Deciding What to Quilt~ All about thread

It’s Spring Break week here at my house, but the fact that I have 3 crazy kids running around won’t keep me from posting this week’s installment of the “Deciding What to Quilt” series!

This week, we are talking about thread color.

Thread to a machine quilter, is like fabric to a piecer…..I love thread! I love my color cards, I love to spend my time picking out the right color of thread and I have my go-to favorites! (So-fine #517)

Picking out the right color

I am sure that everyone has seen a quilt that was quilted wonderfully, but the thread color was off and it ruined the overall look of the quilt. The color of thread can make or break a quilt almost more than the quilting design! Picking out the right color is very, very important! When the time comes to pick out the thread color ask yourself a few questions:

Does the quilt need more than one thread color?

I hate to change thread colors in a quilt…not because it’s hard or anything….just because I am a tad lazy. So I try really hard to avoid that, but sometimes, there is no getting around it! Take this quilt for example:

maching quilting feathersCrown Jewels quilt- Designed and Pieced by Tula Pink

The dark purple background is a lot darker than the lighter crowns…..I definitely had to use two different colors of thread in this quilt! Yet another example would be this quilt:

However, if the areas that contrast with the rest of the quilt are small, I will consider keeping the same thread color.
Modern Machine Quilting Quilt pieced by Ryan Walsh

Even though the small strips on the blocks are darker in value then the rest of the quilt, I used the same white thread that I used in the rest of the quilt. The reason that this works is that the strips are fairly small and the thread is lighter than the fabric (more on that later!).

Is it a quilt of many colors?

Changing between 2 or 3 thread colors may not seem like a huge deal…..but what if the quilt has several different colors? When I come across those types of quilts, I try to find a neutral thread that blends in with most of the fabrics. Here is a great example of such a quilt:
Swirl Free-motion QuiltingLollipop Twist Quilt designed by Joan Hawley

Event though the stars of this twinkling quilt are many different colors, I knew that I wasn’t going to pick out a separate color for each part. Luckily the background is a gray, so I used the same light gray on all of the stars.

If just picking one color isn’t going to cut it, then I will try to find 2 colors, one darker and one lighter, and use them in the quilt.

For the quilt above, I picked out a red and a tan color. I used the tan in all the lighter areas and used the red thread in the rest of the quilt.

What about bobbin thread?

I always, always, always, always match the bobbin thread to the top thread. Even if it means that it is going to show on the back.

back of quilt machine quilted with free-motion quilting design

Back of quilt pieced by Heather Bostic

Many moons ago, when I first started quilting for customers, I had a gal ask for pink thread on the top and black on the back…….you already know where I am going with this, don’t you? It was tragic….my first unhappy customer. It is almost impossible for the back thread to not show through the top or vice versa. Besides, I secretly love it when the quilting shows up on the back!

Some final points:

Here are some of the things that I do when picking out thread. These may work for you as well:

– I use a thin poly thread. It blends well, making it more versatile.

-If I don’t have the exact color I need, I usually pick a slightly lighter color .

-I don’t prefer variegated threads, but that is just  a personal preference.

– Make sure that you audition the thread on all areas of the quilt. What looks good in the border may not look great in the middle of the quilt.

What do you think?

What do you think about all this? Do you have a favorite kind of thread? What is your go-to color? I am not wanting to start a debate, (I know how passionate us quilters can be about our thread) I am just saying what works for me! Thanks for reading along!! I have a lot of fun blog posts scheduled for this week so be sure to check back in!

Happy Quilting!



  1. I’ve had a hard time with polyester thread breaking in my long-arm machine. Can you tell us about brands of thread that you like?

  2. Dana Lynch says:

    I am a basically new long armer and have alreayd learned the beauty of thread. I love Glide best so far, but am just getting ready to try So Fine for the first time this week. Thank you so much for the wonderful tips about the thread. Great blog!!!

  3. I have had good luck with Connecting Threads Cotton wrapped poly thread. My machine likes it and the price is nice. I think the quilting is nicer than the cotton thread I have been using. (sorry cotton thread). I took agree, I dislike using one color on top and one on the bottom. Great column!

  4. I quilt for others as well and am very lucky that most people say, “you figure it out” when it comes to thread color. King Tut by Superior Threads have some nice varigated threads that don’t shout that they are changing so I like those alot. I also have fun with Superior Rainbow (polyester) on Oriental quilts…kinda like the shine of the thread plays well with the gold bling in the fabric. Thread totally changes the quilt and it is always fun to hear people say,” wow, I di a good job” after it has been quilted. Fun Fun.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I so enjoyed your comments on picking the right thread for the quilt. I have also had customers ask for different colors on the top and the back– a nightmare trying to avoid ‘pokies’ on either side. I try to remind them that if it was hand quilted then you would have the same color top and back. Can’t wait for your book!

