Choosing the Right Thread for a Project

You’ve found the perfect fabric and have decided on the perfect pattern to create.  Now it’s important that you use the appropriate thread for the project.  Thread that is too small or weak can result in a project that falls apart; thread too wide or coarse can split or tear the fabric.  There is a thread out there for every project, and fortunately, with a little experience or research, it can become easy to figure out what thread you will need for whatever you are sewing.


The main types of sewing threads include:

  • Cotton threads
  • Polyester threads
  • Nylon/rayon threads (including invisible thread)
  • Silk threads (and silk ribbons)
  • Wool threads
  • Metallic threads
  • Designer threads (mixed threads made by combining different types of threads, e.g., cottons with rayon with silk, etc.)


Cotton thread: The usual cotton thread found in most stores is ideal for basic sewing. It is best for light- to medium-weight natural fabrics like cotton and linen.  Most cotton threads are mercerized, a coating that lets the dye take more easily and results in a lustrous appearance. This cotton has limitations, however, as it has no “give” and can break if used on fluid fabrics, such as stretch knit fabric.

Polyester threads: These are strong threads that have excellent ” give” for sewing projects. They tend to come in an all-purpose weight and often have a wax or silicone finish to them.  This finish allows the thread to slip through fabric with little friction. Polythread is suitable for most machine and hand sewing projects. The appearance of this thread will be waxy or shiny, not matte like plain cotton.

Nylon threads: This is a strong thread that is suitable for using on light to medium weight synthetic fabrics.

Rayon threads: Rayon embroidery thread works well to create flat stitches where cotton embroidery thread might stand too high.

Silk threads: Silk is a fine thread that is ideal for a range of fabrics, although silk is often reserved for embroidery work. This strong thread is ideal for sewing on silk and wool, and for basting all fabrics. The benefit is that silk threads do not leave holes and it is very flexible. An excellent tailoring thread.

Wool threads: Wool threads tend to be used for embroidery projects and for blankets (using blanket stitch). Wool works best with heavy fabrics, such as wool, or canvas.

Metallic threads: Metallic threads are used for goldwork embroidery and for embellishment on items such as handbags.


Now that you’ve decided which type of thread to use, it’s time to move on to color.  When deciding what color of thread to use there are two different approaches.

You can color match and make the thread as hard to see as possible. Match the thread color but go one shade darker than your fabric and the thread will blend in much better. If you just can’t find the right color and shade, go to a neutral color slightly darker than your fabric but of the same value. You don’t want to see your stitches when seams are pressed open.


Use a contrasting color and take your seams from utility to decorative. Of course, if you are going to topstitch you need to make sure you are skilled enough on the sewing machine or with your hand stitching to produce a good-looking stitch. That’s easy enough to do with a little practice.


When sewing myself, I use a combination of polyester and cotton for most of my projects.  My serger is always threaded with 100% spun polyester to give the serged edges a little bit of give to them.  My sewing machine is typically threaded with dual duty plus — mercerized cotton wrapped on a polyester core.  It looks like cotton and stretches like polyester, making it a good choice for most types of fabrics because it has a combination of strength and stretch.


A STITCH TIP:  When sewing clothing items, choose a thread that is slightly weaker than the fabric you are using.  If stress is put on the clothing item (especially children’s apparel), the seam will break before the fabric will rip.  This makes repairing the item much easier.


Happy Sewing!

One thought on “Choosing the Right Thread for a Project

  1. Pingback: How Blanket Stitch Embroidery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *