Thread Matters 2021: Machine Embroidery

Today, I’m excited to introduce Aurifilosopher Kate Toney of Tough Kitten Crafts! Aurifil has had the pleasure of working with Kate as an Artisan and we were thrilled when she joined the Aurifilosophy team. I have so much love and respect for Kate’s quest to make machine embroidery accessible for all, particularly with 100% Cotton Aurifil threads. I love seeing each new project that she creates and have thoroughly enjoyed her IG videos throughout this year! HUGE thanks to Kate for sharing some of her creative insight with us here today!

Aurifilosophy has gone Virtual!  Consider scheduling a virtual program for your shop, group, or guild. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here.  

Happy Stitching!
— Karen L. Miller

I’m Kate Toney from Tough Kitten Crafts and I empower sewists to move from frustrated to fearless with machine embroidery through online education. I know what it is to be confused by and cursing at your embroidery machine so I’m here to help you kick out the shame of not using that machine so you can start embroidering everything not nailed down (just kidding, we can embroider things nailed down too)!

Mug Rug by Kate Toney

When starting out with machine embroidery you are going to hear a whole lot of misinformation swirling around; it gets so confusing! Some of the most prevalent myths include: always using tear away stabilizer, pulling on your fabric when hooping, and frequently not using enough layers of stabilizer. 

But the biggest embroidery misconception I hear is that you can’t use cotton thread with machine embroidery! Have you heard this, too? Did you just assume you can only embroider with polyester cause that’s what is always listed as embroidery thread? You’re not alone! I get shocked reactions anytime someone hears how much I love using Aurifil to machine embroider.

“What!? Aurifil!? The stuff I quilt with!? How can you use that for machine embroidery? Isn’t it…cotton?” 

It is cotton! And it’s great for machine embroidery!

I still remember the first time I heard about using cotton thread for embroidery. I felt like it was such a specialty application, like something you’d obviously need a certain set of skills to do. I was the one with the sparkling eyes and the head spinning with ideas. Which is hilarious now that I use Aurifil cotton thread in 75% of  my embroidery projects and I have since realized… it’s just not that complicated.

Pot Holders by Kate Toney

It’s really simple to use and creates a gorgeous end result. Let’s dive in…

While Aurifil’s 50wt thread is my most used for embroidery, I have used every Aurifil thread weight with great success. You can choose which thread you’d like based on what you have in your stash, the effect you want and where you are using the thread. People are often shocked to know I mainly use 50wt as they tend to think of 40wt being the only choice for machine embroidery. I actually use my 40wt interchangeably with my 50wt, I practically treat them like the same weight of thread!  We will go over other weights a little in this post but I will largely be focused on my Aurifil 50wt thread because I also LOVE the idea of my thread doing double duty for me: I use it for my piecing, quilting, sewing, serging AND embroidery. Buying once and using it in multiple ways makes me so happy. 

Embroidered Butterflies by Kate Toney — image by Sarah Thomas

I often get asked what stabilizers work best for cotton thread but you don’t need to worry about this at all as the cotton thread will not affect your stabilizer choice in any way. You still choose your stabilizer type and weight based on the project, fabric, and hooping style.

If stabilizers are forever confusing you and you suspect those puckers, pulls and even holes in your fabric are caused by improper stabilization (spoiler alert: they probably are!) then you should check out my virtual, on-demand class Stabilizer School! This class will teach you all about stabilizer types and categories, how to pick the perfect one for every project and even breaks down how to use individual stabilizer types.  

via @toughkittencrafts

To learn more about Stabilizer School, check out the Stabilizer School enrollment page.

When using 40wt or 50wt cotton thread I typically use a 75/11 Embroidery Needle; This is my go to needle for machine embroidery. Just as with regular sewing you will want to match your needle type to the fabric you are using (ie. ballpoint needles for embroidering knits, topstitch for corks or other thick fabrics) and the needle size to the thread weight. I have an array of needle sizes and types in my arsenal because I like to embroider on an array of materials. 

I’m not sure why this is the first thing so many people ask me about when they find out I use cotton thread for embroidery but I’m happy it’s such an easy question! For a long time I used any ol’ 50wt white or black bobbin that I just happened to have wound already and then adjusted my machine if necessary to make sure the bobbin thread didn’t show on the front of the embroidery. One of my embroidery machines needed lots of adjusting with this method and the other needed no adjustment, it worked fine right out of the gate; don’t be afraid to adjust your machine if it needs it and to leave it alone when it has got it handled.

