Superior Education

Quality of Cotton Thread

  • Staple Length
  • Lint and Fuzz
  • Tight Twist

How to choose a high-quality cotton thread

One goal that all quilters have is to sew a perfect seam. A flat, smooth seam allows perfect points to match and fabric to lie flat. There are many factors that much come together in order to obtain a perfect seam. The sewing machine must be in good working order, the needle must not be dull, the tension (top and bottom) must be set properly, and the thread needs to lie smoothly and evenly in the fabric. For the purpose of this education article, we will assume the machine, needle, and tension settings are all OK so we will focus only on the thread.

A good rule to apply to cotton thread is the finer and smoother it is, the better the seam will appear. Some quilters like to piece with a polyester thread, such as So Fine! #50 because polyester threads have a tendency to be lint free. There is a risk to using a polyester thread for piecing; when ironing or pressing seams, the high heat setting of an iron can melt polyester fibers. Cotton threads have been the go-to thread for sewing for decades and the reason for this is that when sewing became mainstream, cotton threads were the only choice. We prefer to piece our quilts with cotton thread because we don't worry about the possibility of having our iron melt our thread and we like that the fine fibers of a cotton thread help grab the fabric with each stitch.

How do you know whether or not a cotton thread is a quality thread? Start by visually inspecting the thread. Hold up a length of cotton piecing thread between your fingers to the light. If the thread is very fuzzy (think cat hair on a roller brush hairy) or has "slubs", which are clumps of excess lint spun into the thread, it is not a high-quality cotton thread. The amount of fuzz will affect the quality of your seam. On the other hand, if the cotton thread is extremely smooth with absolutely no fuzz, it's a coated or glazed cotton thread. We don't recommend the use of glazed cotton threads in your machine as the glaze coating will rub off between the tension discs and other contact points, potentially gumming up your machine. Glazed cotton threads are also wiry and will curl like a telephone cord when unwound off the spool. Glazed cotton threads are made for hand quilting, since the coating makes the thread stronger and creates a smooth surface to glide through layers of fabric when stitching by hand.


Piecing a quilt with MasterPiece cotton thread
Piecing a quilt block with MasterPiece cotton thread
MasterPiece is a high-quality cotton thread
MasterPiece is a high-quality cotton piecing thread

The higher grade of the raw cotton material, the smoother the thread will be. The amount of lint displaced while sewing will also decrease when using a high-quality cotton. Cotton is classified by the length of the staple, or fiber that make up the cotton boll. Most labels on spools or cones of cotton thread do not specify the staple classification because most cotton thread is made from regular, or short staple cotton. This isn't something to brag about, so 100% cotton is typically printed in place of "Short staple cotton". Long staple and extra-long staple cotton threads will make room on the label to print this classification. You will be much happier using a highest grade cotton thread, even though it costs more, the resulting sewing experience is well worth the cost increase. An extra-long staple cotton thread will have very low lint and will be a much stronger thread. This means a cleaner sewing machine and fewer thread breaks.

A tight twist makes the thread stronger and lessens lint displacement. Our MasterPiece #50/3-ply thread has a tight twist which results in a smooth stitch, without adding bulk at the seams.

Learn more about cotton staples.

© 2017 Superior Threads. All Rights Reserved.