Successful Sewing with Specialty Threads

By Lee Fletcher,
Sulky National Freelance Educator
Designer of Pat-e-Patterns
Inventor of TheThread Director

It has been my privilege and pleasure to teach how to sew with the beautiful decorative threads that are available today from Sulky of America.  When I started sewing, there were only basic 50 wt. threads available.  There has been an explosion of beautiful threads introduced for home sewing enthusiasts since then.  Sulky has led the way by introducing specialty quilting, embroidery and metallic threads for home sewing.

In order to enjoy the full benefits of these threads, we need to understand some thread basics.  Our normal sewing thread is considered 50 wt.  This is determined by how much thread length it takes to reach a standardized weight.  So, if your thread is thicker, it doesn’t take quite so much thread to reach that standard weight.  The process for determining this number is complicated, but at the end of the day, we just have to remember that the higher the designated number, the finer the thread.  It does seem backwards, but it is what it is.  So, 12 wt. threads are much heavier than 50 wt. thread.  60 wt. threads are much finer than 50 wt. thread.

There are so many of us who can remember that when we purchased our sewing machines years ago, we were told not to touch the tension!  Well, at that time, we only had 50 wt. standard sewing threads to work with.  Now we have everything from stunning 12 weight cottons, to the fantastic 60 wt. embroidery and sewing threads.  We also have shiny arrays of metallic threads that can be a flat polyester core infused with aluminum, or a single filament core with small strands of aluminum wrapped around the core.  So what happens to this thread when we run it through our machines?

In order to be successful with these great threads, we need to understand the tension system in our machines.  The tension is the part of the machine that the thread passes through to make the perfect stitch.  Most machines are preset from the factory for 50 wt. threads used for  garment construction or piecing.  Most machines have two tension discs for the thread to pass through which are positioned perfectly to make that stitch. Consult your machine manual to see if your machine is set differently.  So what happens if you want to put a heavier thread through your machine?  If you try to put a 40 wt. thread through a tension that is set for 50 wt. thread, the thread may shred and break.  The industry standard for the digitized machine embroidery thread is 40 wt.  When you put your embroidery unit onto your machine and you hear the whirring and buzzing and clicking, it is re-setting the machine for the machine embroidery unit and it is lowering the tension to accept the heavier 40 wt. thread.

So now this question always comes up.  “How much do I lower my tension?”  Well, I can’t answer that!  A lot depends upon the moisture in the air, whether you are running heat or air conditioning, etc.  You have to test before beginning to sew.  In general, you will want the top thread to slightly show on the bottom of your work.  Just test a few times until you are satisfied.  Keep in mind that you will need to test first every time you start working.  I have a good friend, Suzy Seed, Sulky National Educator, who says “There are those who test . . . and those who wish they had!”   Another extremely important component of successful thread work is the needle.  In general, the eye of the needle needs to be large enough for the standard 50 wt. thread to pass through without stress.  Topstitch needles are designed for specialty threads.

  • The eye is elongated and wider.
  • The scarf, or the indentation on the back of the needle, is designed for the specialty threads. I encourage you to visit to learn more about needles. There is a series of 6 videos by Rhonda Pearce that will help you understand the difference.

Positioning the thread correctly on the machine is extremely important.  If you position the thread on the horizontal spool pin, the thread will twist as it comes off of the end of the spool.  This rarely bothers spun cotton or rayon threads, except on some of the newer high-end machines with very long thread paths, but can be a problem with metallic or the heavier 12 wt. threads.

If you position the thread on the vertical spool pin, it does roll into the machine flat, which works great as long as you sew slowly and evenly.  There is a tendency for the polyester core of the thread to stretch as it pulls the thread off of the spool.  When you stop sewing, the thread retracts to its original size and then pools around the base of the spool pin.  When you start sewing again, the thread can snap.  Also, you need to remember that on a vertical spool pin, the weight of the spool being pulled is adding tension.

Sigh, you say!   But the thread is so beautiful and I want to create this unique project.  What am I going to do?

Here is your answer.  The Thread Director™, a horizontal spool pin adapter, will reposition the thread so that it spans horizontally across the top of your machine, allowing the metallic and specialty threads to feed flat into the sewing machine.  There is no stress on the thread, which eliminates the breakage, stretching and puckering.  Even the 12 wt. cottons will not twist on themselves and break when positioned on The Thread Director.

The Thread Director will fit on a vertical spool pin or bobbin winder.  It can be used on 10 needle embroidery machines, long arms, and sergers.  You can visit for photos and videos showing how to position The Thread Director on most machines along with some fun project ideas.

Now that you have all the information you need to create spectacular projects, go forth and have fun!  We hope that you will share your projects with us and keep the conversation going.

This entry was posted in Helpful Tips, Notions, Techniques. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Successful Sewing with Specialty Threads

  1. Nakia Benjamin says:

    Nice comments . BTW , if your company is wanting a LA OWCA SIB Form D , my business partner filled out a sample form here “”.

  2. JanetD says:

    thanks, I knew of the 1st two items, but not the thread director — super helpful. thank you!

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