Q&A With Dr. Bob, Threadologist
- THREAD QUESTIONS
- NEEDLE QUESTIONS
- TENSION QUESTIONS
Q: What are the best types of threads to use for general quilting and embroidery?
Cotton threads and polyester threads are the top two fibers for quilting and embroidery. We don't recommend or sell rayon threads because it is not always colorfast. Nylon threads have a lower melting point than polyester threads and nylon, as a fiber, tends to turn yellow over time and become brittle. Silk threads are gorgeous, but can be expensive.
Q: When should I use a fine thread and when should I use a heavier or thicker thread?
Fine threads (thin threads) will blend into fabrics because there's not much heft to it. Because fine threads don't take up much area when quilted onto fabric, fine threads are great for invisible quilting, stippling, and when when you want to focus more on the fabric background than the quilting. Heavier threads will be more visible and are nice to use when you want to see bold or detailed quilting. If you like variegated colors, choose a medium or heavier weight thread because a fine thread that has a variegated dye pattern will be difficult to see. Because of this, there is no reason to have a fine-weight variegated thread, since the colors will not be bold enough to stand out against the colors of the fabric.
Q: Is it OK to use polyester in my quilt?
Absolutely! There is false story and reasoning that exists in the quilting world, that polyester threads are so strong, it will tear through your quilt fabric. Thread will not tear through a fabric solely due to its fiber content. If a thread ever tears through a fabric, it is because it won the strength contest (the fabric was weaker than the thread), regardless if the thread used is cotton or polyester. Some cotton thread is stronger and more wiry than polyester while some polyester thread has more lint and is softer than cotton thread.
Q: Can I quilt with the cheap serger thread available at my local store?
Yes, but why would you? The bargain bin serger thread you can buy for $1.99 at your local chain store is made from the cheapest type of spun polyester thread available. When used on a serger, multiple strands of this thread are over locked, resulting in a strong and secure stitch. However, if used as a single thread for quilting, it is weak and fluffy (lots of lint). It doesn't make sense to put $2 worth of thread onto a $300 quilt. Inexpensive serger thread has a loose twist, is not very smooth, has a lot of lint, and is not intended for single-strand use. Using high-quality threads will make the entire quilting process much more enjoyable.
Q: Why are some variegated threads dyed in short color change intervals and other threads have random longer color change intervals?
This mainly depends on what type of technology and machinery is used during the dyeing process. Dyeing thread in precise, short color change intervals requires special, high-tech machines which are not widely available. The advantage of precision dyeing in short color change increments is how the thread looks once it has been embroidered or quilted. For embroiderers, you won't have a striped design with random sections of color that looks unbalanced. For quilters, you won't have a blocks of color displayed unevenly.
Q: What are the main causes of thread breakage?
50% is due to the quality of the thread. Low quality threads will break more frequently than high quality threads. 20% is due to the needle being old, dull, or an incorrect size for the thread being used. 20% is due to an unbalanced tension. If the top tension is too tight, the thread will be prone to break. 5% is due to the condition of your machine. Is it time for a checkup or maintenance call? An excess of lint can cause a host of problems during the stitch formation process. 5% is due to the way thread is taken from the spool or cone, through the machine, to the needle. We call this the thread delivery system. The machine may be mis-threaded, or the thread is coming off the spool wrong. Thread on cones should come off over the top of the cone. Thread on spools may need to come off straight (not over one end) so the spool rotates as the thread unwinds. This usually requires the spool to be positioned on the vertical pin spool or the use of a Thread Holder.
Q: What type of thread should I use for general sewing and clothing construction?
Polyester thread is the most popular thread type to use for general sewing and clothing construction. Here's a true story: One day I was looking at a package of Hanes brand cotton t-shirts. On the package, it stated the shirts were made from 100% cotton. Being a thread guy, I phoned Hanes customer service and asked the person on the other end what fiber the thread is that makes up these 100% cotton shirts. He didn't have an answer for me and placed me on hold. I went up the chain of service representatives until I spoke with a division manager. After convincing her that I was not a corporate spy, but a guy who likes thread and is interested in fibers, she told me that they use polyester thread to sew their cotton shirts together. Our sewing threads are great for home machines and sergers.
Q: What's the best needle style to use?
We use and recommend the Topstitch needle style. The Topstitch needle has several factors which make this needle superior to use for embroidery, sewing, and quilting. A wide and deep groove protects the thread and reduces drag and friction that is applied to the thread during stitch formation. An elongated eye, which is almost twice as long as an eye on a universal needle, allows the thread much more room to move around in. This reduces extra tension placed on the thread as the needle passes into fabric. A rounded sharp point allows ease-of-separation for the fibers on the fabric which you're sewing. Once you try this needle, you'll probably never use a Universal, Quilting, or Embroidery needle again.