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Machine quilting with clear thread

by Melody

I am trying to quilt with clear thread but it continues to get tangled up.

Is there a special type of monofilament thread or does this just happen?


Clear thread (either nylon or polyester monofilament) can be a bit tricky to use. However the benefit of using it to quilt over a variety of fabric colors and textures without the thread showing is worth it. It eliminates the need to change threads repeatedly during the quilting of a single quilt.

But it is a different creature than our standard cotton quilting thread.

What to Look for in a Monofilament Thread

Use a quality brand like those produced by SewArt, YLI, Superior, Sulky and Madeira. If it feels like fishing line, save yourself some frustration and throw it out.

The thread you choose should...

  • Be fine and pliable like your hair. A soft thread will blend into your quilt top.
  • Break relatively easily. Again, if it feels like fishing line, you won't like the end result.
It can be either nylon or polyester. Personally I am a big fan of both SewArt and YLI which are both nylon monofilament. Superior Threads, Sulky and Madeira all make their's from polyester. Those who recommend poly say that it's:

  • Not as sensitive to heat
  • Won't yellow or become brittle
My favorites, though, are the nylon threads made by either YLI or SewArt. And I use them for both machine quilting and invisible machine applique.

Harriet Hargrave, the grande dame of machine quilting with monofilament thread, swears by the nylon. Her quest with machine quilting is to mimic the look of hand quilting. In her books she notes that her quilts quilted with nylon thread have not had any problems...and these quilts are over twenty years old.

For bobbin thread, choose a nice quality 50 wt 100% cotton. This thread is soft and will play nicely with the mono.

If you're already using a quality thread, let's look at how your thread feeds through your machine.

Taming the Spool

Threading your machine will take a couple of minor adjustments. As previously mentioned, it will be necessary to adjust your sewing machine tension.

A metal thread stand helps, too. The thread lifts up from the spool and doesn't twist as much as using one of your sewing machine's standard thread pins. The metal creates less static electricity (which causes the thread to stick to itself) than its plastic counterpart.

I have taped a safety pin to the right side of my sewing machine to help control the thread BEFORE it reaches the first tension guide. It's not pretty, but this small modification helps to tame my thread...there are fewer snarls at the top of the thread stand.

Now when I use the horizontal spool pin of my sewing machine for this same spool, I can quilt along with no problems. Then SNAP! The nylon thread has somehow wrapped itself around the spool pin and snapped. Using a thread stand avoids this problem.

If the thread wants to slide off the spool and pool at the base, then try a thread net to prevent this problem.

Because it's clear, it's hard to see. If when you first start quilting and you're having problems, re-thread the machine. It seems especially easy for clear thread to slip off the uptake arm or lever.

Sewing Machine Tension

Quality clear thread stretches.

Test it for yourself. Grasp a length of monofilament and tug a bit from both ends. Feel the stretch or give? Now do the same with a length of cotton quilting thread. Virtually no give.

Threads that stretch create their own tension as they feed through your sewing machine to make a stitch. You must counteract this by REDUCING the tension of your sewing machine. Turn your tension dial to the left (remember..."lefty-loosey, righty-tighty" to keep it straight). I usually reduce my tension by 2 numbers on my Viking D1 and then test on a scrap sandwich, checking both the top and the bottom of the sandwich. It is possible you may need to reduce the tension setting on your sewing machine even more. Adjust and test until you are happy with the stitch quality.

For more information, check out Adjusting Sewing Machine Tension.

Needle Size

You can use a smaller needle for monofilament. I'll insert either a 70 or 65 Microtex Sharp. That way the holes left by the needle will be smaller. Clear thread doesn't fill up the holes very well. If you're uncomfortable or breaking a lot of these smaller needles, an 80/12 will work perfectly well, but the holes will be larger.

I hope this has helped with your problems. Quilters seem to either love monofilament or hate it. I'm in the 'love it' group. My thread cabinet just wouldn't be complete without it.


Julie Baird

Comments for Machine quilting with clear thread

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Invisible Thread
by: Sue

I have found a thread net helps immensely and I need to "increase" my tension to keep my Baby Lock happy.

Just play around until your machine is happy.

Trouble with bobbin thread
by: Anonymous

Hi, I am working with nylon thread from Coats&Clark on top, and 100% cotton thread on bottom. As I quilt, I'm noticing that on turning corners, that stitch on the back is loose and larger instead of flat like the others. Any ideas?

Monofilament thread
by: Anonymous

Would like to know comments on quilting with monofilament thread on the top and in the bobbin, I have the HQ Fusion.

Thank you!

From the Editor: I can reply based on my experiences with a domestic sewing machine.

First, I didn't have any problems with clear in both the needle and bobbin. I had tried it specifically because the bobbins on my Viking #1+ were so freaking small...could get way more thread on the bobbin.

Those bobbins were plastic as I had to wind them slowly and not quite as full. Because the clear thread stretches as it winds its way through the machine, you can actually end up 'packing' more thread into the bobbin than it it meant to hold. If it's will definitely pop in half...had that happen several times.

I needed to play with the tension a bit, you have to do that with mono anyway.

All in all I was happy with the results but haven't used the technique in several years. I usually now just use a 50wt 100% cotton in the bobbin with it. Always works and no fiddling with the bobbins.

Readers, please do share your experiences! Especially on the HQ!

Thank you!


Starting/Stopping Mono Thread
by: Sue

How do I start/stop mono thread? I can't knot it(at least I haven't figured out how). Do I just run a few little stitches first? Is there a different way?

Reply: Hi Sue!

I do the microstitching (the tiny stitches for about a 1/4 inch) to secure my nylon monofilament thread. I haven't had any problems with the thread tails coming undone. You're right, trying to hand knot the stuff just doesn't work!

~ Julie

Thanks for your terrific articles!
by: The Lazy Quilter

Every time I search the web with a quilting question, the best answers come from this site - thx so much!

From the Editor Thank you for your kind words! You're making me blush!


Clear thread - tension
by: Anonymous

Thanks for the tips! When using clear thread, do you use the same tension on the top and bottom tension wheels?

From the editor: I've answered your question on this page...

Monofilament Thread Tension Adjustments. ~ Julie

Thank You
by: carrie

Thank you for that good info about using clear
thread with my sewing machine. I made 3 quilts
all with this thread for stitching in the ditch.
I think this is a good technique for adding dimension.

Thanks for the advice with needle size and tension,
more people need to try this, not be afraid of a thread that's really hard to see.

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