Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Little About Thread Weight

Before I get into thread, let me first say, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  I cannot believe it is 2013 already!  Wow.  This year has flown by.  Did you make any resolutions for 2013?  I know some see it as a silly tradition but I'm making my resolutions anyway!  I do better when I set goals.  I don't know if these are resolutions or just goals that I'm setting, but here are a few things I'd like to accomplish in 2013 -

- Make bed quilts for everyone in the immediate family
- Test out all of the threads on my Threads to Try list (or as many as my budget will allow) and review them here
- Enter TWO quilt shows
- Launch my small long arm quilting business
- Non quilting resolution - strive to eat HEALTHIER every day, even if not perfect

I'm still trying to figure out my little place in the quilting world.  I truly don't know what I want to do with this art or if it's even necessary for me to narrow it down to one thing.  All I know is I love quilts, I love making quilts, and I want to explore all aspects of this art form.

On to the thread!!!

Pamela from Sew Mollie Sue, Quilt Much? (I love her blog name!) asked me to talk a little about thread weight.  Sure thing!!  I'm by no means an expert, really I am learning just as you are Pamela, but I can share with you what I know...and bring up a little of what I don't know...and maybe we can explore the answers to our questions together.

First...let me say...this is probably not how you should store your thread.

But it's pretty much how I store mine.  See how open I am?  I'm really showing my "sewing underwear" here to the world!!!  Hahaha!!!  I once had a really  nice thread rack that my Grandmother had purchased me for Christmas...but most of my thread is on big fat cones.  So not a darn cone fit on that thread rack.  I think it went to a sewing friend (sorry Grandma!) and like a lot of things, it's on my to buy list.  Anyone with good suggestions as to where I might find a sturdy inexpensive thread rack with the option to hang or free stand feel free to share!!

So thread weight.  The big thing about thread weight is that it's totally backwards just like needle sizes.  Just remember this and you'll save yourself some headache...

The Larger the Number, the Finer the Thread.

The Smaller the Number, the Heavier the Thread.

Now, this is the basic rule of thumb, but as with all things, it's just not completely cut and dry.  Have you ever noticed that one brand's 50wt. just doesn't sew up like another brands 50wt.?  This can be really frustrating.  To avoid confusing you and going on for hours on end I'm just going to say that in my personal experience -

The Only Way to Know if A Thread Is Going to Perform is to Try It.

If you want a little more in depth explanation I recommend -

Understanding Thread Weight System by Superior Threads


Natural or Synthetic by Superior Threads.

Both articles elaborate on thread weight and how it is labeled that might be useful and interesting to you.  Really, something I love about Superior Threads is how they strive to educate people about thread.  I understand that this is largely a marketing approach...and it's a darn good one.  In my little bit of thread experience I have to say, Superior Thread is pricey, but it's also quality.

Anyhow, I took a few pictures to give you some ideas of what different thread weights look like, from different brands, compared to one another.  I will update you and add more pictures as I play with different threads.

Above, from left to right: 

- wt. Unknown     Gutermann Metallic Effect Thread
- 30 wt.     Gutermann Silk Thread
- 50 wt.     Superior Threads So Fine!     (polyester)
- 50 wt.     Essential thread from Connecting Threads     (cotton)
- 40 wt.     Isacord Embroidery Thread      (polyester)
- 40 wt.     Coats and Clark Machine Embroidery Thread (polyester)
- wt. Unknown     Coats and Clark Machine Quilting & Crafts Thread     Website says SIZE 30 - no wt. listed (cotton) 
- 40 wt.     Superior Threads King Tut Quilting Thread     (cotton)

Above are a few threads I either recently purchased or used frequently for quilting.  I wanted to show a side by side comparison so you can see the difference in thickness.  You should still try these threads and feel them...but this might help to get an idea.

I have quilted with all of the above threads EXCEPT the Gutermann silk and Isacord Embroidery Thread.  The weights are pretty standard ranging from 30wt. to 50wt. though I'd say in the store I mainly see 40 wt. polyester threads and 50 wt. cotton threads.  You might be able to see from the picture that a cotton 40wt. and a polyester 40wt. are not created equal.  They don't sew the same either.  Weight cannot be a determining factor as to what thread you choose alone - you must also take into account the fiber.

Something to think about:

- A cotton is going to be more thready in places where thread accumulates or where the quilting design is close together (think backtracking in feathers along the spines or humps of the plumes, or dense tight micro stippling).  I reserve cottons, no matter the weight or ply, for less densely quilted projects, or projects where I want the thread to be more visible or "chunky".

