What Thread To Use For Quilting – Quilting Thread Guide

How to choose the best thread for quilting? Learn all about cotton and polyester quilting thread, find out what weight thread to use for quilting, and discover some of the best quilting thread brands.

Quilting thread is, undoubtedly, one of the most basic supplies every quilter needs. (BTW, if you’re putting together your first quilting kit, make sure you read our list of Essential Quilting Supplies for Beginners.)

If you’ve ever stood in the thread section of your fabric shop, I’m sure you know, the choices are almost endless. But if you thought you were only choosing between different colors, you’re very wrong, my friend.

The first (and perhaps most important) choice you need to make when buying thread for your next quilting project is the thread fiber and weight. If you look at the threads in the aforementioned thread section closely, you’ll see there are a bunch of different options regarding material and also weight (or thickness, in layman’s terms). 

I thought I’d go investigate, as I like to do, to see what quilters have to say about quilting thread. Do you even need a special thread for quilting? Or can you use an all-purpose thread for quilting? What’s the best thread for quilting (if there is one)? Well, let’s find out, shall we?

Do You Need a Special Thread for Quilting?

If you’ve just started quilting or perhaps own a few spools of thread, you might be wondering is there a difference between quilting thread and sewing thread? Can’t I just use regular sewing thread for quilting?

Well, you’ll be happy to know that if you have a quality all-purpose thread (something like Guttermann Sew-All polyester thread), you can absolutely use that both for machine piecing and quilting.

Of course, as you gain some quilting experience, you might find you have different preferences, and a different thread works better for you. And that’s great! We’re all learning with each project. But for a beginner, a good quality all-purpose sewing thread will also do the trick.

Now, please note that I am saying *quality* thread. And this is what can make or break your machine sewing experience (or your machine, to be honest). As you know, if you’ve ever threaded a sewing machine (if you’re struggling with this, make sure you read our Sewing Machine Threading Guide), the thread goes through a whole number of nooks and openings before coming from the spool to the needle.

If you’re using low-quality thread, chances are, it’s got loads of ‘stray fibers’ (as opposed to a quality thread, which is smoother). These fibers get stuck in the little nooks on your sewing machine and can, in time, cause problems. Just think about all the places each section of the thread must pass to get from the spool to the needle. If a tiny bit of stray thread fiber gets stuck in there with every stitch, you can imagine how it can build up after sewing with it for a while.

So – all-purpose thread for quilting? Yes. Low-quality thread? No!

What is the Best Thread for Quilting with a Sewing Machine

Experienced quilters might argue, of course, that you should use a special thread for quilting, no matter what. And what do they mean by special?

Well, as I’ve said earlier, the choice comes down to thread fiber and thread weight. So let’s take a look at both. 

Cotton or Polyester Thread for Quilting?

When talking about thread for quilting, the main fiber content contenders are cotton and polyester. Each has its own advantages (and disadvantages). So what you’ll end up using will probably be very much a question of personal preference.

Cotton thread is strong, durable, and soft. It doesn’t stretch, which is a plus for quilting, because it holds its shape. It can also withstand an enormous amount of heat. This means it will remain undamaged when pressing, and it will also hold up well if you’re prone to speedy machine sewing.

Polyester thread has a bit of stretch (which is why it’s great as an all-purpose sewing thread). It’s also very durable (more than cotton) and produces very little lint, which is good news for your sewing machine. Polyester thread has some sheen to it, so if you like that look, it can be a great added touch for your machine quilting. 

I have come across people asking if it is OK to use polyester thread for quilting. Mainly because they’ve been told you shouldn’t use polyester thread for cotton fabric. This idea comes from the myth that in time polyester thread will cut the cotton fabric and therefore ruin the quilt. However, this myth has been busted by examining quilts made in the 1950s when polyester thread came into widespread use. The quilts were fine even after 50+ years, so no need to worry there.

Still, my investigation has led me to the conclusion that most quilters (or at least the ones I look up to and follow religiously) prefer 100% cotton thread. I don’t know whether it is out of habit or not. But I must agree there is something beautiful about making your whole quilt from a natural fiber. That’s why I normally go with 100% cotton, as well.

What Weight Thread Should I Use For Quilting?

No matter what material they are made of, threads come in different weights or thicknesses. In quilting, the weights that are used most often are between 40 wt and 50-wt. 

So, which is thicker 40 or 50-weight thread? The system here might seem a bit backward because a 40-wt thread is actually thicker than a 50-wt thread. The explanation behind this is actually very logical. The weight is determined by how many meters of thread it takes for a coil to weigh one kilogram. So the thicker (heavier) the thread, the smaller the number.

