What threads should I use?

May 25, 2014

While we prefer polyester thread at the factory for its strength, durability, and relatively lint-free properties, we know that quilters often have other ideas!

That’s what is great about your APQS machine. It will stitch with just about any thread that will fit through the eye of the needle, as long as you are willing to adjust the tension settings and tweak the thread path. If that intimidates you, read through the answer to question No. 1 for hints on successful tension adjusting.

The key to successful quilting lies in choosing a good quality thread – whether that’s polyester, cotton, metallic or another type. Each has positives and negatives.

For example, polyester thread runs smoothly through your machine and creates almost no bobbin lint; however, some quilters insist on only cotton thread in their quilts. That means more diligent cleaning of the bobbin area on your part, and the bobbin case in particular. Lint build-up can fill the bobbin raceway and cause tension trouble, not to mention increase the possibility of sewing ugly lint to the back of the quilt if you’re not careful. Since cotton thread is generally weaker than polyester, it also means adjusting the top and bobbin tension for better stitch quality. If you choose cotton thread, look for a long-staple, Egyptian cotton. Long staple thread is typically less “linty” and runs more smoothly through the needle’s eye.

When polyester thread first appeared over two decades ago, quilters stayed away from it because of its potential to cut through quilting fabric. Back then, the thread did have microscopic sharp edges that could tear fabric after lots of wear. However, we’ve come a long way since then! Today’s polyester threads are nearly indistinguishable from cotton thread, and the polyester’s modern formulation has no sharp edges…only smooth fibers. You can use modern polyester thread without the fear that it will eventually cut your fabric. In fact, polyester is an excellent choice when the quilt you are working on will receive lots of washing or use. The polyester thread holds up much better than any cotton thread under these conditions, increasing the longevity of your quilt.

Specialty threads such as metallics and invisible thread can also be used in your machine, but require some speed and tension adjustments to run successfully. With metallics, you’ll need to slow down a bit so that the needle doesn’t get so hot from the friction and cause the thread to break.

You’ll also need to loosen your top tension, and choose a smooth bobbin thread that is light weight. (Invisible thread is an excellent choice for your bobbin in combination with metallic top thread.) To use invisible thread on the top of your quilt, loosen the top tension. If you choose it as your bobbin thread, wind the bobbin only 1/2 full (1/4 full for “Big Bobbins”). Loosen the bobbin case tension as well. Test the tension as you would with any other thread by doing a sample stitch-out, and then adjust the tension accordingly. If the invisible thread breaks, keep loosening the tension until it sews correctly, and then fine-tune the tension with your other thread.

Ultimately you (and your customer, if you’re quilting for others) have the final say about the type of thread you’ll use. If polyester is your thing, look for smooth consistent fibers that don’t have an enormous amount of stretch.

If cotton is preferable, then look for mercerized, long-staple cotton, which produces less lint than other types.

Check out our forum for hints from other APQS quilters on using other types of threads and tricks to taming them! You can also send direct questions to our service and education team. We’re here to help!