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Thread Types and Uses

Thread is the way sewers, from time immemorial, efficiently connect together two or more pieces of cloth, embellish cloth surfaces with intricate designs or is used as warp (lengthwise) and weft (crosswise) components to weave into cloth. Threads are either made from plants, animals or synthetics. It can be a challenge to find the best thread for a specific project.

Cotton thread - a natural product, cotton thread has very little springiness and tends to break easily unless mercerized. Mercerized cotton thread has been treated with a solution that allows the fibers to swell thereby increasing the thread’s strength and allowing for greater dye penetration.

Polyester thread – is a synthetic (a petroleum product, like nylon) made up of short filaments that have been extruded through fine holes. Extremely strong, retaining its shape and is colorfast resisting fading when subjected to extremes of hot and cold and strong detergents. Found in outerwear, outdoor furniture, flags and banners.

All-purpose thread – usually made of cotton and polyester fibers with cotton wrapped around the polyester, widely used for conventional sewing machines or hand sewing. Applicable to a variety of sewing projects and compatible with most all fabrics.

Heavy-duty thread – made of a variety of thread types,is extremely strong and used for hand or machine stitched buttonholes, for stitching outdoor heavy-weight fabric seams in canvas, vinyl, and duck cloth. It is weather, mildew, abrasion and UV light resistant. Also used in upholstery and purses. Threads made specifically for denim fabric are considered heavy duty.

Silk thread – made from long continuous fibers from the silk worm’s cocoon that are then tightly wound together for long lasting resilience. Silk thread can be expensive, however it is often used in tailoring and for hand basting as it does not leave thread impressions in the fabric. Silk thread is just that, silky in texture, accepts color-rich dyes, and has been used in needlework and sewing applications for millennia.

Wool thread – a dimensional thread made up of coarse and fine wools that adds texture and depth in embroidery and the needle arts. A type of wool thread is used in tapestry work. Fine wool thread has the appearance and characteristics of wool but the strength of heavy duty polyesters.

Metallic thread – used for decorative mostly top-stitching and quilting, it is a wrapped thread with a high shine that is created by twisting and bonding a fine metallic foil around a strong core to create a remarkably smooth, strong and flexible thread.

Rayon thread – is a natural fiber derived from wood pulp and is the most commonly used thread in the embroidery industry due to its beautiful sheen and is relatively inexpensive. Rayon thread however is not necessarily colorfast meaning the color of the thread can bleed or creep into surrounding fabric depending on how a garment is washed. It is always best to review a garment’s laundry instructions. It is not recommended for quilting.

Trilobal Polyester thread – is made of high strength polyester filaments that reflect light well. The thread is very shimmery, can be washed in high temperatures and is often used in commercial machine embroidery applications. Ideal for sporting and outdoor clothing with non-fade properties.

Serger thread – is made of the same types of fibers as conventional threads but is thinner than all-purpose thread producing less bulk at seam edges, usually in a cone shape and stands up to the high speeds of the serger machine. Serger thread can be made of cotton, rayon, nylon, polyester (lint-free), wooly nylon and a combination of metallic fibers.

Elastic thread – used for gathering fabric or shirring (a smock-like appearance), it is very stretchy made from a blend of fibers and rubber or spandex. Elastic thread must be carefully hand wound without stretching on a machine bobbin. All-purpose thread is used as the machine’s top thread as usual.

Designer thread – mostly a generic term for combining two or more thread types, for example silk and rayon, used in textile art or fashion jewelry.

A few common language expressions that use the imagery of thread to connect:

Hanging on by a thread - in great danger of losing something valuable. Likely to fail soon unless circumstances change.

Threads of similarity - the relation between verbal or written comments or observable objects.

A common thread – a similar idea or pattern seemingly linked together.

Discussion thread - a very contemporary usage for grouped messages; a connected conversation chain.

Sewing expressions can usefully be applied to many of life’s trying circumstances.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.



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