Thread: Used mostly for embroidery, this thread has a shiny finish. Also bleach resistant, you can use this for sewing as well -- I've used embroidery thread for sewing many times when I needed a specific color, and wanted to use thread I had on hand rather than making a trip to the fabric store.

There are several brands of embroidery threads. My favorites are Madiera, and Sulky. They're available in most fabric stores, and both brands are available in small, and large variety packs that offer significant savings over purchasing individual spools.
Serger Thread: Usually polyester. Choose a high quality thread such as Maxi-Lock -- this will result in less lint build-up in your machine. You can use these threads for sewing as well. When I'm using both my sewing machine, and my serger to make a garment I like to use the same thread throughout. Since I'm usually using a 3 thread stitch on the serger, I take the 4th cone of thread off the serger, and use it on the sewing machine. You can also use a good quality polyester sewing thread in your serger.

Bobbin Thread: This is usually a 60 weight thread. It's easy to find black, or white, a little more difficult to find colors. Look for, or do a web search on "Bottom Line bobbin thread" if you're looking for more color choices for 60 weight thread. Most of the newer machines perform better with this light weight thread in the bobbin, but you don't necessarily have to use it. I do recommend using it when embroidering, and I believe that quilters prefer a lighter weight bobbin thread. You can purchase pre-wound bobbins, and if you do alot of embroidery, these can be a real time saver.

Specialty Threads: You'll find specialty threads in myriad weights from 12 to 100. If you're going to use a metallic thread for embroidery, or decorative stitching, be sure to use a needle for metallic threads -- it has a bigger eye to prevent shredding of the thread. Heavier threads with a lofty texture, such as Maxi-Lock's Stretch, or Aurafil Wool are intended for use in your serger's looper.

I almost hesitate to say this because it isn't always true, and I don't think that in the big picture it makes a whole lot of difference, but...generally, sewing threads are spun, and embroidery threads are twisted. In my mind, 40 weight is 40 weight is 40 weight. That is to say I use 40 weight threads labeled "embroidery" for sewing, and 40 weight threads labeled "sewing" for embroidery. There are thread colors that I rarely need so that one cone of lime green on my thread rack is going to be the one I'll use for sewing, embroidery, and serging.

One last note on threads...if you have a serger, have a look at the Bob 'N Serge. This is a wonderful little invention that will save you hundreds of dollars. Rather than buy 4 or 5 cones of thread for your serger, you can purchase just one cone, wind 4 or 5 bobbins, and put them in your Bob 'N Serge. It's available now at Screaming Mimi's Marketplace

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