Your essential sewing machine thread guide
Which is the best thread to use with your sewing machine? Our guide to sewing machine threads will help you pick the best type for your project so you can get the best results from your stash!
So, you’ve chosen your fabric and are ready to start stitching – but have you got the right thread? Choosing the right sewing thread can make a big difference to your finished projects.
In this guide, we'll show you how to pick the right sewing machine thread for your latest project.
There are so many different varieties of sewing machine thread available that it can be tricky to choose the right one to use. It’s not just about finding a colour to match your fabric – you’ll need to consider other things, too, like the fabric’s thickness or stretch.
It’s worth taking the time to pick out the right thread, because it’ll really make a difference to the stitching experience and your finished project.
Want to stock up on more supplies? Take a look at Gathered's sewing tools guide.
Choosing your sewing thread
Alongside your sewing machine and your fabric, thread is one of the most essential parts of any project. It can be tempting to overlook thread and use a bad quality one or a spool that you’ve had in your stash for years, but using the correct thread for your project is important, as is using quality thread.
Many of us will select thread simply by searching for a colour to match our fabric. Although this is an important part of the process, understanding the different types of thread, their compositions, and their different uses is crucial to achieve a smooth stitch line.
Although an all-purpose polyester thread will work well on most material, the general rule is to use the same type of thread as the fabric. So, for example, if you’re sewing with 100% cotton material, use 100% cotton thread and match the thread weight to your fabric.
More like this
Sometimes your sewing pattern or instructions will give you advice on which type of thread you should use. If you can’t find an exact colour match, choose a thread one to two shades darker than the fabric, as light thread will stand out more.
If you do a lot of work that requires perfectly matched colours, some thread companies sell shade charts which can help you to select the right one for your project. You will also need to consider the stretch of your fabric and how thick it is when selecting a thread.
Sewing thread quality
One of the most important things when it comes to purchasing thread is selecting a spool that is good quality, ideally from a well-known brand.
Poor quality thread that you can buy in packs can be appealing as they are often cheap and come in lots of colours; however, these threads can snap easily when threaded through your machine and cause birds’ nests to form under your work. Quality thread isn't necessarily expensive, and if it saves hours of your time at the sewing machine then it's well worth the cost!
How to read a spool
The end of the thread spool lists the fibre content, the manufacturer and colour number (invaluable if you need to buy more thread later), and often its weight and the number of plies (strands) that are twisted together. This is usually listed with two numbers – the higher the first number, the finer the thread.
Finding the best sewing needle
Once you've chosen the right thread for the job, you'll also need to check that you're using the correct needle for best results. Find out everything you need to know in our sewing needle guide.
Types of sewing thread
There are several types of thread, which can be spilt into categories depending on what fibre they’re made from. Within these there are different strengths (number of plies) and thicknesses (weights).
Cotton thread has very little stretch and is great for delicate projects, particularly for cotton fabrics or sheers, but not for stretchy fabrics. Most cotton thread is mercerised, which means it has gone through a series of chemical processes that increase the lustre of the thread and make it more water- and dye-absorbent. This means it’s less likely to run in the wash.
These are strong threads that have some stretch. They often have a wax or silicone finish that allows the thread to slip through the fabric with little friction. This thread is also suitable for stretch fabrics such as synthetics and knits.
Cotton-wrapped polyester thread can be used with most fabrics, too. Note that if you plan to dye the garment, polyester thread will not take the dye, unless it is a dye designed for polyester.
Gütermann 100% polyester thread is an all-purpose thread that comes in a vast choice of colours and is widely available. You can use it for machine sewing as well as hand stitching, and it will work with most fabrics.
This Gutermann denim thread is designed to match the colour of blue denim and is a polyester cotton blend. It can be used to darn jeans by hand and is also a great one to add to your collection if you regularly turn up jeans or work with denim fabrics.
These large cones can contain 2,000–5,000 metres of thread on a cone. They are designed for working on overlockers and industrial machines as they will need replacing less frequently than the smaller spools designed for domestic machines. If you are threading an overlocker you will need four cones of thread in the same colour (similar colours can also be used if your overlocked edges won’t be visible).
If you are trying to use an overlocker cone on your sewing machine you will find that it will be far too big for the spool holder. To counter this, insert a smaller spool of thread (a 1,000m/yd spool will be ideal) inside the larger end of the cone and it will allow the spool to fit snugly on the holder.
This Gütermann thread is made from metal (surprise!). These glitzy threads require a metallic needle as metallic needles have a larger eye which won’t be worn away by the metal in the thread. Sew slowly as these threads are very delicate and can break very easily.
Shirring elastic is used to create multiple lines of elasticated stitching that draw in an area, usually across the bust or waist of a garment. The elastic needs to be wound onto your bobbin by hand to prevent too much stretching.
Clear/invisible threads are 100% nylon and blend invisibly with your fabric and other threads. These threads are available in clear and black. The clear thread is best used with lighter fabrics, while the black is best used with darker fabrics to blend in better.
Choosing the right sewing machine thread is important
There's a lot to consider when you're choosing the right thread for any sewing project and that's particularly important when you're using a sewing machine.
There's more to consider than just matching the right colour to your fabric – you also need to think about your fabric thickness and its stretch.
Make crafting easier with a sewing machine table
Update your craft room by getting yourself a stylish new sewing machine table. Many sewing tables can also be used as desks if you're short of space.
Find the best sewing table for your needs with Gathered.
Simply Sewing magazine’s Technical Editor Roisin loves every part of the dressmaking process, from sketching to sewing the final design, and enjoys working with luxury fabrics such as silk and chiffon. She’s a sewing pattern pro with a skill for adjusting and hacking patterns to fit and for editing dressmaking instructions to make them accessible to sewists of all abilities. Before she came to Simply Sewing, the tea-drinking fabric-lover ran her own handmade Lingerie Etsy shop. She drinks a lot of tea and shares a mix of dressmaking projects and fashion history on her Instagram @roisin_handmade.
SPRING SAVINGS! Subscribe from just £11.99 for 6 issues direct to your door.
Comments, questions and tips