Types of Sewing Threads

    by Mary Osborne

    About the Author

    Mary Osborne has been an educational quiz writer since 2001. She is the author and illustrator of two children's books and her short stories have periodically appeared in literary journals since 1986. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Central Florida.


    Imagine a life without thread. Sewing threads are truly the "ties that bind" our garments together. Without them, we would still be draping skins, furs or material across our bodies to keep out the wind, weather and unwanted attention. Like an artist's palette, sewing threads come in a rainbow of colors, and are available in various materials and sizes.


    During the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, people used strips of leather or animal sinew and bone needles to sew together furs and skins. Tribal people used fibers from various vines and cacti for threads, and thorns for needles; eventually, seamstresses of the ancient world learned to twist together fine silks and wools to make thread.


    Cotton or cotton-polyester threads are probably the most common thread choices of seamstresses because of their strength, durability and ease of use. They create a well-defined line of machine stitches. The term mercerized is often used with this type of thread, and simply means that it has been repeatedly processed to create more luster.

    100 Percent Silk

    Silk thread is often chosen for its gorgeous sheen. It is one of the most trouble-free threads to use for machine quilting. Strong and durable, it will not stretch, and is similar to polyester thread in that respect.

    Wool and Acrylic

    Often used for special effects or embellishments, wool and acrylic threads are heavy, fuzzy threads that require a large-eyed needle while sewing. Because they are fuzzy, these threads can leave an accumulation of fibers in a sewing machine's bobbin case, so remember to clean the case regularly.


    A wide, colorful array of embroidery thread awaits both the hand- and machine-embroiderer. Embroidery floss used for hand embroidery is often made of Egyptian cotton, while the machine embroidery thread of choice is often rayon.

    "Invisible" or Nylon

    Virtually invisible, this monofilament thread is quite popular, especially because it is very forgiving -- flawed stitching cannot be detected as easily. It comes in one of two colors: clear and a smoky toned hue for use on darker fabrics.

    Sizes and Weights

    Perhaps you've noticed two numbers indicated on a spool of thread (50/3 or 30/2, for example). The first number refers to the diameter of each individual thread strand, and the second number refers to how many piles or strands have been twisted together to make that particular thread. The higher the first number, the finer the strand.