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Resource Library: Sewing Thread

As a sewer, we all use thread. Whether we're using it for hand-sewing or putting it into our machine, we are very familiar with thread. But when using it, we tend to not think about how it is made and what fibers it can come in. I've done a lot of research on thread and I would love to share it with you! 


Thread is a tightly twisted strand of two or more plys of yarn. It is used to sew together garments, accessories and more. A collection of yarns (or threads) is also used to weave together fabric, whether it is woven or knitted. 

Thread comes in a variety of materials. As a "common" sewer, many of us are used to polyester or polyester/cotton threads. But threads also come in wool, silk, and many other contents.

NATURAL FIBERS:
1. Animal: wool, silk, hair
2. Plant (vegetable): cotton, flax, jute, wool, bamboo, etc.


MAN-MADE FIBERS:
1. Regenerated Cellulose: rayon, acetate
2. Mineral: glass, metallic
3. Synthetic: polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastic, polypropylene, etc.



How is Thread Made?


Thread is made by twisting together fibers. When fibers are combined to make the thread, a reverse twist is applied to add strength. Without a reverse twist, the thread cannot be controlled during sewing. The individual yarns would separate as they pass through the needle and the tension discs of the sewing machine. 


The direction of the twist is really important. A thread with a z-twist (left twist) is made specifically for your sewing machine. The action of the sewing process tends to increase the twist of a z-twist thread, whereas the s-twist (right twist) can untwist when being used in the sewing machine. 





Thread Construction Methods:


Spun Thread:
Twisting together yarns made from short fibers (image to the right), produces all spun threads. However the lengths of the fibers used can have a major effect on the quality, strength, and performance of the thread produced. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the length of the fibers, the better the quality of thread produced. The highest quality spun polyester, such as Mettler and Gutermann, are produced from longer staple fibers.





Core Thread:
Spun cotton or polyester (short) fibers wrapped around a continuous filament of polyester fibers.




Texturized Thread:

Continuous filament polyester or nylon that has been mechanically texturized and heat set to make the thread fuzzy and stretchy.



Monofilament:
Single nylon or polyester filament. Long fiber that is spun by melting (see images above).




Thread Finishes
Before thread is wound onto the spool it is given an invisible helpmate. For example, serger threads get a finish that prevent it from breaking in high-speed sewing. Machine-quilting threads are treated to flow smoothly through the tension guides. All threads are lubricated with chemicals to some degree, but some (especially cotton varieties) have other finishes applied.


Bonded:
Polyester or nylon thread coated to keep it from shredding and to reduce abrasion.


Gassed:
Normally used on cotton thread. The thread is quickly passed through the flame to reduce fuzz. 


Glazed (glacé):
A glaze is put on some threads to help reduce knots and tangling. Commonly, a glaze is put on cotton thread that is used for hand-sewing. It is treated with starches, waxes or chemicals then polished to a luster for a smooth surface. This finish can gum up a sewing machine, so use only for hand-sewing. Many of you may have a beeswax bar in your sewing supply kit. This is the simple way to make any thread have a glaze.

Mercerized:

Mercerized cotton or cotton-covered polyester thread is put in a caustic soda bath that is then neutralized in an acid bath. This process adds strength, luster and dye-fastness. It also reduces lint. 

Soft:
Usually refers to a cotton thread that does not have any finishing processes applied. 


Kind of Threads and Use:

Different projects require different threads, so you may want to have a variety of different threads in your supply kit. Garment sewing projects could include a variety of threads - "regular" thread for seams, decorative ones for embroidery or decorative stitches and heavier threads for buttonholes, shirring and more. 



Cotton thread:
Made from spun staple cotton fibers. Cotton thread has little stretch, limited strength, and (in comparison to other fibers) can produce a lot of lint. It also has a low sheen. Use cotton thread for heirloom sewing, decorative stitching or embroidery, sewing lightweight natural fibers, patchwork, and quilting.


