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A Basic Tutorial on Sewing Thread for Sewing Machines and Handiwork

A Basic Tutorial on Sewing Thread for Sewing Machines and Handiwork

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A Basic Tutorial on Sewing Thread for Sewing Machines and Handiwork

After choosing the fabric one of the most important decisions you make when starting a new sewing project is the type of thread you will use. There are so many choices on the market today that you may be a bit confused and intimidated when you try to make your choice. Should you choose cotton, polyester, or a blend of both? What weight should you choose? Do you want your stitches to blend in with the fabric, or use the stitches as an accent feature? In this article we’ll discuss the different types of thread and their uses so you can choose just the right one for your next project.

Types of Thread

Cotton Thread

Cotton thread is manufactured from spun staple cotton fibers. These fibers may be Egyptian long staples or American pima staples. Cotton thread doesn’t have much stretch and limited strength. It can also produce some lint and has a low sheen. It is best used for decorative stitches, heirloom sewing, embroidery, lightweight fabrics, quilting, and patchwork.

Cotton Wrapper Polyester Thread

This type of thread is made by wrapping a continuous polyester filament around staple cotton. This thread has the look of cotton and the benefits of polyester. The polyester wrapping cuts down on the lint and can be used for all-purpose sewing projects and has a good strength.

Nylon Thread

Nylon thread is manufactured from extruded filaments and comes in many varieties which are very strong and resistant to rot.

  • Monofilament nylon thread is made from a single filament and comes in several weights. Lightweight monofilament thread is good for invisible sewing and blind hems. A heavier version may be encased in a rolled stitch to support ruffled or fluted edges.
  • Texturized thread, for example woolly nylon, is made from continuous multifilaments which stretch into a strong, fine thread and then expand into a fluffy, full appearance once the thread relaxes. This type of thread is used for decorative stitches, rolled hems, and serged seams.
  • Most upholstery threads are made from nylon They are extremely strong and can withstand the elements outdoors While upholstery thread is easy to use, the ends tend to ravel and are difficult to knot.

Polyester Thread

Polyester thread is strong, resistant to UV rays, colorfast, resistant to rot, mildew, and chemicals. It is often used for garments and in the garment industry. It has a bit of stretch and is heat resistant. Polyester thread can be manufactured to mimic natural fibers.

  • Spun polyester is made from cut filaments which are then spun into yarns and then these yarns are plyed into smooth strong thread. Polyester thread is good for all purpose sewing and for most home sewing projects.
  • Trilobal filament polyester thread is made from multiple continuous filaments which are plied into thread. The filaments have a triangle shape which shine like rayon, but are very colorfast. This type of thread is used mainly for machine embroidery.
  • Texturized polyester is similar to woolly nylon, but it can withstand higher temperatures.

Rayon Thread

Rayon thread has almost no stretch, has very little strength, and is not always colorfast. Made from a continuous fiber, it is never the less soft and beautiful. Since it is less durable than polyester or silk it is not usually used for construction, but used mainly for machine embroidery and decorative stitches.

Silk Thread

Silk thread is made from a natural continuous fiber from the silk worm. It has a lustrous sheen and is strong and smooth. It is used mainly for hand-sewing, basting, and tailoring. Lightweight silk thread is best for fragile fabrics while medium weight silk thread is used for construction on fine silk or wool fabrics. Heavyweight silk thread may be used for hand or machine topstitches and button holes.

Light Sensitive Thread

This type of thread has been treated to change colors in sunlight. It is used mainly for decorative stitching.

Fusible Thread

Fusible thread is used for basting and bonds with the fabric when ironed. You can use this type of thread in the bobbin or lower looper of a serger to outline pockets, appliques, and other items so that they can be temporarily fused to the fabric instead of basted with thread.

Water Soluble Thread

Water soluble thread is used for temporary basting and dissolves in the washer or when the garment is hand washed.

Metallic Thread

Metallic thread is used exclusively for decorative stitching and embroidery. Use a larger needle and all-purpose thread in the bobbin, and go slowly when sewing with metallic thread since it separates easily.

Thread Weight

Unfortunately, at this time there is no universal guide to thread weight terminology. But there are a few terms which can help you understand the weight and ply of thread.

Weight is used for cotton and other spun thread and is expressed as the number of kilometers required to equal 1 kilogram. The higher the number, the lighter the thread. The most common weights are 30, 40, and 50 weight. A slash and number behind the weight indicates the number of plies in the thread. For example, a 40/2 indicates a 40 weight thread made of 2 plies. Most 2 ply threads are designed for machine sewing while 3 ply threads are considered all-purpose.

Denier is a term used for polyester, rayon, nylon, and other man-made threads. Denier refers to the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of thread. The higher the number, the thicker the thread.

Tex refers to the weight in grams of 1,000 meters of thread. It was previously used only in industrial threads, but now may be used for other types of thread.

Tips for Beginners

Always take a swatch of fabric with you when shopping for thread. It is up to you whether or not you want the thread to match or contrast your fabric. By taking a swatch with you, you will be able to choose just the right shade.

Make sure your needles are in good condition. One of the leading causes of uneven machine stitches or thread breakage is old, crooked, or dull needles. Match the needle size to the weight and type of thread you are using.

Improper threading of your machine is another leading cause of thread breakage. Make sure your machine is threaded properly and the tension is set not too tight, and not to loose.

Store your thread in containers which will protect it from becoming a tangled mess, and protect it from UV rays. Sunlight can fade thread and also cause it to deteriorate.

If you are hand sewing consider using thread wax. Pull the thread through beeswax or Thread Heaven to help it glide through the fabric smoothly. This also conditions the thread.

Now that you know the different types of thread, and thread weight, you will be able to choose just the right thread for your next project. There are several types, colors, and weights of thread on the market today. Use this handy guide to choose the one just right for your project.

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