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8 Tips for Choosing Machine Quilting Thread

Follow these simple tips to choose the perfect machine quilting thread for your quilt.

"Hi, I'm Jennifer, here in the American Patchwork & Quilting Studios with Hanid Quilter ambassador Angela Walters, and we're talking about thread choices for your machine quilting." "Well, I have to tell you, I love thread. I collect it like most quilters collect fabric." "I collect both fabric and thread." "But with the many choices out there, it can be overwhelming to know exactly what kind of thread to get. In fact, that's one of the questions I get asked most, is what kind of thread do I use and how do I use it. So I brought just a few of the threads that I have at home and I'm going to talk a little about the different kinds that are available." "So what categories would you put thread into?" "I feel like there's three main categories: cotton, polyester, or specialty threads. But within each of those categories there's so many different kinds of thread. So, we're just going to touch on the basics and talk a little about it." "Alright." "So first talking about cotton thread. The great thing about cotton is that it's a natural fiber, which I know that there's some cotton purists that really love that. It also has a nice feel to it and it shows up well on the quilt." "And it comes in a variety of color and variegated and solid colors." "There's different thicknesses, there's thinner cottons, there's thicker cottons -- it's a great thread. Especially if you're using cotton for the piecing, using cotton for the quilting is a good idea, as well. Next is the polyester thread, which I have to admit, is my favorite kind of thread to use. I like that it's thin and that it doesn't have a lot of lint, and that it blends well, yet it still is strong." "And one of the things that I think we've talked about is that sometimes you want your piecing to be the star and the quilting to just catch your attention right after that, not always the star, first and foremost. Other times when you're doing a whole cloth quilt, you might want your quilting to really stand out, and maybe your thread choice, maybe you don't want something fine, you want something a little heavier. So these are the considerations you want to take into account when you're deciding on your thread choice." "Absolutely. I couldn't have said it better myself. Polyester threads comes thicker or thinner, even with a little bit of a sheen, so there's a lot of different options there. Now, like you said, if you really wanted the quilting to show and you're wanting to make it stand out, then going with the specialty threads in a great idea. You know, they have the super shimmery thread, which is a good bobbin thread, since it's so thick and coarse. It's wound around the bobbin and used that way." "But not used in the needle." "But not used in the needle. Or if you want metallic thread that does run in the needle, then that's a fun idea. There's also clear thread, and glow-in-the-dark thread." "What could be more fun than that?" "I tell you, they think of everything. But how do you run with the specialty threads in your machine, what needles you use ... that's a lot of consideration to think about. Some of the threads will have the needle recommendation on the package for you. If it doesn't, you can look at the manufacturer's website and they'll give you suggestions for needle size and how to really make them run. But a general rule of thumb is the more fragile the thread is, the thinner, the bigger the hole the needle should have. It gives it a little space to run in there." "Right. And that's due to the friction of the machine. When you get to the machine quilting, your needle is piercing that fabric a lot, and the faster it goes, the machine needle actually heats up from the friction. So when you have that specialty thread that might be a little more delicate, you don't want to create any more friction with the thread, since that's what causes it to break. Now all of these threads can be great choices for your machine quilting. Some of them can take a little more care in the setup and adjusting the tension to get them to work, but all of them can be choices that you can consider. You just have to be willing to put in the front-end work to get that tension adjusted. But one of the things that we haven't talked about yet with thread choices that I think a lot of quilters struggle with is, 'What color thread is the best? What should I choose for my project?' How do you go about that?" "Well, I'll show you. I have a little bit of a routine that I follow, but I just want to say that whatever color thread you like is the best to choose. So what I would pick is just my preference. We're all the expert of our own opinion, right? But when I'm dealing with a quilt top, such as this, what I'll do is pick out a couple different types of thread that I think might work on the quilt. And I'll actually pull it out and lay it across the quilt. What I'm looking for is I want to see how does it look on the light part of the quilt? How does it look on the dark? Does it blend how I want? Or do I want a thread that's really going to show up like this beautiful poly thread that has a nice sheen? If I want to make sure that the quilting is visible, I want to make sure that it's going to show up on the dark fabric, as well. Or if you have a couple different colors and you're not sure which way to go, you could try to find a nice neutral thread that will blend the best across there. And this is actually a light gray thread, which I use quite a bit. And as you can tell, it shows up just about the same on all of it. So there's no wrong choices when it comes to thread color, it's definitely what you like. But this is how I would go about trying to pick the right thread color for me." "And often it's the ease. If you want to custom quilt something, you could change thread colors with all the different colors in your quilt top, but other times you just want to thread the machine and sort of really get into the quilting zone and not have to worry about changing thread colors as you're working from one piece of your quilt to another. Well, you've given us some great tips and techniques to think about while we're choosing threads for our projects. And I love what you say, Angela. If quilting is my therapy, then threads are my meds. So, for all of you, start building that medicine cabinet of threads and have fun with your machine quilting.