Skip to main content

Thread: a guide to sewing thread! for hand and machine sewing!

Have you ever stood in front of the six thread racks at your local ‘Fabricland’ and wondered what the difference was? Now-a-day there is more to it then just trying to match the thread color to your fabric.

Thread should be selected according to what you’re intending on sewing, on the kind of fiber, the weight of the material and also on the purpose of the item being built.

It’s quite obvious that you won’t want to hem or patch the heavy-duty work cover-alls with a silk, a rayon or even a metallic deco thread. Neither will you want to sew the new sheer curtains for the bathroom with a thick top stitching twist. It comes right down to that saying from the past ‘for each job there is a proper tool’. (Thread is what holds sewn items together therefore it should be considered a tool)


Please remember when shopping for thread those cheap 3/$1.00 spools are not worth much. They might work for a Halloween-costume that your little one will only wear once or maybe for basting things together. Other than that they're not worth your time or effort. Let's face it if you’re going through the trouble of sewing you should invest in high-quality products especially thread. (After all bending over in your new pants and the butt seam disintegrates when you're first wearing them, could be embarrassing.)


Just some of the most famous name brands are Guterman, Mettler, Coats, Molnycke.

All of these are all of great quality.

I like Molnycke the best (just a personal preference) it appears to be that hair slice finer and smoother then the others and maybe just that little bit stronger but unfortunately in my neck of the woods not that easy to find.

Guterman and Mettler are the ones I have the most of on my thread rack. Easy to find, with great variety of colour choices too.


Thread is formed by multiple thin strands of the material (cotton, polyester, silk etc) being twisted together for strength. Before we get into the types of thread available on the market lets figure out what makes a good thread:50 weight/3 ply

  • The most obvious would be colour. A large array of colours to match every hue of the fabrics on the shelves which has to be colourfast under any circumstance.
  • For nice even seams the thread has to be smooth and even. Therefore a good quality thread is made of long fibers which will avoid snagging, knotting, and breaking. No lumpy fuzzy knots at all.
  • Again for thread to run smoothly through the sewing machine and or serger it has to be twist balanced and shouldn't be over-twisted. (this will cause the thread to twist, tangle and knott on itself and cause knots which will not go through the needle of the sewing machine even if there is a slightest slack) 
  • On the same hand if the thread is under twisted it loses some of it's strength and will not be able to handle the tension of the sewing machine without breaking. It also will seem thicker and not as fine as good thread.
  • Thread should be fine but strong.
  • Good quality thread (no matter what it's made of cotton, rayon etc.) is not allowed to shrink. This prevents puckering after washing and steam pressing .

With other words thread used for any type of sewing should have outstanding durability (for the long life of the project), colorfastness (to assure the project can be cleaned or washed with out the danger of the colour bleeding through) , and low lint (for the health of the sewing machine and serger).


One more little bit of information and you will be super thread-wise.

There are little numbers on thread spools. Numbers like 50/3, 40/3 or 60/2 etc. Well, the first number refers to the size of the thread - the higher the number the finer, thinner the thread. The second number tells you the number of plys of that size thread which have been twisted together. The more plys, the stronger and thicker the thread. 2 ply thread is not suitable for garment making and generally used for serging and decorative purposes only. Three ply thread is what's commonly used for garment construction and quilting etc.

Scroll to Continue

Let me list some of the most common choices.

