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Tools & Supplies

Sewing Thread Fibers and Special Types

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Bobbin thread Fine, and used for machine embroidery where the wrong side won’t show. It comes in limited colors and is sometimes available on prewound bobbins.

Although matching thread fiber to fabric fiber seems logical, choosing the appropriate thread by characteristics such as strength, colorfastness, or chemical resistance is more practical. In general, natural fiber threads such as cotton, linen, silk, and rayon (a manufactured fiber made from natural cellulose) sew beautifully. But synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, or acrylic are stronger. Learn more about how to choose thread types in Thread Essentials

Cotton thread

Made from spun staple cotton fibers (Egyptian long staples are about 114 inches long and American pima staples are about 112 inches long). Cotton thread has little stretch, limited strength, and (in comparison to other fibers) can produce a lot of lint. It also has a low sheen. Use cotton thread for heirloom sewing, decorative stitching or embroidery, sewing lightweight natural fibers, patchwork, and quilting.

Cotton-wrapped polyester thread

Made by wrapping a continuous polyester filament with staple cotton, this thread has the benefits of polyester and the look of cotton. Use for all-purpose sewing.

Nylon thread

Made from extruded filaments, nylon threads come in a variety of forms that are very strong and rot-resistant:

• Monofilament is a single filament and comes in a wide range of weights. Use a lightweight version for invisible sewing and blind hems, or encase a heavier version inside a rolled stitch to support fluted or ruffled edges.

• Texturized threads (such as woolly nylon) are continuous multifilaments that stretch into a fine, strong thread and then expand to a full, fluffy appearance when relaxed. Use them for serged seams, decorative stitching, and rolled hems.

• Upholstery threads are often nylon. They come in limited colors, are extremely strong, and will withstand the rigors of outdoor use. Upholstery thread is easy to sew with but the ends ravel and are difficult to knot.

Polyester Thread

The garment industry often uses polyester thread because it is strong, colorfast, and resistant to UV rays, rot, mildew, and chemicals. It has some stretch, good recovery, and is heat-resistant. It can also be manufactured to mimic the appearance of natural fibers.

Spun polyester is made by cutting filaments into 4- to 5-inch staples, spinning them into yarns, and then plying the yarns into a thread that’s smoother and stronger than a spun natural fiber. Use it for all-purpose sewing.

Trilobal filament polyester is plied, multiple continuous filaments. The triangular filaments shine like rayon but have better colorfastness. Sold as a machine-embroidery thread (may not be identified as trilobal).

Texturized polyester has the same characteristics as woolly nylon but tolerates higher temperatures.

Rayon thread

Made from a continuous fiber, rayon thread has no stretch, very little strength, and is
not always colorfast, but it tolerates high temperatures, and is soft and beautiful. It is less durable than silk or polyester, and is used almost exclusively for decorative stitching and machine embroidery—not recommended for construction.

Silk thread

Made from a natural continuous fiber that is strong, smooth, and has a lustrous sheen. It is wonderful for hand-sewing, tailoring, and basting. Use lightweight silk threads for sewing fragile fabrics. Use medium-weight silk thread for elegant construction on fine silk and wool fabrics. Opt for heavier-weight silk thread for buttonholes and hand- or machine-topstitching.


Special Use Thread Types

Elastic thread

Elastic thread: Has a continuous elastic core wrapped with thread. Hand-wind it onto the bobbin for decorative machine-stitching and shirring.

Bobbin thread Bobbin thread: Fine, and used for machine embroidery where the wrong side won’t show. It comes in limited colors and is sometimes available on prewound bobbins.
Light-sensitive thread Light-sensitive thread: Novelty threads that either change color in sunlight or glow in the dark. Use for topstitching and embroidering. Fusible thread: Melts when ironed, forming a bond with fabric. Use it in the bobbin or lower looper on a serger to outline appliqués, pockets, etc., so they can be temporarily fused in place instead of basted.
Water-soluble thread Water-soluble thread: Handy for temporarily basting hems and positioning pockets, pleats, etc.
Buttonhole twist, topstitching thread, or cordonnet Buttonhole twist, topstitching thread, or cordonnet: All names for the same product. These heavier threads are available in silk, polyester, cotton-covered polyester, and cotton. Use for heavy-duty utility sewing, open decorative machine-stitching, bold topstitching, hand-stitched buttonholes on heavy fabrics, and cording machine buttonholes.
Monofilament thread Monofilament thread: A single strand of nylon or polyester filament. Polyester withstands higher heat than nylon. Almost invisible, it comes clear, gray, or matte. It feels scratchy worn next to the skin.
Construction sewing thread Construction sewing thread: All-purpose thread strong enough for seaming; available in cotton, polyester, cotton-wrapped polyester for garment sewing, silk for special-occasion sewing, and nylon for home-décor items or heavy all-weather gear. Available in a wide range of colors; often keyed to fashion trends. Serger thread: 
Finer than all-purpose thread, has a special finish for high-speed sewing.
Texturized thread (woolly nylon or polyester) Texturized thread (woolly nylon or polyester): Fills in stitches on rolled hems and overlock stitches, and makes soft, stretchy seams for swimwear or children’s clothes. Used almost exclusively on a serger.
Quilting thread fiber types Quilting thread: Usually refers to threads for quilting, not piecing. Some may indicate whether they are for hand-quilting only (due to the finish), for machine-quilting, or for both.
Basting thread fiber types Basting thread: Fine, soft, and weak, making it easy to remove.
Machine-embroidery thread fiber types Machine-embroidery thread: Designed to fill in evenly without bunching, this fine thread comes in cotton, rayon, long-staple polyester, or with a wrapped polyester core, and is available in hundreds of colors. Use for decorative stitching and embroidery where strength is not a concern.
Upholstery thread types Upholstery thread: Always a synthetic fiber, usually nylon but can be polyester, and extra-strong—too strong for clothing. It is good for outdoor projects because it doesn’t rot.
Metallic thread fiber Metallic thread: 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. Some newer wrapped-core versions have a veneer-type finish that keeps them from separating.
beeswax thread fiber types Tip: For perfect, tangle-free hand-sewing, pull your thread over beeswax, then press the strand before sewing. Or condition your thread by pulling it through Thread Heaven.



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