How To Choose The Right Thread For Sewing?


Whether you’ve taken up sewing as a hobby or as a way of learning a new skill, you must have asked yourself this question at some point. Sewing may seem like a pretty straightforward thing to most people, but the more you get into it, the more you realize just how much there is to take into account.

When it comes to choosing the right thread for sewing, there are several factors to consider. You’ll be guided by the type of sewing you want to undertake as well as the type of fabric you intend to use. The unique properties of the thread might also inspire you to use it in your project.

A lot of people simply use any thread they can lay their hands on in their sewing. However, if high quality is what you are after, you need to know the best kinds of threads to use. This article will give you clear guidelines on what types of thread to use for different types of fabric. 

What to consider before picking a thread

There are a lot of thread varieties to choose from. To pick the right one, you need to think about the type of fabric you are working on and what you intend to do with it.

  • Type of fabric you are using

Fabrics are made from different materials. A majority of those nowadays are synthetic materials such as polyester mixed with other natural fibers. There is also woolen, cotton, viscose, silk, and leather among others. These materials all require different types of threads to work on them.

You also need to know if the fabric will be lightweight or heavyweight. This is because these types will eventually determine the type of thread to use. You will also need to know if the fabrics are to be woven or knitted.

If you just use any type of thread, you may end up damaging the fabric. If that is not the case, then the thread may not serve its purpose for long and will come out eventually. Ensure you chose the thread according to the weight, size, and properties of the fabrics.

  • Reason for sewing

You may sew a new piece of fabric to create something new. This may help you break the monotony of buying mass-produced fabrics. This may, therefore, require different types of threads at every step of the way. You may also want to simply repair a torn piece of fabric to save on cost.

However, the thread used for this repair is not necessarily the same for sewing up a pattern on a dress or even for embroidery. Some threading maybe for practical techniques while others may simply be for decoration.

Therefore different sewing projects require different types of threads.  Knowing the right type of thread to use is hence essential.

  • Needle-hole size of your sewing machine

This is an overlooked but critical part of sewing. Before you decide on the thread to use, ensure it fits well on the needle hole in your machine. This is to avoid damaging the needle and the machine in the process. You may not achieve good stitching if you do not have the right thread for the right needle.

Always remember that if the needle hole is too fine for the thread, the stitching will be faulty due to the thread not fitting on the grooves. If it is too thick, it can cause the machine to jam and may ultimately damage it. The thread and needle sizes are written on the manufacturer’s packaging.

 Interestingly, the numbers quoted for threads are inversely proportional. That is, the higher the number, the finer the thread.  Different types of a thread may also require you to change entirely the needle type before you start sewing. This is especially so with metallic thread.

  • Color of thread

It is obvious that if you sew, you want a final product that is pleasing aesthetically. This then boils down to the color of thread you decide to pick for your fabric. A color that matches your fabric is always advised therefore you should put that into consideration when picking out a thread to use.

Threads that appear out of place naturally draw attention. It may make your final product appear amateurish. However, if there is decorative patterning, make sure to have the right colors for the desired effects. For patterned materials, you should pick a thread that goes with the background colors. This is to ensure the stitching is neat and inconspicuous.

When picking a thread from the store, always expose it to natural light to ensure it matches with that of your fabric. You would be surprised at what difference light can bring to colors. However, if you are conflicted or lack the particular color to match your fabric, always go for a thread that is a darker version of your fabric.

  • Thread size

While it may look all the same to a common eye, an expert’s eye knows that not all threads are the same. You may have seen strange numbers on their packaging such as 30/2 or T-25. You will find it interesting to learn that the size of a thread is not measured by its diameter but rather its weight. This is because a thread’s diameter is way too hard to measure as it is too small.

There is however a wide array of sizing systems. The most commonly used systems are the cotton count system, the metric ticket system as well as the tex system. They are all based on length and weight. For example, the tex system measures the weight in grams of a thread a kilometer long.

Therefore the denser the material used to make the thread the less of it will contain its fiber.

Knowing the right size of thread to use will ensure you have a finer finished product. Therefore you have to familiarize yourself with this to know what to look out for.

Types of threads and their uses

Cotton thread

Cotton threads are made of 100% cotton. This is a good choice of thread when working on light fabrics such as cotton or linen. It is a perfect choice for quilting or patchwork.

