The Spool Mini-Series





 Hello all of you Happy Stitcher's!

Wow, can you believe it? This is the 5th edition of this blog! It is hard for me to imagine that I have written 5 already! It sure doesn't seem like it at all. I guess that must mean I enjoy what I do and sharing this wonderful craft with everyone! This will be part 1 of a series about thread. I say part 1 because when I first started to do research for this post, I thought to myself, "How much can I say about thread"? As I was getting into it, I realized that there is more to thread than meets the "eye"! (yeah, well, we have to get our laughs where we can!)

I know it is probably not high on your priority list of things to read, but it should be! With what we do it is one of the most important items of our wonderful craft, whether Sewing, Quilting, or Embroidery. I realize that right now you are thinking what is so exciting about thread, am I correct? Without it, we would not be able to enjoy many of the things that we do today, such as clothing, furniture, bed linens, and so on. The list is huge!

I can sometime imagine what the Eskimos must have had to do just to sew one simple garment to wear. They first had to either grind sections of fish bones into a very simple needle, called an "Awl", to use to attach their garments together. It was usually 2 to 6 inches in length. Or sometimes they may use a sharpened splinter of hardwood or a polished piece of ivory. Needles were prized possessions, with a hole chipped into one end and were as fine as the ones we use today.Using the large tendons of a deer, elk, or moose, then drying it. Once dried, they would either chew it or pound it to get it soft enough to use, then shred it. This was called "Sinew". The most common stitch used then was the running stitch. It is hard to imagine that today as now we simply go to the local fabric shop and choose from many varieties of needles. I imagine it was likely about the same for the American Indians also.

I have had a lot of people ask me how they can ensure they are getting a good spool of thread. The best way to tell is pull some off the spool, then hold it up to the light. Really look at it, if it appears to be what I call " thick and thin" then it is not a good spool. If it appears to look frayed in any way, I would go to another spool. Just because it is a name brand thread, does not mean that every spool that comes off the assembly line is a good spool. When you get a spool like this chances are it will be constantly breaking or fraying during use. Here are some microscopic photo's of some common embroidery threads.


   Mettler Metrosene

                       Sulky Rayon



  Photo's courtesy of

 Madeira Metallic

It is easy once you really look at the different types of thread the differences between them. A good buy on thread sometimes is always not a "good buy". I have a whole box of thread I purchased on the INTERNET very cheap. Needless to say that is exactly what I received, a box of cheap thread! You get what you pay for and in this case I should have run away from the site! If the price is too good to be true, that is likely what it is, not true! This stuff was so bad that I actually pull it off the spools, cut it up and let the neighborhood birds use for nest construction, along with the hair I chop off hubby's head! That is really all it is good for. At least the neighborhood is colorful! So if you go to the fabric store and see some spools of thread with a few inches of thread pulled off, you will know why.

As far as how long a spool of thread is good for? Until you use it up! For me that usually isn't long enough to worry about it going bad! I have had some of it for quite a while, maybe 4 or more years (Thread Sale!), they are colors that you wouldn't use that often. However, thread can rot over a long period of time and when exposed to direct sunlight. I like to keep mine covered with some old towels I have for that reason. It also helps in keeping any dust off of it as well. Dust Can build up on it and cause problems for not only your sewing machine but it can cause it to break a lot also, at least until the dusty part is used up. Sometimes if I have left it out in the open for a period of time, I will pull off several inches of the thread and get rid of it.

The best I have used is Madeira(of course, I wish I could afford more of it),Sulky,Isafil, Isacord, Robison Anton, and Janome. Sometimes if I am looking for a specific color that I cannot find in the brands I like I will use Mettler, or Gutterman.Of course you all know that thread also comes in many different weights,as does bobbin thread as well.Ranging from 30,40,50,60 and many more different weights. A lot of the weight measurement depends on the manufacturer. They all seem to have their own weight system as well as their own color system.

Then of course you have the option of Rayon, Poly, Metallic,Cotton, Monofiliment, Neon, Silk, Solar Active, Glow In The Dark, Shrinking Thread, Variegated, Hologram, and Maxi Lock for sergers. This doesn't include all that is out there. Cotton thread is generally used for quilting. I have used monofiliment, but really don't like it that much. Each has it's own Characteristics for use. We haven't even gotten into the bobbin threads yet, which they also have different weights and grades like sewing threads.I have a certain bobbin thread I like and works very well in my particular machine, as I am sure most of you have found also. The one I use comes in three colors, black, tan, and white. This is another case where I strongly recommend that you go to your manual and see what the manufacturer says to use. Sometimes if I have issues with thread it is usually related to the type of thread being used.