Cotton-wrapped polyester thread:
Made by wrapping a continuous polyester filament with staple cotton, this thread has the benefits of polyester and the look of cotton. This is the most common type of thread used for all-purpose sewing.


Monofilament Thread:
This type of thread has a single strand of nylon or polyester filament and comes in a wide range of weights. Polyester withstands higher heat than nylon, rot-resistant. Almost invisible, it comes clear, gray, or matte. It feels scratchy worn next to the skin. Use a lightweight version for invisible sewing and blind hems, or encase a heavier version inside a rolled stitch to support fluted or ruffled edges.


Texturized threads (such as woolly nylon or polyester, wool-look):
Texturized threads are continuous multi-filaments that stretch into a fine yet strong thread. When relaxed, it expands to a full, fluffy appearance. This type of thread fills in stitches on rolled hems and overlock stitches making soft, stretchy seams for swimwear and children's clothes. It is used mainly on a serger. 


Upholstery threads:
This thick, strong thread is often made of nylon. It comes in limited colors and withstands the elements pretty well. It is easy to sew with but the ends tend to unravel. It is also difficult to knot.


Bobbin thread:
This type of thread is very fine and used in machine embroidery. It comes in limited colors and sometimes available on pre-wound bobbins. 

Buttonhole twist, topstitching thread, or cordonnet:

These heavier threads are available in silk, polyester, cotton-covered polyester, and cotton. It can be used for heavy-duty utility sewing, open decorative machine stitching, bold topstitching, hand-stitched buttonholes on heavy fabrics, and cording machine buttonholes.

Polyester thread:

The garment industry often uses polyester thread because it is strong, colorfast, and resistant to UV rays, rot, mildew, and chemicals. It has some stretch, good recovery, and is heat-resistant. It can also be manufactured to mimic the appearance of natural fibers.


Spun polyester:
Polyester is cut into staples to spin it into thread. It is smoother and stronger than a spun natural fiber. Use it for all-purpose sewing.


Rayon thread:
Rayon thread is made from continuous fibers. It has no stretch, very little strength and not always colorfast. But is soft and beautiful! It is used almost exclusively for decorative stitching and machine embroidery. Because it is not durable, it is not recommended for construction. 


Silk Thread:
This thread is made from a natural continuous fiber that is strong, smooth, and has a lustrous sheen. It is wonderful for hand-sewing, tailoring, and basting. Use lightweight silk threads for sewing fragile fabrics. Use medium-weight silk thread for elegant construction on fine silk and wool fabrics. Use heavier-weight silk thread for buttonholes and hand or machine top-stitching.


Light-sensitive Thread:
Novelty threads that either change color in sunlight or glow in the dark. Use for top-stitching and embroidery.


Fusible thread:
Like fusible interfacing, fusible thread melts when ironed, forming a bond with fabric. Use it in the bobbin or lower looper on a serger to outline appliqués, pockets, etc. This will allow them to be temporarily fused in place instead of basted.


Water-soluble thread:
This is handy for temporarily basting hems and positioning pockets, pleats, etc. For general construction, thread your machine with the same thread on the top and in the bobbin because it’s practical and simplifies balancing the tension. Color suitability might be a reason for not matching the top thread to the bobbin thread in which case you would use the same type of thread in the bobbin and on top, but match the color of each to the corresponding fabric.


Metallic thread:
Metallic thread has a foil-like appearance and is used for decorative stitching and embroidery. It is known to separate, so stitch slowly, loosen the tension, use a larger needle, and pair with all-purpose thread in the bobbin. Some newer wrapped-core versions have a veneer-type finish that keeps them from separating.


Serger Thread:
Finer than all-purpose thread, has a special finish for high-speed sewing, and comes on cones or tubes.



Thread Size Measurement
The weight or size of thread is an important consideration for any sewing or quilting project. A thinner thread will blend in, whereas a heavier thread will show. Three primary methods of thread measurement are weight, denier, and tex.


