How to Choose Thread for Free Motion Quilting


Sewing thread RainbowAre you confused about how to choose thread for free motion quilting?

There are hundreds of threads on the market, and thousands of choices to make…

Today, in  the Build a Rock Solid Routine for Free Motion Quilting Series we will discuss a few ways to narrow the choices.

Sulky trhead

There are three characteristics of thread to consider:

  • Fiber
  • Weight
  • Color

For every quilt or project, choose the fiber, weight and color of thread by asking yourself four questions:Sewing thread RainbowQUESTION ONE

Do I want the free motion quilting to show or do I prefer a more subtle texture effect?

If you want the FMQ to show-CHOOSE:

  • Fiber:  Cotton, Rayon, Polyester
  • Weight:  Heavier weight threads:  40wt and heavier (smaller number)
  • Color:  High contrast- a color that is much lighter or darker than the quilt fabric

If you prefer a more subtle, textured effect CHOOSE:

  • Fiber-Silk, Monofilament Invisible thread, cotton, rayon or polyester
  • Weight-Finer weight 60 or finer (higher number)
  • Color-Match the color of thread to the quilt fabric

Sewing thread Rainbow


Do I want sheen for this quilt?

If you like sheen choose Rayon, Silk, some Polyester threads.

If you do not like sheen choose cotton, monofilament (invisible)

Sewing thread Rainbow


Do I want to use a variegated or non-variegated thread?

If you choose a variegated thread be aware that some threads have even, one inch color changes,  while other variegated threads are more random combinations of color.

Also, check  a long piece of the thread against your quilt to make sure all colors of the thread are having the effect for which you are looking–blended or contrast.


Finally,(perhaps this should be the first consideration…) Ask yourself:

Does my machine “like” this thread?  Do I have the time and patience to work with this thread?

Sewing thread Rainbow


When choosing threads ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I want the free motion quilting to show or do I prefer a subtle, textured effect?
  2. Do I like sheen?
  3. Do I want to use variegated or non-variegated thread?
  4. Does my machine like this thread or do I have the time and patience to work with this thread?

Then choose the fiber, weight and color based on the answers to these questions.


Below:  Two threads-Same fiber (cotton), Same weight (28wt), different color

Color:  The blue shows up more against the white fabric.

Sewing thread Rainbow



Two threads:  Same color, different weight and different fiber

Invisifil is 100 wt polyester

Aurifil: 12 wt cotton

The Invisifil is barely perceptible…

Sewing thread Rainbow


Two threads, same color.  similar weight–The Sulky on the left has sheen, the cotton Aurifil does not.

Sewing thread Rainbow


  • I want the free motion quilting seen
  • I LOVE sheen
  • I don’t like variegated threads-they visually break up the design
  • I know my machine likes the Sulky Rayon and Aurifil cotton

So I choose Sulky Rayon 40wt thread--It is shiny, slightly heavier and my machine loves it…

I choose Aurifil cotton 50 wt in the bobbin because my sewing machine does not like slippery Rayon in the bobbin.  Also I like a finer thread in the bobbin–more sewing before the bobbin runs out.


For every quilt that you free motion stitch, go through this decision matrix.  

It is likely that every quilt will be different.  A single quilt may have areas that you want the quilting to be highlighted and other areas where you want the quilting to be more subtle.

Again, this is just a rule-of-thumb.  A place to start.


Once you find a few threads that you like, stick with those threads as your “Go-To” threads.   Try new threads as the spirit moves you…

Hope this helps YOU think through the choices.

Happy Stitches,


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to reblog, pin, tweet with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at  Thanks!


21 thoughts on “How to Choose Thread for Free Motion Quilting

  1. With my machine, Number 5 has to become number 1. It is so picky, that each time I use anything other than a 50 wt or smaller, I end up in the shop trying to get threads out of my tension disks that are inaccessible….tried flossing them, using tweezers, etc. nothing works

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I have read quite a bit about thread choice without having that “ah-ha” moment. Your explanation was the one that clicked. Ah-ha! I get it!!

  3. I want to sincerely thank you for your educational column. I have had the equipment, the thread, and the desire to fmq for a couple of years. However, the fear factor has overcome me. With your tutorials, I now am ready to take baby steps and venture into this wonderful realm!

  4. Great explanation and just in time for my project. I love that the question about what your machine likes is out there. We all have it in our heads, but now it is out in the open…the elephant in the room. Thanks!

