Sewing thread types and their uses for sewing machines.

Sewing thread is an essential part of sewing.

The type of sewing thread entirely matters to every sewing project.

A couple of weeks back a friend of mine learned that my previous profession was in the sewing industry.  I use to teach and sell sewing machine from the basic to the high end.  Hence, this led her to ask me for lessons on how to sew with the sewing machine that she got for Christmas.  She didn’t even know how to thread it much less what kind of sewing thread to use.

As with her and many others, she became frustrated trying to sew on her own without any basic knowledge of sewing.  Much less any idea on how to work a sewing machine.  I think most people have issues with threading the sewing machine correctly.   They become very frustrated and ultimately give up.  The sewing machine then finds itself a new home shoved in the back of a closet and rarely ever thought about again.

One of the most important things with learning to sew is to have a good understanding of the essential functions of a sewing machine and how they work.

These include:

  • What type of thread to use for each project.

  • How to wind a bobbin.

  • How to thread the machine properly.

  • Which is the proper type and size of needle to use?

  • How to place the bobbin into the sewing machine.

  • How to adjust tension correctly.


I feel it is imperative to start with basic lessons.  I’m not a professional by any means, but I love to sew and have sewn for years.  Self-taught in the beginning didn’t stop me from taking many classes and courses.  Actively working in the professional sewing industry, I found that numerous people would bring in their sewing machine for service because it wasn’t sewing correctly.

A Birds Nest

The thread would bunch up on the bottom side of the fabric they were attempting to sew.  The misconception is that the bobbin thread is creating the issue on the bottom of the material.  It is the top thread that is creating the problem.  When this happens, I would say nine times out of 10 the thread has come out of the take-up lever.  It creates these loops on the underside.

Why does his happen?

The reason this happens is that the thread is being pushed through the fabric by the needle and then the take-up lever will pull the thread tight again. If the thread isn’t in the take-up lever, then it will not pull the thread tight and will leave the loop on the bottom of the fabric.

To begin with, the first reason this could happen is if you don’t thread the machine correctly.  The second is if you are trying to force the fabric through the sewing machine and not letting the machine feed the fabric itself between the presser foot.

Tension Discs

The thread isn’t between the tension discs, which the thread isn’t taught through-out the machine.   Always make sure to have the pressure foot in the up position when threading any sewing machine.  If the pressure foot is down the thread will not go in between the tension discs.  Therefore, it causes the upper thread to be too loose and create a birds nest effect on the underside of the fabric.

Loops on the underside of the fabric

Another issue with the thread making loops on the bottom of the material is because it is the wrong type of thread for the application.  There are numerous types of sewing thread out on the market. There are two main categories; hand sewing and machine sewing thread.  There are specific types of threads according to what kind of sewing you are doing.  Therefore, all threads are not the same and some you should not use in sewing machines.

The use of hand sewing thread should never be put to use in any sewing machine.  You can use any sewing machine thread as hand sewing thread.

Weights of threads

Regular garment sewing machine thread is mainly 30wt (30 weight). Embroidery machine thread is 40wt. but there is a decorative thread that is 12wt.  (The smaller the number, the thicker the thread is.)  There is a wax-coated thread, but this thread is NOT for the sewing machine.  It is for hand sewing only.  If you use this thread in a sewing machine, the wax can come off and cause damage to the inner workings of the most durable.   The following is some of the different types of threads available.

The weight of threads can vary depending on the type and even brand of thread. In the sewing thread industry, the higher the number, the thinner the weight of the thread.  For example, 60wt thread in very thin where the 12wt thread is very thick.

  • A 40wt thread is for embroidery stitching. It isn’t strong enough for seams but is shiny and comes in a large variety of colors.  It is a thinner weight thread than regular sewing thread.


  • a 60wt thread is another type of embroidery thread. The use of this is for bobbin thread.  This thread is strong and is used in embroidery to keep the bulk down on the underside of the embroidery.  It can also be used to take down decorate elements on a project because it is very lightweight and thin.