Weight: This is the most commonly understood method. You may see thread marked "60/2". This means it is a 60-weight, 2-ply thread. The Weight is the "60" and is determined by the number of kilometers required by a specific thread to weigh 1 kilogram. The higher the number, the lighter and finer the thread is. The "ply" number tells you how many yarns are twisted together. 2-ply thread is usually used for machine embroidery and 3-ply threads are all-purpose threads. 

Denier: This method is intended for synthetic fibers. Denier is the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of thread. If 9,000 meters weighs 120 grams, it is a 120-denier thread. Most embroidery threads are 120d/2, which means two strands of 120-denier thread twisted together making 240 denier total. The larger the number, the heavier the thread. 


Tex: Weight in grams of 1,000 meters of thread. If 1,000 meters weighs 25 grams, it is a Tex 25. Larger numbers indicate heavier thread.


THREAD SIZE COMPARISON CHART


Weight/ply
Denier
Tex
Lightweight (fine) threads
50/2, 60/2, 70/2, 80/2
100s, 200s
10-24
Medium-weight threads
50/3, 30/2 300s
400s
27-45
Heavyweight (thick) threads
40/3
500s up
50 up





Now that you've learned ALL this information on thread, its time to learn what type of thread to use with what fabric. We've also included information on what needles to use with these threads. If you remember, we talked about needles in a previous post, Resource Library: Choosing the Right Needle


Fabric, Thread and Needle Chart:


Fabric Weight & Type
Thread
Machine Needles
Very Light: chiffon, georgette, organza, tulle, etc.
100% Cotton (extra fine)
Cotton-wrapped polyester (extra fine)
Silk
Universal 60/8 or 65/9
Light: cotton/polyester blend batiste, linen, lace, etc.
100% Cotton (extra fine)
Cotton-wrapped polyester
(extra fine)
Silk
Universal 65/9 or 70/10
Ballpoint or stretch 70/10 or 75/11
Medium Light: challis, knit, microfiber, polyester silky, seersucker, taffeta, etc.
 Cotton-wrapped polyester
100% Polyester
Silk
Universal 70/10 or 80/12
Ballpoint or stretch 75/11
Medium Heavy:  brocade, corduroy, denim, sequinned fabric, velvet, wool and wool blends, etc.
Cotton-wrapped polyester
100% Polyester
Silk
Universal 80/12 or 90/14
Jeans/ Denim 90/14
Ballpoint or stretch 80/12 or 90/14
Leather 90/14
Heavy: boiled wool, canvas, faux fur, leather, etc.
Cotton-wrapped polyester (Button & Carpet)
100% Polyester (extra strong)
Silk
100% Nylon (Upholstery & Home Dec)
Universal 90/14 or 100/16
Jeans/ Denim 90/14 or 100/16
Very Heavy:  Canvas, duck, upholstery fabrics
Cotton-wrapped polyester (Button & Carpet)
100% Polyester (extra strong)
100% Nylon (Upholstery & Home Dec)
Universal 100/16, 110/18, or 120/19
Jeans/ Denim 100/16 or 110/18
Leather 100/16 or 110/18

And one last thing that I just had to share-- Always clean your machine in between projects! A build-up of lint from the thread (and dust from your fabric) can cause problems that appear to be related to thread tension.



~ Gabby ~


The information in this post was taken and adapted from the following sources, pictures and images are courtesy from the same and other free internet sources:
Coats & Clark, North America. http://www.coats.com
Coats Viyella PLC, Thread Division. http://www.coats-viyella.co.uk .
Gütermann of America, Inc., and Gütermann AG, Germany. http://www.guetermann.com .
Saunders Thread Company. http://www.saunders-thread.com/sewing.html .
Synthetic Thread Company. http://www.syntheticthread.com
http://www.fabriclandwest.com/Notion_basics/MontlyNotionFeatures/tying_it_all_together.htm#conventional

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