Sewing Blog

The Right Spool: Different Types of Sewing Thread

Thread holds everything together when you’re sewing. Which means whether you’re sewing by hand or by machine, it’s important to choose wisely when considering the different types of sewing thread for your project. But if you’ve ever found yourself in the fabric store, staring at a wall of spools, you know that’s not always an easy choice!

Here’s a brief rundown on the different types of thread:


Cotton thread

Cotton thread has very little “give” and tends to break easily. However, it’s a good choice when sewing delicate fabrics or for lingerie sewing projects. Choose a medium thickness cotton thread for working with lightweight to medium-weight cottons, linens and rayons.

Polyester thread

Polyester thread is a a true all-purpose thread, and it’s a good choice for most sewing projects, both machine- and hand-sewn. The thread has some give to it, so it won’t break when you are working with stretchy knits. Polyester thread often has a wax or silicone finish that allows it slip through the fabric easily. You can also find invisible polyester thread, which is an ideal choice when you are searching for an extremely strong thread that will also stay hidden.

Heavy-duty thread

Heavy-duty thread is also a polyester thread, but the weight of the thread is not suitable for most garment sewing projects. It is, however, the perfect choice when sewing upholstery and canvas, so you might find yourself reaching for it when you’re tackling home decor sewing projects.

Silk thread

Silk thread is very fine. It’s also flexible and won’t leave holes, so it makes an excellent choice for basting thread. It’s also great to use when sewing silk or wool.

Wool thread

You probably won’t have many occasions to use wool thread when sewing garments, as it tends to be used for embroidery projects, but it is an extremely strong thread that’s a good choice when working with heavy fabrics like wool and canvas. It can be a good option for topstitching– just be sure to use a larger needle and adjust your sewing machine’s tension appropriately.

Metallic thread

Metallic thread is often featured on handbags; you can find it in gold, silver and copper varieties. It’s used often in machine embroidery, and would be a good choice if you were looking a thread with a little flair for topstitching.

Designer thread

These are typically made from combining two or more types of thread, like a silk and rayon blend.

Choosing the right thread for your project:

The type of thread that’s right for your project will mostly be decided by your choice of fabric.

  • The thread should match the size and weight (you wouldn’t choose a delicate cotton thread to sew a heavy-weight denim), and properties (woven vs. knit).
  • Some sewists recommend matching the thread content to the fabric content: cotton thread for natural fibers, polyester thread for synthetic blend fabrics.
  • Most of the time you can simply find an all-purpose polyester thread in the right color and be pleased with the results.
  • The right color is subjective, of course. You can either choose to match your fabric or pick a contrasting color.
  • Whichever type of thread you choose, buy the best you can afford. Cheap thread is cheap thread, and the lack of quality will ultimately show on your garment.

A few examples from my own recent projects:

Patterned Roman Shade
For this roman shade, I used heavy-duty thread, since it’s ideal for upholstery weight fabric. Having extra strong thread is particularly helpful when attaching the ring tape to the shade.
Isabella reversible maternity and nursing top
For this knit top, I made sure to use an all-purpose polyester thread. Using a cotton thread on knit fabric would be bad news! The polyester thread has enough give to stretch with the fabric.
Wrap dress hanging on hanger
For this wrap dress, I used cotton thread. The fabric is rayon, making cotton a good choice. The pattern called for lightweight fabrics (rayon, cotton voile, silk), so I’d probably choose cotton thread again even if I were to remake this pattern in a different fabric.
Learn how to creatively use thread in Decorative Seams: Techniques and Finishes with Katrina Walker.
Come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow for tips on organizing your sewing studio.

Do you have a favorite type or brand of thread?


Katherine Durra

Great help getting back into sewing and needed to refresh myself. I love silk thread when sewing my sheets and pillow cases I uses a bright color of thread so it shows up.

Roseann Brierley

What if I’m making microwave bowl holders, do I have to use 100 hundred percent cotton, or can I use all purpose thread in on the material for microwave use?

Janice Fryer

@Roseann Brierly: I have made those microwave bowl holders and was cautioned by the store owner to use 100% cotton fabric, thread and special microwaveable batting (apparently there is something in regular cotton batting that can catch fire) to avoid anything melting or catching fire. I followed her advice and so far so good!


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I have a macaron key-charm that I make for people to hang on their purse and the like. The problem I have is people breaking the stitching used to hold the “cookie” part together. Either it happens during everyday use or people twist them thinking they open. What thread can I use to at least get it through everyday rigors?

vivek kumar

What if I’m making microwave bowl holders, do I have to use 100 hundred percent cotton, or can I use all purpose thread in on the material for microwave use?


thats a good way of easy making assignment!!!!!!!!!!!!

P de Lange

I want to know more about elastic thread to gather material

Deborah Ellison

What brand is good. I don’t sew much but am trying to save money and mend my clothes. I have a bunch of cheap thin thread that is breaking while I sew. Also I got some needles at the grocery store and they are weird-what is a good brand of needles for hand sewing?


What type of threat can I use to do machine embroidery on my microwave bowls?

Judy Rushford

Is it safe to use mettler 100% cotton thread with silk finish safe to use when making microwave bowl holders Can the silk finish cause a fire

Marianne Snygg

I have a lot of quilting thread left to me by my mother. Can quilting thread be used on garments? On a recent project, I found that my needle was shredding my thread. Had to change one or the other.


Marianne, be prepared to examine each spool to see whether it says HAND QUILTING or MACHINE QUILTING. I advise you to keep it all even if you do a little hand sewing, but don’t use this in your daily sewing machine! Quilting thread has a special coating to allow it to slide smoothly, and you do NOT want that in any machine. Also bear in mind, age weakens thread like anything else. Old thread is just not worth it–old quilting thread is just plain scary. Go out and invest in good ALL PURPOSE thread instead.


Can anyone please tell me what the difference is between darning cotton thread and regular cotton sewing thread, such as cotton quilting thread?

Aimee Aimee

Thank you for a great explanation. I was looking online for a similar idea and really appreciate it


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