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How to Choose Thread for Machine Quilting

Best Threads for Machine Quilting


Spools of Variegated Rayon Use for Machine Quilting

Spools of variegated rayon thread used for machine quilting. Printing on the spool tells you the thread is 40 wt, with 250 yards on the spool. This type of spool is what Sulky calls a pop spool, because the ends of each spool can be popped up.

Rosaland Hannibal
Machine Needles - Eye of the Needle Closeup

Sewing machine needles by Schmetz. The type of needle is printed in the center & needle sizes along the package bottom. The close-up shows the Topstitch 90/14, the Topstitch 100/16, and the Universal 60/8. Notice the longer eye of Topstitch needles.

Rosaland Hannibal
Two Types of Cotton Thread for Machine Quilting

Examples of 50 wt cotton machine quilting thread and variegated cotton machine quilting thread. The 50/3 on the edge of the pop spool means that thread is a 3-ply thread making it a bit thicker than the regular 50 wt thread next to it.

Rosaland Hannibal
From Contributing Writer Rosaland Hannibal

The basic function of machine quilting thread is to hold quilt layers together securely. Quilting thread choices vary by personal preference, the intended use of the quilt, the thread's appearance and other factors. Let's talk about the types of threads used for machine quilting, some of the brand names to look for and typical thread weights.

A wide variety of threads can be used to quilt a quilt, and quilting thread can either contrast with the quilt top fabrics or blend with the fabrics.

  • If fabrics are busy and eye-catching,consider a quilting thread that blends into the surface design, so that the viewer's eye will remain focused on the fabric and design of the quilt.
  • If you prefer, quilting designs and machine quilting threads can become a focal point of the quilt.

Quilting threads can be made from natural fibers such as wool, silk, cotton, flax and jute. Some threads are regenerated from cellulose and others are made from synthetic fibers, such as metallic, polyester and nylon.

Cotton, metallic and rayon are among the most popular threads used for machine quilting. Rayon and cotton threads come in different weights and sizes. Metallic threads are in their own special class with their own special features (and sometimes their own special frustrations). 

Types of Thread

  • Bobbin thread
  • Cotton thread
  • Cotton Wrapped Polyester
  • Embroidery thread
  • Fusible thread
  • Glow in the dark
  • Hand quilting thread (coated, not for use in a sewing machine)
  • Invisible or monofilament
  • Metallic
  • Polyester
  • Rayon
  • Silk
  • Silk finish cotton
  • Variegated
  • Water Soluble
  • Wool

More about threads used to make a quilt.

Common Thread Sizes

Thread weight is usually stamped on the edge of the spool or printed on the top or bottom of the spool. Thread becomes heavier as weight designations decrease

  • 50 weight, a very thin/fine thread
  • 40 weight
  • 30 weight

Heavier weight threads are more noticeable on the quilt. A 40 weight thread is a popular choice for quilting and 30 weight threads will be even more visible, while 50 weight versions will usually blend into the fabric.

Thread weight is only one of many factors to consider when selecting machine quilting thread. Will the thread's color blend with the fabrics stand out to make quilting an important part of the design?

Consider whether you prefer the matte finish of a cotton thread, the shine of a rayon thread or the glimmer of a metallic thread. Go with what you like, get the right needle for it, and give the thread a tryout.

Experimenting with Machine Quilting Threads

Trying different threads on your sewing machine will probably require some adjustments to the machine's tension. Adjusting the tension is not something to fear, and can actually make your quilting life much easier if you are willing to experiment. Along with having the proper needle for your thread (and a fresh needle for every project) pay some attention to adjusting the tension.

  • As you thread your sewing machine, notice the different places where thread must pass through or over a bar or between discs, all of these encounters create tension on the thread.
  • Use a needle that allows the thread to pass through easily, such as a metallic needle with a longer eye for metallic threads or a topstitch or quilting needle (sized 90/14 for 30 wt or 40 wt threads). About.com's Guide to Sewing offers a handy article about machine needle sizes.
  • Put your test piece (a small quilt sandwich) on the machine, lower the machine's tension (to begin with) and take a few stitches. Then adjust the tension upwards if you find that stitches are too loose. Ideally, your bobbin thread and top thread should meet in the middle of the layers. Learn more about sewing machine tension adjustments and troubleshooting.
  • If your top thread shows on the bottom of the quilt, your top tension is too loose. If your bobbin thread shows on the top of your quilt, your top tension is too tight. Keep testing and adjusting until you find the right balance. Make sure you are using the recommended bobbin thread for the quilting thread -- manufacturers usually include that information with the thread or on their websites.

Popular Brands of Thread

  • Coats & Clark
  • Guterman
  • Maderia
  • Metrosene
  • Mettler
  • Robison Anton
  • Signature
  • Sulky
  • Superior
  • Valdani
  • YLI


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