Knowing which thread to choose for your sewing project is a key part of a successful outcome. Thread that is too small or weak can result in a project that falls apart; thread too wide or coarse can split or tear the fabric. Here is some guidance on choosing the correct sewing thread for your sewing project.
1. Identify which type of sewing you are undertaking. Some types of sewing are more complex in the requirements for threads because they require decorative as well as practical sewing techniques. Other types are very straightforward, such as simple sewing, which is best performed with commonplace, simple cotton or rayon threads. The general types of sewing include:
Darning to repair rips, tears, and holes in garments and fabric items
Sewing up a pattern such as a dress, apron, etc.
Embroidery: this covers a very wide range of possible sewing techniques including needlepoint, cross-stitch, hardanger, blackwork, stumpwork, whitework, shadow work, crewel work, ribbon embroidery, etc. The threads for embroidery may be many and varied, even within a single project.
2. Learn the main types of sewing threads.
- Cotton threads
- Nylon/rayon threads (including invisible thread)
- Silk threads (and silk ribbons)
- Wool threads
- Metallic threads
- Bobbin threads (for machine sewing)
- Designer threads (mixed threads made by combining different types of threads, e.g., cottons with rayon with silk, etc.)
3. Consider the qualities of sewing thread. Knowing the properties of the threads will help you to decide the usefulness and desirability of using them for your specific project. The following list with explanations will help you choose a thread that is suitable for your project:
Cotton thread: The usual cotton thread found on reels in most haberdashery and craft stores is ideal for basic sewing. Most cotton threads are mercerized, a coating that lets the dye take more easily and results in a lustrous appearance. This cotton has limitations, however, as it has no "give" and can break if used on fluid fabrics, such as stretch knit fabric. On the plus side, cotton is ideal for delicate fabrics and projects, such as lingerie and sheer fabrics.
All-purpose Cotton: A medium thickness cotton (size 50) is suitable for sewing a wide range of projects using lightweight to medium cotton, linen and rayon fabrics.
Stranded Cotton: This is made of six strands that have been woven together loosely. These are usually used in embroidery and are often best unwound prior to use or the end result will be too thick, although with wider weave fabrics, using all strands can sometimes be very effective.
Coton Perlé: this thread cannot be divided and is used in embroidery projects to produce a neat sheen.
Cotton à Broder: An embroidery cotton in varying weights. It has a smooth quality.
Tatting Thread: Not a separate thread as such, but the type of cotton required for tatting is very specialized. It should be highly mercerized and tightly twisted, so that it is very firm and smooth.
Flower Thread: This has a matte sheen and is soft. This thread is ideal for embroidery projects that require a rustic, old-fashioned look, particularly samplers on fine linen. It is only suitable for fabric with a small count.
Quilting Thread: This is all-cotton thread that is coated for ease of movement through quilt fabric and batting. Obviously, this is ideal for quilting projects.
Polyester Threads: These are strong threads that have excellent give for sewing projects. They tend to come in an all-purpose weight (size 50); they often have a wax or silicone finish that allows the thread to slip through fabric with little friction. This is suitable for most machine and hand sewing projects. This thread is suitable for fabrics with stretch in them and is especially good for woven synthetics, knits and stretch fabrics. The appearance of this thread will be waxy or shiny, not matte like plain cotton.
All-purpose Thread: This is cotton-wrapped polyester thread and is widely available for sewing. This is suitable for using with most fabrics and is cheap and easily obtainable. It is not, however, a good thread to use for embroidery projects.
Invisible Thread: This is similar to fishing line. It's strong and it's invisible, making it ideal for projects where you need the sewing to be strongly kept in place and hidden at the same time.
Heavy Duty: Heavy duty thread is ideal for heavy duty fabrics, such as those used in soft furnishings like upholstery and window dressings, vinyl, and coat fabrics. This is usually around size 40 and can be made from polyester, cotton-wrapped polyester, or cotton.
Rayon Threads: Rayon embroidery thread works well to create flat stitches where cotton embroidery thread might stand too high.
Nylon Threads: This is a strong thread that is suitable for using on light to medium weight synthetic fabrics. It is a fine thread, usually in size A.
Silk Threads: Silk is a fine thread that is ideal for a range of fabrics, although silk is often reserved for embroidery work, same for silk ribbon. This strong thread is ideal for sewing on silk and wool, and for for basting all fabrics. The benefit is that silk threads do not leave holes and it is very flexible. An excellent tailoring thread.
Silk Floss: This thread has a high sheen. It is also known as Japanese silk. It comes untwisted and can be used as it is, or divided to make even finer stitches. This thread is suitable for embroidery projects and for using on silk fabric projects. Although strong, it is delicate to work with, so it is vital to have trimmed fingernails to avoid catching and tearing.
Twisted Silk: This thread consists of several strands of silk twisted together; again it is ideal for embroidery and can be used as it is, or separated into smaller threads.
Stranded Silk: These threads have a sparkling look and can be separated into strands for sewing in embroidery projects.
Silk Ribbon: Silk ribbon is used for silk ribbon embroidery, both as projects in their own right, and for decorative projects such as on handbags, tops, skirts, etc. and for hair accessories.
Wool Threads: Wool threads tend to be used for embroidery projects and for blankets (using blanket stitch). Wool works best with heavy fabrics, such as wool, or canvas.
Persian Wool: Persian wool consists of three strands. You can use the three strands together or separate the threads to use singly. Whether or not you separate the threads will depend on the project and the thickness of the fabric being sewn.
Tapestry Wool: This wool is not as thick as the Persian wool. It is not dividable.
Crewel Wool: This is the finest of the wool threads. It is ideal for crewel embroidery projects. While it is fine, you can weave it into a thicker thread by twisting with more threads.
Machine Threads: These are the threads inserted into a sewing machine.
Bobbin Threads: This is an affordable thread that goes on the bobbin; it is commonplace for use on sewing machines and is used for a wide variety of general sewing projects made on the sewing machine.
Variegated Thread: These threads are dyed different shades, the variegation repeating along the length of the thread in an even manner. Suitable generally for embroidery projects or colorful sewing projects, such as crazy quilt jackets, etc.
Metallic Threads: Metallic threads are used for goldwork embroidery and for embellishment on items such as handbags. The colors are gold, silver, and copper.
Purl Thread: This thread is hollow. Also twist thread and pearl purl
Japan Thread: This is a very fine metallic thread that usually requires two threads used at the same time.
4. Select sewing thread according to the right color. Once you have decided which type and strength of thread is suitable for your project, you will need to match its color. This is where it is a really good idea to purchase the entire quantity of thread in the color you are using to ensure that you keep the same batch color quality throughout the sewing project, especially in the case of embroidery. If you cannot find an exact color match, select a color of thread one to two shades darker than the fabric color to blend in. Light thread will stand out much more.
5. Consult the sewing instructions. It is important to read the instructions of any sewing pattern or embroidery project from beginning to end prior to undertaking a project. The pattern or instructions should tell you what thread it recommends. It is a good idea to try to match the recommendation exactly, or as closely as possible, to ensure the best outcome for the project. When you are more experienced, you will be able to make thread substitutes with the full understanding of the end results.
6. Purchase quality thread. Cheap thread is cheap thread and will not last. Quality thread costs more but is definitely worth it to ensure the quality and durability of your project in the long-run, as well as making the stitching process easier and more enjoyable, especially in the case of embroidering.
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