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All About Sewing Thread

Updated on September 16, 2014
Use a strong thread when sewing on buttons such as polyester thread
Use a strong thread when sewing on buttons such as polyester thread | Source

The Wrong Thread Type!

I recently decided I was going to prolong the use of my clothing and mend my clothes instead of buy new ones. A novel idea, how hard would it be to pick up a sewing needle and some thread and sew a couple of buttons on a blouse, dust off my sewing machine to fix some seams on some of my jeans and fix the lining on a few suit jackets ? I searched the house and found a wee sewing kit I had picked up from a dollar store and found a lovely assortment of thread all neatly spun on little colorful spools. "Score! I can do all my mending with this kit", I said to myself, "there is every color I need." Painstakingly I hemmed my dress pants, sewed buttons on my blouses, repaired seams in in the lining of jackets and with great frustration I managed to fix the seams in my torn jeans.

Pleased with myself that my mending was done I went along with life as usual and then one day while at work in the middle of a presentation I reach up to point at a white board and a button just popped off my blouse. Gasp! Embarassing moment to say the least, however I just pretended as if it never happened and carried on with the presentation. I chalked that up as bad mending on my part. Soon I discovered that my seams on my jeans were coming apart and the lining in my jacket was puckering. I called up my mother, an expert sewer and asked her what I could of possibly done wrong and she explained to me that I used the wrong type of the thread for the jobs at hand. With that bit of information I decided to investigate the different types of threads and what different types of applications they are used for.

Types of Thread

Courtesy of PacCana Ltd.
Courtesy of PacCana Ltd. | Source

Sewing Thread 101

My research on thread brought me to my local sewing supply shop Paccana Ltd. They would know a lot about sewing thread since they are a wholesale shop for sewing products and accessories. I went and talked to manager of the sewing department and she gave me a crash course on the different types of threads commonly used for home sewers like myself. So from her to me to you lets have a crash course on the different types of sewing thread.

Cotton Thread: Cotton thread is 100% natural fiber and has a good sewing performance but is not strong and breaks easily because of its natural fibers. It has different finishes to improve strength and smoothness such as mercerized, glace′d, glazed and hot-wax. It is used for delicate fabrics used in lingerie. It is most commonly used for dyed cotton linen and rayon garments. The most commonly used size or weight is size 30 which is a medium thickness.

It was the type of thread that came in my dollar store sewing kit. (not recommended for sewing on buttons or for sewing jeans or linings of jackets)

Stranded Cotton: Stranded cotton has six strands of cotton thread loosely wound together to form what we call embroidery thread. It is used for embroidery of course.

Quilting Thread: Quilting thread is made of 100% cotton. Quilting thread has a glace′d finish on it so it will not tangle, knot, or fray when the quilter is sewing through fabric and quilting baiting. It is designed specifically for quilt making.

Cotton/Polyester Thread: Cotton/Polyester Thread has a core of polyester thread and a top layer of cotton. It has the stretch of polyester thread and the nice finish of cotton thread. Used for most sewing projects.

Core Spun Polyester Thread: Core spun polyester thread is a superior performance sewing thread used for automatic sewing machines and for hand sewing. It is a strong thread and is manufactured by spinning together two lengths of polyester staple into single bundles called piles. Then two or more piles are twisted together to make a durable thread used for many applications. It is fascinating to know that core spun polyester thread can be used on fabric as delicate as chiffon's or organza's and as heavy as denims or canvases.

There are different weights and thread counts of core spun polyester threads so it is best to talk to a sales person at your favorite sewing store to find out which thread count is best suited for your sewing project. This thread also comes in a rainbow of colors so matching it to your fabric of choice will not be a problem.They are usually finished in wax or silicone to allow the thread to slip through fabric with little friction; the size commonly used for home sewers is size 50. This is the type of thread I should've used for sewing on my buttons and especially for fixing the seams of my jeans.

Serger Thread: Serger Thread is made for serger sewing machines, it thinner in diameter than other threads because it has to go through so many more guides on a serger sewing machine than a regular sewing machine. Serger thread is smooth and can be made of cotton, polyester, nylon, or woly nylon.

Bonded Nylon Thread: Bonded nylon thread is a superior performance thread which is extremely strong because of a bonding agent added during the processing. It is a three-ply twisted nylon filament used for leather, upholstery and heavy fabric. It is a high tenacity nylon thread.

Monofilament Thread: Monofilament thread is a nylon thread or polyester thread that is translucent and is used for quilting to produce invisible seams. It is very similar to regular sewing thread with its main difference is the weight it is usually thinner. If you like less stretch in your thread then it is best to go with a polyester monofilament thread for quilting projects.

Elastic Thread: Elastic Thread is thin elastic (0.03 inch 0 0.75 mm) with a thin thread coating around it. It is used where shirring and gathering is needed in garments or drapes. It comes in a variety of colors.

Nomex Thread: Nomex Thread is a specialized thread and is a fire retartant thread used for the manufacturing of safety garments such as coveralls, uniforms, etc. It is very expensive and does come in small spools if you need it for a small job.

Rayon Thread: Rayon thread is not considered to be a natural fiber thread even though it is made from cellulose a naturally occurring fiber. Rayon thread is really processed to provide its beautiful colorful colors. It is used for rayon clothing.

Silk Thread: Silk Thread is strong thread and if very fine, it is difficult to see and it typically used for attaching beads to garments.


Cotton Thread
Cotton Thread

Sewing it up!

Now you have a quick lesson on the different types of threads commonly used for sewing. I did not include sewing yarns because I just didn't. Now let's review. Cotton thread is is great for sewing lingerie and cotton itself it is not a strong thread so it is not ideal for sewing on buttons. For everyday mending and usual sewing projects your best bet is to go with a core spun polyester thread with a weight or size of 50 it is durable and works well with fabrics as delicate as organza and as heavy as denim. If you are a quilter you have quilters thread and monofilament thread. If you are lucky enough to have a serger sewing machine there is serger thread which is designed especially for sergers it also comes in a large array of colors and is typically a core polyester thread. Nylon thread is used for leathers and upholstery and Nomex thread is a specialized thread used in the manufacturing of fire retardant garments. Whatever your sewing project is your best bet is to take to your local sewing stores salesperson and ask what thread is best suited for your project because you do not want seams splitting or buttons popping at the wrong time or at the wrong place!

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