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A Twisted Tale of Two Threads

Look no further for advice on thread... our experts would love to help you find just the right thread for your next creative project.  With 6 different brands and numerous weights and thread types to choose from, you're sure to find the perfect spool here!



Johnson's Sewing Centre's huge Thread Centre has something for everyone.

Whether your interested in basic sewing and machine quilting, or have artistic flair and enjoy machine embroidery and decorative fibre arts,  we have a thread that will captivate you and make your next sewing project magical.

Threads can make or break your sewing and embroidery projects.  Read through this information sheet and use it as a reference to know where embroidery threads can and should be used and which needles etc. to use with them.
Threads are listed by type, fiber, and weight. Specific thread types for embroidery are recommended for both the top and the bobbin.

How tension controls the outcome of a stitch

Sewing machines are factory preset to have the top and bottom thread form even stitches when sewing with a 50 or 60 wt. thread. If the top and bottom threads are identical in fiber and weight, adjustments may not be necessary. However, if we use cotton on top and poly underneath, or metallic on top and poly underneath, or a heavy thread on top and a fine thread underneath, it is necessary to adjust the tension settings. It is perfectly OK to use different thread types and weights on the top and bottom. Relying on a machine's automatic tension system is not enough.

Think of the top and bottom thread as having a tug of war. If the threads are identical and you are sewing on a single layer of fabric, both sides have equal strength and the result will be a draw. The sewing should therefore produce perfectly even stitches with no top thread showing underneath and no bobbin thread showing on top. However, in the real world, the teams are rarely equal. One team will be stronger or bigger or faster than the other. We sometimes use decorative or sensitive threads on top. We often use different fibers for the top and bottom threads. We also add stabilizer or batting. Sometimes we might use a cotton bobbin thread and other times we use a polyester bobbin thread. All these factors make it necessary to adjust the tension for each project. By adjusting the top tension either up or down, we are able to add or take away strength on the top thread team to equalize the tug of war battle. Following is a list of things that affect stitch results: 

1. Batting. This adds drag on top thread. Cotton batting tends to grab the thread more than poly batting, adding more friction on the thread.

2. Fabric type. Dense fabric puts more stress on the thread.

3. Top thread thickness and type. Metallic is less flexible than cotton or poly. Poly is usually stronger than cotton or rayon.

4. Bobbin thread type. Cotton bobbin thread tends to grab more than a smooth filament polyester. Sometimes grabbing is preferred and sometimes it causes problems. A smooth filament poly thread (not spun poly) in the bobbin will work better with metallic and other sensitve threads because its smooth finish acts almost like a lubricant, sliding nicely with the thread.

 Is the thread getting from the spool to the machine in the proper manner?   Some threads are meant to unwind over the top of the spools (or cones) and others are meant to unwind straight off the spool with the spool rotating.  
 If the spool of thread is the traditional sewing spool type, with symmetrical flanges on both ends, the thread has most likely been wound in a straight-wind pattern.  This type of spool works best when positioned in a manner that allows the spool to rotate as the thread unwinds.  This allows the thread to unwind without pulling over the end of the spool and thereby avoid twisting.  Most machines have a vertical spool pin adapter which accommodates this setup.  Pulling the thread over one end of the spool is not the intended delivery system for this type of spool. Remember: straight-wind onto the spool means straight-wind off.
 The trend of the future is larger thread spool sizes.  Traditional machine spools cannot hold as much thread as the cone-shaped king spools or mini-king spools. Much of the cost of a spool of thread is in the winding process so the larger the spool, the greater the savings.  If you use a cone shaped spool with a large opening in the base, it won't fit on the standard spool pin holders on most machines.  Since machine manufacturers have not yet caught up with thread manufacturers, you will need either an adapter or a thread stand.  The thread stand is advantageous over other home remedies such as a mason jar or coffee cup because it stabilizes the thread and elevates it higher than the machine.  The vertical arm of the thread stand lifts the thread higher than the machine which then facilitates an even feed without added tension or drag.  Thread stands can accommodate any type of thread which is wound on a king spool or mini king spool.  The thread on these spools is cross-wound and is meant to pull off over the top as the spool sits flat on the thread stand.

Embroidery Threads
For most embroidery applications it is best to use embroidery thread through the needle and a lightweight bobbin thread in the bobbin. The only exception would be the occasion where the embroidery needs to be reversible such as on quilts, towels, lace designs or other projects where the design will be visible on both sides.

