The most important rule for choosing any thread (not just quilting thread) is: For best results, use a high quality thread. This means not buying your thread in the 99 cent bin at a bargain craft store. Bad thread = bad experience. Just as you need a quality sewing machine in order to have a quality sewing experience, you really need to work with quality thread. Bad thread will break. And break. And break. And then things just aren't fun or relaxing.
For the most part, thread is something you use to get a job done, and you'll often just want a standard all-purpose sewing thread. But, there are so many incredible options out there, why not check them out and experiment with all the effects you can create. Quilters often equate working with thread to painting. One quilt artist we particularly admire is Sarah Ann Smith. We used some close-up images from a variety of Sarah's art quilts in the photo collage above. Wow!
For more thread... and quilting inspiration, check out Sarah's website. A tour through her Gallery section is well worth the trip!
Let's start with the best part: Color!
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of colors available. But even then, sometimes a fabric's print or specific shade is simply impossible to match. For these projects, you might want to consider a variegated or multi-color thread. These threads usually come in two versions: One is a color range of the same color - like light orange to deep orange. Others have 2, 3, or 4 different colors in the same strand - and the colors move from one to the next, and then repeat. These colors may repeat regularly, say every 6 inches, or randomly through a range of 2.5 to 5 inches.
For the most part, I agree the fiber of your quilt and the fiber of your thread should be the same. It helps insure your finished project washes and wears at about the same level. Since many of the quilting fabrics available today - and most of the fabrics we use on sew4home - are cotton, most of the threads we use are cotton.
Cotton thread is offered in a wide array of weights. When selecting, remember that a higher number designates a thinner thread. Most manufacturers sell a variety of different weights
You'll also find cotton in varying spool lengths. For small projects, you don't need much thread. But, some people will quilt large quilt tops - which uses quite a lot of thread. Coats and Clark's Star brand thread is offered on a 1,200 yard spool, which will finish a lightly quilted queen size quilt. For you comparison junkies: 1,200 yards is exactly the length of ten football fields... that's a lot of thread!
Silk sounds very luxurious, but it's no lightweight! Silk is a great, strong fiber for quilting. It's unique sheen makes it beautiful for adding appliqué and embroidery to your quilt top. Because it's a natural fiber, and so more akin to cotton than synthetics, many quilters choose silk thread as their first alternative to cotton. It also comes in a variety of weights for different applications. YLI is one of the more notable manufacturers of silk, and offers it in #100 for hand appliqué or machine quilting, #50 for all purpose sewing and embroidery, Silk 1000 denier for decorative quilting, and several sizes for beadwork.
Polyester thread is generally used for decorative effects. It offers brighter colors, for adding interest to your quilting. Dual Duty XP, from Coats and Clark, is a 100% polyester all-purpose thread in 342 colors. Remember getting the big Crayola crayon box with the built-in sharpener for your birthday and being amazed at all the colors? Yeah, that's sort of nothing compared to this color selection.
Rayon thread is a lot like polyester; it has a nice sheen and is very strong. It's also available in a wide range of colors.
Metallic threads look a little like tinsel and can add great decorative effects to your quilts. However, metallics can be fussy, and require a special needle and special tension considerations, but the overall effect is well worth the extra futzing.
For more information about thread, take a look at our article: Selecting the Right Thread for the Job.