Sewing Thread Definition, Types And Uses


No sewing project is possible without thread, and high-quality threads are a requirement for every sewing application. Avoid skimping on your threads, because not all threads are created equal. Cheaper quality threads often lack durability and strength, and the lint will clog the mechanics of your sewing machine. It is also tempting to use old or inherited thread, but a little-known fact is that thread expires or wears out. Save old thread for a decoration or craft. Look for a reputable brand with high strength, excellent smoothness, and quality materials that will ensure the time you spend on your sewing projects will result in ease of sewing and professional results.

What is a sewing thread?

Threads come in a variety of weights, such as 28, 40, 50, and 60, and they may vary from type of thread and brand. A smaller number means a heavier weight or thicker thread. Threads also come in a variety of spool sizes or length per spool. Some examples are 55 yards (50m), 164 yards (150m), and 547 yards (500m). These too may vary from brand to brand.

Types Thread And Uses :

Different threads and a wide range of colors provide everything that you need for sewing, quilting, embroidery, and overlocking. You might even find that you use different threads in a single project, such as basic sewing for assembly, cone thread for serging, silk thread for hand sewing, and waxed thread for attaching buttons. Specialty threads are available in a diverse range of colors, surface finishes, looks, and effects. Some threads you may consider using include:

  1. Polyester all-purpose thread: for most garment applications with excellent colorfastness
  2. 100% quilting cotton thread: can be used on any garment. The cotton is appropriate for cotton fabrics and garments needing natural fibers and a more matte finish
  3. Variegated multi-colored thread: when you want a whimsical color-shifting effect and blending when a fabric has a variety of colors
  4. Embroidery thread: for machine embroidery and decorative stitching with a highly reflective surface
  5. Silk thread and buttonhole twist: for sewing finer weight fabrics, decorative sewing, and hand sewing
  6. Cone thread: for overlock serging when multiple spools are used
  7. Stretch and elastic thread: for knitted fabrics and when flexibility in a seam is needed
  8. Denim thread: a stronger thread for use in sewing sturdy denim
  9. Bobbin thread: for fine and delicate fabrics, ideal as a bobbin thread
  10. Nylon transparent thread: for invisible stitching
  11. Metallic thread: for added bling
  12. Glow-in-the-dark thread: for a fun effect
  13. Waxed thread: used in tailoring and hand sewing hems and linings, this thread comes flat rather than on a spool with a waxed coating. It prevents the thread from knotting as you hand sew

All-purpose threads

Today most all-purpose threads are polyester-coated cottons which have the flexibility of polyester with the strength of cotton. This type of thread is perfectly acceptable for most general sewing projects. You will also find 100% polyester threads, which are stronger. 

All-purpose threads

All-purpose threads

Silk threads

These are very soft and have a sheen, making them ideal for hand sewing or top stitching. 

Machine embroidery – These are slightly finer than all-purpose threads because they are often used in highly concentrated stitch patterns. Most have a high gloss. They are often 100% polyester or rayon. There is a huge variety of threads, ranging from plain, vibrant colors to metallics, variegated and iridescent. Use with a machine embroidery needle that has a larger eye suitable for highly dense stitching, which will also help prevent the thread splitting or breaking.

Embroidery threads

Embroidery threads

Bobbin fill 

Designed for use with machine embroidery, this is a finer black or white thread used in the bobbin, and thus forming the underside of heavily stitched embroideries. Because it is finer, it decreases the density of the stitching on the reverse of the work, which helps prevent puckering.

Metallic threads – Used for decorative stitching either by hand or machine. If machining, use with a metallic needle which has a coated eye because the metallic fibers can cut a minute groove in the eye, causing threads to shred and snap. Use thicker, uneven metallic threads on the bobbin rather than as the upper thread. Sew with the work facing downward to ensure the decorative thread is on the right side.

Metallic threads

Metallic threads

Top stitch/buttonhole thread

Designed to be highly visible, this is a thicker thread, most often polyester. It is used for top stitching, decorative stitches, or hand sewing buttons, etc. Use an all-purpose thread in the bobbin and a jeans needle or machine embroidery needle with a larger eye to accommodate the thicker thread.

Quilting thread 

This thread has a wax finish to help prevent tangling when hand stitching. A poly cotton blend or 100% cotton, it can also be used for machine stitching. 

Basting thread 

Usually 100% cotton, basting thread is finer and rougher than general thread. It will break easily and is only used for temporarily holding fabrics together. 

Invisible/transparent thread

Available in clear or smoke color, it is a nylon thread designed for attaching trims, quilting, and repairs. 

Speciality threads

Speciality threads


In addition to the machine threads which can be used for hand sewing, there are different, thicker threads used for embroidery, cross stitch, crochet, crewel, and stumpwork. They are available in an extensive range of colors and varieties, on skeins, braids, or spools and may be a mix of fibers or 100% cotton. 

Mercerized or PerlĂ© crochet thread 

Used for cross stitch or crochet, it is usually 100% cotton and has a slight luster. 

Embroidery floss/stranded cotton 

As the name suggests, these are made up of strands which can be separated and used separately or in combinations of 1–6, depending on the thickness required, to form stitches. Varieties include high sheen, matte finish, variegated in silks, cotton, linen, or mixed fibers.

Embroidery flosses

Embroidery flosses


As sergers (overlockers) use far more thread than a conventional sewing machine, specially designed threads come on larger cones, cops, and spools (also known as bobbins). There are different qualities, each used for slightly different finishes. However, sewing machine decorative threads can be used in the loopers (which have larger-eyed needles).

100% spun polyester/cotton wrapped polyester 

Used in the needles, these threads are similar to sewing machine threads but finer. 

Woolly nylon/floss

As the name suggests, this has a flossy/woolly texture with a slight sheen. It is used in the upper looper so that the soft wool is on the upper edge of the seam and is ideal for swimwear, fabrics with Lycra, and lingerie. Bulk thread is similar without the sheen. It is good for stretch and knit fabrics.

Decorative threads

Conventional decorative threads can be used in the loopers which have larger-eyed needles.

Serger cones

Serger cones

Thread comes in a huge variety of colors, allowing you to match to most fabrics quite precisely.

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