Let’s Talk About Threads

Sulky, Aurifil, Threads

The question I am most frequently asked is:  What thread do you use?  (The second most frequent question is:  How do you adjust the tension–we will discuss that next week…)

I have been hesitant to tackle the thread question because, while I know what I like, I am not an expert.   Today I will offer a few of my thoughts about threads and then open the topic for discussion…

Sulky, Aurifil, Threads

I have two favorite threads:  Aurifil and Sulky Rayon.  I use Aurifil for all piecing, for all bobbins, and occasionally I use the heavier weight Aurifil for quilting.  It is a long-staple, fine cotton and it comes in a large array of colors.  It never knots or breaks and it is economical.  I doubt anyone will disagree with my choice of Aurifil.

Sulky, Aurifil, Threads

Sulky, Aurifil, Threads

On the other hand, my choice of Sulky Rayon for free motion quilting may be somewhat controversial…For free motion quilting, I love Sulky Rayon thread.  It has a gorgeous sheen.  It “plumps” nicely.  It is inexpensive and readily available in a huge assortment of colors. Best of all, my sewing machine loves it!  I rarely have any problems with thread breaks or tension.   I have used it on many of my smaller quilts for years.  (One of the quilts is ten years old, and it still looks great!)  However, I have not used it in any of my larger quilts.  I have been afraid to use it…because the conventional wisdom has always been that Rayon is not good.  Some say it is not strong, heat-resistant, or color fast.

I would agree that Rayon is not as strong as polyester, but it is strong enough.  The “quilting stitch” does not need to be very strong because it is not being stretched or pulled like a seam.   Critics also say it is not heat-resistant…Again, in my experience, it is heat resistant enough for free motion quilting which is never ironed like a seam. Perhaps heat resistance would be a problem in the dryer?  Don’t dry the quilts on high heat!  Sunlight?  All textiles are damaged by prolonged sunlight. Finally, on the issue of being colorfast:  I have never had problem with Sulky thread bleeding.  According to their promotional materials, Sulky Rayon IS colorfast.

I hate to sound like a commercial for Sulky…and for the record, I have no ties to Sulky…

Again, I’m not a thread expert, but I can find no evidence supporting the bias against Rayon threads.  I would love to hear your thoughts!   What are your favorite threads?  Do you use rayon thread?  Why or why not?  Have you been avoiding rayon thread because of the conventional wisdom?

Thank you in advance for participating…


68 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Threads

  1. I gotta admit, I’m terrible about thread. I just use the regular old Coats & Clarks thread off the shelf at my fabric store. I do buy the heavier stuff sometimes-especially for sewing denim. I’ve never tried the threads you mention or any other specialty threads because I have always had the perception that they are expensive and I wasn’t sure if they would fit on my machine, which just fits a regular spool of thread. Any suggestions for me to graduate to something a little more fitting for quilts that will fit my machine’s spool holder thingy?

    By the way, I am now looking forward to Tuesday’s now more than ever before. I love your tuturials!


    • I think you will love both Aurifil and Sulky. You will see immediate improvement in your free motion quilting. You can use any thread on any machine…just drop the spool into a coffee mug next to your sewing machine and thread it like you normally would. Also, most machines have spool adapters for different spool types.

      • Be careful when using the spool in a coffee cup that it is not close to the hand wheel, I put mine to the rear on the right hand side. Even without an open window or ceiling fan I’ve seen the thread get caught into the handwheel and that will more than likely mean a trip to the mechanic.

  2. Hello, I agree with your post and use Aurifil all the time. In the past I have used Gutermann and liked it as well. Seems like I just sorta changed to Aurifil and love it. I like you words on Sulky and would like to try it too; seems it would be perfect for all my gift wall hangings. I do many Charity baby quilts and I want them to stand up to many washings, so I am picky regarding the fabrics and thread I use.
    Thanks for your blog!

  3. Hi Lori, I think thread preference is interesting because what works for some, others not so much. I haven’t been free motioning long, mostly began after I purchased the Bernina 750QE. I would have always used cotton for everything, still do for piecing, gutterman mostly. I use isacord polyester for free motioning. I like it so far, I believe it is one of the threads recommend for the Bernina. Very economical!!

  4. I also use Aurifil in addition to Superior and Isacord. The color choices of Isacord is wonderful and I love they way it looks for free motion quilting. I do not use rayon as I give a lot of quilts away and I’m concerned of the possibility of being washed with bleach.

  5. I usually use Gutermann for piecing and have just recently bought Aurifil but haven’t tried it yet. I haven’t mastered quilting at all yet so just use whatever I have to practice with. I always use either Sulky rayon or Marathon rayon for embroidery and love them both.

  6. Here’s another plug for Aurifil! We have only one store in a near by town that sells it, and not a great selection so whenever I go anywhere I am always looking for it. I did use C&C and/or Gutermann but find them both leave a lot of lint behind. As I run out of the old C&C and Gutermann I am replacing with Aurifil.

    For some FMQ/Embroidery I use my embroidery threads as well, to get the sheen but I do find they can shred easily so I have to go slower.