Now we get into the Metallic threads, of which there are many different brands. The best way I have used metallic is by placing it in a coffee cup behind my machine, then running it over the top of my Thread Pilot, so it has a chance to relax a bit while using it. I also lower the speed of my machine to the slowest I have. (around 400) It is one of the most difficult to use for many folks. Patience is the key when using metallic thread! This for me has by far been the best method. Everyone generally comes up with a method that works for them and their brand of machine,I say stick with what you know works for you and your equipment! I always prefer to pay the extra money to buy a good Metallic thread as well. It is worth the extra money you pay for it, for ease of use and less breakage. I have used the less expensive brands, without much sauces. I will also pay the extra money for a good poly or rayon either one. It just makes sense to use the ones that give you the best results, with the least amount of breakage. It is also the best way I know of to guarantee success and a professional looking item.

I will say though, for you to stop and think about how many different places that the thread passes through before it gets to your needle. Back in the old days, you could actually see these parts and your tension disks. Now they are housed inside a covering to protect them from dust and dirt collecting on them. The down side to this is that you cannot see what is happening either. If you are not buying a good quality thread you may even be causing damage to the tension disks, eventually causing it not to maintain the proper tension. Are you really willing to risk the investment you have involved in your machine to save a few bucks on cheap thread? It can be an extremely costly repair bill, or worse yet, have to buy a new machine.

The next issue will go into more detail of the different types of threads and their uses,and there are many! I have just "scratched" the surface of it.

At this point I could go on and on, but I see you are starting to doze off on me so, instead I would like to introduce you to another one of our Central Florida ladies.

Meet Kathlene Bradford! She has recently had an article published in the SAGA (Smocking Arts Guild Of America) magazine's recent issue. If you click on her name it will take you to the media section where you can see a photo of her and what she does. If you go here, you can read the article about her, and the charity that is near and dear to her heart! It will not only bring a tear to your eyes, but will introduce you to someone who knows the meaning of giving, and how to get it done! Congratulations Kath, I am so proud to call you "Friend".


That's it for me, so until next time>>>>>>>>>>>> Happy Stitchin!



   Remember to Kiss someone you love today!


Suzy's Tip Of The Week:   When sewing slippery fabrics, pinning it is still the best method to hold it in place. it does take a lot of time but it is still faster than tearing out the seams and starting over. another method I have used and works quite well, is use a fusible tape along the seam allowance, then basting it. I really prefer the pinning method, i know it is the old fashioned approach, but that is what I have had the best luck with.


Fuse:>>>>> To fuse; means to glue two layers of fabric together, usually with an iron

Interfacing:>>> Is a non visible addition to fabric that adds body to an item, that the fabric alone doesn't have.

Appliqué':>>>> Is attaching a small piece of fabric to a larger piece of fabric to form a specific design or art.



Comments (24) -

This is an excellent blog.  I never thought about checking thread by holding it up to light, but that is smart, it will show 'what it is made of.'

Five blogs!  WOW, it seems like yesterday you were telling us about yourself.  

Congrats to Kathlene, I saw her items in the "Media" section and was totally awed by her work!!!


jalcumbrack 9/26/2008 2:47:33 PM

Hi Pat,


Yes Kath does some lovely work, when I first saw it at the luncheon,I couldn't believe it! It is "Stunning"!


sewingdottie58 9/27/2008 10:47:49 AM

THANK YOU! I have had a conversation several times with various people about thread and I could not remember it after getting home.  You wrote the most interesting article and I have PRINTED IT OUT.

Now I have it in my library for future reference.  Thank you once again.  This is a very important article.

sewingdottie58 9/27/2008 10:49:46 AM

I forgot to sign so the above thank you is from me.


jalcumbrack 9/27/2008 11:52:37 AM


Thank you very much!

Part 2 will be coming soon, I think you will like it equally as well. It will be jam packed with information for you to keep. It is a joy to be able to assist you all with this valuable information!

Again, Thanks!

Being able to print these is a tremendous help!


Thank you for the information on thread. I have wondered about the different threads, and how long to keep it etc etc.  

