Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tailoring Thursdays™, Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Sewers: Thread.


The Thread Conundrum. 

I have heard many sewers say they have no idea what thread to use on projects. 
 Someone once confessed to me that they walk up to the cheapest thread rack and pick the color thread that matches. 

I tried to shorten this but thread is a larger topic than I realized! ;) 


Lets go over how to know what kind of thread you are buying.

Thread comes on spools:

Or on cones:

Amount and weight of thread are on the spool (I feel these are less important aspects of thread for the typical home sewer), most of you can ignore these.  Thread CONTENT is also located on the spool and that is important! 

See how the bottom says 100% Cotton


 Let's go over how thread affects sewing. 

There are a few things that I think are important when it comes to understanding thread and your sewing:

1.  What type of machine you are using. 
2. How thread affects your machine performance. 
3.  How thread affects garment seams.
4. How it affects the quality of your stitches. 
5.  Choosing the correct thread for your fabric.
1.  The first step for deciding on thread will be the type of machine you are using.  Can your machine use a parallel wound spool?  A lot of newer machines can go very fast!  The faster your machine goes the more likely it is to snag on parallel wound spools.  This is a parallel wound spool:

See how the thread is wound around, each strand parallel to the other?

As opposed to a cross-wound spool:

Most serger handbooks will recommend that you not use parallel wound spools because sergers go much faster than machines.  I believe that sewing machines handbooks should start recommending the same.  

If you have a machine that was manufactured after the year 2000 I recommend using cross-wound spools as much as possible. 

2.  The second point in deciding on a thread is, in my opinion, one of the most important things: quality. 

You may or may not be surprised to know that saving $1-$2 on a spool of thread could cost you $50 and up in machine repair bills or, in some cases an entire machine.  

Poor quality thread is damaging to your machine.  

I guarantee that if you pay close enough attention to your machine you can hear how it feels about the thread you are using.  

A few ways to determine high quality thread:
  • If you pick up a spool of thread there should not be tons of fibers sticking out of it. 
  • Pull the thread off of the spool and run your thumb and index finger over it.  The thread should NOT leave fuzzies, a color, a smell, or any residue on your fingers. 
  • Take one end of the thread in one hand and another end in the other, pull hard.  It should NOT break, tweak or unravel. 
  • Cut the thread (with your well sharpened, NOT DULL scissors).  Do you get a clean sharp break? Are there fuzzies coming off of the end?  If you lick the thread (come on, I know you do this...) end are there a lot of fine squiggly hair-like bits on the end? Good quality thread will have a nice clean break without any hair-like bits, or the need, in most cases, to lick the end in order to thread it. 
  • How often does your thread break while stitching?  The more it breaks during normal sewing, the lower quality the thread. 
  • While most fabrics and threads will leave a mild fiber residue on your machine.  Good quality threads, like good quality fabrics, will leave minimal residue. 
  • Finally, price.  I am sorry to say that the price rule pretty much wins in the easiest way to determine thread quality.  The higher priced threads are 99.9% of the time the higher quality thread. 

3.  Did you know that the thread is usually the reason that clothes become uncomfortable after washing?  A lot of fabrics are pre-washed before clothing is made.  However, since the thread is not, it can shrink separate from the clothes!  

Ever have the end cap of a sleeve feel tighter after washing a new shirt?  Or the neck get too tight?  This is because the thread is shrinking and tightening up the seam. 

While different fabrics require different thread, just using a higher quality thread will cause these seams to shrink less. 

4.  Thread even affects the visual quality of your stitches.  

Using the most expensive machine on the same settings, a lower quality thread will have more skipped stitches and more of a variation in stitch size than a higher quality thread. 

5.  Finally, the question I get asked most of all is, what kind of thread should I use?  The answer is, it depends.  Don't you love that answer?  Ha!  I hate that answer but here's a confession:

Sometimes I do NOT know what thread to use! *gasp*

Have no fear though!  When I don't know I go to my favorite fabric reference book:

I Love this reference guide because it has TONS of fabrics and two pages dedicated to each type.  It gives you an overview of the fabric type.  It also tells you how to wash it, the best layout for cutting, what needle size, what presser foot is best, etc.  AND what thread is best suited for that type of fabric!  :) 

How I make my choice will often depend on experience as well as my little fabric hand book. 

Certain types of thread can actually be too strong for certain fabrics.

Certain types of thread can be too stiff for extra stretchy fabrics.

To finish,

 I will walk you through the different types of thread I keep on hand and how I use them:

For most machine piecing I will use a 100% polyester ALL purpose thread, like Gutermann or Mettler.  

I also prefer to use a 100% polyester when I sew cotton knits because, as long as the thread is high quality, the seams tend to shrink much less, if at all.   

When I hand stitch, I use a good quality 100% cotton.  

I do not recommend using a plain 100% cotton on your machine as it will often snap while sewing.  

However, if you need to use 100% cotton thread when machine sewing, for whatever reason,  I recommend a 100% cotton with a silk-finish.  The silk finish seems to prevent the snapping of the threads when machine stitching. 

Plain 100% cotton thread -- used for hand stitching. 
a 100% cotton thread by Mettler that has a silk-finish.  See next picture. 

If I am working with an exceptionally stretchy fabric or want a great rolled edge then I use wooly nylon.  It is a 100% nylon thread and has a feeling of sponginess.  I recommend using needle threaders when threading your machine with wooly nylon. 

When making jeans, I always use Jean thread.  Typically 100% polyester.  Jean thread is thicker and stronger than other threads and so it holds the multiple layers of denim with less trouble than normal all purpose thread.  

Elastic and nylon mono-filament thread are most often used for technique rather than for type of fabric.  

If you do not want your thread to show, then use the nylon mono-filament which is an "invisible" thread.  

If you are looking to do your own shirring you would use elastic thread. 

Of course with sergers you can use regular cross-wound spool thread but most of the time I use cone thread as it comes in a larger quantity and serger seams use a lot more thread.  

I also use cone thread on my normal machine if I know I will be needing a LOT of one color. There are a lot of nifty gadgets out there to allow you to do this.  Like this handy doo-hickey. 

Finally, Silk thread.  Silk thread is deceptive because we often think of silk as being delicate. 

 Silk however is exceptionally strong and should be used on strong fabric.  I typically use silk thread on leather and certain types of upholstery fabric.  

Be careful using silk thread on lightweight cottons as it will tear through the seam. 

Let me know if you have any questions on thread! 


cathy said...

Thank you this is a lot of great information

Jan said...

I always wondered what thread to use. Thank you for the wealth of information.

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