  • 30wt thread is for sewing seams on a garment and basic projects. There are some 30wt embroidery threads out there on the market also.  They are a bit thicker than the standard 40wt embroidery thread.  30wt Embroidery thread coverage area is better than the 40wt.


  • 12wt thread is a thicker thread mainly for decorative topstitching and fancy stitches. The use of this is for heavy weighted fabric on rare occasions.  Always use the correct type of needle for this thread and the kind of material.  I wouldn’t recommend this thread for the beginner sewer.

The ply of the thread also makes a difference in the strength of the thread.  A lot of threads are 2-ply, and then there’s 3-ply.  Just like with toilet paper, however, the more ply the thicker and better the thread.  With 2-ply and 3-ply threads they are spun with two sets and three sets of fibers.  3-ply is stronger and more durable than 2-ply.

Types of sewing thread

Basic all purpose sewing thread

There are all around threads out there on the market which consists of sew-all types of thread. The contents are of 100% polyester.  You can use this thread in all different kinds of materials and fabrics.  For use in sewing machines and hand sewing.  Therefore, the purpose of this thread is useful for seams, quilting seams, buttonholes, stitching on buttons, decorative stitches, decorative seams and even in the serger.

Overlock/ Serger Thread Cones

Overlock Thread This thread is for the serger.  Overlock thread is the same as serger thread.  It usually consists of a spun polyester.  For use in high-speed sewing and serging.

Serger Cone Thread is ideal to use for all kinds of sewing projects with your serger.   It is a beautiful thread when used with multiple cones.  The composition of this thread is 100% polyester.  It is designed to tiny in sergers at high speeds and different tensions.  Each large cone spool of sewing thread contains a couple thousand yards.   Do not use this thread in sewing machines. It isn’t as strong as regular sewing thread and can create a lot of thread dust in your sewing machine.

100% Cotton Thread

Natural Cotton Thread consists of mercerized cotton.  It is excellent for use when sewing with natural fiber fabrics.  For use with linen and curtain fabrics.  For use in the serger at high speeds.  It is suitable for machine and hand sewing.  It is light-resistant and color-fast.

Upholstery Sewing Thread

Upholstery Thread is a sturdy thread for upholstery and sewing projects.  It consists of 100% polyester.  This type of polyester upholstery thread is the high strength but soft and flexible. Seams with this thread will look neater and lie more flat. Ideal uses for this type of thread ranges from materials including leather, vinyl, denim, canvas, carpeting and more. It comes in a wide array of colors to meet your project needs.

Outdoor Project Threads

Outdoor Living Thread is an ideal choice to repair, create and fix your outdoor upholstered furniture and pillows. This outdoor thread consists of a multi-filament polyester. Consequently, it is very strong, UV and moisture-resistant. Use this thread for mending sports gear, on canvas items, for awnings, sails, and tents.  It is colorfast and will resist fading.

Glazed Finished Hand Sewing Thread

Hand Quilting Cotton Sewing Thread is great to use when you hand sew your binding on your quilt.  This thread comes in a variety of spool sizes.  Made of 100% cotton and coated a unique glaze finish that helps reduce fraying, tangling, breakage and knotting. You can choose from a wide assortment of colors for stitching that shows.

Disappearing thread

Since we are talking about different types of threads, there is a water soluble thread.  It sews just like the regular thread through the machine, but when you get it wet with warm water, the thread will dissipate.  You could have some fun with this thread.  Create a new bathing suit for your partner sewing with this particular thread. For their sake and afterward yours I hope you have a private pool or hot tub in your backyard.  I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Temporary thread

Water Soluble thread is a wash away thread.  It’s usually a 50 weight thread.  Water soluble thread is a thinner type of sewing thread.  It doesn’t need to be a thick thread because it isn’t intended to be a permanent thread.  It is a temporary thread to hold fabrics in place for the time being.

This thread dissolves when soaked in water.  It will dissipate faster in warmer water.  You can use this thread with a longarm quilting machine, in a regular sewing machine, and for hand stitching.  It’s great for basting, temporary seams, and trapunto. (Trapunto is a puffy decorative feature where the underside of a quilt is slit and padding inserted, producing a raised surface on the top side of a quilt.)

