Quilting the Quilt: The thread that binds or quilts

November 4, 2014

polyester thread, cotton thread, longarm thread, Dawn Cavanaugh, Quilting the Quilt, APQS, longarm quilting

How can a quilter walk into a quilt shop without feeling like the doors to a candy store have just flung open? One can never have “too much fabric or too much chocolate.” If fabric is like a big slice of chocolate cake, then thread is the fudge icing on top!

In the past, quilts were stitched together by hand with plain cotton thread, in a choice of two fabulous colors—white or off white. Black thread was prevalent in Amish quilts, but for the most part, quilting thread choices were limited. Now you can stroll down the vendor aisles at quilt shows and see large booths devoted strictly to thread! Cotton thread still has a foothold in the quilting arena, but has lost much of its traction to modern polyester threads that promise colorfastness, strength, durability, and lint-free quilting.

If thinking about polyester conjures up images of John Travolta in a 1970s leisure suit, gyrating under a disco ball, then you’ve spent too much time watching old movies and not enough time in the quilt shop! Polyester has come a long way since the days of plaid pant suits. A wide array of poly thread is available—from variegated thread that looks like it was dipped in a rainbow to solids that are nearly indistinguishable from cotton thread.

Quilting folklore holds that polyester thread will eventually cut through cotton fabric, leaving a quilt torn to shreds by the very thread meant to hold it together. While this may have occurred with some early polyester fibers, today’s products are far superior. In fact, polyester thread is the smart choice for quilts that will receive lots of wear or will be washed often. Wet quilts are extremely heavy, and the strain that washing machine agitation puts on the quilt can easily snap cotton thread— especially lines stitched on the stretchy bias of the fabric.

When deciding between cotton and polyester thread, consider the quilt’s intended use. If you find cotton thread more aesthetically pleasing and are not concerned about washing the quilt often, then select cotton thread with a long staple that has been mercerized. This will help reduce  lint buildup in your machine, which can increase tension problems. Choose polyester when you want to wash the quilt often since this thread will not absorb moisture like cotton. It also leaves very little lint residue to clog up your sewing machine.

Read the rest of this Quilting the Quilt article.