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Sewing Machine Thread

Choosing Thread for Machine Sewing

Choosing the correct thread for machine sewing is one of the key sewing essential choices affecting the quality of your work.  To make the best use of your craft time as well as your investment in your sewing, embroidery or quilting machine, selecting the right thread for your purpose and your fabric needs to be correct.

Basic Sewing Construction

All-purpose sewing thread is the choice for sewing seams.  Cotton-covered polyester core thread comes in a wide range of colors.  High quality 100% polyester thread is also good for your daily sewing needs.  If you do your construction seams on a serger, be sure to use cone thread for sergers–it has a special finish and lighter weight for sewing at high speeds.

Sewing Machine ThreadFor utility sewing of upholstery or outdoor items, use nylon thread.  Nylon is strong and resists rot and mildew for outdoor uses.  The color selection is more limited than for all-purpose thread, but the performance is what is needed for heavy-duty sewing.

Special Sewing Needs

Buttonhole twist is also called top-stitching thread or cordonnet.  This heavier thread makes decorative top-stitching stand out and provides the necessary reinforcement to machine worked buttonholes.  It can also be used for seams on very heavy fabrics and for hand sewing of buttonholes.

Wooly nylon is a textured, soft thread that comes on cones for serger use.  It is used in the upper looper of a serger to produce a neatly covered rolled hem for ruffles, tablecloths, napkins, or other edgings .

It can also be used for decorative stitching, but is not suitable for construction seams.  Knitters also use this thread to reinforce the toes and heels of hand-knit socks.

Monofilament nylon thread is sometimes called invisible thread for its use in making blind hems.  It comes in spools for sewing machines and in cones for use in sergers or blind hemmers. This specialty thread comes in clear and smoky versions for use with light or dark fabrics, respectively.

Elastic thread is used in the bobbin of a conventional sewing machine to create decorative shirring and machine smocking.  The elastic core is wrapped in thread to produce a heavy thread that must be wound onto the bobbin by hand.  Another use for elastic thread is to hand sew a few rows around a loose sweater cuff or sock top to restore its stretch.

Water-soluble thread is useful for basting and other temporary stitching.  Just spritz with a little water and this thread disappears.  Be sure to mark any bobbins containing this thread–you don’t want a project to fall apart in the washing machine!

Decorative Sewing

Embroidery threads come in great variety.  Rayon is a popular choice for its silk-like luster.  Light-sensitive thread can be used to make fun glow-in-the-dark designs on clothing.  Metallic threads can be used to enhance evening wear, home décor, or special gift items.

Save your more expensive specialty thread for areas where the stitches are visible. Use inexpensive bobbin thread on the wrong side of your machine embroidery projects.  Bobbin thread can be white or clear and does not need to be changed every time the top thread color changes.  This thread comes in pre-wound bobbins for convenience, or you may buy a cone and wind your own bobbins for greater economy.


While quilts are pieced with all-purpose thread, they are quilted with quilting thread.  Be sure to check the labels to see if the thread you choose is for machine quilting.  Some quilting thread is waxed and suitable for hand quilting only.

In Conclusion

Thread should match the purpose for which it will be used.  If you choose the right thread and still have problems sewing, check your machine tension and your needle.  Also check to be sure you threaded your machine correctly–even professionals sometimes make a mistake.  With the right thread, needle, and tension, your sewing should proceed smoothly.