What threads should you use and why?

How do you pick your threads? Do you just select your thread by colour? Sewing with the right thread is the key to any successful sewing project 

Here’s our guide to choosing them:

Threads have come a long way since the caveman was sewing hide and fur together with fine strips of animal hide. The first uses of thread were to create woven tapestries from wool yarn and then seamstresses began to use the same material to create garments. We’ve created the ultimate guide to what threads you should use and why


Cotton thread is the most popular, and made from cotton fibres. It’s soft and won’t stretch. This thread has a low in lustre but can fade and shrink. High quality cotton threads are made from the long cotton fibres, these tend to be stronger and less likely to fray in your machine. You can buy mercerised cotton-wrapped polyester threads (holds colour and lustre is better). Use cotton threads with natural fibred fabrics, as they will stand up to heat when pressing seams.

Use for: all-purpose sewing and dressmaking with medium fabrics

Use 100% cotton thread such as size 80 Madeira thread on sheers, delicate fabrics and where you want to lose the stitch.”
Tip from Maderia

Polyester thread is man-made and tends to be extremely strong with a medium lustre. It’s also economical to buy and comes in a wide selection of colours, with the added benefit of not shrinking or fading.

These threads are easier to sew with, tend to glide through the fabric, but can’t withstand high temperatures and can be damaged when pressing on higher heat settings so are best used with synthetic fabrics which requires a cooler press.
Use for: quilting and light and medium weight fabrics, machine embroidery and with synthetic and stretch fabrics.

Silk is made from the silk worms cocoons and is thinner and more elastic with a high lustre. It tends to sink into garments, when sewn which is good for hand embroidery and needlework. Silk thread is very fine, and perfect for using with natural fibres such as silk or wool. It’s very strong and can withstand high temperatures and ideal for tailoring.
Use for: seaming, topstitching, buttonholes and hand sewing

TIP: Silk thread makes a good basting/tacking thread as it doesn’t leave holes in the fabric.

Rayon thread is also man-made and has a high-lustre. It’s soft, durable and available in a wide selection of colours. Rayon thread works well with high-speed sewing such as machine embroidery and doesn’t suffer from fraying or breaking. Disadvantage is, it’s not heat resistant or colourfast.

Nylon threads are synthetic, and although it is a very strong thread, the negatives of using can overweigh any positives. It’s not colourfast nor heat resistant, and will deteriorate over time with washing.

Other threads fit for purpose
It is possible to buy threads designed for specific tasks too such as top-stitching, threads for sewing jeans, metallic, bobbin, invisible and shirring (elastic) threads. All-purpose thread is cotton wrapped in polyester, which makes it an inexpensive option.


You gets what you pay for!
Always choose a good quality thread over cheaper alternatives to ensure best results. If you look at cheaper threads under the microscope (if you have one handy…) you’ll find that they are not smooth and looked frayed and bumpy. If in doubt, stick to brands that you know or that have been recommended.

Reading a spool
Did you know that your spool of thread can tell you a lot about it. It lists the fibre content, manufacturer and colour number, which is very useful if you need to by more thread at a later date. It also often carries 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.

Make sure you match the thread’s fibre content to the fabric that you are using. For example, use natural fibre thread with natural fibre fabric and synthetic thread with man-made fabrics. Always use the same thread type in both the needle and bobbin.

Rule of thumb
A good thread should pass easily through the eye of a needle

Thread type can also affect the tension on your sewing machine. If you are using rayon thread, your tensions will have to be a little looser than for a polyester thread, which can stand a tighter tension to avoid looping.

Colour matching
Make sure you match fabric and thread in daylight to ensure you get a good match. If you’re unable to get a complete match, always go for the darker thread as a lighter thread can be more visible and with patterned fabrics, choose a thread to go with the background colour.

TIP: When choosing a thread for top stitching why not go for a contrasting colour to make it stand out.

Thread weight
Threads come in lots of different weights and thicknesses. The heavier or thicker your thread the more visible your stitches will be. When using thicker threads you may need to adjust your sewing machine’s tension and choose a sewing machine needle that has a larger enough eye. Weight is shown as a measurement of the length of 1gm of thread (wt). If 1gm is 30 metres long, then this thread is a 30-weight thread. The higher the weight is the finer the thread. 40wt is the favourite weight for sewing.

TIP: Use thicker threads for sewing thicker fabrics for additional strength.


Basting – Lightweight thread usually 100% cotton for temporary stitching
Invisible – Usually nylon, and used for mending and attaching trims where you don’t want to see stitching.
Machine embroidery – High gloss finer threads available in a wide selection of colours, textures and sizes. Often polyester or rayon and comes in plain, variegated and iridescent colours.
Metallic – These have a shimmer to them and are ideal for decorative stitching/machine embroidery.
Overlocker – Sold on cones especially for high speed overlocking.
Topstitching – Strong thread that produces a well defined stitch that is to be seen.
Bobbinfil – Designed for use with machine embroidery, it comes in black or white and forms the underside of heavily stitched embroidery preventing puckering.

Many of the reputable thread brands are becoming environmentally responsible. Gütermann’s Sew-all Thread 100 m rPET comes from its creativ range and is made of 100% recycled plastic bottles. It’s available in 50 different colours on 100m reels and is suitable for machine and hand-stitching. This starter kits includes seven of the most used shades.
Scanfil is a 100% long staple, combed cotton thread produced from organically grown cotton, which is low lint and wound on traditional style wooden spools so it’s plastic free too.

Storing threads neatly can be a bit of a challenge. Here are a couple of our favourite solutions:

Pod it!
The SpoolPod from Creative Industry is a brilliant way of keeping your matching bobbin and thread spools together. You can buy 5 for £19 and they can be shipped anywhere in the world (free postage in the UK). To find out more visit www.creative-industry.co.uk

On the rack
Store all your thread right at your fingertips with this quality thread rack from June Tailor. It can accommodate up to 60 standard sized spools.
To find your local UK stockist, visit www.eqsuk.com