Saturday, December 23, 2017

Piecing Threads - weight and fiber content

Piecing the top of a quilt together is actually my favorite part of the whole quilting process!  I just love to sit and make blocks…I can get lost in that for hours…

What about piecing threads?  I have lots of things to say about that! 

Fiber content
Do you piece with 100% cotton?  That’s the traditional way.  And there are some good reasons for it.

If you are using 100% cotton fabric, then using the same fiber content for thread assures that the fabric and thread will age at the same rate.  Historically, we have “believed” that using a poly piecing thread on cotton fabric will “cut” the fabric because the poly is so much stronger.  In the new quilting millennium, we are finding that the soft polys probably don’t cut the fabric.  But polyester will certainly age more slowly than cotton.  So the choice is yours.  If it is important to you that your quilting fibers age at the same rate then use all-cotton thread on cotton fabric.  We have quilts in museums and collections that are 150 years old and were made with all cotton materials and are still in beautiful shape.  As a quilting culture, we have a lot of experience with cotton and we know how it performs.

Cotton, by nature, is fibrous and has a “grippy” nature to it as the fibers cling together.  We RELY on that when piecing; that’s what allows your fabrics to move under the presser foot evenly, when the feed dogs are only pulling on the bottom layer.  Cotton thread has a grippy nature, too.  Threads are treated on the surface to remove fuzziness – the premium threads are very smooth and have been through multiple processes to create a silky surface.  That process is called “mercerizing” and thread companies take great care to have mercerizing steps that make the thread smooth but do not compromise the strength or consistency of the thread. 

But cotton thread is somewhat grippy, even when it is very smooth, and we rely on that feature for the thread to fill the hole created by the needle.  To make an evenly filled seam.

It is certainly possible to piece with polyester and many people do.  But remember that the poly is a form of plastic and it will not fill the hole created by the needle in the same way that cotton does.  So if it is important to you to have a smooth, filled seam line, use cotton. 

Even when quilting on top, these considerations are the same. 

Finally, there are threads that contain a combination of cotton and poly.  For example, a poly core that is wrapped with cotton.  I find that most quilters want more control over the thread and how it performs and they will select an all-cotton or all-poly thread.  The threads with a combination of fibers usually are constructed with a “wrapped” technique rather than a twist and the wraps don’t always go through your machine without incident.

The Wonderfil company makes their poly threads with a technique that they call “cottonized” and these threads are exceptionally soft and easy to use.  Master Quilter, DecoBob, and Invisifil all are cottonized.

I pieced and quilted this miniature pineapple quilt
with 100-weight Invisafil cottonized polyester thread.

Thread Weight
Generally speaking, thread weights run from thick to thin, 0 to 100.  [That’s not entirely true but it works for discussion purposes.]  In the middle, the average weight thread is a 50 weight and that’s what you have been using for piecing.  Quilters like a 50- or 60-weight thread for piecing.  Strong and easy to use.

Some threads have two plys twisted together, some have three.  Three-ply thread is probably the most traditional and it will feel more familiar to you (if you took home ec in 1968 like I did).

Thread takes up room in the seam allowance.  So the smaller your block pieces are, the more you need to pay attention to your thread weight.

A 60-weight thread or a 50-weight two ply thread will give you a finer seam than a 50-weight three ply thread.  50-weight two-ply threads perform more like the 60-weight thread in your block.  Both are strong. 

Finer threads such as 80-weight or 100-weight are not as strong.  I use those for piecing art quilts that will not have as much wear and tear.  I also use them for embellishment (like machine blanket stitching or thread painting) and I use 80-weight thread in the bobbin for many different kinds of threads on the top.

Test your piecing results in the traditional way.  Cut with precision, sew with precision, and then spread your pieces apart to see if they result in exactly the dimension that you expect.  If they don’t, and you can’t explain it any other way, your thread may be too heavy for this project.

For example, a 40-weight thread (typically the weight for quilting on top) is a little too heavy for most piecing.  If you’re applying a big ol’ border at midnight and 40-weight thread is all you have in the house, use it!  But remember that for precision piecing you’ll need a finer thread.

When you CHANGE thread with different weights in a project or between different projects, remember to test your results again.

Some people find two-ply 50-weight threads to be a little too fragile for them.  Especially if your machine puts a lot of stress on the thread or if you are pulling hard when you hand-sew.  If that describes you, change to a three-ply 50-weight thread.  You’ll notice a difference right away.

Do your completed quilts have seam pops after they have been washed or used?  To avoid this, use a three-ply thread for piecing. 

Here is a list of threads available from Threadmongers – you know that my advice will be to try them all!!

Cotton – solid colors in spools and cones

Aurifil – 50-weight, two-ply (all weights of Aurifil are two-ply)
Konfetti from Wonderfil – 50-weight, three-ply
Masterpiece from Superior – 50-weight, three-ply on the spool or cone
Masterpiece from Superior – 50-weight, two-ply on prewound bobbins
Presencia – 50-weight, three-ply
Presencia – 60-weight, three-ply
Signature 60 – 60-weight, three-ply
Valdani – 50-weight, three-ply
Valdani – 60-weight, three-ply

These are all premium threads, with the premium long-staple cotton fibers and the best manufacturing practices.  All are lovely and easy to use.  I have used them ALL with success. 

Polyester – solid colors in spools and cones

Bottom Line from Superior – 60-weight, two-ply
So Fine from Superior – 50-weight, three-ply
DecoBob from Wonderfil – 80-weight, two-ply
Invisafil from Wonderfil – 100-weight, two-ply

Every thread has its place in the sun!  There is no “best” thread.  Each manufacturer takes great pride in their product and they are eager for you to try them all.  I like to use the threads that I think are best for my project.  For baby quilts and kids’ quilts I try to quilt for DURABILITY as my first consideration. 

But wait, there’s more!
If you think that this is a list of all the threads available from Threadmongers, you’re wrong!  There are many more choices of quilting, embellishing, and applique threads.  Be sure to visit the great Pacific Northwest quilt shows where Threadmongers is a vendor.  If you’re looking for a particular thread or have a question, just contact us through the comments section on this blog!

YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE THREADS is an important step in skill building.  Try several and see what they do.  There is no substitute for experience, and as you learn how they perform you’ll be able to choose just the right thread for your project every time!

A link to more info!
Finally, have you already read my little essay on using neutral and colored thread for piecing? 
Check it out at this link:

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