Rayon exhibits several qualities that make it an excellent embroidery thread. It is available in hundreds of colors, has a very high sheen, has excellent strength for high-speed sewing, and is soft enough to sew in the finest detail. Most rayon embroidery threads are available in a 40-weight size to accommodate professionally produced digital designs. A size 75/11 embroidery needle or size 80/12 universal needle is recommended for best results. Robison-Anton and Sulky produce quality 40-weight rayon embroidery threads.

Rayon embroidery thread is also available in a slightly heavier 35-weight size. This is preferred for red work or any design where the desired appearance of the thread needs to be more dramatic. These threads can be either solid color or mixed colors. Robison-Anton's Twister Tweed is composed of two colors of rayon twisted together. Sulky also produces Ultra Twist rayon thread in several colors. A size 90/14 embroidery needle or size 90/14 universal needle is recommended for best results.

Qualities inherent in trilobal polyester make it an excellent embroidery thread. This relatively new fiber is both soft and flexible to conform to the most detailed designs yet strong enough to perform well in the most challenging embroidery applications. Legendary colorfast qualities and a surprising resistance to abrasion make it a natural for any sewn item that will be worn, laundered often or subjected to any demanding use. The trilobal shape of the individual composing fibers ensures an enduring sheen. Most trilobal embroidery threads are 40-weight. A size 75/11 embroidery needle or size 80/12 universal needle is recommended for best results. Mettler, Robison-Anton and Sulky produce trilobal polyester embroidery thread.

On the occasion when a matte finish is preferred over the sheen of rayon or polyester, cotton is the natural alternative. Characteristics inherent in its construction make it one of the best "stitching" threads available. Embroidery with cotton possesses a subtle beauty that is hard to match. Several weights of cotton are available for embroidery. Most cotton embroidery is accomplished with either 40 or 50-weight thread. This accommodates professionally digitized designs. A size 75/11 embroidery needle or size 80/12 universal needle is recommended for best results. Mettler, Signature and Robison-Anton produce quality cotton 40 and 50-weight threads.

When a heavier weight thread is required for redwork, blanket stitch appliqué or any outline type design where the thread appearance needs a more dramatic appearance 20, 25 and 30-weight cotton threads are available and should be used. A size 90/14 embroidery needle or size 90/14-100/16 universal needles are recommended for best results. Heavier weight cotton threads are available from Mettler, Robison-Anton, Signature and Sulky.

For the most dramatic appearance, Sulky produces a 12-weight cotton thread. It is a natural in redwork, straight stitch designs or designs digitized for heavier threads. For successful embroidery use a spring foot. A size 100/16 Topstitch needle is recommended by Sulky for best results. Sulky's 12 wt. cotton comes in both solid and "Blendables" colors


  Bobbin thread is available on either pre-wound bobbins or on large spools that can be wound onto your own spools. All bobbin threads are light weight to increase the volume of thread on the bobbin and, consequently, to reduce time spent replacing bobbins. Pre-wound bobbins and bobbin filler threads are usually cotton, spun polyester or filament polyester or nylon. Care must be taken when using filament bobbin threads because they tend to stretch either when winding the bobbins or in the sewing process. After the embroidery is complete the stretched threads tend to regain their original shape and unsightly and irreversible puckering occurs. To reduce bulk, a light weight bobbin thread should always be used unless the application must be reversible. When using a matching thread in the bobbin always make sure the bobbin tension is adjusted correctly.  If you are having tension issues it could be coming from your pre-wound bobbins,, When all else has failed and your thread tension still is not correct, try and rewind your pre-wound bobbin thread onto a factory deisgned bobbin, you might be pleasantly surprised.


Sewing Thread
Sewing thread for garment construction is usually a good quality cotton or spun polyester thread in either a 40 or 50-weight size. Quality sewing thread can be identified by its smooth appearance and uniform diameter. If you can feel inconsistencies in the shape of the thread your stitches will be inconsistent as well. There are numerous high quality brands available with an entire spectrum of colors to match any fabric. Sewing thread is also an excellent embroidery thread when a matte finish is desired.

Specialty Threads
Many unique threads are available for special effects embellishment. They are often delicate metallic, filament, film or multi-fiber filament threads with a very special look. Embroidery and Metallic needles in appropriate sizes produce the best results when sewing and embroidering with specialty threads. Some threads, like hand quilting threads, have wax coatings on them and should not be used in the machine. Special care must be used when sewing with heavy threads such as button or carpet threads. Refer to your sewing machine manual for settings and specific needle selections for these threads.


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