Thread Matters 2021: How to Choose Thread for Quilting Your Projects

Greetings Aurifil family! As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m thrilled to introduce the original Quilting Rockstar, HollyAnne Knight of String & Story to Thread Matters. Today, she’ll share her insights into machine quilting with a variety of weights of Aurifil thread. We were thrilled when HollyAnne joined the Aurifilosophy team. Since then she’s debuted her first Aurifil thread collection, Quilting Rockstar, and has worked tirelessly to take quilting education to new levels! HollyAnne is passionate about guiding students to quilt with confidence. Huge thank you to HollyAnne for sharing her quilting knowledge with us today!

Is your shop, group or guild looking for insightful, inspiring and educational information on thread? Consider booking a virtual or in-person program with one of our skilled Aurifilosophers. Learn more about Aurifilosophy and find your favorite Aurifilosopher here.  

Happy Stitching!
— Karen L. Miller

It’s no secret that I love Aurifil 50wt thread. Nearly all of my writing about thread, quilting, and tension has been about 50wt. It is amazing, but the truth is that nearly all of Aurifil’s threads are incredible for Free Motion Quilting, and I often use other weights for quilting as well– they just haven’t received as much press! Let’s take a look at the types of techniques and projects that might be better suited to other thread weights and why. 

Disclaimer: this is not an extensive list of uses and examples for Aurifil’s thread– I just want to help my fellow free motion quilters know which spool to grab when!

12wt – Red Spool

Remember, the lower the number for thread weight, the thicker the thread. Therefore, 12wt thread is the heftiest we’ll discuss today. Personally, I use 12wt the most infrequently because I love it best for hand stitching accents or walking foot straight lines. If you love a hand-stitched touch, reach for 12wt thread for  big stitch quilting or big stitch binding. If you have an embroidery machine, Kate Toney of Tough Kitten Crafts has done some pretty cool quilting in the hoop with 12wt thread, too. 

Suggested projects: Big stitch quilting (by hand or machine) or quilting with your embroidery machine

Tension tip: 12wt is a heavy thread– increase your bobbin thread to 40wt and be prepared to do some testing and fiddling to get the balance right. Additionally, use a top stitch needle so you have a nice big eye for the thread to pass through. 

28wt – Gray Spool

If you have a project that needs some visual punch to the quilting, reach for 28wt. I love to use this thread when I want a relatively simple design to have some extra pop or if I’m layering a few threads together to create visual depth. Make sure you use a top stitch needle in a large size (probably 16 or 18) to FMQ with this hefty thread. 

Suggested projects: Visually impactful free motion quilting, especially FMQ done decoratively or an all over design that still needs to stand out.

Tension tip: Similar to the 12wt, use a 40wt bobbin thread and expect to adjust and test your tension since your threads will be playing an uneven game of “tug of war.” 

Forty3 – Yellow Cone

Aurifil Forty3 was designed as a longarming thread. It uses three strands of the thread used to spin 40wt (hence the name), creating a slightly thicker stitch. Personally, I think of Forty3 as my most durable or practical option for all over machine quilting. This is the thread I most often reach for if I’m doing an all over FMQ design (especially on a tricky substrate like a tshirt quilt where I want added strength) or walking foot quilting. 

Suggested projects: Practical quilts– all over designs stitched on quilts for gifts, on tshirt quilts, and on quilts that will be washed often.

Tension tip: Put 40wt (or even Forty3 itself if you don’t have a matching 40wt thread) for a pretty easy time of getting your tension balanced. And don’t be afraid to try this thread on your home or domestic machine. Just because it was “made for” longarming doesn’t mean it isn’t fabulous for walking foot quilting or all over domestic FMQ too! 

40wt – Green Spool

If you were to ask me if 40wt or 50wt thread is objectively better for free motion quilting, I’d have to be honest and tell you that it is entirely a matter of preference. Both threads are well suited to any density of free motion quilting without thread bulk, both hold tension well, and both create beautiful stitch quality. Personally, I’m more likely to reach for 40wt if I know I want my quilting to demand attention (for denser designs) or if I want the quilting to be slightly more visible but still play “second fiddle” to the piecing (for looser or all over designs). 

Suggested projects: Pretty much any FMQ! Also great for adding a little “polish” to binding or top stitching

Tension tip: I tend to accidentally adjust my tension too tight with 40wt which can lead to breaks in the top thread. Make sure your tension is tight enough to make clean stitches on the back, but don’t go too tight– it’s a pretty fine thread! 

50wt – Orange Spool

And of course, my old favorite, 50wt thread. The advantage of my beloved orange spool is that it is ideal for both piecing and quilting. If you love super dense quilting or if you just want to know which weight of thread will give you the most bang for your buck– 50wt is it. 50wt thread is super fine, making it easy to transition from piecing to quilting with just one thread and easy to adjust your tension so the twist of your threads falls neatly in the batting of your quilt. 

Suggested projects: literally everything– I even use it on my longarm! 50wt melts like butter into your fabric making it the ideal choice for dense FMQ without a feeling of thread bulk.

Tension tip: Make sure your tension is tight enough that you have clean stitches on the back. Because 50wt melts into the fabric, it can be easy to overlook “floaters” (where the bobbin thread is laying on the back of the quilt rather than having clean, crisp stitches). 

Final Thoughts

It’s easy as a quilter to fall into our habits, using thread weights and colors that are familiar to us. It is amazing, however, how much simple changes like trying a new thread weight can freshen up our quilting and quilting experience. If you haven’t tried a new thread recently, I encourage you to get a spool of one of these I’ve discussed today to try on an upcoming project. You might just discover a new favorite!

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HollyAnne Knight is a passionate teacher and encourager who is dedicated to providing engaging, approachable workshops, tutorials, and patterns. She hopes these resources will help other quilters work with confidence and have fun rather than being afraid they will “mess up” their quilt.


  1. Thtuoy. I appreciate the info and tips Recently while quilting with 50 WT I did notice my thread lying there on the back. I’ll check my tension:)

  2. Thanks for the tips! I have never tried the 12-wr, but I think I will pick some up to try for hand quilting.

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