Saturday, November 19, 2011


Often at quilt shows, customers tell me that they only piece with “neutrals” and select gray and beige for piecing thread colors.  If this works well for you, keep doing it!  But if you’re ready for a little thread adventure and ready to make your quilting projects better, here are some ideas from the Threadmonger:

Usually, we want our piecing threads to blend into the quilt top and not be visible on the surface.  So choosing the appropriate thread color can be strategic – a specific choice for each quilt and often for each color section of a quilt.

Traditional neutral colors are those which are not at the far end of the range, which rules out black and white.  Off-white, cream, beige, and gray are the colors we think of first.  When you choose these colors for piecing, ask, “Is this the best choice for the fabric in my quilt?”  If you’re creating a quilt using low-contrast fabrics, you may find a beige or gray that is a good choice.  When you’re quilting in browns and earth tones, beige can work for you.  When you’re quilting in blues, greens, and purples, gray can be your friend.

But be very careful when you’re quilting with fabrics that go farther into the “brights” or “whites” categories.  Gray and beige thread will shadow through at the seams.  It’s the effect that makes your piecing seams look “dirty”.   I see this at almost every quilt show, and it’s a shame to think of all the work that went into the quilt that is compromised by the wrong piecing thread color.

White is a traditional quilting color!  I love the look of white thread for quilting on top, and no one will fault you if you piece with it.  It’s still a great choice and the best choice when you’re sewing blocks together that have a white background. 
It’s also a great choice when you need a fallback position and no other thread color seems better.  A 50- or 60- weight white thread will rarely be seen again when placed in a seam and the seam allowance is pressed to one side. 

I’m a big fan of starting a quilting project with a piecing thread color selected especially for that quilt.  When making a quilt that is predominantly blue, start with a blue thread in a lighter shade than the lightest blue fabric.  Fabrics containing multiple colors give you multiple choices for piecing thread colors.  As long as your choice is compatible with the overall color story of your quilt, it will be right.

I never thought I would quote my old home ec teacher…but she taught us that a zipper in a LIGHTER shade than your dress will be less noticeable than a zipper in a darker shade.  And she was right.  This applies to quilting, too. 

So I like to use pale versions of my fabric colors for “neutrals” when I’m piecing.  Pale green, lavender, and yellow are so useful, I find myself going to them often. 

This is the reason that applique lovers collect so many different colors of their favorite applique threads – they want to be ready when they’re sewing down a leaf or a petal or a kitty – with a thread that is the best choice for the moment!

Your personal color palette
I find that most quilters select colors in the same favorite palette over and over again – making exceptions when they are creating a quilt for someone who has requested specific colors or who prefers  colors outside of the quilter’s palette (or color comfort zone!).  Of course, this is how we grow as quilters, challenging ourselves to do new things! 

I’m a “brights” person.  For myself, I choose blues, purples, greens, and throw in some yellow and orange for good measure.  Many of my friends use a “country” color palette, which includes muted blues, beiges, grays, and browns, with a little cream and black for accent. 

For the typical quilting you do, choose a few threads in your favorite color palette and use those as piecing threads to have on hand for those projects you start at midnight or 6 a.m.  That way, you forestall any thread emergencies!

Change thread
I hear a lot of quilters say, “If I use beige/gray I can make a whole quilt and never change my thread!”

Is this really the best choice for your quilt?

If you’re making a quilt that uses white background blocks for the center and a pieced border of green shades, change thread!  Use that pale green thread to piece the border, a white to put the blocks together, and toss a coin for the thread to attach the green border to the white blocks.  I’d probably use white, defaulting to the lighter of the two choices. 

To be a better quilter, use the thread color that is best for your quilt, even section by section.

Speaking of choosing thread colors by “section”; always select a color for the hand-stitching of your binding that is as close to the background color of the binding fabric as possible.

Not to get too far off track, but there are two stitches that people generally use to hand-stitch the binding; a “whip” stitch and a “ladder” stitch.  The ladder stitch makes the thread less visible, but in my experience, the whip stitch is a little more durable.  You make the call. 

Your piecing thread “arsenal”
Keep a lovely assortment of threads in your quilting arsenal and be ready to use them!  Here is a list for piecing – note that most quilters use cotton for piecing but there are some new polyesters that approach the tensile strength of cotton that you may want to try:

Off-white or cream
Grays – two or three shades
Beiges – two or three shades
Red – remember, red is a neutral!  And you can’t “fake” red with any other color…
Light versions of the colors you quilt in most often, such as:
And if you own a LOT of fabric in one color family, consider having two or three shades of piecing thread in that color family, too.  I love teals and there are some great teal shades in several brands of thread that I keep on hand – and I use them up!

Thread is a big part of the fun of quilting!  Be sure to make your color choices fun and effective.   There are many areas of quilting in which we can build skills, and color selection is one. 

~~ Threadmonger