Superior Education



Over-dyeing is the process of subjecting a thread to multiple dyeing treatments, if the thread was mis-dyed and ends up an incorrect color the first time. I've heard of unnamed textile manufacturers setting aside mis-dyed colors in a reject bin and over-dyeing them black to reduce wasted materials. The excess amount of dye in these over-dyed threads can cause the fibers to weaken due to exposure to the multiple dye treatments. Our threads are never over-dyed.

We are occasionally asked: “Are empty spools and cones recyclable?” It's great to to recycle and re-purpose! If your local recycling center accepts polypropylene or PP plastics, they can be recycled. Some centers don’t recycle polypropylene, so we recommend calling ahead to confirm with them before you start your trek to the center. The plastic film (shrink wrap) that is on the exterior of our cones and spools is made out of polyethylene terephthalate or PET for short. This is the same material that water and soda bottles are made out of and can also be recycled.

My aunt’s favorite saying of “use it up, wear it out, make it due, or do without” has inspired me to search for ways to personally reuse or upcycle my empty spools and cones. Here are some great suggestions we have received over the years:

  • I wrap my binding around an empty thread cone...I then put it on the upright spool holder...this keeps it under control and keeps my binding clean. - S.S
  • I’ve transformed a used cone into a beautiful angel tree-topper. Spools can be strung to become cute garland to hang on your tree or create a spool wreath! - B.B
  • If you have kids or grandkids, a fun activity is transforming empty cones into kaleidoscopes! - K.O

There's a lot that can be done with empty cones and spools if you spend a little bit of time being creative.

A good quality thread that is produced today will last much longer than thread which was produced 15 or 20 years ago. Even the best quality cotton thread of a generation ago did not have the advanced processing techniques available to us today and it would probably be best to not sew or quilt with old thread that exists today.

However, a high-quality cotton thread that is manufactured today, like Masterpiece and King Tut, will probably be fine to use in 40 or 50 years from now. Why will threads that are manufactured today last longer than threads manufactured 20 years ago? The difference is due to the advancements in spinning, dyeing, and twisting technology and the evolution of genetic engineering better cotton plants. Because cotton is a natural fiber, it will degrade over time. A good test to check whether or not the cotton threads you have been given are OK to use in your machine is to hold about a one foot section between both hands and pull apart. If the thread snaps (you should feel a nice, crisp break), then it is OK to use. If the thread just separates and pulls apart easily (think of pulling a cotton ball apart), we don't recommend using it.

As for polyester thread, the color may fade over the years with exposure to sunlight, but there is no evidence that the thread deteriorates like cotton threads, so it's safe to say that synthetic fibers will last longer.

Thread twist is a subject that is often spoken about by those who don't fully understand what it means. All threads which have the intended use of going through a sewing machine (whether you are embroidering, quilting, serging, or sewing) have a final Z twist. A Z twist allows the thread to go through a machine and stay together (not untwist as the thread passes through the machine). Whether the sewing thread is made in Europe, USA, Asia, or Antarctica if the thread is meant to go through your machine, it has a Z twist.

S twist and Z twist visualized

S twist and Z twist visualized

An S twist thread has an opposite twist and these threads are made for hand stitching and for specialty two-headed sewing machines which are used almost exclusively in construction of clothing and commercial textiles.

You may have also read about left hand and right hand twist. These terms are incorrect as well. S twist and Z twist are the terms we use in the industry and the relevance of the twist direction is not an important factor to consider when choosing thread for quilting or sewing, as all threads created for these applications will have a final Z twist.

Watch our video on Thread Twist Explained for more information on thread twist.

Cones should work well in any good-conditioned machine. I have two recommendations for you:

  • When sewing or quilting with large cones of thread on a home sewing machine, the thread needs to unwind and come off the top of the cone, not off the side. We don't recommend inserting a dowel or adapter into the base of the cone and placing the cone on a vertical spool pin. This action will have the thread unwind off the side of the cone, which will add more stress and tension to thread as it is pulled through your machine instead of effortlessly unwinding off the cone (which will happen when thread is unwound off the top). Please watch our video on our Superior Thread Holder. There's a great example of what we call Thread Delivery and how it affects your stitches.
  • I recommend that you loosen your top tension more than you think you should and then slowly tighten it to eliminate looping and uneven stitches. Small, incremental adjustments from 4.6 to 3.4 is likely not enough to make a difference in the outcome; meaning, the thread is continuing to break. Loosen the top tension from 4.6 down to 2.0. Use this as a benchmark, then increase the top tension incrementally until the uneven stitches become even. You'll find that making a single large adjustment at first is much better than making 7 minute adjustments and experiencing 6 thread breaks as you go through the process. You can alwaysreset your tension back to 5.0 or the factory default setting. Don't be afraid to change the tension, that's why we have the capability to make tension adjustments.
We recommend using a Thread Holder with cones of thread

We recommend using a Thread Holder with cones of thread

Loosen your top tension more than you think you should

Loosen your top tension more than you think you should

Our Superior Metallics thread is made from the highest-quality raw materials and then processed through advanced technology, making it the best metallic thread to use and an all around fantastic decorative thread for quilting. Because of the advanced processing it undergoes, there is a thin coating on the thread to prevent it from oxidizing. When washing, use normal washing detergent on a delicate/slow cycle and tumble dry on a low heat setting. Avoid bleach, bleach alternatives, or oxidizing agents. If you have a shirt that has Metallic thread embroidered on it, turn the shirt inside out before washing to help prevent the thread rubbing against fabric or itself.

