Confessions: Thread

Thank you all so much for the kind comments and emails about the first Confessions post. It's so nice to know that you're not alone on this wonderful-yet-sometimes-intimidating journey. It's also great to know that the quilters you look up to feel the exact same way as you do. We are all human and quilting in general is one of those goofy careers where it's being invented as you go sometimes and there's no college course or manual to tell you how it should be. Granted there are books and patterns and classes and tutorials - but there's also a million other ways to get a similar result with quilting. It's not a science. It's not black and white. It's what works best for each and every single person and that's where it gets intimidating - we can't all measure ourselves against one another no matter how much we (or our subconscious) wants to. Once you realize the only person you're competing against is who you were yesterday - the better off (and more relaxed) you'll be.

So, onto the actual topic for today - threads. We all use them. We all have them. But why do so many of us use them the wrong way??? Or maybe not wrong, but not the best way...

Here's my threads. The cones in the shelving cubby are the threads I use for everything. When there's still some left but not enough to use for quilting, they go in the bin on the floor and I use them for bindings. The small threads in the printer's tray at the top are some of my Hubby's Grandma's threads on wooden spools and some small spools that I've gotten through the years, some hand quilting threads, thread samples, some for small applique projects and such. Basically at this moment they mostly live up there and look pretty.

This isn't a post about this brand or that brand and comparing the differences in sizes and materials. This is simply about color and where most of my clients go wrong from the beginning. And bad habits are hard to break.

First things first. Let's get something straight. There are thousands upon thousands of colors of fabrics. Just walk into any quilt shop and take a look at the shelves and displays. Now, with thread... there's maybe at best a couple hundred colors. I know that sounds like a lot, but once you break it down between your whites, greys, tans, blacks, and ROYGBIVs, then break it down between pastels, lights, dusty colors, darker hues and brights - there's not much room for much else. Again look at the thread options at any quilt shop versus the options of fabrics...

Take a look. This is the thread I use for everything (piecing, quilting, binding, the whole shebang). These are the colors they offer. Many of the colors are very close so it doesn't make sense to have them all and there are gaps sometimes in the colors you are looking for. Fabric colors and trends change faster than the threads are able to catch up. So what's a girl to do?

Well, this is what I have. You want to use the threads to "go" with the fabrics. NOT MATCH. You don't want to get too matchy matchy. You can drive yourself bonkers (and spend a small fortune while you're at it) trying to match threads. I have a range of white to cream to tan to brown and I use these the most. Seriously, I order them sometimes 4 cones at a time. Then I have a range of colors with some lights and some darks but it truly depends on what my clients are bringing me. I never know what will show up at my doorstep. The colors you work most in may be different in your area following the trends and the vibe of your clients interests.

I did just order a couple more oranges and a medium blue to round out some colors for a super rainbow quilt that I'm getting ready to work on. But honestly I've been quilting now for several years and this range of colors has gotten me quite far. You do not need to have every single color available. Plus some colors like purple for example, are hard to match well because they change color. They can easily be too grey or too blue or too bright for what you need. I try to have some "middle ground" colors and it seems to work for me.

The colors I personally use the most are the bottom 5 on the right, the light pink (top row 4th from the left) and the light blue (center row in the middle). In the actual order I use them the most would probably be Pearl (#402 the off-white), Cashew (#405 the darker tan), Brown Sugar (#425 medium brown in the center), Snow (#401 the white white), and then the others. I definitely use these colors the most. They just work so well so much of the time.

Now, that we have the fact-of-the-matter out there that there may not be threads available to match specifically to your fabric, but I may have something close that goes - let's talk about how the threads are used in the quilt.

I think the single biggest misconception with quilting is that the thread needs to stand out in order for the quilting to show up more. ROOKIE MISTAKE. For your quilting to stand out and show the best, the thread should actually BLEND IN with your fabrics.

Think about it this way. You want to look at a quilt, see the quilt first, the quilting second and the thread color last. Everything should work well in perfect harmony to enhance each other as a whole.

If you have a contrasting thread, you'll notice the thread first, the quilting next and the quilt last. You don't want your quilt to play second fiddle. If that was the goal then why make it in the first place? Plus, by using a contrasting thread each and every little mistake will stand out soooo much as contrasting thread emphasizes each imperfection in the quilting.

There are exceptions to every rule and some "famous" quilters are known for using contrasting threads. But they've had years and years of practise so they know how to hide their mistakes (if they make any at all). You can break the rules more when you've worked hard for years and proven that you have the skills to not necessarily break the rules, but create your own set of rules. I hope that makes sense.

Granted I have some clients that love color and want their thread to stand out. At the end of the day it is their quilt and I will do what they want, but I will voice my opinion if I don't think it's the best result we can achieve together. Why is that? Well, it's their quilt but it's my name on the quilting and I don't want to put out only "okay" quilting. If my heart isn't into the quilt, the quilting will reflect that and I only want to do the best I can do. I'm not good with just getting it done. Now the thread is only a small element in the grand scheme of quilting, but it can play a big role if it's not chosen wisely.

Also, there are times no matter what thread you choose, it IS going to stand out SOMEWHERE on the quilt. A perfect example of this are scrappy quilts or yellow and navy blue quilts. Really anything with a high contrast. If you're only choosing one thread, choose something in the middle if you can. This way it won't be too dark on the lights and it won't be too light on the darks.

But at the end of the day sometimes you just gotta lay that thread on the quilt and take a look. There are days where the best choice is the color I didn't think would work at all. Sometimes if it's a weird color like a salmon (pink makes the salmon look orange, orange makes it look pink) I will lay a couple threads on the fabric in question and take a look at it over a period of time. I try to look at it several times throughout the day as the light changes to see if that alters how the combination plays together.

Oh, and last little tidbit - do not, I repeat DO NOT, bully your quilter into ordering a new thread just for you and your little tiny quilt if they don't think they can use it again. If they haven't needed it this far, that neon magenta obviously hasn't been a high request. If you're giving them a super custom king size quilt where it seems to be the only option. That's one thing. But for a baby quilt... Come on now. Be respectful. And yes I'm speaking from experience on this one.

So, that's a lot of talk about thread and where does this leave you? Well if you're a quilter, don't waste your money on every single color of thread available. If you're giving your quilts to a quilter to finish, trust your quilter and their judgement. This is their job and if you don't trust their judgement, they shouldn't be touching your quilt in the first place.

Oh, and if you noticed I really don't have variegated threads, yeah, that's for another post. Let's just leave it with I have a love/hate relationship with variegated threads...

Keep the conversation going in the comments. Let me know what you think about this post, this series and what else you'd like to know more about. Also, you can always email me at rubybluequilts (at) gmail (dot) com. I love reading your emails and sharing stories with you! Come back next week for another post in the Confessions series.

Phew, it feels so good to get some of this out there!


  1. As a rookie quilter, I'm grateful that you've shared your experience and knowledge. Thread color is a major component of a quilt. This is a great guidepost for making choices that will dictate how I want my quilt to look in its' finished state. Thanks!

  2. So Fine by Superior is all I use as well. In addition to the 401-404, I use 408 silver and 451 Blizzard or Temple all the time. Grey is the new neutral and 408 works with all grey shades. Surprisingly, I use a ton of black, also.
    In terms of thread usage, I just wish customers would piece navy quilts with ANYTHING but white... :O

  3. Another great post. I have to say i use mainly Glide thread, just love the slight sheen and it runs so beautifully through my machine.......and we all want that! As for colours, Linen would be the one I use the most and like you some of the beige's -tans. I do use superiors Fantasico variegated threads, same reason as above. I like how you have your threads displayed, pretty.


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