Superior Education

What is thread made from?

  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Silk

Sewing and quilting threads

Thread has been essential from the beginning of man. We've come a long way since needing to use sinew, hide, reeds, and other naturally found elements to construct clothing, nets, carriers and more. Today, sewing and quilting threads are manufactured and produced from two major sources: natural fibers and synthetic fibers.

Natural fibers are classified as fibers that originate from organic materials, namely plants and animals. These fibers are spun or twisted in yarn and then further processed into thread for sewing and quilting applications. We are most familiar with cotton thread and wool thread or wool floss, but there are many other types of natural threads that are made from silk, hemp, jute and linen (flax).


Cotton boll

Synthetic fibers are made from various chemicals or a combination of chemical compounds and natural products. Rayon is a good example of what we consider an organic-sourced fiber that is processed with chemical compounds to create rayon thread. Rayon is made by combining cellulose acetate (a byproduct of wood) with chemical solutions and mixing this combination of materials through a series of vats and extruding (forcing the material through very small holes) to produce fine fibers. Other synthetic fibers are polyester, acrylic and nylon. In most cases, a synthetic fiber has greater strength than a natural fiber, but this is not a blanket statement. The processing methods and quality of raw materials used to create the fibers greatly affect strength and performance in threads.

All fibers that are made into threads are either staple or continuous filaments. Staple refers to the length of the fiber and the use of the word staple means that the fibers are short in length, usually less than 2" per staple. There are three classifications for staples: short staple, long staple, and extra-long staple. Extra-long staple fibers are the highest quality. Continuous filament fibers are produced via extrusion and are of an indefinite length. Most polyester threads used for quilting and decorative stitching are made from continuous filament polyester, while polyester threads used for clothing construction are typically spun polyester (polyester staples).

Watch our video on how to determine cotton quality.


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