A Thread about Thread:
Which Thread to Use for Beautiful Quilting
There’s nothing I love more than the texture of quilting. Whether it’s a straight, formal grid, a swirl of freemotion stippling, or the lovely waves of fantastic feathers, the stitches that attach your finished quilt top to the utilitarian backing and batting add dimension to the project in more ways than one.
There’s no doubt that the mechanical setup for quilting makes a difference in the results. I have to admit that I’m completely and very happily spoiled with my Dream Fabric Frame, THE Dream Quilter™ 15, and THE Dream Motion™ PRO Software. Definitely dreamy. I know that I can rely on my tools, so I’m free to exercise more creativity in deciding how to finish my quilts.
I’ve also successfully quilted projects on my domestic machines, like the VQ2400 and my old reliable Quattro. I like them best for really small projects, like pillow tops. And then there’s my embroidery hoop – have you thought of that? I’ve successfully embroidered and quilted a queen-size quilt in my embroidery hoop.
(And that was pre-Dream Machine!)
But the common thread to all my projects – if you’ll pardon the pun – is thread.
I recently had the chance to spend all day, two days in a row, just quilting. This was 9 to 5, in public, mind you, where things are always bound to happen.
But they didn’t. Smooth sailing. No thread breaks or machine troubles.
I think both the machine (my trusty Dream Quilter™ 15) and the threads I used are the reasons those demos were so trouble-free. I used the same thread in needle and bobbin both days.
It was a 50-weight cotton quilting thread on the first day,
and a shiny 40-weight polyester thread that’s also suitable for machine embroidery on the second day.
Determining Which Thread
So how do you determine which thread to use for your project?
First, of course, is to choose a high-quality thread. That doesn’t necessarily mean high-priced, but bargain threads may be fuzzier, creating more lint that can lead to machine glitches, and not as strong, leading to thread breaks. Always check and clean the bobbin area when you change the bobbin, and be alert to the possibility that lint is building up even more frequently.
Cotton or polyester?
Here’s where I break with traditional wisdom: I use both, for piecing and quilting. Past advice has been to stick with cotton thread when sewing or quilting cotton fabrics, but new polyester threads are engineered to work around the previous objections to the fiber. They often look like cotton, and although they often have a greater break strength, modern polyester threads won’t wear through your cotton fabrics.
And then there’s rayon. And metallic. Both of these fibers add sheen and sparkle to a quilt, which can really create a wow factor. Look for metallic threads that are manufactured for high-speed stitching, and you’ll encounter fewer problems while quilting with them. Also be sure your machine’s needle is large enough to protect rayon and metallic threads, which tend to be more fragile than cottons and polyesters.
Now that I’ve essentially told you that anything goes, fiber-wise, you’re probably wondering how I do choose my quilting threads. Color is the answer.
Before quilting software (THE Dream Motion™ PRO) entered my life, I was a bit of a hesitant quilter. I wanted my quilting to sink into the pattern of the quilt top and essentially disappear, creating only texture on the quilt surface.
For that purpose, matte-finish cotton threads that matched or blended into the colors of the quilt were my favorite choices. I would sometimes use one color on the top of the quilt and another on the backing, in order to match both places. Fortunately, my Brother machines control thread tension beautifully, so I can use two colors without worrying that the wrong color will be pulled through the quilt sandwich to become visible on the opposite side.
When I was making this quilt, I couldn’t find a cotton thread to match the coral fabric. All-purpose polyester sewing thread to the rescue: it’s available in hundreds of colors and worked beautifully. Because the project is small – a baby quilt – I didn’t have to purchase several spools of thread, even though sewing thread is sold in much smaller lengths than quilting threads.
Another option when color-matching is impossible, is to stick with basic neutrals. White, beige, gray, and black threads will blend into a lot more fabric colors and prints than you might think. If you’re starting out and don’t want to begin with too many threads, keep these neutrals on hand and you’ll be ready for most projects.
Variegated threads are a personal favorite, going back to my hesitant-quilter days. Because the color changes every few inches, imperfections in quilting fade from view. It’s also easier to blend one thread with a variety of fabrics when the thread color changes. You have choices ranging from multi-hued threads combining contrasting colors to subtle variegations of one hue from dark to light.
I also like to use variegated threads to add spice to wholecloth quilts. This one is a trial sample made with visually uninteresting fabric I had on hand, so I used a variegated green thread to stitch my feathers. (I also used a variegated thread on the blue side of the quilt above.)
When you’re quilting with your embroidery hoop or quilting software, or if you’re one of those truly gifted freemotion quilters, you may want your quilting to stand out. That’s the time to bring on a shiny thread or one that contrasts strongly with your quilt top. Lots of closely-spaced quilting stitches can even change the color of the background fabric, turning your project into a canvas for your quilting artistry.
For dense quilting, consider using a finer thread, perhaps 80-weight. You’ll be able to build up the hue in layers without making the quilt too stiff.
Contrasting thread can also create a unique textile from a piece of fabric. This design from THE Dream Motion™ PRO library, stitched as an overall repeat, turns a plain cotton broadcloth into a fancy damask.
In conclusion, if there’s a thread you love, give it a try. You may find your newest quilting go-to notion!