How to Choose a Sewing Thread

Reels of thread in different primary colours
Where would we be without thread? Thread has enabled us to make clothing to protect us from all weathers and the harshest of environments, from joining fur pelts, the Ancient Egyptians to the Space Race which may seem a little deep but without it we’d be very cold, and the human race wouldn’t have made it to the moon.
When I’m not making space suits I sew for practicality, absolute pleasure and mindfulness…but I always try to use the right thread for the right garment as it can alter the finished effect. We all have a box of thread, whether you’ve purchased a spool for the one garment and a spot-on colour match or inherited thread from people who know that you “make things”.
So, here is a quick guide to thread and matching colours for those of you who aren’t tailoring for Buzz Aldrin…
When matching thread to fabric, always undo it from the spool and lay in on your material to get the best colour match. Thread always looks darker when its on the reel. Sometimes it isn't possible to get an exact shade match so opt for the lighter of the closest colour matches as this won't show as much as a shade that is too dark.
You should always use the same type of thread (same material, same thickness) on the top and the bottom to avoid uneven tension, jams, and breakages. Nothing is more infuriating than constantly re-threading your sewing machine when you could be making beautiful things.

Mercerised Cotton Thread

Most of us have this in our sewing box, high-quality mercerized cotton threads are soft and durable enough to adjust to normal wear and tear, but pliable enough to withstand typical fabric shrinkage. This is available in a variety of weights that make it great for several different sewing projects from gingham, synthetic fabrics, jersey to Denim, fleece and drapery fabrics.


Polyester Thread Types

Again, this is available in different weights, extra-fine is for light weight fabrics and machine embroidery, regular is for general sewing and extra strong is used for hand sewing, buttonholes and heavy weight fabrics such as calico and upholstery fabric.

Bowl of Gutermann threads

All-Purpose Thread (Sew-All)

This is readily available, and it is a good all-round thread that is strong and ideal for hand and machine sewing. There are many manufacturers that produce this thread but one of the best is Gutermanns as it is excellent quality, this come in size 50 which is a good all-purpose weight. This can be used on most fabrics and is the most commonly used thread in the UK.

Invisible Thread

Not The Emperor’s New Clothes but thread that has a transparent look which allows it to blend into the background. Quilters like to use this when they “stitch in the ditch” as it creates unobtrusive stitches when they are sewing with a variety of colours and shades of fabric.

Nylon Thread

Known for its strength, flexibility and stretch, nylon thread is also resistant to sunlight, chemicals and abrasion.

This is used in all “active wear”, from swim wear, yoga pants, shoes, handbags and upholstery. It is often used in leather goods because of its strength and resilience to chemicals (the tannins in leather break down cotton fibres and a bag would fall apart).

Top Stitching Thread

This is a heavier thread used to provide additional strength and decoration to a garment or accessory, Jeans, handbags etc. Top stitching is sewn on the outside of the garment, usually placed close to a finished seam or edge to give definition, you will need a bigger needle due to the thickness of the thread.

Buttonhole Twist

Again, this is a heavier thread similar to top stitching thread, as suggested in the name it is suitable for hand-worked buttonholes, sewing on buttons and top stitching.

Tacking Thread

This usually comes in black or white and is used to hold fabric in place making it easier to sew. It is designed to break easily so don’t use it to sew buttons onto your favourite shirt as you’ll be doing it again, and again like my friend Sue did until she complained saying “This button keeps on coming off my shirt! “Sue, Are you using tacking thread?”….empty silence… “Oh, Yes I am.”

Shirring Elastic Thread

This is a fine elastic thread that is wound around the bobbin and is used to create a smocking effect.

Water Soluble Thread

Yes, truly it does exist. Often used to baste (join) two pieces of fabric together and used in applique, in lieu of tacking thread. It resolves the issue of pulling out stitches as this thread dissolves in water.

Warning. Do not make swimwear with this thread. Or an umbrella.


Thread has a long but limited life span; old thread will hold together for a while but will be prone to wear and tear resulting in fraying and eventually snapping. I do have some, but I keep it for decorative purposes as they are on wooden cotton reels and I love them.

When I started sewing I was told to sew like to like ie. Use linen thread when sewing linen, cotton thread when sewing cotton but thread manufacturing has come a long way and the development of new materials means that there are more generic threads that have all round uses.

However, I would still recommend sewing a test piece before you plunge into your new project to ensure you have the right tension for your thread and fabric. Happy sewing!

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