I have started using Aurifil 80wt in the bobbin and I am IN LOVE with it; having such a light weight bobbin thread ensures that my top thread wraps to the back with ease and I never see my bobbin up top. It’s a bonus that with my BERNINA jumbo bobbin and my super lightweight thread I can fit a TON of thread on my bobbin, meaning WAYYYYYY less thread changes.

You might be thinking “Well, what projects work best for cotton thread?” I have great news: any project you’re thinking of will be great for cotton thread!

Here’s a list of just a few of the projects I have embroidered using cotton thread:
– Cardigan
– Knit T-shirt
– Woven T-shirt
– Decorative pillows
– Pleather bags
– Terry cloth towels
– Quilt blocks
– Pot holders
– Patches
– Toilet Paper

Yes. I said toilet paper. 

I know I keep making the same point over and over again but I can’t say it enough: you don’t have to do anything special for Aurifil Cotton and embroidery. They just go together so beautifully!  

Check out Tough Kitten Crafts on Instagram for more machine embroidery projects and tutorials.  

I always get asked what thread weights I have tried embroidering with and the answer is: all of them! I have used 80wt, 50wt, 40wt, 28wt and 12wt for sewing and for machine embroidery and each one stitches out beautifully. Stitching with other weights of thread simply requires a bit more experimenting with tension, needle sizes and finding the right design for the thread weight you are using. The embroidery designs that look great with 12wt  might not work for 80wt and vice versa; don’t be afraid to make some really ugly mistakes while you play around! That’s how you have the best discoveries. You may need to stitch slower, use different size needles or change your bobbin weight, just don’t be afraid to experiment and ALWAYS practice on scraps before working on your final project.

So what’s next in your machine embroidery journey? How can you transform from frustrated to fearless right now? I have three next steps for you guaranteed to boost your confidence! 

  1. Download my free Beginner’s Guide to Machine Embroidery. If you’d like a quick run down about the stabilizers, needles and other notions I recommend for beginner machine embroiderers then check out my free Beginner’s Guide to Machine Embroidery! This free PDF has three easy steps to get you machine embroidering today and even has a checklist to help you gather everything you need to plan your next embroidery project. You can download your guide here: Free Beginner’s Guide to Machine Embroidery
  1. Check out my blog post Machine Embroidery 101 for Beginners. In this blog post I cover what you need to know to get started with machine embroidery like: machines, thread, designs, stabilizers and embroidery tools! This is a great free resource to get you started understanding machine embroidery. Read the blog post here: Machine Embroidery 101 for Beginners
  1. We covered the how and what…now let’s cover the why! My new class Foundations of Machine Embroidery opens July 13th and it will transform your understanding of machine embroidery! This incredible class is perfect for anyone at any skill level, who is looking to finally understand machine embroidery from the ground up. In Foundation of Machine Embroidery, I will not only hold your hand through multiple embroidery projects but will also guide you through the tools you need for true machine embroidery understanding. This class is not a quick fix to get you to make a few things but instead this course is about lasting knowledge that will transform how you understand machine embroidery, forever.

You can hop on the waitlist for Foundations Of Machine Embroidery to ensure you don’t miss out on doors opening, additional info about the course and limited time early bird pricing. Enrollment will close the 22nd and I’m not sure when it will open back up so don’t miss out on this opportunity to finally transform your machine embroidery knowledge by signing up for the Foundations of Machine Embroidery waitlist

Thank you so much for spending this time with me! I cannot wait to see what you embroider with your Aurifil thread! Don’t forget to tag me @ToughKittenCrafts on Instagram so I can see your beautiful creations. 

via @toughkittencrafts

Have you ever used Aurifil cotton for machine embroidery? Comment below and tell me what you have embroidered with Aurifil cotton! What weight thread are you excited to try out?

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Kate Toney is a Florida based Aurifil Artisan, BERNINA event team member, & machine embroidery specialist who loves all things sewing and DIY. Kate maintains her own blog called Tough Kitten Crafts where she teaches machine embroidery and BERNINA machines. Kate has been working with BERNINA in-store or as an event team member for 5 years now and loves to help sewists better understand their machines. In her free time Kate loves to spend her days at Disney with her boyfriend, Brad, or snuggled on the couch with her pets while she plays Animal Crossing or knits while watching Netflix.


  1. Brilliant and thank you! I’ve used my Aurifil and Connecting Threads, threads for machine embroidery and felt naughty doing the taboo. BUT I loved how my projects came out, so I just keep sneaking in the cotton and not telling anyone. Good to know I was on the right track and doing everything “right”, aka not over thinking it. I have toyed with getting the 80wt Aurifil for my bobbins, now I’m certain I will be doing so. Thanks again!!

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