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Words of Wisdom About Thread

September 2007

WISE WORDS FROM MOTHER SUPERIOR: What’s the best way to store thread?
Two things.  Keep it out of direct sunlight and keep dust off it.  Thread does not need to be kept in a sealed bag, the refrigerator, or freezer. Keep it in a drawer or other container. If it is on the wall, keep a sheet over it to keep the dust away. And, most importantly, keep it out of view of husbands.

We have four NEW wonderfully blending neutral colors of The Bottom Line, four NEW colors of King Tut, and 36 NEW Art Studio colors by Ricky Tims which go with his new embroidery DVD.  See the What’s New section for details.

EDUCATION: Bob’s Basic Thread Guide
Nylon thread.  Nylon thread should only be used for fusing.  Fusible thread, such as Charlotte’s Fusible Web, is nylon because it will melt and fuse at a low temperature.  Unfortunately, most invisible monofilament thread on the market is nylon. Nylon thread goes brittle, yellows over time, and melts at low temperature.  Look for polyester monofilament such as MonoPoly.  Polyester does not go brittle, or yellow over time or melt at low temperature.

Rayon: Not recommended.  Rayon is often not colorfast.  Colors can rub off or bleed into the fabric.  It is also weaker than other fibers.

Cotton: Two things to look for:
a.  The length of the fiber or staple.  If the label does not indicate the length of the fiber or staple, assume it is regular short staple cotton.  Long staple cotton is medium grade.  Extra long staple is the highest grade.
b.  The processing.  It is difficult to tell the quality of processing without actually using the thread.  The highest quality threads will be very smooth, without bumps or slubs.  They will have a tight, consistent twist and there will be very little lint.

Hand dyed threads: Often not colorfast. Colors can run or bleed into fabric.  Test before using hand-dyed threads.

Mercerized: A fancy word to put on a label when there is nothing else to brag about.  99% of cotton thread is mercerized, which is a process of causing the fibers to swell so they hold the dye better.  It is a good process but it’s an automatic in today’s world.  Even if the label does not say mercerized, most likely it is.

Double mercerized:  Double fancy words appearing in recent ads.  Why mercerize twice?  Start with the best quality cotton and do it right the first time.

Slick cotton:  Any cotton thread that is totally lint free, slick, stiff, or wiry is glazed or coated and not good for machines.  The glaze rubs off and gums up the machine. It is OK and intended only for hand quilting. 

Metallic:  There is a huge range in quality of metallic threads.  Avoid budget brands.  The easiest way to tell is to use the best brand with the right needle and tension setting.  Superior Metallic uses real silver foil (most brands use aluminum which is not as bright) and has a protective overcoat to prevent tangling, tarnishing, and shredding.

Polyester:  There are three types of polyester.
a. Spun poly:  Looks like cotton.  Strong and durable.  Look for a tight, even twist.  Avoid budget serger threads for quilting. 
b. Filament polyester:  Multiple strands of single filaments twisted to make a multi-filament thread.  Low lint and strong. Low quality polyester has a loose or uneven twist and smells oily.   Good quality has a tight, even twist.
c.  Trilobal filament polyester:  High sheen polyester.  Not quite as strong as regular filament, but has the sheen of silk or rayon.  Look for even, smooth twist and even dyeing.

Silk:  Great thread but very expensive.  A good polyester like The Bottom Line is stronger, one-twentieth the price, and will last longer.

Monofilament: Most is nylon which should not be used (see above).  Watch out for one brand that labels its monofilament thread as ‘polyamide’ which is the chemical word for nylon. That is misleading.  Use only polyester monofilament.

Magnetic bobbins:  Supposedly prevents backlashing.  They are expensive.  Be careful with magnets around anything electronic.  Paper-sided prewound bobbins provide same benefit of even feed and prevention of backlash.

Shelf life of thread:  Today’s top quality thread should be perfectly fine to use 20 or 30 or more years from now.  However, thread from 15 or 20 years ago did not have the raw material quality or processing technology we have today so I don’t recommend using it.

Thread wt. Guide
20 wt. heavy for very visible, decorative stitching
30 wt. medium to heavy, intended to show
40 wt. standard size medium thread
50 wt. for piecing, applique, detail stitching. Good for bobbin thread.
60 wt. very fine for blending on top, applique, and detail stitching. Good for bobbin thread.
70 wt. too fine for most applications
100 wt. mis-labeled. Does not exist as sewing thread. If it says 100 wt., it is most likely a #100 thread which is equivalent to a 60 wt. thread.

Where is the best thread made?  Japan has the most advanced technology and quality control system in the world. It is more expensive, but you know you are getting the absolute best.  I avoid thread that comes from China, India, Taiwan, and other third world countries.

Copyright 2007 by Superior Threads.  If you wish to reprint the Education portion of this newsletter, authorization is hereby granted as long as the source is clearly cited as follows: <Reprinted with permission from Bob Purcell, Superior Threads.>

PS. I primarily use Superior Thread and stock up with cones of it at Pacific International Quilt Festival every year. They usually have a large corner booth at the show…filled to the max with all the latest new  threads and packed with quilters intent on finding all their favorites.  Thread-a-holics be alert!


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