Practical uses for water soluble thread

This thread does have other possible applications.  For instance, you can use it in quilting and garment sewing.  Use this thread to baste two fabrics together temporally. You can use this in different techniques. In quilting, you would use it when you have three distinct layers you are putting together.  You would baste the three layers to keep the fabric from shifting while you quilt the top, batting and back together.

Silk Threads

Silk thread is a different thread to have in your sewing kit. It is a high-quality thread that has an elastic type consistency.  Silk thread is a great choice when sewing seams.  You can also use silk thread to create a stylish edge, decorative stitches, buttonholes and even in the serger. It comes in a wide variety of colors. Made of 100% silk.  Most silk thread is for use in hand sewing and some machine sewing. Care for silk thread is machine wash cold, air dry, and iron/ steam on medium-low heat.

Invisible Thread

There is even an invisible sewing thread.  (I refer to it as transparent instead of invisible thread.)  This monofilament thread consists of 100% nylon. It has a fair amount of strength and decent flexibility.  For use in machine and hand sewing applications.  It is ideal when you can’t find the perfect color to match on hems, decorative stitching, and sewing on embellishments.

Invisible Top Stitching

I find it is excellent to use when topstitching on a colorful fabric.  The thread isn’t as obvious and doesn’t stand out when you sew over the different colors. It comes in two shades, light and dark.  The lighter almost clear is for light colored fabrics where, the darker smoke color is for darker fabrics.  If you use the smoke on light colored fabrics it is obvious and doesn’t per say disappear into the fabrics.  Using clear on dark fabrics will also be highly noticeable.  Therefore, the use of this thread is not for seams but for topstitching or decorative stitching elements to your project.

Button Thread & Carpet Thread

Button and Carpet thread are the same heavy duty threads that provide extra strength and durability.  Just like hand quilting thread, this thread is also glazed, which makes this thread for use in hand sewing only.  Never in the sewing machine.  For use when sewing buttons on coats and heavier projects.  Binding rugs is another application for this thread.  The glazed finish helps prevent the thread from tangling and breaking while stitching.

Jeans Thread

Jeans thread is a 12wt thread.  For durability use this thicker thread.  The purpose of this thread includes decorative embellishments on projects and garments.  However, the most common application for this thread is the decorative side stitching down the legs of jeans and for the hem.  You can use this thread in a serger for seams on heavy-duty projects.

Elastic Sewing Thread

The use of elastic thread in a sewing machine can be extremely tricky. Therefore, you must use this thread in the bobbin, never for the thread on top.  It’s great for projects that require gathering, basic ruffles, and smocking. Use it to create decorate hems and creative detailing on the edges of garments.  Doll clothes and often costumes are a good use for this thread.

The spools of thread are usually tiny, under 20 yards or so. I wouldn’t recommend even attempting to use this thread in your bobbin unless you are quite proficient at sewing. Another way I like to use this thread is to anchor it down to one end of your fabric and do a zig-zag overtop.  Making sure to anchor down the finished end. Just keep the elastic thread in the center of the zig-zag stitching.  It is much easier to do this method for gathering than to do the double row of basting stitches.

Industrial Sewing Thread

Industrial sewing machine thread is very strong.  You can sew with it at very high speeds without breaking or fraying. The use of this type of thread is most often in heavy-duty sewing fabrics such as canvas, duck cloth, leather, and vinyl.

There are three main types of industrial thread; Nylon, Polyester, and Kevlar(R).

Nylon Industrial sewing thread

The most common use is nylon industrial thread.  It comes in different weights for different sewing applications.  Use nylon thread for projects that are not subject to UV light (sunlight). Because, UV light will fade, discolor and break down the thread over time.

Polyester Industrial sewing thread

Use Polyester in applications where items are subject to UV light. It is colorfast and will not degrade and break down over time. Great for use when sewing outdoor cushions, outdoor canvas, and marine applications.

