What’s the Best Thread for Quilting?

What's the best thread for quilting?

Another one of our top-performing blogs originally published in March of 2018, this one is a gold mine of information when it comes to choosing the best quilting thread for you. Former Quilting Daily staffer, Brenna, talks with our longtime friend and Quilting Daily educator, Catherine Redford about what quilting thread she prefers for piecing, quilting, and binding her designs. Check it out below!

I know I’m not alone in my desire to work with the best supplies I can afford. Each time I meet a quilter I admire, I like to ask after their favorite tools and materials. Although high-end sewing machines and wool battings are a little outside of my quilting budget, the wide array of fabrics and threads available are some of my favorite purchases. With so many options, choosing even a handful of threads can be daunting so I love asking quilters, “What do you think is the best quilting thread?”

Of course, answers vary from quilter to quilter, but I love the information Catherine Redford shares about which quilting thread she likes to use to piece, quilt, and bind her designs.

Catherine Redford quilting on her home machine.
Catherine Redford quilting on her home machine.

A Bit About Cotton Thread

We’ve all stood in the thread section of our local fabric store in front of spools and spools of thread. No doubt, we each have different methods for choosing which thread makes the journey home. For some color is king, yet others favor a specific brand or type of thread.

When it comes to shopping for thread, your best bet is to choose one made of long staple cotton which refers to the variety used to make the thread. The longer fibers, or staples, are ideal for quilting because the way the thread is spun decreases fuzz, corresponding to a decrease of lint while sewing. Let’s be honest, a lint-free thread is a pipe dream, but you can get awfully close to making that dream a reality by using long staple cotton thread that’s been gassed, meaning the small bits of fuzz are burnt off as the thread passes through a flame.

With so many options if can be difficult to find the best thread for quilting.
With so many options it can be difficult to find the best thread for quilting.

Thread Size is Not Exact

There is not an industry standard for thread size, similar to the way one size of pants fits differently from brand to brand; the same can be said for thread. What is marked as 50 weight may be thinner or thicker depending on the brand. Unlike clothing, however, the larger the number listed on the spool, the smaller or finer the thread will be.

Oftentimes, you’ll see two numbers on a spool of thread; for example 50/2 or 50/3. Catherine explains the first number indicates the weight of the thread and the second is the ply. Generally, the three-ply thread in this example is stronger than the two-ply.

When to Use What

“What’s the best thread for quilting?” is kind of a loaded question, isn’t it? Different thread weights are best for the various stages of quilting and the wide array of effects we desire.

Catherine suggests using a fine, yet strong two-ply 50 or 60 weight thread for piecing because it allows her to sew a true quarter inch seam.  She is also an advocate of using the same weight in the top and bottom while sewing to maintain good tension throughout the quilt top.

A close up of a placemat quilted by Catherine Redford
An example of free-motion quilting by Catherine.

Thread for quilting is a whole different beast! Sure, you can use the same spool for the entire project, but if you want bold and bright or subtle and textured quilted lines, you’re going to need to change your thread (and bobbin).

Just want to add texture to your top? A 50 weight thread is nice, but you’ll still see your stitches. If you really want the stitches to settle into your quilt top, try an 80 or even a 100 weight thread. By choosing a value similar to the colors of your quilt top, you’ll be able to add texture without changing the color of your design. Plus, the ultra-thin thread means you can add a lot of quilting including backtracking over stitches without the annoyance of thread buildup.

Catherine uses a heavier weight thread to quilt the spiral.
In this example, Catherine uses a heavier weight thread to quilt the spiral.

On the flip side, if colorful quilting is what you desire, you’ll want a heavier weight thread, such as a 30 weight, which will lay on the surface of the quilt rather than sink into it. Adding color is not only a great way to blend fabrics of your top together, but a fabulous way to add another layer of design to your quilt. If you want an even bolder line, try something really heavy like a 12 weight thread.

Catherine’s years of experience shine through in both her teaching and quilting.In my own quilting journey, I’ve turned to Catherine’s instruction early and often in the form of her DVDs and her book Modern Machine Quilting: Make a Perfectly Finished Quilt (affiliate link) on Your Home Machine.

Happy thread shopping and as always, happy quilting!

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2 comments on “What’s the Best Thread for Quilting?

  1. Marg Bretz says:

    Thanks so much for printing this article. I just learned a lot of new information, for me anyway, about thread. Suggestions such as these can make such a difference in the appearance of a quilt and other items.