Quilting Tip #11: So Many Choices, Myths, and Tradeoffs

These are just a few of the threads available on the market.
These are just a few of the threads available on the market.

A word (okay, a lot of words) about choosing thread:  some quilters are purists and want to use only cotton thread.  This is fine (though not mandatory) if you are going for an ultra-traditional look.  But be aware that our grandmothers used cotton thread because that was the only choice they had.  Our foremothers were innovators just like us.  They loved the new products on the market back then.  They would have loved all the thread choices we have today.

I choose my thread based on the look I want and the quilt’s ultimate function.  I take into consideration color, variegated v. plain, heavy v. fine, luster v. matte, and utility v. art.  The thread content matters little as a general principle.

Quilters have been told a myth that polyester thread ‘cuts’ cotton fabrics.  WRONG.  Cotton is an organic material.  It rots.  Polyester thread and fabrics will stay bright and strong long after cotton fabrics have faded and shredded.

You just need to look at a vintage 1960s utility quilt to see the truth of that statement.  The cotton fabrics will be faded and worn next to polyester and cotton/poly fabrics that look like they came off the bolt yesterday.  It is the same with thread.

I once had a client tell me that a quilt she had made for her grandchild (quilted with cotton threads) fell apart after 2 years because the kid’s day care facility required a weekly sanitizing (read ‘bleaching’) of all blankies.  She now makes sure to use a heavy polyester quilting thread for quilts that are going to be washed frequently.

A bonus with polyester thread and silk threads:  less lint.  Less lint = fewer tension problems.  Can’t argue with that….

The trade-off with polyester is that while it is durable and you can run a finer thread through your machine than you can with cotton, cotton thread does not react to a hot/fast needle speed like polyester thread does.

So, I use all kinds of threads: fine (silk or polyester) for dense quilting, and cotton or polyester for utility quilts and less densely quilted work.

My motto:  use the right thread for the quilt.  What is your favorite?  A luscious variegated?  Lustrous silk?  Hand-dyed cotton?  Tell me!


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