As most are mercerized, they tend to have a lustrous appearance when dyed. They can, therefore, be found in different colors giving you a wider choice of options.  It is therefore ideal for finished products such as undergarments and even lingerie.

The main advantage of using cotton is its ability to handle exposure to high temperatures. This will come in handy when you need a high-temperature machine wash for the fabric or even frequent pressing. The natural fibers also create tight seams and may not come unwoven easily.

You should also note that not all types of cotton threads are the same. There are subtypes of cotton thread depending on your use and nature of the fabric. These include;

  • All-purpose cotton: It has a medium thickness and is suitable for a wide range of projects involving fabrics made of cotton or linen. You can only use this thread on lightweight projects such as summer dressmaking or children’s clothing.
  • Stranded cotton: This features cotton threads woven together loosely and are made of six strands. You can use it in embroidery but make sure to unwind before use. This is to ensure the embroidery is not too thick.
  • Quilting thread; you can use this on quilting projects as it has been coated for easier movement.

It is, however, difficult to tell low quality from high-quality cotton thread simply by sight. Make sure you get a professional opinion before purchasing. Cotton also isn’t flexible and you should not use it on stretch fabric as it will break easily.

Polyester thread

This is ideal for use in synthetic fabrics. It usually has a silicone or wax finish helping smoother gliding of the thread through the fabrics. Unlike cotton thread, it is sturdier and does not break as easily. It has more ‘give’ and you can use it in your projects that involve stretch fabrics.

The finished product will also have a smoother waxy and shiny feel as compared to cotton thread. It may also come in a transparent type to help hide the stitch works in the fabric. You can, therefore, use it in place of cotton for your projects

As it is a man-made thread, there are several types on the market. The majority are the all-purpose thread that is mixed with cotton or a pure polyester thread that may appear as an invisible thread. You can refer to it as filament polyester when you visit the store to purchase.

A polyester thread is also resistant to several chemicals hence cannot be easily damaged. It is also UV resistant and cannot fade when exposed to direct sunlight. You should, therefore, consider it if your sewing project involves items that may be exposed for long periods outside or even those washed and dried outside.

As it is stronger and sturdier, you can also use on fabric with a higher rate of wear and tear. Another advantage of polyester is that it is available in a wide array of colors. This will make it easier for you to work with it as more options are available.

However, as it a synthetic material, it is susceptible to heat. Therefore if the finished product may require frequent pressing, this is not the ideal thread to use. It is also corroded in high alkaline solutions so make sure to consider the environment your final products will be used in.

Silk thread

If you are hand sewing, then this is the best choice of thread for you. It is ideal for a wide range of fabrics. Its smooth texture allows it to travel through even the most delicate of fabrics such as linen without leaving a mark. If you are using a sewing machine, ensure the needle has the right hole to ensure the finished product is finely done.

Silk is very strong and also heat resistant. Therefore you can use it on items exposed to extreme environments. There are different types of silk threads for specific uses such as silk floss. It is suitable for embroidery projects but you can also use it on other projects with different fabric materials such as wool.

Other types of silk include twisted silk, stranded silk, and silk ribbon. All these are mostly used for embroidery. Silk ribbon can, however, be used for decorative projects.  Although it is strong, silk is very delicate and can easily be damaged. You should, therefore, trim your nails when working around a silk thread.

Wool thread

If your project involves heavy-duty material such as wool or even canvas, then this should be your preferred choice. If you are just practicing sewing as a beginner then this thread is also ideal for you. You can even use it for embroidery.

If you are purchasing the thread, you should consult a professional to help you pick out the right wool thread for the job. There is Persian wool, tapestry wool as well as crewel wool. The difference among this is the thickness of the strands.

Metallic threads

As the name suggests, these threads have an element of metal within them. However as they cannot be made from one material due to expenses involved, they are usually a combination of several materials such a polyester core wrapped around rice paper and finally a metal film.

They usually have a shiny finish to them. You can incorporate its use, especially in embroidery projects. The thread produces a beautiful sheen. It, however, requires constant tension adjustments and may require you to reduce your sewing speed every so often.

Final thoughts

Having a deep understanding of the various types of threads and their uses is just the first step. You also have to brush up on your technique and have a few tricks up your sleeve. Developing your sewing skills is a long-term process that is going to take quite a while to master. In time, though, you’ll be able to create pieces that can rival the best of them.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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