Quilting Threads
With a Lot of Pull

Quilting threads will have great influence and the ability to achieve remarkably attractive  results when used with the right quilting needles.

In order to achieve a certain look the right needle and your sewing machine tension must be set accurately.

Quilting basics require an understanding of thread weight, point code, size code, machine tension settings and how they interact and support each other. 

quilting basics

The one thing that holds everything together for a quilter is thread.

...No pun intended here.

So it is worth spending a little time understanding the personality of threads.

quilting threads

It is also important to be able to interpret the numbers on a package of needles and how that number interacts with the thread. 

Your choice of a quilting thread must be compatible in strength to the technique you are trying to accomplish.

The color, sheen and texture of the many types of thread also affect the outcome of your project.

Threads are enchanting and quilters are lured by the effects decorative threads have on a quilt.

The choices are many and it seems every year new products are introduced. Most of the time quilting basics are not difficult to grasp!

Quilting Threads and Quilting Needles
are Interwoven

quilting needles

Do you choose quilting threads to fit the quilting needles? Or do you choose the needle to fit the quilting thread? This is not hard, let's figure this out!

Sewing machine quilting needles have five parts, and how those parts are constructed determines how they are used for the best results.

  • Shank is the part that fits into the machine and is rounded on the front and flat on the back which takes the guess work out of inserting;
  • Groove starts at the bottom of the shank and ends at the top of the eye and allows the thread to glide along the groove;
  • Eye is a precision polished hole where the thread is inserted;
  • Scarf is the scooped-out area behind the needle. The larger the scarf, the easier it is to quilt with heavier-weight threads;
  • Point is the sharp end that pierces the fabric. It will be very sharp or have a ballpoint.
quilting needles

It is not always easy to distinguish one quilting needle from another.  So look for the point code on each package.

Compare the quilting needle code to the chart above to determine how the needles are designed to be used.

In addition to point code you will also find a size code on each package of quilting needles. The size is a dual number such as 80/12. The first number is the European size and the second number is the American size.

The higher the number, the larger the quilting needle used in the quilting machine. Hand sewing needles is just the reverse...the higher the number, the smaller the needle.

Using a larger size quilting needle for machine quilting allows the needle to make a large enough hole for the thread to travel through all three layers of the quilt.

Dull quilting needles damage fabric so change your needle even more frequently than you would when sewing two single layers of fabric.  It is not unusual to change out your needle up to three or four times per twin-size quilt.

quilting basics

Using a black pen, label each section of a tomato pincushion to correspond with the quilting needle sizes.

Then when you change the type of quilting thread you are using and the quilting needle has not served its useful life span (about 6-hours of sewing) or it still has a good sharp point, remove the needle from the machine and stick it in the pincushion that is marked with its matching size.

A well marked pincushion will make quick work of identifying both the size and point type of all your slightly worn quilting needles that still have some life left.

Actually, all quilting needles are coded but it takes a good eye with a strong magnifier glass to be able to see the small coding. That is why I rely on reading the original package and then make sure I stick any used needle in the tomato pincushion.

Choosing the Right Color of Quilting Thread

quilting threads

In an applique project, if you cannot get an exact thread match for the applique piece then choose one shade lighter if the background is light.

If the background is dark, choose one shade darker than the applique piece.

When using the satin or blanket stitch, the color of the machine quilting thread and the width of the stitch can affect the overall appearance.

When choosing your thread color a slightly darker thread will frame a piece best and cover more completely. A lighter color will make the design seem to shine on the edges.

If you have trouble matching or choosing the right color of machine quilting thread the ladies at your friendly quilting stores will help.

Know Your Quilting Threads

quilting threads

When buying thread give it some thought and don't just select according to color.

The numbers on the spool are very important as they indicate the thickness of the thread and the number of plies.

Quilting threads use a dual numbering system too. The first number is the weight of thread and the number behind the slash indicates how many plies are twisted together.

So a spool with the number of 50/3 means it is a 50 weight 3-ply thread.

The higher the number of thread the lighter (finer) weight it is. So a 50/3 would be lighter than a 40/3. The heaver the thread the more it will show on your quilt top.

Embroidery machine quilting threads are 2-ply threads.

With only 2-ply the stitches build up and fill in tightly when satin stitching or performing any other decorative work where there is a build up of stitches.

For applique machine satin stitch work I use the 50/2 DMC or the 60/2 Mettler.

For blanket stitching around your applique design the 30/2 is an excellent choice. It is twice as heavy as 50 or 60 weight and fills in the stitch with a heavier look. Again, if you have any trouble selecting the right thread ply don't hesitate to ask the ladies at your quilting stores. They love to help!

Bobbin Threads Must be Compatible
With Top Needle

quilting thread

When working with cotton embroidery threads in the needle it is best to use 60/2 in the bobbin. This very thin thread reduces excessive buildup in the stitch.

If there are machine tension problems, matching the bobbin thread to the top thread will give a better finished look as everything is the same color and hard to detect the flaw.

But if everything is working as it should; white, black and medium gray are the most used bobbin colors. In other words, the white will not show on the top nor will the color show on the back...the two colors of thread will interlock in the middle.

When working with synthetic quilting threads in the needle, like rayon or metallic embroidery threads, use a nylon lingerie thread such as Bobbinfil and SewBob. Both are good choices.

Invisible Machine Applique

quilting thread

Sew Art International Invisible thread based out of Utah makes an excellent choice for quilting-threads and for invisible machine applique.  it does not have a shine and glides through the machine smoothly.

Wonder Thread from Yarn Loft International (YLI) is a good choice too but it does have a shine. Test it on your machine first as it is not quite as smooth as Sew Art.

Threading System for Nylon  Quilting-threads
Using Safety Pins

quilting thread

While talking about nylon quilting-threads there is something else we need to mention. If you experience constant tension and breakage problems, try taking the spool of thread off the machine. Either use a cone holder or a small jar that will hold the cone upright on the table.

Allow the thread to come off from the top of the cone. It also helps by placing the thread on the right side and in back of the machine.

If you do not have a thread guide at the spool pin, tape a closed safety pin onto the machine to form a temporary guide and run you thread through the circle end of the pin.

You may need to tape a second pin along the back of the machine and run the thread through that pin also. This will let the thread track as if it were coming off the spool pins themselves.



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