Last week I touched upon Thread, is there really a difference??

The answer was YES!  Below is a guide to selecting thread and what to look for BEFORE you purchase.  

Keep in mind the type of item you will be sewing and the type of material you will be using.

Kids clothes with lots of wear and tear.  Perhaps a window treatment with little wear and tear but direct sunlight.  A “just for show” pillow cover.  A pillow cover that will be smashed and tossed and USED.  A quilt that will be washed many times over or a quilt that will be on the wall.   The type of use, amount of use and the elements do make a difference in not only your fabric choices, but also your thread choices.

Thread Terminology and what to look for:

Good tensile strength   The tension at which a thread breaks, expressed in grams or kilograms (force).   Holds the stitched seam securely during wash and wear.

Unwind a bit of thread and give it a tug.  Ok, so you can’t really do this in the store, especially if the store manager is lurking about, but most of us have thread lying around the house and probably various brands, so test them out.  I’ve had some cotton threads that seem to break quickly and others that hold their own.  Polyester won’t even budge and any heavy-duty thread is the Iron Man of threads.  Cotton threads are soft and are most commonly used in quilting as they do not stretch and cause puckering.  Polyester is the go to thread for most sewing of crafts, kids clothing,  and Heavy Duty stands up to Home Dec, Denim and the hard to get through fabrics.

Smooth surface and absence of faults ensures less friction between the needle and the material during high-speed sewing. The thread must be well lubricated to increase its sewability and resistance to abrasion.

Uniform thickness / diameter results in an even sewing thread, which moves smoothly and quickly through the needle eye and the fabric. It also affects the thread’s tensile strength, resistance to abrasion and its twist construction. An uneven thread may twist into short knots and jam at the eye of the needle.

Good elasticity  The property that enables thread to recover its original length immediately after the tension has been released. The elasticity of sewing thread affects the strength and the finished quality of a stitched seam.  (Are you sewing knit or woven fabric?  This makes a difference in your thread choice).

Good colour fastness provides immunity to the different agents the thread is exposed to during manufacture and washing. The thread must be uniformly dyed.

Low shrinkage of the thread being used on the fabric material with higher shrinkage reduces the chances of seam puckering.

Good resistance to chemical attack is a desirable property for thread used in garments which may undergo washing, bleaching or dry-cleaning.

Good abrasion resistance ensures a good sewing performance and makes the thread more durable.



A thin, continuous cord made by either spinning STAPLE fibers into single strands—or yarns—and then twisting two or more of them into a plied sewing thread, or by an extrusion process that forms one or more long, continuous FILAMENTS.


Natural fibers, which vary in length from 1 to 2 inches, or synthetic fibers, cut to definite lengths of 4 to 5 inches, which are spun together to form yarns.   Longer staple fiber lengths increase the quality and strength of the thread.

WHAT ARE FILAMENTS?  (There are 3 types)

1. Monofilament thread is made from a single continuous fibre with a specified thickness. Though monofilament is strong, uniform and inexpensive to make, it lacks flexibility and is stiff and scratchy in feel. As a result, usage is normally restricted to hems, draperies, and upholstered furniture.

2. Smooth multifilament thread is usually made from nylon or polyester and is used where high strength is a primary requirement. It consists of two or more continuous filaments twisted together. It is commonly used to sew shoes, leather garments, and industrial products.

3. Textured filament thread is usually made from polyester and is used primarily as the looper thread for cover stitches. Texturing filaments gives the yarn more cover and high extensibility, but makes the thread more subject to snagging.


Ply and cord – Yarns with many components are twisted together to form ply thread. Most commonly used are 2, 3 or 4 ply threads. Threads are twisted together to give corded thread. Most commonly used are 4, 6 or 9 cord threads.


Spinning is the process by which staple fibers are twisted into single yarns, which are then plied together to form thread.  Spun thread is made using natural or synthetic fibres.

Spun polyester is one of the most versatile threads available. You can use it for sewing light weight garments such as shirts, blouses, and dresses to heavy weight items such jeans, gloves, and even mattresses. It is stronger than cotton but slightly weaker than other core spun threads. Like all spun threads it has a soft, fuzzy look and feel and natural lubrication to make machine sewing easy.


All conventional sewing threads begin their production cycle as simple yarns. These basic yarns are produced by twisting together relatively short fibres or fine continuous filaments. Some terms used in the context of thread construction are:

Twist – The ‘twist’ of a thread refers to the number of turns per unit length required to hold the fibres / plies together to give the yarn / thread substance the required strength and flexibility. A thread with an excessive twist is also likely to give trouble while sewing due to ‘twist liveliness’, which can cause snarling, loops, knots and possible spillage that prohibit stitch formation.

Twist direction – Direction of twist is identified as ‘S’ for left twist and ‘Z’ for right twist. Most single needle lock stitch and other machines are designed for ‘Z’ twist threads. ‘S’ twist thread untwists during stitch formation.


A central polyester or nylon filament around which staple fibers or micro metallic ribbons are wound to form a thread.  Example, Polyester wrapped in Cotton.


Texture is added to continuous multifilaments by crimping them to entangle the parallel filaments and create softness, bulk, and elasticity.


Handy for temporarily basting hems and positioning pockets, pleats, etc.


Has a foil-like appearance and is used for decorative stitching and embroidery.  It is known to separate, so stitch slowly, loosen the tension, use a larger needle, and pair with all-purpose thread in the bobbin. (Clever) Some newer wrapped-core versions have a veneer type finish that keep them from separating.

PHEW!!  And here you thought you could just walk right into that fabric store, pick up a spool of thread and check out.  Well, you could do that, and we probably all have, but you more than likely were disappointed with the results.  Oh, you probably didn’t realize it was your poor choice of thread that kept causing your machine to skip stitches, thread to break, and ALL THAT NASTY FUZZ, but more than likely, it was due to either CHEAP THREAD or the WRONG THREAD for your fabric.

Next week I will continue discussing THREAD and introduce NEEDLE KNOWLEDGE.  (Another VERY IMPORTANT but commonly overlooked sewing mistake made by most new sewers and even a few “experienced” sewers).

Please feel free to comment, ask a question, or simply take away what you might have gleaned from this information and have a wonderful and creative day!

Hugs, Andrea 🙂

Sewing Thread 101, Part II


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