What Is Cotton Thread?

Cotton field ready to be harvested.
Cotton thread.
Cotton bolls on a branch.
A cotton T-shirt.
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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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Cotton thread is a type of filament made from spun cotton. It is generally durable, and does not stretch or break easily. This type of thread is used in a variety of crafting projects and clothing construction.

Cotton is a kind of fiber that grows on cotton plants. It is recognizable by its fluffy, white appearance, and clusters around the seeds of the plant during harvest. It may be spun into threads or fabrics of varying weights.

This thread's resistance to shrinkage during washing makes it a common choice for use in quilting. It does not pull on the fabrics used to piece quilts together, and is strong enough to withstand years of washing and use. Many high-quality quilting fabrics are also made from 100% cotton. It is generally recommended by quilting professionals that the same material be used throughout a project, for both piecing and stitching.

Cotton thread should not be used in projects that utilize materials with stretch, like spandex or knitted fabric. Since cotton does not stretch or shrink, it often pulls against these types of fabrics, causing threads to bunch together unevenly across the surface of the fabric. Eventually tears may begin to appear along the stitch lines.


The durability and strength of cotton thread makes it a common choice for hand-crafting. These types of crafts may include hand-quilting, embroidery, and cross-stitch. Cotton may be found in a variety of densities, which indicate how thick or thin the strand of thread is. Each hand-craft typically requires thread with a specific thickness. For example, the thick and waxy type of cotton thread used in hand-quilting is generally not used in cross-stitch projects.

Cotton thread is also an excellent choice for use in sewing machines because it does not generate a large amount of lint. Lint is normally created when thread is run through the upper needle and lower bobbin of a sewing machine. As the metal pieces work back and forth together to create stitches within fabric, fine particles of dust can become loosened from the thread. As this dust accumulates in the machine, it forms into balls of lint.

Sewing machines should generally be taken to a local dealer for professional cleaning to remove all lint and to oil the working parts. A machine regularly threaded with cotton thread tends to last longer and require fewer cleanings than machines that use silk and nylon threads. These other types of threads break easily against the tension within a sewing machine, and can cause pieces of thread to become lodged in its inner workings.


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