  • Cotton wrapped polyester–Most common all purpose thread has a continuous polyester filament core that is covered in cotton. It provides strength, flexibility and durability can be used for hand and machine sewing alike. Okay to use on wovens, knits, synthetics, and natural fibers. This is also the type of thread that has the widest color range.
  • 100% Mercerized Cotton–General purpose thread that has very little stretch. Use on natural woven fibres. Do not use on knits or synthetics because it just doesn’t have enough strength or flexibility. It comes in size or gage 50 for light to light medium fabrics. Size 40 is suitable for heavier material.
  • 100% Polyester–Good strength and flex best to use on knit fabrics.
  • 100% Silk thread–Great quality makes for nice resilient stitching. Best to use on fine silk and wool. It’s mostly available in a size 50.
  • Top stitching and Buttonhole Twist–was made for decorative top stitching on suits etc providing a bold showing, also as cording for machine or hand-made buttonhole.
  • Hand Quilting–is strong will not tangle, untwist or knot when used for hand sewing through the multi layers of fabric and padding.
  • Carpet or Upholstery drapery, luggage and more –thread is available in many colors and can be used for hand sewing and on some medium to heavy-duty domestic sewing machines. Most featherweights will not sew properly, but try it on yours, you just never know…This thread works well to sew buttons onto coats as it’s really strong. (when sewing a lot with it pull on a finger protector for your pinkie as it likes to bite right in the finger creases.) It is usually made of a bonded nylon, the recommended machine needle size is 16, 18, 20. It is resistant to chemicals, abrasion and sunlight.
  • Serger Thread- made strictly for overcasting seams. As sergers work with either 3 or 4 or 5 threads, this thread is not too strong and neither does it come in all the nuances of the rainbow. Usually it is made from a polyester so that it can be used for a variety of fabrics.
  • Wooly nylon thread- is a stretchy thread used for seams of swimwear, knits, etc. and is perfect for serging, upper and lower loopers. Very few domestic machine can work with this type of thread. (my 30 something old Kenmore sewed just perfect with this thread)


It's kind of useful to know that there are also different sized spools of regular sewing thread that are available in the stores for domestic sewing. (obviously the different thickness or sized thread will have more or less on the spools)

  • The small spool hold usually about 120 yds or 110 meters. In most cases if you fill one bobbin full from this small spool you will run out of thread top and bottom at approximately the same time. Available in every shade and hue of color.
  • The medium sized spools hold approximately 274 yds or 250 meters of thread. This size is usually enough thread to sew a pair of men's pants (with all the back, side pockets etc.) Available in every shade and hue of color.
  • Then there is the 550 yds or 500 meter spools of thread. This is the size that is most economical for basic coloured thread. Actually the basic colour array is what is available in this size of spools only.
  • The largest size available which domestic sewing machines can handle is the 1095 yds or 1000 meter spools. This size mainly just comes in white and black. (really great sewing notions stores might carry this size in more colours but I've only seen it in one in Toronto and in a couple in the New York fashion district)

  • The industrial sewing threads come in cones and range from 1650yds or 1500 meters to 5475 yds or 5000 meters (after that size it goes by weight, can you imagine a spool of thread that weighs in at 10 kg or 22.5 lbs) but unless you have a special stand set up on your sewing machine table with guides etc these sizes of thread spools will not work with a domestic machine. (The reason for this is that the regular spool of thread turns around as the thread is fed off the side just as it was 'rolled' or cross-spun onto the spool. With a large industrial cone the thread is threaded from an 'antenna' which is located right above the cone and the thread peels off without the cone moving.)

Tip: 1) Always buy thread a fraction darker then your fabric. That way it can blend in better.  Thread always appears lighter when its sewn.  

  • 10 Easy Steps To Custom Fit The Waist Of Pants!
    Most garment manufacturing companies seem to think that waist sizes of pants jump 2 inches at a time. So if you're an in-between size you either have to wear your pants too loose (and you wouldn't think...
  • How to fit pants and jeans
    So are you frustrated with ill-fitting pants yet? Before you buy another pair of pants or jeans that sag in the butt, pucker at the pockets and/or fetter around the waist read this guide that will give...
  • Tips For How To Shorten Jeans! Easy step by step met...
    The problem most have with getting jeans shortened is that they don't look the same anymore once the original hem has been cut. Here I'll give you the basic and easy way. The problem most have with getting...

So now you're as thread wise as you need to be to start on the merry way of becoming an accomplished sewer.

