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What thread is used for Free Motion Quilting?

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

If you're new to free-motion quilting, you can choose between #50 or #60 weight cotton or polyester thread. And use the same weight for both the needle and the bobbin of the sewing machine. Later, you can experiment with different types of threads when you get comfortable with the process. You'll figure out sooner or later which threads are best suited for your quilts.

In free-motion quilting, there is no standard rule about thread selection. It all depends on the quilter's personal preference. Whatever you prefer, always choose a high-quality thread. This will save you from thread issues, which can take away the joy of creativity.

How to pick a high-quality thread?

A good tensile strength suited for the application of your quilt must be the top criterion.

For example, when you use your quilt as a bed cover, after many stresses and stretches the thread shouldn't break at all. Tensile strength depends on the fiber material and the construction of the thread.

Another consideration is the amount of "lints" the thread shreds while stitching. The lesser the amount of lints, the better for the sewing machine, which means lesser lint build-up around the bobbin area. Of course, less frequent cleaning and maintenance work for you.

Below is an example of thread's lint build-up under my needle plate after finishing one quilt. I'm using a high-quality thread but with lots for free-motion quilting, even with small lint shredding, it will accumulate over time. If not cleaned, this will cause stitching problems while sewing or quilting.

What about a low-quality thread? How does it differ from a high-quality thread?

Well, they are relatively cheaper and when used on the sewing machine it shreds a lot of "lints" during stitching. Other common problems are;

  • breakage

  • shredding

  • splitting

  • getting caught on the spool due to rough surface

  • labels come off easily

I'll be honest, I tried using them when I just starting making quilts. I thought I can save money but it was a lot of pain dealing with thread issues. That's why I recommend to invest in high-quality threads to save you from troubles and headaches.

Cotton vs. Polyester Thread

These thread fiber materials are the most popular among quilters. But which one is better? This again depends on your preference as a quilter. There is no right or wrong answer here, as each material has its own unique characteristics that you might need for specific quilt.

Cotton thread is made from natural fiber, which has a strong tensile strength, but a bit pricey. Below are it's distinct characteristics.
  • non-reflective matte finish

  • distinct texture

  • blends well with the fabric

  • zero stretch

  • can stand high heat temperature

Polyester thread is made from synthetic materials, a bit cheaper than cotton thread but not inferior in quality. In fact, thread manufacturers improve it's quality according to sewing applications. It's common characteristics are the following;
  • stretchy, making it break-resistant

  • glossy finish

  • small weight sizes are available without sacrificing tensile strength

  • high tenacity

  • high resistance to abrasion

  • good resistance to moisture

In this sample I compared the two materials for your reference. The polyester thread shows lustrous finished, which makes it pop even if the color is the same as the fabric. While the cotton thread has blended well with the fabric, considering it's matte finished.

Other Types of Fiber Materials

  • Silk - smooth texture, lint-free, lustrous sheen, vibrant colors, expensive, commonly used for hand sewing and embroidery

  • Nylon - used for decorative projects as an invisible thread for embellishment

  • Rayon - high sheen, weaker strength, commonly used in machine embroidery and decorative sewing

Thread Weight

Weight refers to the actual weight measurement of the thread in given length measurement. For example, a 50-kilometers thread weighs 1 kilogram, while a 40-kilometers thread also weighs 1 kilogram.

This suggests that a 40-kilometer thread is heavier and thicker than a 50-kilometer thread. Thus the lower the weight number means a heavier and thicker diameter.

Thread Weight Categories

  1. Fine Weight Threads - This refers to #60 to #100 weights, which are smaller threads suited for intricate sewing like micro quilting and detailed machine embroidery. It's also great for English paper piecing, hand, and machine applique, and stitching in the ditch.

  2. Medium Weight Threads- These are #40 and #50 weights, which are widely used in general sewing purposes, quilting, and machine embroidery.

  3. Heavy Weight Threads - This refers to thicker threads such as #12 to #30 weights. This works well for special sewing projects that require bold stitching, such as hand quilting, thread painting, decorative stitching, hand embroidery, and machine quilting.

Popular Brands for Quilting Threads

Quilting thread refers to the threads used in patchwork piecing, English paper piecing, machine applique, hand quilting, machine quilting, and of course free-motion quilting. Below are top brands that are popular among quilters for high-quality threads. And whatever you choose, you'll have fewer thread troubles to deal with in your quilting.

If you're curious which thread I'm using for my free-motion quilting projects, it's #60 Fujix polyester thread. Fujix is a popular Japanese thread manufacturer, and I live in Japan, so it's a great choice in terms of pricing and quality.


To help you decide which thread is good for your quilt, first consider the usage of the quilt. If the quilt will undergo a lot of stress and stretching, then polyester thread is the best choice. For potholders quilts or even table runners that might be in contact with high-temperature heat, use cotton thread as it can handle heat better.

The second is the aesthetic finish you want to achieve. If the quilt's main focus is the patchwork, then consider using fine-weight thread for the quilting. It would blend in with the background fabric without distracting the attention away from the patchwork. And if you like to emphasize the quilting stitch patterns, then don't hesitate to go bold. Choose a heavier-weight thread, which may be a glossy polyester or a matte cotton finish.

If you still have questions about quilting thread, please leave a comment below. Or if you're a seasoned quilter, and would like to share some more ideas, then please share in the comment below.

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I’m Judith from Osaka, Japan. I’m a machine quilter and I love free-motion quilting using my domestic sewing machine. I like learning new quilting  patterns, designs, and techniques, which I would love to share with other quilters. If you’re looking for quilt ideas and inspirations, or you're new to free-motion quilting, then this place is for you. You can find my original works in the Gallery.

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