  5. I have just begun quilting my pieced tops in something other than stitch in the ditch and straight lines. I have only used 50 wt. but am wanting to use more of a thicker thread on my next quilt. Your help through your writing and questions has given me so many ideas and confidence! Thank you so much for covering the basics…. starting with the notebook! I can’t wait to draw out my quilt and doodle my designs for this next quilt.

  6. I feel like I’m always guessing when it comes to thread…so many choices! Thanks for the guidelines! I used my first Bobbin Thread from Superior and love that it goes forever before it runs out…but have had fleeting thoughts of it’s “staying power” through the years. Also I can’t fill the bobbin all the way full or my machine throws a hissy every few stitches…annoying! BTW…did you get your tension issues worked out?
    Frigid here today…know it is there too…are you hibernating in the sewing room! I am! 🙂 Stay warm!

  7. choosing thread is sometimes confusing for me, and have purchased so many over the years, but your tutorial on threads clear up some issues for me, I still ponder over needles, will have to re-read your post on needle size. Thank you for your very informative posts
    Doreen Sherk Lamb

  8. This series is slowly taking away the “Free Motion Quilting” scaries, I can’t thank you enough for your Blog! I eagerly await reading each day. I’m sharing it with all my quilting buddies. Again thank you!

  9. Thank you for the wonderful “thread” for FMQ information. You explain things so very well and I love to practice your designs–so far mostly on paper.

  10. Another great FMQ post! One question you didn’t mention that impacts thread choice was the intended use of the finished quilt and whether you wanted it to be relatively stiff and flat (ideal for wall hanging) or soft and drapable for a bed. I have found that really dense, tiny quilting looks better and is softer if I use a finer thread and smaller stitch length, whereas the heavier threads are great for more open quilting designs with a little bit longer stitch length. I’m leery of using polyester and rayon threads for quilting after being warned away from them by Harriet Hargrave and other quilt teachers’ books — yet I see many accomplished quilters (including you!) using those threads with beautiful results. What’s the deal with the old school claim that only natural fiber threads (cotton or silk) should be used in quilts? They say that over time synthetic thread will cut into the fabric of the quilt, causing irreparable damage, because the synthetic thread is stronger than the threads of the cotton fabric. Is this phooey nonsense, or do you choose a cotton quilting thread when you’re working on a quilt with “heirloom potential” and synthetic threads for projects with shorter life expectancies?

    • Hi Rebecca,
      I use synthetic thread on many of my larger quilts–heirloom quilts as well as every day quilts. I think many experts have debunked the old claims about these threads. ( I will see if I can find some of the resources for you to read directly.)

      Also, I do not find that heavy quilting with heavier threads leads to stiffness. Sometimes when I finish quilting I do notice that the piece feels stiff, but as soon as it starts getting used it softens up.
      For example, I used polyester thread and heavily quilted my daughters’ college quilts. They were stiff at first, but as soon as they used them, they got very soft.

      I’d love to hear what others think as well.

  11. Great post Lori! As I have become more confident in doing the actual FMQ stitching, my new panic is just what you covered here — what threads to use! You’ve distilled the concepts down nicely and I’ve already printed this one out to add to my FMQ “notes”.

    I’d also like to share that Wendy Sheppard, who blogs at “Ivory Spring” and is another phenomenal (and published) DM quilter like yourself, did a post awhile back on achieving “subtle contrast” with her quilt stitching and detailed what were her favorite Aurifil thread colors to use for that. The link to her post is:

    With what I learned from both of you, I feel more confident about my thread choices already!!! Thanks again for all you do and share!!

  12. Great tips Lori. I also try to keep a journal of the thread/needle size/tension that I use as I find I have to adjust with each different thread. And a sandwich to practice on made up of the same fabric and batting. Threads that I hated before I am slowly getting the hang of using them and being happy with the results.

  13. I’m back after several days without computer. As always love your style-now I’m armed to start working on those thread/tension demons. BTW is it only me or is everyone getting your blog showing up in email as WordPress instead of The Inbox Jaunt? I deleted several and then had to go find them.

  14. Pingback: Choosing Thread Colour for a Quilt - Quilting Focus

  15. You are lucky to have so many choices of thread available! Here, (Helena, Montana) I am limited to a very few choices dictated by what is available in my LQS and at JoAnn’s. I am leery of ordering thread online because what you see on the screen and what the color actually looks like when you get it can be two different things. I have thought about thread assortments, but the ones I have seen are quite pricey. The only thread found locally in lots of colors on decent-sized spools is Isacord, which my machine doesn’t like too well.

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