An Ultimate Guide to Sewing Thread

Hey, you!

The human body has its essential nutrient requirements: high-quality protein, healthy fats, leafy, green veggies, vitamins, and minerals.

Well, thread (and sewing machine needles) are like essential nutrients for your sewing machine.

Just as many of us try not to feed junk food to our most prized possession–our body! Well, don’t feed junk to your sewing machine.

Bottom line:

Your sewing machine will perform best when it is fed quality thread (and the appropriate sewing machine needle).

So make it your business to check each spool of thread BEFORE you thread your machine.

In this post, we are going to cover a lot of information. You will learn:

  • About thread fiber content
  • About thread weight
  • How to choose the best thread colour for your project
  • How to determine how much thread your project will require
  • How to check if thread is colourfast
  • How to store your thread
  • How to buy quality thread

WHEW! That’s a lot! So let’s get started with a couple of important rules…

NOTE: This article contains affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure HERE.

Thread Rules

Rule #1: ALWAYS use high-quality thread.

Rule #2: For most general sewing you will be using 100% polyester or cotton-covered polyester thread.

Thread Fiber Content

Fiber content is probably the most important consideration when choosing sewing machine thread for your fabric.

The ideal all-purpose thread is smooth and strong with just a bit of stretch.

Here’s the thing…

A high-quality thread produces less lint. And this is important because an excessive buildup of lint and fuzz will bring your sewing machine to a grinding halt!

Now that you understand what makes a quality thread and why it is important, here is a quick rundown on the various thread types you are likely to use when constructing garments…

100% Cotton Thread

Cotton thread is strong and heat resistant. But it has no stretch (aka elasticity), which could mean popped seams. It works best for fabrics made of 100% cotton or linen that require you to press at very high temperatures.

When a cotton thread is mercerized, the thread becomes stronger and has a nice sheen.

100% Polyester Thread

spool of gutterman's sew-all, 100% polyester thread

100% Polyester thread is smooth and strong (but not as strong as cotton), and elastic (yay, no popped seams). But it can be scorched when pressed at very high temperatures.

This thread is an excellent choice for most garment construction purposes.

Cotton-Covered Polyester Thread

This hybrid is an all-purpose thread that gives you the best of 100% cotton and 100% polyester. It has a poly core that is wrapped in a cotton exterior that is both durable and heat resistant.

Heavy Duty Thread

These threads are generally not suitable for garment construction. They are designed to be used with upholstery weight fabrics.

Silk Thread

spool of silk gutterman's silk thread

Silk thread is soft but strong, has elasticity, and has a gorgeous luster. Because it is fine, it does not get knotty or leave unsightly holes or lint impressions in delicate fabrics.

However, it is best reserved for hand basting (rather than general construction) or for use with delicate fabrics.

And because of its luster, silk thread is also puuurfect for decorative stitching.

But you do have to keep this in mind…

If you bleach a garment made with silk thread, the silk thread can be damaged.

Elastic Thread

two spools of gutterman's elastic thread in black and white

Elastic thread is a specialty thread used for shirring. Shirring is a technique that makes the most lovely summer dresses.

Basically, begin by hand winding the elastic thread onto an empty bobbin.

Then, thread your machine with regular thread.

And finally, draw up the elastic thread on the bobbin as usual.

Now, you’re ready to make like a magician… I can’t wait until you try this technique!

Invisible Thread

spool of invisible thread (clear)

Invisible thread is a transparent thread that comes in clear and smoke. It is very fine and soft. And it will blend with any fabric.

Metallic Thread

spool of metallic thread

Metallic thread is a fun option for decorative stitching. You will need a special metallic sewing machine needle to avoid shedding and breakage of this delicate thread.

Also, avoid applying high heat.

Rayon Thread

a large spool of ridiculously stunning blue rayon thread

Rayon thread has an incredible sheen and comes in saturated, swoon-worthy colours.

While this is a truly lovely thread, there are a few things you should know…

  • It is delicate, so you can’t use on construction seams.
  • It is often not colourfast.
  • And it is freaking expensive.

But it would make for some gorgeous decorative stitching.

Topstitching Thread

Topstitching thread is strong and thick for those times when you want a bold finish.

pack of topstitching sewing machine needles and topstitching thread

And it is a great choice for decorative finishes and sewing on buttons that don’t fall easily.

But here’s the thing…

It must be used with a specialty topstitching sewing machine needle.

Variegated Thread

spool of rayon variegated thread

Variegated thread varies in colour along the strand and is another fun option for decorative stitching. This spool is not only variegated but also rayon.

Thread Weight

After fiber content, the next most important characteristic to consider is weight. Yes, thread has weight.

Thread weight is designated like this: 50/3. The 50 indicates thread weight and 3 tell us how many yarns (or plies) make up the strand.

Here’s what you need to take away…

The tension on home sewing machines is usually set 4 at the factory. This will produce balanced stitching when sewing with 50/3 thread.

And all-purpose threads have a thread weight between 40 and 50, which is just right for light- and medium-weight fabrics.

RELATED: Thread Mastery: A Guide to Understanding Thread (this is late night reading!)

Thread Colour Matters

Next, let’s start with the most obvious choice: Colours.

When you choose colours for your project, choose a thread that takes a backstage seat by disappearing into the fabric.

White, beige and black can take you a long way. But they cannot take you all the way. There will come a time when you need other colours.

However, if you’re like me and are either frugal and/or a minimalist, you don’t want your thread supply to overflow with a rainbow of colours.

