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Notions & Tools: Marvelous Sewing Thread


Webster’s Dictionary: "Thread is a light, fine, string-like length of two or more fibers or strands of spun cotton, silk, etc. twisted together and used in sewing." And here I thought it was just something I loved to collect and play with!

Q. What do the numbers on thread spools mean?

There are two numbers listed on thread spools: the first number indicates the weight and the second number is the number of strands that are plied together. For example 80/3 mean that the thread is a finer stand (80) used for heirloom work, and that there are (3) fibers strands twisted together.
Q. What's the most commonly used thread today?

That's easy, a polyester thread. It's multipurpose, holds up to washing and drying well, can be used across many different project with excellent results, and comes in a ton of different and vibrant colors.
Q. How about for decorative sewing?

For topstitching, satin stitches, decorative embroidery, and button holes, the choice should be a mercerized cotton thread. That means the thread has been treated with a chemical that improves the luster or sheen, and increases the strand strength. Because it's a cotton thread it's softer and more manageable than the polyester threads. When you're sewing a satin stitch for example, you want those threads to lay nice and flat and spread out for coverage. Cotton thread will do that for you beautifully.
Q. My local fabric store is having a great sale on thread: 5 spools for $1 - how many should I pick up?

That depends on how long you want your garment to last; One washing or more? A POX on that thread! This thread is made from the fiber remnants, and not true fiber strands. Think of the stuff you pull from your clothes dryer lint filter - now spin it into thread. You get the idea.
Q. But the other thread costs so much more!

Yes it does - when compared to the 5 for $1 stuff. It also means that all the work you've put into your project is going to be worth it. I'm afraid it goes back to the adage of 'you get what you pay for'. How much do you value your work?
Q. How can I tell a better thread?

If you don't know brand names, look at the way the thread is wound on the spool. All the better threads are wound in a crosswise pattern. This design travels up and down the spool or cone of thread. Why? Because it helps reduce the stress on the wound thread, and gives a nice constant tension. (If only I could relieve my stress as easily!) My old PFAFF would only sew with the very good thread - she was extremely particular.
Q. Anything else I need to remember?

Let's see...always use the same type of thread for your top stitch and your bobbin - this is one case of mixing and matching really not working. Don't be a speed demon when you wind your bobbin, it's just like the stress issue on the wound spool thread. Slow and steady. But most important, don't be afraid to experiment with different threads. Besides who can resist all those colors?
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