I must warn you, though, that the weight system is not necessarily identical across brands. This means a 50 wt thread from brand A might be heavier than a 50 wt thread from brand B. Make sure you take this into account when buying thread.

40 wt vs. 50 wt Thread for Quilting

If you’re reading this, you probably just want me to tell you what weight thread to use for quilting and be done with it. Well, both 40 wt and 50 wt threads will work well for both machine piecing and machine quilting, so you can’t go wrong with either.

A 50 wt is perfect for machine piecing and quilting, but also hand applique, English paper piecing, and foundation piecing.

If you want to make your stitches pop, using a 40 wt can add that little bit of extra dimensions without adding too much bulk to your stitches. So if you want your quilting to really show, choose a 40 wt thread.

Can I Use Very Thick Thread For Machine Quilting?

Sometimes you want your quilting to really stand out. In that case, you can definitely try something heavier, like a 30 wt thread. The thread will lay on the surface of the quilt rather than sinking into it, making the quilting lines even more visible and giving your quilt extra texture.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even go with a 12-wt thread. This is actually the thickest thread that goes through the eye of a machine needle. A 12 wt thread will give you very bold quilting lines, so make sure you plan your thread color and quilt design well.

Whenever you use a different weight thread, make sure you sew on a test strip first to see if you need to make any adjustments. Most often, you will need to play with the tension a little bit to get that perfect stitch. Also, even though you are using heavier thread for the top stitch, you should use a 40 wt or 50-wt in your bobbin.

What is the Best Thread for Hand Quilting

If you’re an old-school quilter and/or prefer to quilt by hand, you might need to look for a different type of thread.

You might have come across thread that is called ‘quilting thread’, which is – in fact – hand quilting thread. It is the perfect choice for hand quilting. Why? Because it is coated with a special wax that makes hand sewing easier as the thread glides through the fabric more smoothly. 

Be careful though. You DO NOT want to use this thread for machine sewing, as it can actually harm your machine with the residue from the coating. Use the so-called ‘quilting thread’ for hand sewing only!

What Thread For Big Stitch Hand Quilting?

Much like with machine quilting, if you want your stitches to stand out, look for a 12-wt quilting thread. This thick thread is very visible against the fabric, making your hand stitching really stand out. 

Big stitch sewing is not only a great choice for quilting but is also very popular for binding. Using big stitch binding can add another point of interest to an otherwise overlooked part of the quilt. So if you’re looking for a new challenge, maybe give big stitch binding a go!

What Brand Of Thread Is Best For Quilting?

Last but not least, I’m sure you want to know about the best quilting thread brands. After all, when you’re in a fabric store buying thread, that’s pretty much the first choice you need to make.

Depending on where you live, there might be different brands available in your local fabric shops. I am speaking from experience. Where we live in this little European country, some of the brands that U.S. quilters love and use just aren’t available. Sure, there’s always Amazon, but buying thread online can be tricky business, especially when it comes to choosing the right color.

With all this in mind, I’ve decided to put together a list of all of the quilting thread brands that get positive reviews either on Amazon or on fellow quilting blogs. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find some of these locally, no matter where you’re from.

  • Aurifil seems to be the go-to thread for many quilters. The Aurifil Mako Cotton (50 wt or 40 wt) is perfect both for piecing and quilting. 
  • Superior Threads is, according to some, one of the best on the market. Their 3-Ply 50 Weight Polyester Thread, for example, has stellar reviews for accurate piecing.
  • Gutterman is another reliable brand with high-quality thread. You can’t go wrong with their Sew-All polyester thread or their reasonably priced cotton thread. (I can’t say this firsthand, but apparently, Gutterman thread that is not made in Germany, can be of lower quality, so you might want to look out for that!)
  • Madeira has great cotton thread perfect for both piecing and quilting.
  • King Tut is another favorite among quilters. They offer high-quality cotton thread with a large range of solids and variegated colors. 

As I’ve said, the availability of thread might depend on your location, and also your budget. You can’t go wrong with any of the brands above. But, as with all things in quilting, you might want to try a few different options and see what works best for you.

And with this, we’ve come to the end of my little research. I hope you now know everything about how to choose the best thread for quilting. Do you have any favorite threads that I didn’t mention here? Or use a different kind of thread for some of your projects? I would love to hear all about it!

Happy quilting!

Further Reading

Finish a Quilt in 3 steps

If you’re new to quilting and you’re overwhelmed with how to finish a quilt, here are the 3 basic steps with links to useful tutorials:

How to Baste a Quilt >

Machine Quilting for Beginners >
Inspiring Straight Line Quilting Designs >

The Ultimate Quilt Binding Tutorial >

If you prefer, you can follow our beginner-friendly tutorial on How to make a quilt from start to finish.


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