So for those of us with limited budgets and space and/or a minimalist sensibility, a gray or slate coloured thread can be a godsend. The beauty of gray or slate is that it is a colour that simply doesn’t mind being a wallflower, blending brilliantly into most prints.

three spools of gray thread

If a time should come when you need to buy a nonbasic colour for a project, simply hold the thread against your fabric. It should blend in and almost disappear.

And If you can’t find just the right shade and just want to begin already, choose a colour that is a shade darker than the dominant color in your fabric.

Got it?!

How Much Thread Do You Need

After colour, the next consideration is naturally how much thread will you need.

Well, I think it makes sense to buy large spools of the four basics: white, beige, black, and gray. And buy small spools of nonbasic colours that you only need for a single project.

How much thread you need will depend on the size of your project.

But here are some general guidelines I follow:

  • If you’re sewing a skirt, a top, or a child’s garment, you can probably get away with just 50 to 100 yards.
  • If you are sewing a dress or other garment for a small adult, 100 to 200 yards may suffice.
  • And if you are sewing coats, jackets, long garments, or for larger adults, get 300 yards.

Nothing is more frustrating than being in the groove of sewing and running out of thread in the middle of a project.

How to Check Thread Quality

By now you know how important thread quality is!

To check thread quality…

spool of thread and a magnifying glass

Just cut off a length of thread and hold it to a bright light and look at the strand. Or, you could use a magnifying glass with a light like the Mighty Bright magnifying glass in the image above.

Carefully, inspect the strand. It should be mostly smooth, rather than a hot, frizzy, linty mess!

Fraying and frizziness mean EXCESS lint build up in your bobbin case and machine. And excess lint will gunk up your machine and even bring it to its knees quicker than you can say “cold-hearted snake!”

Bottom line:

If the thread is fraying or feels rough, please for the love of your machine and if you want a stress free sewing experience, do NOT use it in your sewing machine.

How to Test Thread Strength

Just like we’ve been aging since we make an entrance into life, thread ages too.

Please don’t go thrifting and buy vintage thread to sew with. Just. Don’t.

Because sewing is a labor of love and time, why would you want to put all that love and time into something that won’t stand the test of time?


And it is good practice to test the strength of ANY spool of thread before you use it in your project. Yes, this applies even to “new” thread.

To test how strong your thread is…

  1. Cut off a length of thread.
  2. Hold an end in each hand.
  3. Now, pull firmly in opposite directions.

It should not snap. If it snaps, it is past its expiration date. Chuck it!

Or, keep it for basting. But do not under any circumstances use it for garment construction unless you don’t mind busting a seam in public.

Is Your Thread Colour Fast?

Some threads are not colorfast.

To test if your thread is a bleeder…

  1. Lay a clean sheet of white paper towel on a table.
  2. Snip off a short length of the thread in question.
  3. Wet it good and place it on a sheet of paper towel.

Now assess. Did it bleed?

How to Store Sewing Thread

So simple.

pretty small, storage box and two spools of thread lying beside it

Store thread in drawers or covered boxes protected from dust and sunlight!

Two Brands of High-Quality Sewing Thread

Coats & Clark

Coats & Clark has been making thread for at least 250 years. That’s a long time. Certainly, it is enough time to get it right.

This is a parallel-wound thread. And it also comes in many flavors and sizes.

spool of coats & clark thread

For now, all you need to know is that Coats & Clark All Purpose Thread is great for general sewing of all fabrics. Stock up on these colours and you’re golden:

  • Black: E7 900
  • White: J7 100
  • Natural or Beige: A3 8010
  • Gray: G7 234

Or you can keep it super simple to begin and just buy this 3-pack that consists of two black and 1 white 400-yard spools of thread.

If you are sewing heavier fabrics (for example, denim, double knits, faux leather or fur), topstitching, or attaching buttons, then Coats & Clark Dual Duty XP All Purpose Thread is an even better choice. Here is a convenient 4-pack of black, white, natural and slate threads, 125 yards.

Gutterman’s Sew-All Thread

Gutterman’s Thread originated in Germany. And it is a cross-wound thread.

It is my thread of choice.

two spools of gutterman's sew-all thread in eggshell and gray

It is strong and does not shed. And I think the thread is quite pretty on the spool. Superb.

There are many flavors (isn’t there always?!) of Gutterman’s Thread. But for our purposes, the best choice is Gutterman’s Sew-All 100% Polyester Thread. Look for the cream-coloured spool.

Gutterman’s comes in different sizes:

  • 110 yards/100 meters;
  • 273 yards/250 meters;
  • 547 yards/500 meters; and
  • 1094 yards/1000 meters.

Again, these are the starter colours that should be in every dressmaker’s thread collection: Black, White, Eggshell, and Slate.

The End

Do NOT buy cheap thread. Your sewing machine performs better with high-quality thread. I love Gutterman’s.

For general all-purpose sewing, buy 100%polyester thread or cotton covered polyester thread. Simple.

As for the essential thread colours, keep it stupid simple:

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click here to learn how to thread your machine and insert a bobbin! (Coming So Soon!)

RELATED: Click here to learn the other essential tools you need to sew insanely pretty dresses!

RELATED: Click here to learn The 14 Commandments of Sewing!

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An Ultimate Guide to Sewing Threads | Stitching in Colour
Stitching in Colour Manifesto: Creative expression is our birthright. You have to fight for your right to feel beautiful. It is never too late to unleash your creativity. Yes, you can dream it, sew it, flaunt it.

3 thoughts on “An Ultimate Guide to Sewing Thread

  1. I am in love with this site! It is crisp, clean. informative and well done. I can tell a lot of time, love, and patience went into creating it. I look forward with impatience to join you on this journey. I can hardly wait!

    • Bomb diggity! Thanks for the positive words. I’m so glad to have you here on this journey with me and your everlasting support!

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