  7. I think thread choice can be such a funny thing… I think as new FMQers so many are tempted to believe if they get better thread things will be easier…. I would say in a sense they are right- if you get a thread your machine “likes” fmq is easier as you don’t deal with thread breaks and birds nests…. but other then that thread is thread- they all have their good points and bad points- (Lets be honest threads like Aurifil are expensive!) but they all hold our quilts together. I used serger thread for the longest time for fmq… GASP…. but 5000 yard cones for under 5 bucks? Now that is economical. I use a Bernina Activa and my machine doesn’t mind serger thread at all for fmq… but it is linty and requires extra cleaning and oiling. I have recently started using Isacord for customer quilts and industry quilts- and I have to say- I love it. I have used Gutterman and Aurifil and Sulky too- and I liked them all. But Isacord is like a fraction of the price- and works like a dream. It also works great in my mid-arm Juki 2000- which moves at much higher speeds. It is strong and silky and looks great quilted- the manufacturer will have your order to you in a few days- I can’t say enough good about Isacord….

  8. Glad you opened up this conversation as I just started thinking about this myself, being a new quilter. I just started using aurfil 50 for my quilting mostly straight line or large wavy. I used sulky rayon for piecing (as its cheaper) and previously for quilting. To be honest my machine likes both and I didn’t see an obvious difference between them….but that could just be my untrained eye 🙂 Be interested to see what others say.

  9. I love Sulky Rayon thread, especially #30. It is a good weight for quilting and has a beautiful sheen.

  10. I love Aurifil for piecing and quilting. I just discovered Aurifil’s invisible thread and it worked beautifully on my Bernina ( Monopoly is too tempermental) I also love Invisafil #100 wt by Wonderfil for background work. My Bernina dealer recently told me that Sulky threads have been causing problems on Bernina machines and he doesn’t recommend them any more.


      • I will try the invisible thread–I have used them in the past with poor results. Do you use the invisible thread for your quilting or for the bobbin? Do you use it so it will blend with everything? I’m so curious about how a thread–like Sulky can cause problems in the Bernina….The manual doesn’t say not to use any thread…Do you have any thoughts? Does anyone?

  11. I am a Masterpiece and Aurifil girl for piecing. For quilting, I’m more fickle! I like Permacore and Glide (that is a recent addition ..and I REALLY like the shine). I am open to quilting with different thread after a new owners class on my Innova. They MADE us try new threads; SHOCKING I know! I loved it…and we did a sampler one day. We had to use a different thread on each row…and each row had up to 6 different quilting designs. check out my blog for a homemade cone holder if you piece with cones…..I bet you have everything in your house! http://bzyqltr.blogspot.com/2013/07/cone-holder.html

  12. I use Aurifil grey and or/beige for all piecing – wind ten bobbins at a time and use it
    also as a bobbin thread for fmq — I buy it in the big cones whenever I go to a quilt
    show — sometimes use rayon or whatever else is pretty for the top thread in fmq…… but I love my Aurifil for everything….. I have three Berninas — all old machines –
    the original 830, and two sport 801. It works great in all.

    • If one is not trying to collect a lot of colors–like you-using grey or beige–it is very economical. I didn’t know Aurifil came is big cones–have you ever found them online? I agree–if I could only have one thread for everything-it would be Aurifil!

  13. I too use Aurifil for most of my piecing work, and have done so for years — it’s absolutely the best! For Free Motion Quilting, I like to use Robinson Anton’s Rayon thread — nice weight and sheen; however, I also like to use Silk thread when i do extensive tight quilting — I tried this through a class with Diane Gaudynski and it’s wonderful! I use the Silk thread for hand applique, too — glides beautiful through the fabrics and doesn’t show at all 🙂

    • I have heard the Robinson Anton thread is very good. Where do you buy it? Is there an online source that you can recommend?
      I have tried Silk thread, too-but only for very special pieces. I like it for hand applique, but it unthreads much more–do you have a solution for that?

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  15. Aurifil 50 wt. cotton is my go to thread for hand applique. I also like it for piecing and have used in for machine applique. I’ve tried lots of different threads over the years, and this is my favorite. Less lint than Coats & Clark, Gutterman, and even Mettler. I prefer cotton thread over polyester.

    • I like Aurfil for hand applique as well. Do you know of a source for small spools of Aurifil–I’d rather have many small spools of different colors for that purpose. Aurifil is a great do-everything thread.

      • No, I have only been able to pick up the 1033 meter spools from vendors at quilt shows. No one sells it locally. So, I use it for most everything.

  16. I’ve used Isacord thread for learning FMQ as it works well and is inexpensive. I’ve also used Connecting Threads, King Tut and Aurifil. I had a friend tell me about an ebay store (SEWINGTHREADSRUS) whose owners live locally and open their warehouse to the public for even better prices. I bought several types and have had some good luck with it. From them I bought, Coats & Clark pre-wound polyester bobbins. I found they work well in my mid arm as well as my Viking sewing machine. I’ve even had good luck with big spools of #40 Coats & Clark Sylko Trilobal Polyester Embroidery Thread, as long as I use a thread net to keep it from going crazy.

