How to look after your sewing threads.

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Whether you are a sometime hobby sewer or someone who sews nearly every day (like me) we all need to look after our threads. Not only because they are expensive but also because looking after them will make them last longer and sew better.

I always tell people to buy the best quality thread they can. I'll talk about few types of threads but there are lots of different types for machine and sewing. Probably the most popular is so called All Purpose thread. This is made from 100% polyester, 40wt and has a matt finish. Used for home dressmaking, textile sewing like curtains, as well as craft sewing. It comes in a wide range of colours and reel sizes. My favourites are Sulky or Gutermann. One benefit of these threads is that they don't "shed". This means that tiny little bits of the threads don't come off and clog up your machine! Very pleasing.

Overlocking or Serging thread. This comes on cones or quite big reels and is also made of polyester. It is designed for overlockers/sergers and for high speed sewing. It is not as robust as all purpose thread. Although perfect for your overlocker/serger, don't use it in your ordinary sewing machine. This does shed in sewing machines and you'll be putting fibres into your machine parts every time you sew. (Just think of the fibres you end up with in your overlocker/serger thread catcher and around the machine!)

Machine Embroidery Thread. Whether you have a dedicated embroidery machine or a 2 in one machine that does both embroidery and sewing, machine embroidery thread is what to use for embroidery. There are a few different types such as rayon, cotton, metallic and bobbin thread. Rayon is a very popular type of thread great for embroidery and quilting. It's lovely for topstitching or decorative stitching. It is colourfast, durable, washable, has a silky high sheen and comes in vibrant colours. This is the thread I use in my embroidery and my brands of choice are Sulky and Gutermann. Polyester is similar to rayon but it is not quite as vibrant and lustrous. Metallic embroidery threads come in a wide range of colours including gold and silver. They can really add sparkle to a project but I find they can be tricky in my machine. I find they can shed and sometimes break, however, I am careful these days to change my needle before sewing with them. A big eye metallic needle can make all the difference.

Bobbin thread. This thread is for...you guessed it, your bobbin. Most machine manufacturers make a bobbin thread for their machines. These come on a reel and usually come in white and black. This thread is a lighter weight than the top thread and this helps the embroidery design stay flat and not too bulky. You can also get these threads already wound and this is what I use. They save time and are wound to the correct tension. For more information and links go here.

You can also get Cotton threads which are softer and have a matt finish. These are mostly used for "Heirloom" type embroidery.


Once you've got your threads you need to look after them. Keep them somewhere dry and out of the sunlight. When you have finished with a reel of thread always tuck the end in properly so you don't end up with a tangle. At the top of your spool/reel there is a little channel for winding your end.

But did you know that the end of the spool/reel pops out? If you can't find the end of your new thread, or if you've been too enthusiastic with your winding you can pop the end out and the thread will be easy to find.

If you look at the top or around the top lip of the thread you'll find the colour code.

This pink is colour 1231 by Gutermann. On some reels this number is around the rim either top or bottom. When you get a colour chart with your embroidery design this is the code you need to match with the code on your chart.

As I mentioned it really matters how you keep your threads. If you buy or are given vintage or just old threads, don't be tempted to use them in your sewing projects. These type of threads are really only good for displays or decoration. Over time thread deteriorates and your sewing will fall apart much quicker with old thread. Direct sunlight is not a good idea and neither is having the reels just sitting out in your room where they will get dusty.

I keep my threads in boxes. Not only are they kept clean and away from sunlight, but they are easy to find and compare colours.

These little trays in a frame are from a hardware chain store. I keep my all purpose threads in these. They were a lot cheaper than purpose made thread trays from a handicraft store and they do exactly what I want.


On the other hand I keep my embroidery threads in purpose made thread storage boxes. These close up securely and take the 200metre/220yd size spool from Sulky, Gutermann, Metler etc. I only buy this size spool because I keep a lot of colours rather than less colours but bigger spools. This works out more expensive in the long run but suits me.

If you do use bigger spools you can get storage boxes specifically for these.

Finally, when I'm sewing a project the last thing I want is thread rolling around and falling on the floor. I have a thread stand but it only takes 8 spools. I looked to buy a bigger stand for more reels of thread but I was put off by the price. Step forward Mr. Sewlush. With some off cuts of wood and some big nails he made me these stands. Practical, useful and NO plastic.

If you like this article please share and leave a comment. Thank you sew much.

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