Monday, February 25, 2013

About thread...


Something has happened in the past, maybe, five or six years. (Or maybe it has been longer and I just haven't been paying attention.)  Among quilt artists thread has gone from being a basic staple of our supplies to gourmet. Special. Trendy. Expensive! I have to admit I don't quite get it.

Backing up. I have been sewing and buying thread for at least 50 years. Really. And a few of the spools in the photo above may go back that far! I learned a long time ago that one must buy good quality thread. That stuff that is in bins and sells 3 for $1, or packaged on a card in the grocery store, will not do. It is lumpy and it breaks and it tangles unreasonably. I am partial to a good, long staple cotton mercerized thread, but a cotton-wrapped polyester works in a pinch. I have dabbled in shiny rayons and metallics and variegated threads (bottom drawer in the photo above) but those are not my go-to everyday threads. My everyday thread is what I have always considered "good" thread.

Suddenly, it seems, my old standby brands are considered inferior and there are new companies now out there selling superior (pardon the pun) threads that are at least triple the price of what I have been using for fifty years. How are they better? Less lint, they say. Stronger, they say. I have never been aware of a lint problem, nor have I suffered from weak threads causing damage. I suppose, though not with great conviction, that they may be technically superior, but I'm not sure how good thread needs to be. It needs to do a job. My thread runs quite beautifully through my sewing machine. It provides the strength I need and it holds my work together as I expect it to. I don't ask much more from thread than that. I would rather see the texture it creates than the thread itself.

I know many art quilters feature the thread, by using shiny, or sparkly or thread that changes color as you sew, but those aren't the special threads I am talking about. I am talking about regular old, utilitarian, unobtrusive cotton thread.

I left our local SAQA meeting last week, after a long thread discussion, very depressed. I was ready to come home and trash my entire thread collection, until I had a little time to think about this. I have a feeling we quilters are being "upsold" by all these new thread companies. I'm skeptical. I think some things can be "improved" beyond what they need to be just to provide consumers with the belief that they are getting something better. One person at our meeting said she was now spending more on thread than on fabric. Crazy.

I'm pretty sure I will get some feedback. Please—tell me what I am missing.

23 comments:

  1. I don't think you are missing anything. Actually, you may be one of the smartest quiltmakers around! I have often thought these thoughts and wonder along with you. I don't think the thread should overpower the quilt, nor should the quilting. I'm with you, good quality long-staple cotton thread comes in every color I will ever need. But I will also use cotton wrapped if I need an exact color and that is what I find. Long live BASIC thread! I'll spend my money on good quality fabric. Del

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  2. not missing anything really! I use what is needed. If it is the right colour, I am not fussed by the make up. I was given some thread by a Big Name company when I did the Bernina garments. To be honest, it is the only thing I get alot of fuzz from! The thread I get in the market doesn't have much fuzz at all in comparison and I get a variety of shades and tints on a larger reel for less money.

    I do like variagated threads for my work though, but that is because that is what it wants. I find it blends well across the piece. I don't use it to make it stand out, unless I am 'drawing or colouring' with the machine.
    Sandy in the UK

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  3. You know me... I agree. There are a few occasions when the quilt I'm working on calls for something extra in the thread department, but generally, I am seeking texture and subtle line with thread. I'm not ashamed to say I use Coates and Clark almost exclusively.

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    Replies
    1. Monna Juhl12:23 PM

      I agree also I've been sewing for about 69 years and have always bought Coates and Clark thread. I've made children clothing, clothing for myself,
      curtains, drapes, and lots of quilts and Coates and Clark has always worked fine for me. Why change something if its not broke.

