A Thread about Thread: Which Thread to Use

January 13, 2017By Rebecca Kemp BrentArticles, Quilting 11 Comments Opinion by Paid Consultant

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.

Machine Moxie

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!)

In-the-hoop embroidery quilting

But the common thread to all my projects – if you’ll pardon the pun – is thread.

Fiber First

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,

50-wt quilting cotton

and a shiny 40-weight polyester thread that’s also suitable for machine embroidery on the second day.

40-wt polyester

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.

Rayon? Metallic?

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.

Color Confidence

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.

From the hesitant quilter

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.

Well-balanced tension, even with two different threads in contrasting colors

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.)

Variegated greens on tan fabric

Starring Threads

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.

Create your own fabric

In conclusion, if there’s a thread you love, give it a try. You may find your newest quilting go-to notion!

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11 Comments

  • As always Rebecca . . . your positively perfect primer on thread was spot on!!! The information and the samples were instructive but also inspirational. Thank you for a great tutorial!

  • Hi ,
    liked this article.
    I have the dream quilter 15 and the pro software.
    I like what I can do with it. As there has been no training.
    I have a lot to learn. Normally brothers books that come
    with the sewing machines and the software are great.
    That can not be said about the small instructions that
    came with the pro software. I use what I have been
    able to figure out for myself. Love the videos, but they
    do not go far enough. The sewing studio tells me they
    have asked for someone to come in and train, but that
    has not happened. If you could produce some videos
    for us that have never used a long arm , It would be
    great.
    I just found this site so if there is some info here that would be
    helpful please let me know.
    Thank you,
    Jeanette

  • This is really very helpful, but what about clear thread? I am making a teeshirt quilt for someone, and had made a design on the backing so it would not appear plain. (I am just about to make a quilt sandwich of it, and was planning to machine it together in clear thread by stitching in the ditch of the tee-shirt rows and columns. )

    Anyway, thanks for posting it.

    • Hi, Audrey,

      I haven’t tried clear (invisible) thread in my newest machine, though I have used it in the past.

      My main objection to it is that it can add a lot of sparkle as light bounces off the untwisted surface of the thread. A second concern is that a big quilt uses a lot of thread, and invisible threads are sold in small packages, so they can be expensive to use.

      I find that polyester invisible threads are better than nylon. Poly stretches less and has a higher melting point. Sometimes nylon’s stretch and recovery causes unsightly puckering.

      • Let me change my wording slightly to say that, for my projects, I prefer polyester invisible threads to nylon.

  • Please make videos on the zone quilting procedure! I have the dream frame & dream motion software, & I’m trying to quilt a panto design .. I’m really struggling with placing the markers & how that works. Also, I thought I had the design set up size-wise to fit evenly across the quilt. But when I went to zone manager, the size changed. I thought I had all the boxes checked to keep the size correct. Thanks for any new videos you can make to help.

    • Hello Debra,

      Let me go through these one by one…but perhaps out of the order of your question, rather, in the order that you will do it.

      1. Please take a look at Rebecca’s Post: Creating Embroidered Yardage where in she goes over how to set up your rows and how to OPTIMIZE your pattern before you sew it out.
      Please DO click on the Book icon to open the folder where the PDF User manuals are in the software, and I do recommend printing them all out for easy reference. Especially PantoStacker and Zone-to-Zone for the Questions that you have here. I like to have the print out to follow along with and take notes on as I click.

      2. Zone-to-Zone: I hope this helps a little? Here are the instructions I use to teach people how to place the markers when I’m walking them through it in person. So far, so good.

    • When you are quilting an entire quilt with the Zone-to-Zone feature, the software will walk you through, step-by-step where to place stickers or sew marks (I prefer using the Brother Snowman stickers which I recommend that you label with the letters and numbers that appear on the screen) on your quilt. These stickers are the corners of each zone and are placement stickers for your machine needle to line up with later.
    • You will lower your needle making a “single stitch” through the center of each sticker, registering into the software that that sticker/mark has been placed so it is ready to move you on to the next mark until all marks are made. DO NOT SKIP THIS!! If you skip it, your patterns will not line up.
    • Once all marks for a zone are marked, DONE will flash and you should select Continue.
    • The software will tell you “The machine will now move to where the fabric marker for the next zone should be positioned.” and the machine will do just that once you select OK.
    • The software will then tell you WHICH of the stickers to line up under the machine needle. It also tells you “This does not have to be precise, but try to get as close as possible.”
    • Then you will remove the quilt and line up the sticker matching the number/letter that was just on the screen, under the needle.
    • Once the quilt is back on the frame, you should select some corner points on the safe area to realign the quilt with the software. The corner points the software most needs from you are selected in green at the bottom of the screen.
    • When you are done, hit “SEW” and you will be asked “Do you wish to adjust the stitch point?” at which time a NUDGE screen will pop up that allows you to nudge the machine needle until it lines up with the hole you previously put in your sticker.
    • Once this is all in alignment, you will proceed and sew. You will repeat this process, zig zagging right, then left, then right etc. down the quilt until you are finished.
    • For additional information, THE Dream Motion™ and THE Dream Motion™ PRO Quilting Automation Software are supported by The Grace Company.
      Please feel free to contact them at 1-800-264-0644.

      I am noting your request for more videos too!! Thank you!!

      Happy Quilting!

      Best,
      Kimberli

  • I am searching for help with the motion pro software also! The you tube videos I have found do not go deep enough. I am supposed to have get a free 4 hour class with my purchase, however it has been very difficult to arrange. Has anyone found in -depth information or a tutorial that explains the buttons and icons with more clarity than what comes with the machine.

    • Hello Nancy,
      We have been creating tutorials as fast as possible on the features that users have been requesting more information on. Next up: Zone-to-zone!
      What features are you looking for more info on that we may be able to assist you with? Please DO comment back.
      There are some great user manuals in the software available directly on the opening page to the left. I recommend clicking on the Book icon to open the folder where the PDFs are, and printing them all out for easy reference.

      Also, for additional information, THE Dream Motion™ and THE Dream Motion™ PRO Quilting Automation Software are supported by The Grace Company.
      Please feel free to contact them at 1-800-264-0644.

      Happy Quilting!

      Best,
      Kimberli

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