Choosing Thread for Machine Quilting
Your thread choice can be as important as your fabrics.
Another lesson for the beginner quilter.
I love thread. There is a rumor that I have purchased pretty machinequilting threads and then purchased matching fabric and made a quilt just so I could use that thread. That rumor is absolutely true.
This is a great time to be a quilter because there are so many gorgeous threads on the market. The choices are seemingly endless, which is great, but that can also be overwhelming. I often hear, “Which thread should I use to quilt my quilt?” While quilters might be consoled by the fact that there is no one right thread for a quilt, they always want more information about how to choose between fiber contents, weights and colors.
Many high-quality threads are on the market so I won’t recommend a single one, but I will mention a few things to avoid.
Threads that are made for serger machines are not meant for machine quilting.
Threads that are sold “four for a dollar” might not be the best for machine quilting.
Threads that have been in the family sewing box for an unknown number of decades may be beautiful, but might not be the best for machine quilting.
While some quilters believe that cotton thread is the only thread that is appropriate for quilting a quilt, I am very comfortable using a variety of threads on my quilts.
If a quilter feels that cotton is best, then cotton is the right choice for him or her.
When comparing polyester threads to cotton threads, polyester threads may be less expensive, may be stronger, may have less lint, and may be shiny, which could add a decorative look on a quilt.
There are some beautiful metallic threads on the market. They add sparkle and shine to the quilting, but some quilters find them difficult to use. It is really important to use a metallic needle when quilting with a metallic thread; it has a larger eye and keeps the thread from splitting when it passes through the eye.
Quilters might choose invisible threads when they can’t decide on a thread color. Invisible threads are made from nylon or polyester, and allow the quilting texture to show without any thread color competing with the fabrics.
Typically, the most expensive thread choice is silk. Silk thread is luxurious and beautiful.
Often, threads for machine embroidery are made from rayon. These threads are not a popular choice for machine quilting.
If a quilter wants to quilt a single design on a pieced quilt, and the fabrics are highly contrasting ( black fabric and white fabric, for instance), picking a single thread color for machine quilting can induce a headache. “If I use white thread, it will show up too much on the black fabric, but if I use black thread, it will show up too much on the white fabric!” What’s a quilter to do?
One way to choose a thread is to choose a neutral color that reads in the middle of the fabric colors that contrast. If the quilt is black and white, consider a gray thread. If the quilt is light blue and dark blue, consider a medium blue thread.
Some quilters reach for variegated threads when they have multicolored quilts. I absolutely adore variegated
threads, but not on every quilt. If a quilt is red, white and blue, and the thread also is red, white and blue, the red thread can contrast with the white fabric and the white thread can contrast with the blue fabric. It’s hard to know how a variegated thread is going to look on a quilt until the thread is unspooled and puddled over the quilt top.
The variegated threads I use without hesitation are threads that are multiple tones of the same color (ombré) and pastel variegated threads. If a thread is many shades of blue, it quilts like a solid blue thread but appears richer and more vibrant. Pastel variegated threads are my secret weapon, and not just for baby quilts. The color changes are so subtle that, time after time, they work well on quilts and have surprised me.
But, “What colors of threads are neutral and will go with most quilts?” The answer will be different depending upon personal color preferences, but I do have a few favorites: red, burgundy, medium pink, light yellow, light gray green, olive green, navy/ black, off-white, light tan, medium taupe ( brown/gray), light gray and dark gray.
If you are confident and want to take some chances, consider picking a contrasting color to make a beautiful statement on your quilt.
Threads come in different thicknesses. Most quilting threads range from size 12 (rather thick) to size 100 (quite thin). When choosing a thread for basic quilting, start in the middle with a 40- or 50-weight thread. The 40-weight thread will show up a little more, and the 50-weight thread will blend in more and show up a little less; they are both in the middle of the thread range and should be the least fussy. Once you are comfortable with the mid-size threads, try other sizes. If the thread needs to make a statement, choose a lower-numbered thread. If the project demands a
thinner thread so that the thread shows less and only the quilting texture is apparent on the quilt, choose a higher-numbered thread.
Know Your Thread
When I am trying a specific brand and type of thread, I typically buy a white spool to test at home. I practice quilting with it to see how it runs through my machine and how it works on my fabrics. If I like quilting with that type of thread, I will have confidence buying other colors of it for my quilting projects; if I am not pleased with how that thread works for me, I will use it somewhere else in my sewing room—for piecing, in embroidery bobbins, for basting, in my serger, etc. I now own many different brands and types of threads, and I am able to quilt with them confidently, but I’ve learned how best to use each type over many years, one at a time.
Are you ready to select a thread and practice quilting? Practice with this free-motion quilting design.
When stitching a snowflake, all points start and end in the middle of the snowflake.
Stitch to the middle of the snowflake. Stitch a few stitches up and then retrace back to the center.
Stitch up and back to the center on one diagonal. Retrace in the opposite direction.
Stitch up and back to the center on the other diagonal. Retrace in the opposite direction.
Stitch out from the snowflake.
Finished snowflake design.
Left to right: 80-weight thread, 50-weight thread and 12-weight thread.
Stitch snowflakes all over your quilt for a fun winter design!