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Best thread for free motion quilting

by Diane
(Alexandria, KY)

What is the best thread to use for free motion quilting?


A lot will depend on where you are in your free motion quilting journey and what's available to you locally.

When you're beginning...

Cotton Threads

The easiest thread to machine quilt with is a 50wt-60wt 100% cotton thread used in both the needle and the bobbin. Your sewing machine has been built to sew little to no tension adjustment when you use the same fine thread in both the needle and bobbin. And while tension adjustments aren't hard to make, you will need to understand how to do it once you graduate to using different threads in the needle and bobbin.

My favorites are:
  • Superior Threads 'Masterpiece', a 50 wt, 3ply thread
    (this was previously a 2-ply thread)
  • Aurifil's 'Cotton Mako', 50 wt, 2 ply
A 3-ply thread is inherently stronger than a 2 ply, but since I tend to add A LOT of quilting to my quilts, I am not too concerned about thread strength. If I was quilting a quilt with minimal quilting, I'd make sure to use a three ply thread.

Presencia makes both a 50 wt and a 60 wt 3-ply 100% cotton. The ONLY reason that I haven't tried these is because they aren't available at my local quilt shop.

Presencia, like Superior and Aurifil, makes a quality product and I won't hesitate to try it when I find it locally.

Non-cotton Threads

I'm not a purist when it comes to quilting—I will use non-cotton threads in my quilts when they produce the effect I'm after.

One of my 'go-to' threads is Superior Threads Bottom Line, a 60 wt polyester, which I use for both piecing and machine quilting. It is very fine and doesn't lint-up my bobbin case.

Polyester vs. Nylon Monofilament

When I'm just after the texture the quilting stitches create or I'm ditch quilting (yes, I do it free motion) and don't want the stitches to show, then I use a monofilament thread, either YLI or SewArt's nylon monofilament.

You can find monofilament threads made of polyester from Superior Threads, Madeira and Sulky. All produce good quality thread.

Many quilters like the polyester thread better because it has a higher melting point than the nylon versions.

Personally I like the nylon best. To me it feels softer and my machine (Viking D1) likes it better. I do use a metal thread stand when I quilt so that the thread lifts off the cross-wound mini cones without twisting the thread.

Regardless of the type of monofilament you choose, just make sure it is a .004 sized thread that feels like hair and NOT fishing line. It should break easily when you hold a strand between your hands and pull.

For the bobbin I'll use a 50 wt cotton.

There is a bit of stretch to monofilament thread. This stretch creates its own tension as the thread winds its way through your sewing machine, so reduce your needle tension. I start at two numbers lower before I even test and then tweak my tension adjustments as needed. You'll learn where to start for your machine with practice.

Beyond beginner...

Once you are confident with your free motion quilting, the sky's the limit as far as thread is concerned.

I'm in love with the look of the 100 wt, 100% silk thread from YLI. It is terrific for heirloom quilting. Because the thread is so fine, I can backtrack over previous stitches and not create any thread buildup. (100 wt silk, 50 wt cotton and Bottom Line are all good choices for your bobbin thread.)

Metallics—love them! Especially one called 'Super Twist' from Madeira. It's really hard to find as it was initially intended for high-speed embroidery machines, but it quilts like butter with a fine cotton thread in the bobbin with a Metallic needle.

Sulky's rayon thread gives a wonderful sheen to my stitches. Rayon, though, is a much weaker thread so I only use it when there's plenty of other quilting to carry the load of securing the sandwich together. It's fabulous for 'decorating'.

Pretty much, if I can make it work in my machine and it gives the effect I'm looking for I'll use it in my quilts!

What it boils down to...

Even if you use the most basic combination, 50wt cotton in needle and bobbin, testing on a practice quilt sandwich before you commit any stitches to your final quilt is so very important.

Adjust the tension until you are satisfied with the look of your stitches.

Be prepared to change types and sizes of quilting needles based on the size and type of thread you use.

Accept it and move on to another thread when you can't make one work in your sewing machine. One of my girlfriend's has a regular problem with Bobbin Line thread in one of her sewing machines. She's a good quilter, knows how to make tension adjustments and is willing to 'play' with the threads before she quilts...but Bottom Line just doesn't seem to like that machine. So she moved on to another comparable thread. That's all it took and she's happy with her quilting.

And finally, don't buy cheap thread to save money. It's not worth the price you'll pay in thread breakage and lint build up in your sewing machine.

Readers, what do think is the best thread for free motion quilting. To let us know, just use the 'Comments' link below.

Diane, I hope this information has helped you in your quest to find the best quilting thread for your free motion quilting.


Julie Baird

Comments for Best thread for free motion quilting

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Solo helpful!!
by: Anonymous

I have been searching a lot to find information on needle and thread combinations that will work well for my free motion quilting. This was very helpful! Thank you.

by: Cleveland Smith

I have read and taken notes on the different types of threads you have suggested using. I have been practicing with cotton threads only. but will trying using some of the ones you have suggested. Your comments were very informative.

Thank you.


From the Editor: Thank you! ~ Julie Baird

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