Thread Talk with Russell Conte

Thread Talk with Russell Conte

As a former sewing shop owner for twenty years, a teacher at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and sewer for many years, Russell Conte knows that choosing the right thread can be a daunting task. Read about the types of thread he uses for his projects.

Cotton Thread

Cotton Thread

For my purposes, I use cotton for sewing projects where the seams are not going to be subjected to undue stress (ex. piecing a quilt, sewing a suit). I’ve come to really appreciate Madeira’s Cotona Thread. It is made of Egyptian cotton (long staples = less fuzz) and mercerized (strengthens the thread, imparts a luster, keeps the thread from shrinking), it’s available in 3 different weights:

  • 30/2: Makes for robust decorative stitches and topstitching. TIP: You may want to use a topstitch needle. You definitely want to use a lighter weight bobbin thread.
  • 50/2: Great for garment sewing and quilt piecing. TIP: Try a size 70 sharp needle when sewing with light weight wovens and a 2 mm stitch length.
  • 80/2: Very light weight, it is a wonderful bobbin thread. It’s equally magnificent for heirloom stitching, pad stitching lapels and other hand sewing techniques. A two-ply thread, I find that it twists less when I’m using it for hand sewing than does a three-ply thread.

TIP: I’ve also used it for machine embroidery with great success. The matte finish juxtaposes nicely against the sheen of rayon.

Cotona Thread also comes in an array of variegated thread colors. I’m not a fan of using variegated threads with satin-stitched designs as the colors “band”. However, I find it incredibly beautiful to use for designs that are comprised of running stitches.

When I’m not hand sewing buttonholes, I prefer cotton for machined buttonholes. Polyester thread can look a little mechanical whereas cotton thread tends to fill in better.

View our selection of cotton threads here.

Polyester Thread

Polyester Thread

For projects where seam strength is needed and there is likely to be a lot of stress on the seams (a bag, swimwear), I use polyester thread. At the risk of being tarred and feathered, I’ll also tell you, I’ve been known to piece a quilt or sew a suit jacket with polyester thread. (At the end of the day, I’m the only one who knows…)

I do tell students that if they are unsure whether or not they need strength, then polyester is the go-to choice. Polyester thread is typically stronger than the same weight of cotton thread. It also tends to have a little elasticity which is helpful, and helps seams stand up to more stress.

TIP: Too much elasticity in a poor-quality polyester thread can lend to puckered stitches.

Madeira produces polyester threads for general purpose, Aerofil and machine embroidery, Polyneon. Aerofil thread comes in both 120 and 35 weight. The 120 weight is both lightweight AND very strong which makes it incredibly versatile and a go-to thread for most anything. Frankly, I’d be confident using it for most projects, even those with significant stress on the seams. But, like everything, you’re going to want to check it out for yourself. (Between you, me and the fence post, I’ve also quilted with it… More than once…) This weight also works very well on the overlock machine. And with the huge array of colors, you’ll never be without the right color.

Aerofil thread is also available in a 35 weight, this weight is good for topstitching. TIP: It’s a little heavy for running through the top of the sewing machine and the bobbin, so pair it with the Aerofil 120 weight in the bobbin. Make sure to use a topstitch needle for optimal results. The thread needs to pass through the eye of the needle easily and lay into the thread trough of the needle.

TIP: You’ll likely need to adjust the thread tension, too, when using heavier weight threads on the top of the sewing machine such as Aerofil 35. Don’t let this concern you! The larger the thread tension number, the more tension. And usually, it’s a gross adjustment that you will make, not a fine tune adjustment. If your normal tension is between five, don’t be surprised to raise the tension by upwards of two whole numbers to 6 or 7 – sometimes even more. Just don’t forget to return the tension when you go back to your normal weight of thread.)

Madeira's polyester machine embroidery thread is called Polyneon. Polyneon does not have quite the sheen as Rayon machine embroidery thread, but I find it remarkably versatile. I often use it for quilting (it has no lint), and on the overlock. I have also been known to use it for hand sewing.

Explore the different types of Madeira polyester thread here.

Rayon Thread

Rayon Thread

Rayon machine embroidery thread is prized for its luster. It has a very high sheen when compared with polyester machine embroidery thread. Strong enough for machine embroidery, it does not have the same tensile strength as polyester. Its use is limited predominantly to machine embroidery. It can also be used with decorative sewing machine stitches. I use it in place of silk for hand sewing. Lightweight, it recedes into the fabric.

Like Polyneon, you’ll find Madeira Rayon in a comprehensive array of colors.

View the selection of Madeira Rayon Thread here.

Follow Russell on Instagram to see what sewing he has been up to here.