Thread Sketching: Needle and Thread Basics

Every sewing project comes down to two simple tools: needle and thread. But choosing the right needle and thread for the job is a more complicated task. Much depends on the fabric, the type of stitching, and the overall look you’re trying to achieve with your stitching.

quilt with thread sketching by susan brubaker knapp
In “Maximum Catnap,” Susan Brubaker Knapp, uses thread sketching to re-create her cat’s luxurious coat.

What is the best thread for quilting? How do you decide among the vast array of needle choices? Teacher, author, and award-winning quilter Susan Brubaker Knapp is an expert on machine embroidery thread and needle choice. She thread sketches on her quilts to add color, texture, and realism to her designs, and experience has taught her the following tips, shared from her Thread Sketching 101 series.

Needle & Thread Basics
By Susan Brubaker Knapp

In most of my thread sketching, I use a variety of cotton threads with weights in the light-to-middle range. Very lightweight threads (#50- or #60-weight) do not cause too much thread buildup if I go over an area several times. If you do not hoop your work, and only use one layer of stabilizer, you will find that these lighter-weight threads work great and don’t cause a lot of draw-up.

When I want heavier thread lines, I use #40-weight cottons. If you crave sheen and want to use a shinier thread, I recommend polyester over rayon because it is stronger.

Needles are identified by European sizes (60-120) and American sizes (8-19). Higher numbers mean that the needle is bigger in diameter, as measured just above the eye. Most needles are labeled with both size systems: 60/8, 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, etc.
The type of point (sharp, slightly rounded, or ball) affects how the needle penetrates the quilt, and the needle size and eye size affect the tension on the top thread. Many variables affect needle choice when thread sketching, including fabric type and weight, stabilizer, thread type and weight, and whether you are stitching through other materials such as paint, foil, or Angelina® Fibers.

For pieces without a lot of stiff layers, and when I’m using a #50- or #60-weight thread, I often use a universal 80/12 needle because it leaves only small holes in the fabric. For stiffer fabrics, more layers, or heavier threads, a 90/14 topstitching needle works well.

Topstitching needles have longer eyes, which not only makes them easier to thread, but also reduces thread shredding and breakage. Microtex needles have very sharp points, which help them pierce stiffer, heavier cottons (like batiks) beautifully, and stitch more easily through other art quilt materials.

It’s no wonder Susan’s free-motion quilting and thread sketching tutorials are so popular; she really knows her stuff. With her eBook Thread Sketching 101, you will, too.

P.S. Do you have a favorite needle or thread? Leave your answer in the comments section below.

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Machine Quilting, Quilting Daily Blog, Thread Sketching