Kevlar(R) Industrial sewing thread

Kevlar(R) thread is extremely strong, and you can sew with it at high speeds.  Because of its high tolerance of extremely high heat,  the use of Kevlar(R) in applications where the temperature can get upwards of 400 degrees is recommended. It will not melt or break under those circumstances.   Uses for this thread include fire suits, tactical gear, racing suits and other various items where strength and extreme temperatures are in play.

Kevlar(R) thread comes in two types;  bonded and spun. Bonded is the strongest of the two.

There are five main types of machine embroidery thread. Rayon, Polyester, Cotton, Silk, and Metallic. 

Rayon Thread

One of the most popular types of embroidery thread is rayon.  Therefore, it is great for machine embroidery and quilting.  It comes in a 30wt and 40 wt sizes. For decorative topstitching use this thread.   Rayon Embroidery thread is light-weight, color-fast, long-lasting and durable. As a result, you can use this decorative thread on projects to make attractive patterns on quilts, bed sheets, curtains, costumes, dresses, and other fabric items. It’s ideal for free-motion machine embroidery and computerized embroidery. It is a washable rayon thread that comes in various vibrant shades that you can use to accentuate different decorative projects.


Polyester Thread

Polyester embroidery thread is similar to rayon embroidery thread.  This thread has a beautiful vibrant sheen to it but just not as bright as rayon.  It won’t shrink, fade or bleed when washed.  It even holds up to chlorine bleach.

Cotton Embroidery Thread

It is a rare occasion that you will sew with cotton embroidery threads.  They are not as vibrant as their sister threads rayon and polyester because cotton has a matte finish look to the thread.  It is the softest of all the different embroidery threads out on the market.  Heirloom embroidery sewing uses mainly cotton embroidery thread.  It comes in 30wt and 50wt sizes.  30wt has better embroidery coverage due to the thread being thicker.

Silk Embroidery Thread

Silk embroidery thread is not the same as silk embroidery machine thread.  Due to the fact it comes in various thread weight sizes for machine embroidery. This silk embroidery thread is probably the least common of machine embroidery thread for use on the market today.  It is one of the most durable natural fibers out there. Due to its physical strength characteristics,  you can sew with it at high speeds in embroidery machines without the thread breaking constantly.


Metallic Embroidery Thread

Metallic thread can look utterly amazing on a project but can be a significant headache to sew with.  This thread has a wonderful luster and shimmery effect. You can choose from different solid colors to a wide variety of variegated colors for regular, overlock and longarm sewing. When sewing with the metallic thread it is best to use a needle that is specifically for metallic thread. Slow the machine down to the slowest speed when embroidering or decorative sewing to reduce breakage of the thread.

Embroidery Machine Bobbin Thread

Most often embroidery bobbin thread consists of 100% polyester. Therefore, this thread is extremely lightweight and easy to use with sewing and embroidery machines. You can use this thread with a heavier weight thread as the top thread. It comes in white and is also available in black.  For use on sewing with linens, on bedding, home décor, and decorative accessories.    In machine embroidery, you will use this thread in the bobbin.

Never use any type of embroidery thread inseam construction of a sewing project.

Old Sewing Thread

There are some tons of old thread that you can find at yard sales, thrift stores and some that you have even been given to by your Mother or Grandmother.  You know the spools that are wooden.  They make great decorative items, but that’s where it ends.  Never use this old thread when you sew.  The thread may have dry rot or even seem and sew okay, but within a couple years it will completely fall apart.  Always use a new thread to sew with, not anything you have been handed down from generation to generation.


Here is my most important takeaway with sewing thread.  In conclusion, it DOES matter what type and kind of sewing thread you use.  If you are spending hours and hours creating this great item, you want to take care in making sure it lasts for a very long time.  Using the incorrect thread can completely wreck a project.  Hence, a great example would be leather.  When you sew something leather you do not want to use an all natural thread like cotton.  The reason for this is the tannins in the leather will eat away at the cotton thread and your seams will all fall apart.