There are three grades of cotton and the majority of cotton thread is made from the lowest and medium grades.

  • Lowest grade = Regular staple (or short staple) cotton. Thread made from this grade is never marked as regular or short staple. It is labeled only as 100% cotton or mercerized cotton, because having a short stapled cotton thread is nothing to brag about Short staple cotton threads will have a lot of lint and are weaker than regular and extra-long staple cotton threads.
  • Medium grade = Long staple cotton. Thread made from this grade of cotton will be labeled as long staple. Long staple cotton threads will have less lint than short staple cotton threads.
  • High grade = Extra-long staple cotton. Thread made from this grade of cotton will be labeled as extra-long staple cotton. This is currently the highest quality cotton fiber available and is something that should be bragged about.
King Tut cotton quilting thread has beautiful color depth

King Tut cotton quilting thread has beautiful color depth

Superior's cotton threads are extra-long staple cotton

Superior's cotton threads are extra-long staple cotton

Why does knowing the staple length matter in terms of quality? A staple (an individual strand of cotton fiber) is the source of strength for cotton. The longer the staple, the fewer starts and stops the thread has, resulting in better stress management. There is a direct correlation between the strength of a cotton thread and the length of the staple. Another benefit of extra-long staples is the less lint that will be displaced when sewing.

Metallic threads are sensitive due to the specialty manufacturing process it undergoes. We have many quilts which we've quilted and embroidered with metallic thread, included the quilt pictured below, with fantastic results. There are a few more tips and adjustments we recommend:

  • Needle: Topstitch or Metallic #90/14
  • Top tension: Loosen to 1.0
  • If using a spool of metallic thread, position the spool on a vertical pin holder so the thread unwinds directly from the side of the spool with the spool rotating. Don't unwind a spool of metallic thread over the end of the spool. This results in added twist and increases the tension on the thread as it passes through your machine.
  • If using a cone of metallic thread, the thread must unwind straight up over the top of the cone, not from off the side.
  • If your machine doesn't have a vertical pin or you have a cone of thread for a home machine, we recommend our Superior Thread Holder.
  • Use a smooth polyester thread in the bobbin. The Bottom Line is a great choice because it is smooth and lint free.

It sounds like you've read through our Troubleshooting Guide and have made tried a new needle. In a well-maintained machine, you should not be experiencing thread breakage at a frequent rate and thread breaking every six inches makes for a frustrating experience. Let's try loosening the bobbin tension to see if that will solve the thread from breaking.

With a permanent marker, mark a dot on the bobbin case where the large screw is currently pointing to. This dot will provide you with a benchmark that you can return to if needed. Loosen the bobbin tension by turning the bobbin tension screw in small increments, a quarter turn at a time. Turn to the left (counter clockwise) to decrease the amount of tension placed on the thread as it leaves the bobbin case. This should solve the problem you're experiencing. Many home sewing machines are factory set to have a very strong polyester thread in the bobbin and therefore need to be adjusted when using a fine cotton thread, like MasterPiece.

Mercerizing is a process of treating cotton thread (and fabric) in a caustic solution under tension, which causes the fibers to swell. This process allows dye to better penetrate the fibers, thereby increasing the luster while also strengthening the thread. While some lower quality threads may not be mercerized, any long staple and extra-long staple cotton thread is most likely mercerized even it is not labeled as such.

Lower quality cotton threads are often labeled with mercerized cotton when there is nothing else to brag about. All of Superior Threads' cotton threads are mercerized. We don't print the word mercerized on our thread labels because nearly all cotton sewing threads are mercerized, so it's nothing to brag about. We also don't have room on our labels. With only a 1" diameter area for a label, we're limited on space so we print what we feel is the most important aspect of our cotton threads, "Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton". If we weren't restricted by space, we'd add much more.

Recently, Egypt ranked #20 in cotton growing countries by volume. It is often said that 10 times as much "Egyptian Cotton" is sold as what is actually grown. Many years ago, the term Egyptian cotton became a generic term for long staple cotton. Just as we use the word Kleenex for tissues or Xerox for copying, the term Egyptian cotton was used for any long staple cotton grown anywhere in the world. Egypt is now very strict in trying to protect this term but old habits die hard and I don't know if it will ever stop. A major thread manufacturer in Germany labels their thread as Egyptian cotton even though the cotton crop used to make the thread is grown in and imported from Romania and surrounding countries. They define Egyptian cotton as any long staple cotton due to the common use of the generic term.

So how can we tell true Egyptian cotton and does it really matter? Unless you have reliable information directly from the source, there really is no way to know the origin of a thread (unless you have a lot of lab equipment in your sewing studio). What matters is the integrity of the company and the quality of the final product. Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton threads will have strength qualities that other cotton threads won't have. For the record, our King Tut and MasterPiece threads are made from authentic Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton fibers.