    • I have used King Tut, and liked it. I have never had much luck with pre-wound bobbins, though I haven’t used them often. I can’t wait to try the Sylko you recommend–and thanks for the thread net reminder!

  17. Over the long-haul, polyester has more staying power than rayon thread. Rayon thread can be weakened more easily that polyester; from UV damage (from being in the direct sun), from washing, from extremes in temperature, or even from stresses like folding. However, I’m not sure anyone has done any hard and fast tests to tell exactly how much longer polyester thread would last over rayon in a quilt! Make sure you store your threads so that they will last longer, too! Check out this article on storing your threads: http://sewsitall.blogspot.com/2009/12/when-good-thread-goes-bad.html

    • Erika, Thanks so much for adding your expertise to this discussion. Your article on threads is excellent! Do you mind if I refer to it in a post this week?
      What are your favorite threads? Would you use rayon in an “important” quilt? Also, one reader was told that Sulky thread was causing problems in her Bernina–could you comment on that? Thanks!

  18. My friend and I sew together and share supplies. We’ve found that both of our machines – Bernina and Pfaff – seem to like Aurfil Mako cotton the best. We had significantly less lint, minimal breakage, and more consistent piecing. I’ve used it for straight line quilting and my friend has also used it for FMQ – on our domestic machines. We also like Wonderfil Invisafil for quilting (100 wt polyester with a sheen that gives it a look of invisibility). Our source is Red Rock Threads. We’ve been pleased with their prices and service.

    • Thanks, Annie for your recommendations. I have also used Red Rock Threads and like them. I have never used Wonderfil Invisafil-but you are the second one to recommend it –so I will definitely try it. What needle do you use with it and what do use in the bobbin when you use Invisafil?

      • I don’t remember changing the needle, so I probably used whatever was in my machine from piecing – probably a Schmetz Microtex, size 80. We typically use Aurifil in the bobbin, but we’ve also successfully used Invisafil in both top and bobbin.

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  21. Your comments are all so informative, and yet all so confusing for a first-time quilter stuck with a basted quilt and two dodgy domestic sewing machines that are not playing ball when it comes to FMQ.

    I would like to try FMQ with a thicker-looking cotton thread as I have feeling it will last longer and look better, and not eat through my cotton patchwork??? Is that true? I keep snapping needles in my practice FMQ; really not sure why, I think the tension’s okay. That’s another reason I want a thicker thread, so it will match a thicker needle and hopefully decrease the possibility of snapping when I cross a seam.

    Are all of the retailers that have been mentioned on here American? I live in Britain and am hoping to be able to find the supplies you are discussing. Thanks.

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  23. I like all threads. Silly me didn’t know that you were’n’t supposed to hand quilt with metallic; however, my friend’s baby quilt turned out quite cute. Normally, I buy Mettler as it seems to have the least breakage on my machine. Do you think rayon would make great ‘painting’ thread too?

  24. What a beautiful gift you are giving. I am new at machine quilting but these threads will make my work so much brighter. I will give them a try. Your designs are so beautiful and very helpful to beginners. Thank you for sharing.

  25. I’ve used lots of different thread. Recently, I started using Superior Threads. They have so many different thread for all types of uses. I like Masterpiece and So Fine for piecing. They have beautiful colors in their embroidery thread line, which I have used for machine applique and machine quilting too. The first time I used Aurifil, it was quite awful. Thread breaks and knotting. I did try it again for piecing when I got it as a gift. I’m thinking my first spool must have been old.

  26. I have to admit i am daunted by thread. I agonize over the many choices and even colors to use. Thank you for sharing this very useful to me info on Aurifil. I even have some in my stash. I used it for my applique a lot now i see the advantages for piecing and quilting.

  27. I am a lover of Sulky thread. I use blendables and rayon 40 for quilting and I am just a beginner in quilting. I started using Sulky rayon for my embroideries and loved the thread. When Sulky had their Certified Training courses I attended a couple of those and really got to know the difference in all of Sulky threads. Sulky stands behind their products and they come in so many colors as mentioned.

  28. Hi I consider myself to be a beginner at free motion quilting and machine applique as well. I am a little more experienced with an EMB machine though! LOL I love applique on the EMB machine I make lots of things for my 5 yr old great grandson Dakota. I have a lot of Sulky thread and love the sheen of it.

  29. Hello, thank you for the information on the different threads. I consider myself a beginner at free motion quilting and applique with the machine. I have been practicing though. I need to get my hands on some of the thread you have mentioned. I have always been wondering what or which is better to use.

  30. I am a beginner when it comes to thread, Intermediate with macgine applique and a beginner in machine quilting. I really want to learn more. Thank you.

    • I used a sulky variegated thread for quilting and loved the results. I am a beginner at machine quilting and machine applique.

  31. I use rayon thread. How can I resist with such gorgeous colors and sheen to give a bit of glam to my quilts. I feel like a kid at the candy counter when buying thread. I’d like 2 of each and can almost taste the flavor of a popsicle from yesteryear.

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