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  4. Can you hear it? Right now I'm giving you a standing ovation! Would love to know your favorite brand of cotton thread. I agree with you so very much and thanks for climbing on your soap box.
    Hugs from Mary

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  5. I can totally see your point. Lately I've been getting really tired of being upsold in general (good word). The thing that got me the strongest lately was the unbelievable price of something like $85 for a 5-led light to put in my machine's harp. Are you kidding me??? Sure, it's lighting is wonderful, but I seriously do not have that kind of money, nor would I have the inclination to spend that much for it if I did. I'll stick to a $10 flexible table lamp that helps almost just as wonderfully - and is portable for any machine I want it at. The thread issue - one of my machines doesn't notice the difference at all between my few spools of Aurifil and my vast collection of Coats and Clark. My other machine is more sensitive to lint build-up, and the Aurifil really does make a difference there. I notice it a lot when I go back to my Coats and Clark collection on that machine. Because I love that one, I do get the Aurifil as I run out of specific colors I need, but no way on earth am I giving away (or tossing out, as some have said they've done!!!??) the threads I already have. One thing about the price of Aurifil - since it's a thinner thread than my Coats and Clark - a spool goes a lot further, so it's not as much more expensive as it seems at first glance.

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  6. I think all the hype about strength and low lint is catering to the longarm quilters. As a longarm quilter I use that "superior" thread for those reasons. My machine puts more tension on the thread and is fussier than a domestic machine when it comes to lint in the bobbin case.

    You do wonders with the thread you use - don't let the hype get to you!

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  7. 'Upsold'! LOL, and It isn't just threads, Terry! Every time I get in a 'thread discussion' I end up biting off my tongue as everybody has their gourmet thread they swear by. Plain Old Thread is what I use, utilitarian, NuGray, I buy 5 or 6 at a time and wind all my bobbins off first. I also buy off-white and black and keep a couple of bobbins of those available just in case. But spending as much money on a spool of thread as a yard of fabric is nuts. (No, I don't buy from bins either.)

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  8. Beyond its being mercerized and long staple cotton or cotton wrapped polyester, my thread voice is dIctated by what is available. I am just not going to buy thread by mail and since there are no quilt shops around - there is no special thread. When I began sewing there was one decent thread. I still use it or the one that came after, on the skinny spools.

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  9. I totally agree with you. You're right on!!!!

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  10. As you say, I don't use cheap thread, but I have been buying and using basic thread for more than 50 years too. I think that quilters are an easy mark for marketers; we like color, we like new things, we buy new supplies. Gourmet chocolate? Maybe. Gourmet thread? Don't think so.

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  11. I agree with you 100%. I teach a beginning quilting series and give this (similar) opinion to each of my students. I like how you put it- How good does thread need to be? Is everything that was pieced with old C&C falling apart? It was always good enough/strong enough to make my clothing with.

    I do have spendy specialty threads - metallic, holographic, etc. - but they are just that: For specialty applications.

    If a machine dealer tells you that you need to use only "X" thread in your new machine, he or she should get a great big raspberry. A machine is a machine. You can make any thread work with it. And if the machine is "too sensitive" then it's probably not what you need in the first place.

    My guess is that those who are singing the No Lint song are either just parroting what they've heard from "Them" or they are just not trained to clean their machine more often.

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  12. I am an artist who works in cloth as my medium. I bought a longarm machine 9 years ago as a means to support my other habits The longarm is a bit fussier than a domestic machine. I find that the poly threads are strong, have little lint, and come in glorious colors. You don't have to spend a fortune for thread. For example, Marathon thread is about $6 for a 5,500 yard spool and has an incredible color selection. Superior threads are nice, but unless you have a business license, expensive. They also have less yardage on their spools. There are lots of options on the internet. Cotton thread does have a shelf-life and will deteriorate over time. I've had to throw out quite a few spools that were a few years old because they were too weak to stand up to the tension and high speed of my machine. Whatever you are comfortable with is the right thread for you. It is fun though to try out some new options from time to time.

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  13. Upsold! Reminds me of when I was planning my wedding. Everything needed to be the best/prettiest/highest of quality for my Very Special Day. Every. single. item. and that would include the tiny napkins. I was told to buy the more expensive one for my very special day because it was So Important. You know that people were gonna put their gum in and toss out fer cryin' out loud! After the Wedding Planning Experience, I can detect 'upselling' a mile away. LOL

    There is not $5 of difference between 93% lint free and 95% lint free. There is between 3/$1 thread and coats and clark though. :) There is definitely a threshold.