Let's start with each fabric type. For Marine fabric, we know that it is going to see a lot of sunlight and UV exposure. Nylon is not recommended for sewing if the end product will be exposed to UV rays. Bonded Polyester is a good choice for any outdoor furnishing, as it has superior UV resistance compared to bonded nylon. It is a very strong thread and the bonding agent which is coated on the thread cuts down its susceptibility to wear from friction/abrasion.

For any indoor-sewing application, Bonded Nylon is a great choice. It is a very strong, colorfast thread. Our Bonded Nylon threads are also available in many different thicknesses, from #46 to #346. We personally use and recommend Groz-Beckert needles when sewing with our upholstery threads.

This shouldn't be happening and I have a few recommendations (this should be an easy fix). Our reduced-sheen monofilament polyester thread, MonoPoly, is the best choice when it comes to invisible threads. Unlike other monofilament threads made from weaker nylon materials, MonoPoly is made from polyester. Commonly referred to as an invisible thread due to its fineness and reduced-sheen, MonoPoly is a fantastic choice for either the top or bobbin of a quilt when you want to focus on the background of the quilt, like the fabric, instead of the thread or quilted design.

Please check the list below for recommended fixes. We had a Gammill vision in our office for several years and could successfully quilt with every single one of our threads. Some threads, like MonoPoly, may require slight tweaks and adjustments to the tension, needle, and thread delivery.

  • Use a Handy Net on the cone to keep the thread unwinding in an even manner
  • Use only the center hole on the three-hole pretension thread guide (MonoPoly doesn't need much tension)
  • Loosen the top tension to the lowest resistance possible, just before the knob falls off
  • Use a size #14 (MR 3.0) needle
  • In the bobbin, instead of using MonoPoly use either So Fine! or Bottom Line. MonoPoly used as a top and bobbin thread at the same time can be too slick in certain situations

The upper tension may be too tight. Because MasterPiece is a fine thread, too much tension causes breakage. Reduce the upper tension all the way down to 2.5 and see if that solves it. If you are using the 600 yd. spools, position them on the vertical spool pin so the thread unwinds straight off the side of the spool (with the spool rotating).

Assuming you have a spool (not a cone) and are using a home machine, please try this:

1. Use a size #80/12 Topstitch needle

2. Set the top tension setting between 2.5 and 3.5

3. Position the spool on the vertical pin so the thread unwinds straight from the side of the spool (with the spool rotating). The thread should not unwind over the end of the spool.

The number one reason why quilters are taught to use only cotton thread is due to tradition. Remember the story of little Johnny watching his mother cut off the ends the roast before putting it in the oven? He asks his mother why she does that and she replies, "Because my mother taught me that it tastes better this way." Johnny asks Grandma the same question and gets the same answer. Johnny then asks Great Grandma and she replies, "Because that's the only way it would fit in the pan." Sometimes tradition is stronger than reason.

If we trace the history of quilting back to great grandma, we learn that she used only cotton thread. Great Grandma taught Grandma who taught Mom who taught me and the lessons and traditions follow through the generations. There is a reason why Great Grandma used only cotton thread. That's all there was at that time. If we use cotton thread because of tradition, that's not a good reason. If we use cotton thread because we like it, that's a great reason.

What about shrinkage? Quality fabrics do not shrink like the old days. Most are pre-treated for shrinkage. And even if there is some shrinkage, it isn't realistic to expect a woven cotton fabric and a twisted cotton thread to shrink in equal proportions. Use quality fabric and thread and there should be minimal worry about shrinkage.

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. In a battle of heavy use and high stress placed on a quilt, the strongest component will always win. It is not accurate to say that a polyester thread is stronger than cotton. I have a spool of thread on my desk labeled 100% cotton quilting thread. It is a very well known brand, widely available, and is one of the top selling machine quilting and piecing threads. It is twice as strong as a comparable polyester thread. Although it isn't labeled as such, it is coated with a glaze which strengthens the cotton fibers and makes the thread rather wiry. In a strength test, it beats a comparable size poly, rayon, and metallic every time. In a heavily used quilt, this stiff, wiry cotton thread could do more damage than a soft polyester thread. And it is 100% cotton.

The point is this: The traditions, myths, and rumors that polyester thread will tear the quilt are not true. Under extreme use, a strong polyester thread might, but so will a strong, glazed cotton thread. Under normal use, softer non-glazed threads will not tear through the fabric and it is perfectly fine to use any type of quality thread, except nylon. Nylon will go brittle and discolor over time. Choose your threads based on quality, feel, and appearance, avoiding wiry glazed threads. Although they are rarely labeled as such, if the thread is stiff and wiry, it most likely has a glaze coating.

Whether you are creating a showpiece or a daily-use quilt that will be put to the ultimate tests, it is perfectly fine to use quality polyester or non-glazed cotton thread. Which fiber type will last longer? Poly will last a lot longer than cotton. But then, after 80 or 100 years, the quilt has served us well and we should expect some deterioration. What good is a masterpiece that is locked away in an airtight closet? Quilts should be enjoyed and shared. That's how memories are made.

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