Why Use Cotton thread?

Patchworkers, new to the craft, often ask which thread they should use when piecing and quilting their precious work.

Early in my patchworking career I was taught to choose 100% cotton thread for both piecing and quilting, to safeguard my work. 

The theory goes like this,  cotton threads will protect your cotton projects because the threads will not be stronger than the fabric, and therefore they won’t cut through the fabric at the seams. If you plan for your quilt to be loved, and used, you can expect that it will be subjected to lots of handling over it’s life. It is always much easier to replace a line of stitching than to try to repair a seam line where the fabric has been cut by the thread.

Cotton threads are also kinder to your sewing machine because they will break before they bend a valuable part and are not likely to cut channels in the thread path.

I can remember when the synthetic knit fabrics (crimpalene etc) first started appearing on the market people stopped using 100% cotton thread and started using polyester threads because they were stretchy, to match the fabric.

Some of these early threads were so strong that they actually damaged the sewing machine. In the late 1970s, when I worked in a craft/ machine shop, the sewing machine mechanic showed me the damage that some of the threads were causing to the machines. He was finding grooves & channels were being cut into the thread path and he attributed it to the thread being much tougher/stronger than the cotton thread people used previously.

I am pleased to be able to say that polyester threads have improved since that time and the good quality threads are now “machine” safe. 

However, after that visual example I was always careful to pay attention to the quality of the thread when dressmaking and this followed on to my patchwork. 

A good guide to use to test a thread is to try snapping it with your fingers. The thread should not break immediately (too weak) but you should be able to snap it before it cuts your fingers. 

If you find that the thread is so strong that it cuts you before snapping, then image what constant use will do to your machine. 

So think about your machine, even though it may be more expensive to buy good quality thread,  if you have a good sewing machine then you shouldn’t have to think twice about choosing a quality thread.

Monofilament is another thread to be wary of using on your machine. Despite popular opinion, many machine mechanics claim that it is does damage the tension dials and thread path. If you use this type of thread be sure to choose the finest best quality possible and give it a “break test” before considering it for your machine. 

I am a firm believer that colour matching thread to your fabric will enhance your quilt. There are so many beautiful cotton threads available today that when you think about the time and money that you invest in the making of a quilt, the cost of a spool of good quality cotton thread is insignificant in the total cost. 

However one thing to be aware of when choosing cotton thread is that not all cotton thread is created equal. Some are not designed for use in the sewing machine.Never use a “quilting” thread, that has been waxed or glazed, in your machine. This thread is designed to be used for hand quilting and the waxing materials used to coat the surface of the thread can gum up the tension discs on your sewing machine.

If you have not yet tried cotton sewing thread for you patchwork consider using  Cotton Mako’ in your next project. 

It is made by AURIfil in Milan Italy using MAKO’ the BEST grade of 100% long staple Egyptian cotton. This mercerised cotton thread is an exceptional quality and value. It the cleanest, smoothest, almost lint free thread on the market making it a high quality thread with very little “fuzz” to accumulate in the bobbin race when stitching.

Cotton Makò can be used for a wide variety of your sewing, quilting, embroidering and serging projects. It is excellent for all your hand piecing, quilting and appliqué projects and can be used in all home and commercial embroidering and quilting machines. It is also competitively priced to make it an economical choice for a high quality thread.

Just a final comment on the use of embroidery polyester threads such as Aurilux when quilting. If you test these threads you will find that they pass the “snap” test and are therefore safe to use on your precious projects. They will give a wonderful sheen to the stitching and will not cause any problems to the fabric when used in wall hangings and other “low use” items. If you wish to use Aurilux on a bed quilt, or other item that will have heavy use, and are concerned about potential stress damage I would recommend that you use Cotton Mako in the bobbin. This way you will still have the brilliant colours of the Aurilux threads on the surface but the added safety of a cotton thread on the back to reduce any stress on the fabric.

Mercerisation is the process whereby cotton thread is treated to remove surface fluff. It has the effect of reducing the lint build up when stitching. It also strengthens the thread and adds a gentle lustre to the surface.


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