Thread Advice: 4 different kinds of sewing thread and what to use them for

Thread! We couldn’t sew without it and we love it! Picking the right thread for your project can take it from so-so to spectacular.

But have you ever wondered which thread would be best for your project? Or have you ever had a project turn out only so-so and wondered if you could have picked a better thread? In the past few years of intense every-day sewing, I’ve tried almost every kind of thread and learned a lot.

First let me share the #1 tip for picking the right thread… use the correct color! Whether you want your thread to match (and 99% of the time you will) or you are going for a contrast look (like sometimes when topstitching), take a few spools, unwrap the thread ends, and hold them against your project to audition each one.  Using white thread for every project, or being lazy and using whatever thread is already on your sewing machine is a sure-fire way to sew homemade looking things.

Now let’s talk about thread types!

Here are some common ones:

1. All-purpose polyester thread. Polyester thread is often called all-purpose because it really is great in lots of different applications. The colors usually last a long time without fading, and it won’t grow brittle with time like cotton thread can. Polyester thread also has a tiny bit of stretch to it so it is the best choice for sewing clothes – especially clothes in stretch knit fabrics.

Some quilt makers turn their nose up at polyester thread in their quilts and that’s okay. Cotton is the traditional choice and I understand the desire for a natural, all cotton quilt. Quilts aren’t expected to stretch anyway, so you wouldn’t need to use polyester for that reason. But there are some great polyester threads available for quiltmaking (such as Superior brand) and I find they work very well on my Juki when doing free motion quilting.

2. Cotton thread. Cotton thread comes in beautiful colors and usually has a lovely matte look. If you are making a special quilt in all natural materials, cotton thread is the obvious choice. Very fine cotton thread like Aurifil 50wt. is great for quilt piecing because you can press your seams to the side and make them very flat. If you find a brand that you love, it’s great for all projects that don’t need to stretch.

3. Machine embroidery thread. Beautiful embroidery threads come in lots of different fibers like polyester, rayon, silk, and even cotton. I have found machine embroidery thread to be less strong than all-purpose thread, but it’s wonderful for applique. I’ve also used it on art quilts. And of course you would use it for machine embroidery.

4. Topstitching thread. You’ll find topstitching thread right alongside all purpose thread at the fabric store, but it’s much thicker than all-purpose. It’s great for topstitching on purses and totes, jeans, and other projects because it will stand out and look professional. I wouldn’t use it for the seams because it’s just too thick and it costs more per yard. Topstitching thread comes in different fibers too. Make sure you grab a topstitching needle to use with it. 🙂

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of thread types… just an explanation of common ones you’ll see. I hope this post helps you to pick the best kind of thread for your project and it turns out beautifully handmade!


Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