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  14. I agree. I think that everyone is trying to get in our wallets. I don't listen to any of them. I buy what I always have bought and it works just fine. Seriously... do people actually get right up to a finished quilt and gripe about the inferior thread you use? crazy thought. Like everything else.. take it with a grain of salt.

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  15. Upsell? No, I will be Unsold. And I will not buy what I can't TOUCH so no on line shopping.

    I do have an extensive collection of Superior threads in Neon colors (a head injury?). I use them rarely if ever. I use whatever thread I pick up first. And I buy prewound bobbins. Cotton and now poly because I got some by mistake and they are fine. Winding bobbins is beyond my skill level.

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  16. Clap-clap-clap!!! Thank you for writing what I have been thinking. I went to buy thread recently and saw over $10 for a spool of thread!!! I felt the earth move and know it was my Grandmother and her quilt group turning over in their graves. There is a lot of hype out there on almost everything - threads, scissors, fabric, etc. I will save my pennies for important things like books. :)

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  17. Clap-clap-clap yes-- When I got my new machine the sales person told me to buy any thread except Coats and Clark because of the lint. Coats and Clark is what I had a stash of, had been using it with my old machine forever. Since I'd been away from sewing for awhile I did what she told me -- result -- had to have the new machine cleaned within a year -- old machine, still working just fine, hasn't been cleaned in years except for a bit of handy vac cleaning by me. After the first cleaning with the new machine I went back to using Coats and Clark along with the other thread I've collected but I do limit the amount of money I spend on it.

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  18. Selling quilting supplies is an industry and the more patterns, thread, and fabric we can be convinced to buy, the better for the manufacturers. That said, I do like having some choices. There are a few high end and low end threads that I love for their limited lint. There are a few low end threads I hate because of the build up and the breakage. There are also some weights and colors that I prefer from one line or the other. Like everything else in life, it's all about moderation IMHO. Now, can we talk about the fabrics!? Holy crap the number of fabric lines and the speed in which they fly through the stores is amazing. I've pretty much just stopped buying fabric altogether it's so overwhelming.

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  19. Interesting responses! I tend to use what I have on hand, which is a pretty ecclectical mix of thread types and brands. You have QUITE a collection there! No matter what brands you are sewing with, it is a good idea to have your thread stored in a way to keep them tangle-free. I've got an article on thread with lots of good storage tips, you can read it here: http://sewsitall.blogspot.com/2009/12/when-good-thread-goes-bad.html

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  20. Mettler was the first high quality all cotton thread that I used once I figured out the cotton covered polys I'd used for dressmaking were part of my problem with piecing once I really got into quilting. That was back in the early 90's. I tried Star and didn't like it at all. Gutterman ok in a pinch but it didn't seem as smooth to me as Mettler. I got onto Aurofil 60 wt for the bobbin thread when machine quilting and boy, did that lighter weight of thread make a difference. When Connecting Threads came out with their line at such a reasonable price, I hesitantly tried it and it instantly became my favorite for piecing and sometimes for the top thread in machine quilting. I've tried a lot of different decorative threads for machine quilting, metallics, rayons, new generation polyesters - really depends on the project - but have mostly settled back into using cotton thread and find King Tut my favorite, partly because it is a thinner thread and has nice variegated choices. For the most part, I like my machine quilting to be a supporting actor, not the main show.

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  21. just found your blog and loved reading your opinions on thread. it is amazing to me when you go into some quilt shops or read some blogs and all they talk about is high end thread. $12 a spool? really? are you kidding me? i use connecting threads in my high end babylock machine and have no problems. why would i switch? i also live about 45 minutes from the closest quilt shop and the only place to buy thread in my town is walmart(gasp) and it is coats and clark, and guess what? it works just fine. it's really all about the marketing and everyone wanting to have the latest and greatest. but as my daddy used to say, "just because everybody else jumps off the bridge, are you going to?". i say, stick with what works and if it ain't broke, don't fix it

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