I recently (yesterday) found pink thread in the dog grooming box (how did it get there?). Of course the obvious was that it was very dirty... but after pulling several inches off of the spool, where it was actually pink again.. I tested the strength, and it broke with no effort at all.. needless to say, I tossed it.  I wish I would have thought about giving it to the birds.

I can't wait until you add more thread knowledge...

cme    8^)

jalcumbrack 9/27/2008 2:16:04 PM


Thank you so very much,I am glad to help out! Yes, that is another wonderful way to tell if your threads are good still. Keep in mind though that Embroidery thread has a tendancy to break rather easily any way, but it likely was no good. There is no way to tell how long it had been there, if you are like me I tend to carry things from one room to another, lay them down and POOF, it dissapears!

Don't feel bad about it, I put the milk in the cupboard once and the coffee in the refrigerator! ( I buy the milk in the little cartons off the shelf rather than in the dairy department) Needless to say it got tossed when I found it! A lot of my sewing stuff ends up everywhere, I get busy doing other things and forget where I put it.(senior moments!)

Cutting it up and tossing it to the birds makes for a wonderful colorful neighborhood! I do make sure that I chop it up good though so it doesn't injure them, or they get tangled in it. I also cut the plastic things that 6 packs of soda come in as well. If they get to the landfills without being cut apart the birds get tangled in them.

Take care and stop back again soon!

Judy 9/27/2008 3:30:20 PM

Thank you for the valuable information.  I also have very good luck with Madiera thread.  I'd like to share two tips.  One, for metallic thread that breaks, try freezing the thread for a little while before using.  This tip came from a friend who uses a lot of metallics.  Also use a new needle made for this kind of thread.  Another tip, if your thread should break, be sure to raise the pressure foot lifter to disengage the tension discs before gently pulling the thread out.  Guess how I learned this!  Thanks again for the helpful blog.  mm

Thanks for the great tips.  I've had trouble with metallic thread so I'll be sure to try the coffee cup!



Thank you, thank you, thank you! You just solved my dillema about why my white metallic thread sews out so nice and the black keeps breaking. I never dreamed that there would be a difference in thread made by the same manufacturer.

The next thing you could answer for me.....what is the difference between Poly & Rayon thread? My very 1st ME pattern called for poly thread & it's what I've been using since. What's the difference & when would you use each?

Great Blog! Thanks for the help!


jalcumbrack 9/27/2008 7:02:23 PM

Thanks MM,

I can only imagine how you found out that tidbit!! Likely the same way I found out that you don't get up at 3:30 am and start sewing before coffee!! Actually, if you read your manuals, it tells you in there that you should not do that. The presser foot should always be up even while threading the machine. The way machines are built now it is very easy to mess up the tension discs.

Thanks, and I am glad this has been useful to you!

Thank you Joan12!

Yes, please do! I know it works for me, but remember to also slow the machine speed down as well. the Metallics just cannot withstand the high speeds of the machines today.

Hi Rosie!

I am elated that this has been helpful to you!

Now to answer your question in 50 words or less,Ha Ha! ( that may never happen)

Rayon Thread is a synthetic fiber that has Great Sheen to it and it is the standard thread used in ME. It is fabulous used on a dress, blouse or other piece of clothing that you would wear for an evening out some place really nice! But would likely have it cleaned rather than washed!

Poly Thread is not as shiny but is much more durable, like for kids clothes or things like towels that would be washed a lot.

Does that explain it a bit for you? I will be going into more detail in the next edition of the thread blog, but that is the short answer for you for now. Especially the different threads and their uses and why we use them the way we do.

I am happy to have helped you out a bit with the thread dilema!

Thanks to everyone for letting me pass on this information to you. I will also be posting in the groups area more information on the WeeCare Program, I have had several requests for information for this,Thank you all for that!! It is so wonderful to help such a worth while program!


serenemachine2 9/27/2008 11:27:57 PM

Judy that you so much for sharing your knowledge.  I haven't used the Metallic threads yet, out of fear, listening to all the trouble others have had.  I just may get brave enough now!!

Hi i'm Sarah and live in South Africa. My treatment for the use of Metatlic Thread;- i spray with something called Glidene that we have over here.  It an 'oily' formula almost  like a spray on oil - problem solved.