-  A polyester thread is going to hide backtracking more than a cotton, and show less in places where thread accumulates and quilting is close together.  A finer polyester like Superior's So Fine! (a 50wt. as opposed to a thicker 40wt. polyester) is going to be even more effective at hiding those accumulations.  This is a good choice for quilting designs where you want the thread to blend, where the design made with thread is not to be the main focus.  (Think, heavily quilted complicated designs where it is the DESIGN you want to focus on, not the color of the thread...or large loud prints that you don't want the quilting to take away from the fabric print.)

Something I am curious about for myself is if there is a fine cotton out there and how it plays against the thin polyester threads that I love so much.  Sometimes I just WANT to use cotton...but I don't want the large chunky effect I get with the cotton threads in my stash.  Maybe someone out there can turn me on to a good, low lint, FINE cotton.  I was thinking I might find this in Aurifil's thread.  It's very popular and has a great reputation.  It's on the list.  :)  Literally.  LOL*

Above:  A closer look - from left to right, Gutermann Metallic Effect, Gutermann Silk, Superior So Fine!, Essential thread from Connecting Threads, Isacord Embroidery Thread.

Above:  A closer look - from left to right, Coats and Clark Polyester Embroidery Thread, Coats and Clark Machine Quilting & Crafts Thread, Superior King Tut cotton quilting thread.

Another thing I think about when reaching for thread, is the bobbin. 

Above:  From top to bottom, Essential thread from Connecting Threads, Superior So Fine!, Coats and Clark Machine Quilting Cotton (the spool this came from is not the same shown in the other pictures, this is from a 1200 yard spool).

You can get more polyester on a bobbin than cotton.  This is huge for me.  With my last quilt, my Mother in Law's quilt, I made a huge blunder that I wish I would have held out for better thread on.  I used a thick heavy cotton for dense quilting because it was all that was available to me quickly so that I could finish it up.  I wish I had held out for a finer thread.  I went through 20 bobbins alone on that lap sized quilt JUST with filler quilting.  I would have still used many bobbins of thread had I used poly, but not nearly as many.  On the list are prewound bobbins...I see that Coats & Clark makes these now too so I'd like to try Superior's, which are filled with Bottom Line thread, and the Coats & Clark one's and compare the two.

So there's a very wordy post sharing what very little I understand about thread weight! 

I hope this was helpful to Pamela and maybe someone else out there reading!

I would love your thoughts, opinions, and tips if you would like to share them.  Please comment and add your bit of thread knowledge so that we can grow and learn from each other!!  :)

You're also welcome to grab this badge/button for your blog.  We spend so much time focused on the fabric we use piecing our quilts, and now that free motion quilting is really catching on, I want to make the best of the quilting too.  Let's learn about thread together!  :)


treadlemusic said...

I used a beautiful rayon thread on these gifts for my g.grand daughter this Christmas. It's a 30 wt. from Coats & Clark that gives a brilliant shine in the stitching. As you can see from the close-ups, there are no feathers on these, as this is too heavy for that motif (as you have said). Tension/needle size seem to be quite critical with rayon or it will shred. My Sweet Sixteen seems to really do well with this thread. I have tried only 1 pre-wound Superior bobbin (Bottom Line) and I found that at the 1/2 way gone point the thread is not wound properly and causes a serious variance in bobbin tension that really messes with the stitching. I haven't talked to my LQS gal yet since this has just occurred. My thread "learning curve" is quite steep at the moment!!!! Hugs, Doreen

Rachel said...

I know next to nothing about thread and thread weight...but I made a fabulous (for me, LOL) thread holder. I had left over peg board from another project. Spray painted it white. Bought a bag of golf tees, hot glued them into the holes one the board and it is working great! I spaced them evenly and to fit all I need them for (does that make ANY sense?)

Pamela said...

Thanks, Valerie. I have used mostly Gutermann 100% Poly until recently when I started doing all of my piecing with Aurifil 100% Cotton 50 wt. Without a magnifying glass they seem about the same in thickness. I think the Auriful feels silkier than the Gutermann poly. I do have a spool of Gutermann 100% Cotton in 40 wt. and again it seems to be "less" than the poly. I use 40 wt. rayon for embroidery and I have several different kinds...Sulky, Madeira. The rayon is shiny...there is a good amount of sheen to it but surprising is that the cotton Aurifil has a good amount of sheen too whereas the Gutermann (both poly and cotton) really don't. BTW...I am loving this conversation. Thank you for starting it.

Michele said...

You are just a huge wealth of thread info. I'm learning a lot and can't wait to learn more. Thank you so much!