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What Are the Different Kinds of Sewing Thread?

Three spools of thread.
Silk thread comes from the cocoon of the silkworm.
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  • Written By: Rolando Braza
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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There are three types of sewing thread based on the origin of their raw materials: plant, animal, and synthetic. Each thread type can be spun with another thread and treated to become a specialized sewing thread for use in a particular application such as embroidery, cross stitching, or upholstery. The thread type to be used in sewing is partly determined by the kind of sewing job to be performed and the fabric or material to be sewn. Thread made from plant sources is usually cotton, while silk comes from animal materials; synthetic thread is usually polyester or nylon.

Cotton thread comes from cellulose plant sources. When mercerized, this sewing thread has a shiny look. This thread is generally suited for sewing rayon, linen, and cotton fabrics because it has similar shrinkage features as those fabrics have. It is inelastic, making it appropriate for use with woven fabrics.

Thread made from cotton can also be used to temporarily put together pieces of cloth before applying permanent stitches. The thread is twisted loosely, making its fibers easy to break. This makes it easy to remove as soon as permanent stitching is completed.

Silk thread, on the other hand, originates from the cocoon produced by female silk worms. Two forms of silk are used in the manufacture of silk thread — nette and schappe. Nette silk is derived from the cocoons that still hold the pupa, while schappe silk is taken from hatched cocoons.

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Thread made from silk is elastic and normally fine in diameter. It is usually chosen to sew clothing materials made from animal-sourced raw materials, such as silk and wool. It is also commonly used by a tailoring or dress shop to put edging on buttonholes and fix buttons in place.

Unlike cotton and silk threads, synthetic thread such as polyester and nylon are produced from man-made materials. The material used to make polyester thread, for instance, comes from processed petroleum. Polyester and nylon are typically used for sewing jobs involving synthetic fabrics, sheers, and knits. They are the only kind of thread that can be manufactured using a single ply or yarn. Some brands of synthetic thread are used to stitch together products that are fire-resistant, and as such, the threads may be required undergo testing and certification by proper authorities.

Charts are available to guide a person in his or her sewing project. These charts may be referenced to know what type of sewing thread to use for a particular sewing job. It is advisable for a person to refer to the chart to aid him or her in making the correct choice of sewing thread.

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