There are four types of thread primarily used for quilting — cotton, nylon, metallic, and hand-quilting thread. Each type may be used for different kinds of projects. They can also be used by hand or with sewing machines.
Cotton thread is the most common type of quilting thread available, and may be used for any type of project. Many enthusiasts recommend 100% cotton, rather than a cotton blend, for best results during sewing. Cotton blends weaken the thread and it may break frequently during machine quilting. This kind may also not withstand frequent washings.
Cotton thread may also be used during machine piecing. For best results, use fabrics and threads made from the same material. Choose 100% cotton fabrics, and piece and quilt them with 100% cotton threads. This allows the materials to pull equally on one another, and to wear evenly through use and washing.
This kind of thread is also a suitable choice for hand-tied quilts. Thick, heavily woven cotton threads specifically designed for this are available at most quilting shops. Quilts that are hand-tied typically use a thicker type of batting in the center, which is not suitable for use in a machine. This type of heavy thread prevents breaking during the tying process, and is strong enough to pass through the three layers of the quilt.
Long arm quilting is a type that places the sewing machine on a large movable arm, which the quilter may control by use of handles. The quilt is rolled onto two round bars, in a scroll-type fashion, that creates a taut surface over the exposed portion of the quilt. The sewing machine may be rolled from side to side, as it quilts a specified pattern controlled by the sewer. Once the pattern is completed in the exposed portion of the quilt, it may be turned to reveal the next unquilted portion of the fabric. Only 100% cotton quilting thread should be used in this technique, as the other types available typically break during this, more rigorous, method.
Nylon thread is generally referred to as invisible thread, and is either clear or smoky gray in appearance. It is slick in texture, unlike cotton thread, and may be used as both the top thread and bobbin thread in a sewing machine. This is generally used to accentuate the quilting pattern chosen, so that the eye is not drawn to the thread itself but instead to the overall designs created. Nylon thread does not have the tensile strength of cotton thread, and is prone to breaking more frequently in the bobbin. It should not be used for hand-quilting.
Metallic thread is used in small quantities, and is recommended for wall hanging projects. This type of quilting thread creates a beautiful accent, but is not durable enough to withstand frequent washings. Clean sewing machines thoroughly after using metallic thread as it will quickly create a fine dust that builds in both the top and bobbin thread areas.
Hand-quilting thread is a natural cotton version, typically coated with a film of wax for ease of use during sewing. It should not be used for machine quilting. This type of thread usually comes in a variety of colors, and is specifically designed to be gentle on both fingers and fabrics. It is a durable thread that will not break easily, and can withstand hours of hand-stitching.