I wrote this post for the Sewing Directory‘s brilliant A-Z of sewing. Each week, a guest blogger will write about a particular aspect of sewing, until the whole alphabet has been covered!
There are so many different types of sewing, as we have already seen in this A-Z. But regardless of the type, whether it be applique, quilting, dressmaking or something else, you won’t get very far without thread! There are so many different types of thread that it can be quite confusing picking the right one for your project.
Generally, you want your thread to have the same or similar fibre content to the fabric you are sewing, so that it will behave in a similar way (especially when washed). For example, if you’re sewing silk, it’s best to use silk thread.
Here is a run-down of the most common types of thread:
GENERAL PURPOSE THREAD (also known as polyester-wrapped cotton)
For the majority of cotton or polyester based sewing projects, a good general purpose thread is ideal. Most general purpose threads are polyester-covered cotton, which combines the positive properties of cotton (e.g. it’s strength) with those of polyester (e.g. its flexibility). This type of thread has some elasticity and is therefore also ideal for sewing with knits.
Mercerised cotton (also known as perle cotton) has been treated to make the thread smoother, lustrous and stronger. It is often used to produce fine crochet; but can be used for sewing cotton, linen or viscose fabrics. However it does not have any stretch and should not be used for knits, as the stitches may break.
This is a strong, thick thread, ideal for (you guessed it) top-stitching – the thickness makes the sewn line look very nice. Because of its sturdiness it can also be used for sewing buttons, or for general decorative stitching. Topstitching thread is normally available in polyester, cotton or silk, and with a variety of finishes. You can really experiment with the type of topstitching thread you use, to add a touch of uniqueness to your sewing.
Metallic threads are decorative threads with a shimmery metallic finish. They are available in a variety of weights and can be used to embellish your sewing projects and for great decorative effect.
MACHINE EMBROIDERY THREAD
Machine embroidery thread is very fine to allow for dense stitching, and is smoother and glossier than normal general-purpose thread. It is used in conjunction with bobbin fill thread.
BOBBIN FILL THREAD is a very fine thread used only in the bobbin, when doing machine embroidery. Machine embroidery can result in very dense stitching and bobbin fill thread reduces the bulk on the underside of the fabric being embroidered.
STRANDED COTTON is used for hand embroidery and sold in ‘skeins’. Each skein usually consists of six strands of thread twisted together, which can be taken apart to vary the thickness of the thread.
TACKING THREAD is very easy to break thread, designed for tacking and transferring markings from pattern to fabric. It is great for temporarily marking or stitching fabric as it can be easily removed – it breaks very easily and can be torn by hand. Because of this, it isn’t really suitable for anything other than tacking.
QUILTING THREAD is a strong cotton or polyester/cotton thread, designed for quilting by hand. It has a wax finish which helps prevent tangling or knotting when sewing through several layers of fabric.
NYLON THREAD is transparent and used when you want the stitches to be invisible, e.g. when stitching some hems. It is quite difficult to use and it can be difficult to tie the ends off.
ELASTIC THREAD is elasticated and is used in the bobbin for shirring (i.e. to create smocking and similar effects).
There are probably lots of other types of thread that I have missed out. If you’re not sure if you have the right type of thread, why not try it out on a scrap of fabric? And remember, rules are there to be broken, so don’t be afraid to experiment and see what happens!