Thanx for all the great info and the wonderful people who are so willing to share.  Sarah

jalcumbrack 9/28/2008 6:00:42 AM

Hi Serenemachine2;

Go ahead give it a try. Use something that you are not going to use for anything, just use a piece of scrap or something  with a one color design until you get to where you feel comfortable using the mettallics. Once you get over the fear you will be fine!

Hi Sarah,

You are most welcome Sarah!

This spray you use does not leave a residue on the fabric at all? It sounds like some sort of silicone spray.

I am happy to share with you all the information I have floating in my head, I'm running out of room in there, so see I have to share to make more room!

Again, Thanks Sarah and Serenmachine2 for your uplifting comments.


Hi all

Try the metallics on FSL.. it is beautiful. I have used it on FSL bookmarks. This one had a cross in a cross. I let the outer cross stitch with matching color thread, then changed to the metalic for the inner cross. Beautifull.

Just thought I would share that .

cme  8^0

jalcumbrack 9/28/2008 2:27:11 PM


That sounds beautiful! I will have to give it a try! I guess I had never thought to use it in this way. I guess I figured that FSL is so pretty anyway that I didn't need to use a metallic. I will for sure try it though! Thanks, I love all the ideas that everyone brings to the table!


I've used metallic on the bobbin and bobbin thread on top with free standing lace Christmas ornaments.  They turned out beautifully with no problems.


jalcumbrack 9/28/2008 5:28:13 PM

Well, gee Joan, I will have to try that one too! All of these wonderful ideas!! Too Cool! I love the FSL Christmas ornaments! They will be awesome with metallic thread!


OMG!  I never thought of FSL AND the bobbin idea is just blowing me away!

I gotta try this one!!!!


jalcumbrack 10/5/2008 6:04:38 AM

Well there she goes taking the ideas again and running with them! LOL  Well, so much for that one! Would really appreciate it if you didn't do that any more. I have already had so many ideas become "missing in action", only to see them somehow pop up later in someone else's postings as their own brainstorm. Isn't that odd?

jalcumbrack 10/5/2008 8:55:03 AM

The above should have read: "in someone else's Blog postings."

I have searched all over and can't find a conversion chart going directly from Maderia thread to Marathon thread (Polyester thread for embroidery).  Most of the designs I download are done in Maderia colors and the local quilt store here sells Marathon thread.  I am hoping to get the next level of software for my embroidery unit for Christmas and the upgrade I am looking at has a function that converts with one press of a finger, but until then it is a real pain trying to change colors from one brand to another.



I tried my 1st FSL Christmas ornament with white metallic thread in the top & bobbin. It may have been beginners luck, but it turned out beautiful!

That's why I was so discouraged when I used the black metallic in the top with regular bobbin thread & it kept breaking. Oh well, live & learn! I'll take beginner's luck any time I can!


I use the free download from">

to do thread conversions. It only lets you do 20-25 conversions though.

jalcumbrack 10/9/2008 9:06:30 AM

Hi Hopester!

I do understand what you are saying, I too find that quite a chore having to go from one to the other and I wish there was an easier way for me to do it as well, but so far I have yet to find one that you didn't have to put in the Madeira numbers to do the exchange.

What I have done though, is when I do a thread exchange, I have a chart I keep in my trusty little computer here, That gives me the threads that I have already converted and their numbers. It is an excel sheet that I have made just for this purpose. It keeps track of all the conversions by color coding(all the blues,all the greens,ect) This is something that is a continuous deal as they are always adding and deleting colors over the years,so when I have a new one to add,I just go in and add, then if it is a color that has been discontinued, I simply get rid of it. If you have this on hand in the computer then when you have a color number come up, all you do is check to see if it's one that you have already converted, if so, your on your way lickety split, if not then you may only have one or two you actually have to look up. It makes the task of converting thread so much better and easier to handle. If not you are doing the same task over and over, looking up the same threads all the time.

This new software sounds great, with the press of a finger huh? Wow! That would be awesome>>>> I so need to update my sewing stuff!! ( or train my cats better)

In the meantime, and while you are waiting for the elf to come out of the closet and do this for you, I'm afraid there is no easy way to do this other than keeping track of threads you have already converted.

Most all that I have seen only let you do 20-25 at a time.

I guess I will have to ask Santa to leave one of his elves here for me!


I am so glad that it came out so wonderfully for you!

Thanks, you all never cease to amaze me with all the terrific ideas you have!


Please login to comment