How to Choose Your Thread

I started my “sewing life” as a quilter, sewing with cotton fabrics, cotton threads and swearing by all the tips that quilters gave me about which threads were best.

Use 100% cotton quality thread, they said. Inexpensive thread can clog your machine and ruin it.

Don’t use thread that’s too old or has been exposed to the elements for too long. It can become brittle and break.

The higher the number, the lighter the weight of the thread.

But above all, cotton, cotton, cotton….it was pounded into my head and I never dared to look outside the special “cotton thread” section at my local quilt shop. I followed all of those edicts blindly, even when I decided to start sewing garments.

My first garment sewing project after many years of quilting was a gathered skirt for my then 3-year-old daughter. I slogged through the gathering and adding the waistband, and was super proud of my skirt.

And then… An area around the waistband snapped!

I was shocked! After all… I had used that super-duper-high-quality-special, all-cotton thread!

How dare it fail.

If you’re a seamstress and not a quilter, you’re laughing at me now.

Of course it failed.

My fabulous cotton thread for piecing a quilt isn’t ideal for adding an elastic waistband to a skirt for a 3-year-old. Cotton simply isn’t strong enough for that. I needed a polyester or a cotton-wrapped polyester (all-purpose) thread.

After my thread failure, I became a bit of a thread nerd. And earlier this year I talked to spokespeople from different thread companies, featuring photos about how thread is made and learning about all the cool types of thread that I didn’t even know existed.

At that time I realized there wasn’t a great infographic floating around that provided quick information sharing which threads to use for different applications. After doing some research, I discovered that because there are so many types of thread, and three different ways to measure thread weight, putting all the information together into a “quick glance” format isn’t as simple as I had thought.

If you want a quick-and-dirty, general “Beginner’s Guide” to help you decide which thread to use for which project, I’ve created this handy dandy infographic to pin and share.

If you’re sewing a couture gown for the First Lady or a suit for the next space traveler, this won’t be enough information for you. I’d delve deeper.

But for general every day use, you’ll go back to this infographic often. I know I’ll use it to jog my memory about thread weight. In the Tex and Denier systems, the lower the listed weight, the lighter the thread. However, in Weight/Ply the lower the number, the heavier the thread.

The bottom line: When you commit to a sewing project, don’t just blindly grab any old spool of thread. Consider the fabric, the project, the use of the project and choose your thread wisely!

Taking that extra bit of time means your projects will hold up to many years of use, and no popped or broken threads.

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