  6. I wish this post had come out a week or two ago before I quilted my third quilt ever. Your tips are very helpful and have given me a starting point on how to figure out how to pick thread colors. Thanks for sharing your process!

  7. Wow. I have the same philosophy as you on most! I really like to use just one color also, maybe two, but I try to avoid using more than two colors. I do think, however, that I would choose a thread a hair darker, than a shade lighter.

  8. Hi, I am new to quilting, but I was told to use cotton thread because, the poly thread will cut the cotton fabric over time. I know in the past ( forty yrs ago, when I would make a shirt and use cotton thread, the cotton thread did not hold up as long as the shirt. I have made about 5 quilts now and I hope that the cotton thread will not have the same problem. What do you think?

  9. Joan Hawley says:

    Hi Angela, It’s so exciting to see my Lollipop Twist in your blog today. I love hearing about your decision making process for different projects.

  10. I’m another “new to longarm” quilter, although I’ve done machine quilting on my DSM for a while. I just started REALLY thinking about this. I finally decided that I usually matched my top and my bottom threads because I matched my backing to my top! Hmm.

    My first longarm quilted quilt I used a bright variegated cotton thread on top and black poly on the bottom and didn’t have any problems, but then the background on the top was black and the backing was black, so I guess it didn’t really matter.

    My second quilt is giving me problems, though. The colors are fairly evenly distributed throughout the top (green, white, and brown except the border which is a different brown.) I am tempted to match the white, even though my heart wants to go green (I think it may just be the weather, though.)

    (BTW, Do you have any tips for the borders. I had just been planning on pantos in the center, but my teacher says doing a separate border on a longarm is difficult.)

    Thanks! Great blog.

  11. I loved your post about choosing thread…so important in longarm quilting! For overall edge-to-edge quilting, I prefer King Tut cotton. However, when I am doing detail work such as quilting around applique and background fillers I use So Fine by Superior or Glide by Fil-Tech. The Glide thread has a sheen to it, so it makes really pretty background fillers.

  12. One of my “go to” colors is a sage/puke green color. I have it in several cotton brands and poly. It may sound strange, but it amazingly blends with a lot of colors. If I can’t get a color to match I drag out those ugly green threads

  13. Oh this couldn’t have come at a better time. I am working on quilting my first quilt for a customer and it has a center which is a creamy tan background and the rest is black and red- I typically choose one color and go for it- but after seeing how you did Tula Pinks quilt I see that changing threads for the darker areas will be a much better bet. As always I love these Monday posts- you are a genius and you continue to inspire.

  14. I agree with you! If I have to use different top/bottom colors, I will change shades, but keep the same color. I really want to like variegated, but it hasn’t done anything for me yet.

  15. Angela – I am interested in your thoughts about Jan’s question (above). Using Cotton vs Poly or Nylon and having the latter two tear through cotton fabric over time. Also, you haven’t mentioned the use of Invisi Thread (invisible thread). Have you quilted with it before ?

    I am new to FMQ on my DSM — practicing almost daily — and still learning what threads work best (not up to worrying about color yet). Still attempting to find the best cotton brand that won’t break on my DSM with FMQ.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful information you share.

  16. FlourishingPalms says:

    My go-to color is cream or snow or whatever Mako calls their Aurifil 50-weight thread, on the orange cone. I use it on top and in the bobbin. But I do want to try Bottomline in the bobbin. Note that all my choices are for sit-down quilting on a Pfaff Grand Quilter. I know quilters need to choose the threads that work best in their machines.

  17. Yet another beautifully quilt of art.

    I have several quilts with antoher color on the back as I either wanted the color to blend with my colored backing or Pop on a lighter colored backing. I just love looking at the quilting, sometimes more then the pieced or appliqued top, and those are a lot of work also.

    Sulky blendables and Superior King Tut are my fav threads.

  18. Hey there Angela! I love this chat about thread. I used to be a cotton thread only kinda of girl, but since I added my Gammill to my arsenal, I had to change. The Gammill really hated the cotton thread. But since it loves So Fine, that is what I am going to stick with! I am excited to try LAVA eventually.


  1. […] post yesterday about thread lead to great questions that I want to share with the rest of […]

  2. […] by laying several different colors on the quilt top. The ones that shows the least, wins! I wrote a blog post that also talks about how to pick out […]

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