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Thread for Hand Quilting

My first quilt was a grandmother’s flower garden made with Indian hand block printed fabrics. It was done with all dark colors. When it came time to quilt it, I went looking for thread. There were no quilting stores in my area in 1972, only quilting areas in other types of handicraft stores. I went into a predominantly needlework shop and asked for navy blue thread for quilting. I was told in no uncertain terms that you never quilt with colored thread. Quilting is done in only cream or white and if you ever used a different color thread and entered a competition, the quilt would be disqualified. I said I had no intention of entering this quilt into a competition and wanted a dark colored thread that would blend with the fabrics I used in the quilt. I knew quilting thread was slightly thicker than standard sewing thread and went to a decorator shop where they recommend using heavier thread for the heavier fabrics. I found a company which made a 40 weight thread that was perfect. It came in a wide variety of colors and I used it for years until it was purchased by another company and the manufacturing of the thread was outsourced to a foreign country. It was no longer the quality it had been.



I have learned a lot of my quilting lessons the hard way. When I was quilting one of my early quilts in 1976, I had chosen a poly-cotton quilting thread in white. It was a patriotic themed quilt designed for the bicentennial celebration. After about two weeks of quilting, I decided to take it out of the frame and check my stitches on the back. Much to my horror, where the quilting was done in straight lines along the grain of the backing fabric, there were small cuts that were made by the thread. The places where the quilting was done on the diagonal were ok. Polyester has a sharpness to it and it is also slightly elastic so if the thread is pulled too tightly it stretches and is even more apt to cut the fabric. I learned it is best to quilt with a thread fiber content that is compatible with the fabric used in the rest of the quilt.

I ended up taking out all the quilting I had done, replaced the backing and started over. Needless to say, that is the last time I used poly-cotton thread for either hand piecing or quilting and use only 100% cotton thread.



What color thread to use. For my early quilts, I used the same color thread throughout but as the years went by, I discovered that I liked using different colors depending on the color of the fabric I was quilting. It is not unusual for me to use three or four different colored threads in one quilt. I find I have certain “neutral” colored threads that blend with the fabrics that I often use such as light tan, grey/blue, dusty rosy red, grey/green, etc.

To wax or not to wax the thread. A lot of people ask this question. Waxing is where the thread is pulled over a piece of beeswax before sewing. I think it is a personal choice but I do not wax it. If a quilting thread is used it is already pre-waxed and my problem with waxing a non-quilting thread is I find that the waxing causes pieces of batting to be pulled out along with the thread, causing a “bearding” effect.

So much of the quilting process from beginning to end comes down to personal choices that we discover, as I have, along the way.

15 thoughts on “Thread for Hand Quilting

  1. Thank you Jinney. This has answered a 35 year old question for me. I have used different coloured threads when hand quilting for years.

  2. Thank you for these wonderful insights!

  3. Dear Jinny, I find your comments about quilting threads absolutely fascinating. I have also learned the hard way, and my latest discovery is that it is almost impossible for the thread to go through the three layers when using bamboo wadding. I went to run a workshop before the pandemic, and when somebody noticed my stitches hadn’t gone through, they gasped. I have now worked out that this only happens when the bamboo wadding is used, so no more bamboo for me. At least not when it is essential that the quilting stitches show – there is a very strict quilting police force over here in the UK. Best wishes, Andréa

    1. Interesting piece. What colour of thread do you use if you have a darker backing on back the lighter front.

      1. I tend to like to use a neutral medium shade that blends with most of the fabrics.

  4. It’s not that easy to find all cotton thread these days. Do you like any particular brand of quilting thread? As always, thank you for your informative posting.

    1. YLI still makes an excellent 100% cotton Quilting thread but have cut back on their colors. When Jinny can’t find the color quilting thread she is looking for she goes to Aurifil 28 weight cotton.

    2. While not a pro like Jinny I have been using a new to me thread called organic cotton thread from Colonial Needle Co. I like it and have been quilting since 1985 . I have a petro chemical allergy so waxes or poly is not a friend to me . I have also tried using sashiko Japanese for big stitch .

    3. Superior Thread makes and sells 100% cotton quilting threads in 50, 40 and 30 weight.

  5. JInny, I started quilting because I saw your “Ray of Light” quilt and I thought that I wanted to do that. You have always been an inspiration to me and I thank you for your dedication to all of your followers. I met you in your shop many years ago, maybe 12-13 years, and I was inspired all over again. I love your fabrics and making quilts with them.

  6. I have seen some of Jinny’s quilts and they are exquisite. Thank God that Jinny insisted on changing the quilting world.

  7. Nice commentary on threads. I especially like the first person witness to the use of polyester threads with cotton fabric for quilting! I have used YLI threads for years for hand quilting, but do most of my work now by machine. I’ve inherited my Mom’s osteo arthritis and my hand sewing years are limited now, so I’m saving them for the hand piecing that I really enjoy! You are an inspiration as always!
    – Karen, Austin, Tx.

  8. Jinny, thank you for all your comments on thread. I have used the size 12 perle cotton thread for quilting and the size 12 is a lot easier to thread in my size 9 needles. It always looks nice and does give my quilts a nice touch.
    I used one of your patterns for a quilt that gets a lot of nice compliments. Thank you for all your wonderful books also.

  9. Jinny, thank you for all your comments on thread. I have used the size 12 perle cotton thread for quilting which is a lot easier to thread. It always looks nice and does give the quilts a nice touch.
    I used one of your patterns for a quilt that gets a lot of nice compliments. Thank you for all your wonderful books also.

  10. Thank you for good information! I’m new to quilting and testimonials really help!

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