Choos­ing Thread for Ma­chine Quilt­ing

Your thread choice can be as im­por­tant as your fab­rics.

Quilter's World - - Contents - BY DEBBY BROWN

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.

Thread Qual­ity

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.

Fiber Con­tent

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.

Thread Color

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.

Thread Weight

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.

Thread pud­dling.

Neu­tral-color threads.

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!

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