  • Sewing Scissors/Shears - Scissors Basics for Every S...
    The first 'mini-lesson' when I start a new set of 'Learn how to sew' classes revolves around scissors. I have had students show up with the $2.95 household scissors that are on special at Walmart... you know...
  • Sewing Kit--- Have to have-s!
    To prepare a good sewing kit we have to jump a bit ahead of the game. The procedure of sewing includes a multiple of tasks that all need their own equipment. For sizing we need measuring tools. ...
  • Sew Those Seams---Easy How to Sew Tutorials!
    I'm proud to admit that I'm a stitch-a-holic. I was bitten by the highly contagious sewing bug many, many years ago. There is no cure, no remedy and temporary relief can only be found at the nearest fabric...


scanflaxmi on March 17, 2016:

Informative hub! You have post this article perfectly.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on March 26, 2012:

Thanks for taking a look and for commenting Rhonda. Sorry it took so long to reply I was away.

regards Zsuzsy

Rhonda on March 18, 2012:

I have sewn for 50 years. I was trying to get informaton on hand sewing but I learned tons more from you that I wasn't aware of. Never too old to learn. Thanks

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on February 13, 2012:

Repenthea, glad you came to check out the hub. Happy sewing.

regards Zsuzsy

Repenthea on February 02, 2012:

THANK YOU!!! This was exactly what I needed. I find myself in the position of needing to buy thread for my sewing machine online. Having always simply walked into the nearest big-box-franchise, picked up a random spool, and said, "Oh this color is nice" I found it incredibly difficult to navigate the online thread buying world which obviously caters to people who know what the heck they're doing!

Now I feel much more confident about finding the right thread for my machine and my projects.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on December 10, 2010:

Thank you Support Med for taking a look and for commenting. After so many years sewing you get to know the many different notions etc.

I hope you're having a nice holiday season

regards Zsuzsy

Support Med. from Michigan on December 09, 2010:

Obviously, you are an expert! A definite yes for future reference. Voted/rated.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 07, 2010:

2patricias, how are you? Always glad when you drop in for a visit. I know all about new curtains. I haven't yet heard the request from my daughter yet... they just moved into their new house a week ago but I can hear it already... "You know that I know how to sew Mom, but you're so much quicker at it then me...please, none of the curtain from the other house match so I need new ones from top to bottom"

You did the right thing though by buying the best thread that's available for curtains. There is not nuch that can rot thread as fast as sun... so to make curtains last you need a good thread

take care

regards Zsuzsy

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on November 07, 2010:

Pat writes: I wish I'd found this hub a few months ago. I recently started sewing again after a gap of several years, and made a huge pair of curtains for my daughter's new apartment. (the things that parents do). I was surprised to discover so many kinds of thread. I picked one of the more expensive options as I wanted the curtains to last, but I really didn't know what I was choosing.

Useful hub and I'll look at more of your sewing hubs.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 27, 2010:

vinividivici, I'm not too sure what it is you are looking for. I honestly believe that sewing is a life skill that just about everyone can and will need in their life at one time or another.

As I said all three of my children learned and it's a trade they could always fall back on if they were so inclined and it was needed. With other words what ever they can learn is never wasted.

regards Zsuzsy

vinividivici on September 26, 2010:

What`s the psychological gain a kid can have from sewing?

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 26, 2010:

vinividivici, I'm not sure, I have a son and two daughters, all three were with me at my shop as they were growing up. They all learned a lot about business and customer skills and how to change the thread in the sewing machine for me when I was in a hurry. My older daughter can sew beautifully but hates it with a passion but still sews when she has to. My youngest daughter started "sewing" when she was three, everyone of her stuffed animals and dolls had her homemade clothes (strips of fabric scraps with two holes cut for armholes and buttonholes too) she still loves everything to do with sewing.

So did I inspire my children?????? possibly, maybe all three have different artistic flair...

always glad when you drop in for a visit

regards Zsuzsy

vinividivici on September 26, 2010:

How can i inspire my kid to this artistic job?

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 24, 2010:

lcbenefield glad you came by to check out the hub. happy sewing

regards Zsuzsy

lcbenefield on September 24, 2010:

Thank you for such an informative hub. It will be very helpful when I shop for thread.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 22, 2010:

Lily Rose, you know chances are that if you're not ready to cut up those little pieces of clothing then you're not ready to make the memory quilt yet. Just keep collecting the outfits and then one day you will know when it's the right time... IN the mean time maybe make a couple of doll quilts which your girls would really appreciate anyway. That will give you the practice too.

The hub is becoming a humongous article... every time I think I got it all covered I remember another tip or short cut.

Still working on it

take care


Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 22, 2010:

heart4theword, if it showed you something new then it was worth writing the hub.

Always glad when you drop in

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 22, 2010:

Sally's Trove, Bees wax... gotta remember to add a bit into the 'gotta haves' as it's really important and I always forget and then it becomes an after thought.

Hope you're well

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Lily Rose from A Coast on September 22, 2010:

Can't wait to read the quilting hub! Started going through the baby clothes the other day and I now think I may do something smaller because I'm not sure I want to cut it ALL up!

heart4theword from hub on September 21, 2010:

Wow, haven't had such a good lesson, on the purchasing of thread! Looks like you covered everything:) Great tips:) Thank you!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 21, 2010:

As your sewing Hubs always remind me of learning to sew as a child, this one's no exception. I still have my first bee's wax container for coating mercerized thread before sewing on buttons! Thanks for this super-useful guide and very enjoyable reading experience.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 21, 2010:

Hija WildIris,. thanks for taking a look and for commenting. A hub on needles, both hand sewing needles and machine needles is in the works already. Should be posted within the next couple of weeks.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

WildIris on September 20, 2010:

Zsuzsy~ A most excellent thread! Being pinched for time (working), would you do a Hub on machine needles and hand sewing needles?

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 20, 2010:

singlmomat52, Always glad when you drop in for a visit. Coffee, tea? Thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

singlmomat52 on September 20, 2010:

You are just a wealth of information when it comes to your Hubs!! I know about thread but not to this extent! Excellent hub! Thank you so much!!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 20, 2010:

saleheensblog, thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 20, 2010:

reddog1027, most people think that thread is thread is thread but it really is not so. Honestly, I'm not a 'good thread company agent' I just really believe if you go through the trouble of making something you need to use the right product to make the item last for as long as possible. This is especially true for heritage quilts etc...

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 20, 2010:

Lily Rose, you along with millions of people (me included in my early sewing days) have bought the 3 for a buck thread. Why wouldn't you? It's even being offered at the fabric stores... that should know better.

Seriously, a student of mine who was a doubting Mustapha and I did this test years ago. We sewed together a couple of scraps of sheeting. Marked them with permanent marker as to which was good thread and which was the 3for$1. She then proceeded to wash the samples for a month (with her regular laundry, in each load) She was determined to prove me wrong so she kept accurate notes. She had three kids so quite a bit of laundry. She did 53 loads of laundry in that month of those 11 were with Javex. After the time was up att the beginning of our lessons we did the big reveal... she had no problem pulling the seam apart of the scraps sewn together with the Trident (cheap thread) the seam ripped open without any effort. The scraps sewn together with good thread didn't come apart... She never bought the 3for$1 thread again.

That stuff as far as I'm concerned is fine to use for Halloween costumes or things that are meant for short time uses only.

Your quilting hub is almost ready

talk to you soon

hope you and the cherubs are well

regards Zsuzsy

reddog1027 from Atlanta, GA on September 19, 2010:

I always thought thread was thread was thread. I learned something new today. Now when I go shopping for thread, I will know what I am looking for,

Lily Rose from A Coast on September 19, 2010:

I never knew there was so much to know about thread! I must admit, I'm guilty of having gone for the 3 for $1 thread! Good thing I haven't sewn much with it...

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 19, 2010:

Hello, hello, this hub came more from experience and not research. Over the many years in my tailor shops I got to know a lot about thread. The information I put into this hub is really more than a new sewer needs to know. The main thing I wanted to point out is the importance of using good thread. This was actually one of the first lessons for my sewing students.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 19, 2010:

TetonRose thank you for taking a look and for commenting

regards Zsuzsy

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 19, 2010:

A wonderful hub all about the little threat. Thank you for all your research and sharing the information.

TetonRose from Utah on September 18, 2010:

Great information, thanks for sharing.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 18, 2010:

drbj, oh goody if it showed you something new then it was worth writing the hub.

Always glad when you drop in

regards Zsuzsy

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 18, 2010:

I've really been thread-challenged and didn't even know it. Thanks for the education, ZB.

Related Articles