Thread Matters 2022: Back to Basics

Greetings Aurifil family! As Master Educator and Aurifilosophy Program Coordinator I’m thrilled to introduce fellow Aurifilosopher Natalie Barnes of beyond the reef. Natalie is an inspiring pattern and fabric designer, known for her use of bright, bold colors and unique handwork. Natalie joins us today to share some considerations for thread selection for piecing quilt tops. In this installment of Thread Matters, Natalie uses the beautiful 2022 April Color Builder Collection, Golden Shrimp Plant.

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

Back to Basics: Thread Choices!

As quilters, one of the most important decisions we face is choosing thread for the project we’re making. We pour our hearts, souls, and time into our quilts, garments, and gifts, and we want them to be the very best we can create. Aurifil makes threads for hand quilting, machine quilting, embroidery, appliqué, garment making, and quilt piecing. Today, I’d like to talk about the decisions we make when piecing a quilt top.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve likely seen a quilt that you’ve fallen in love with– in a publication, at a quilt show, on social media, or even something that a friend made. You search for the pattern and purchase it (or even a full kit including fabrics) from your favorite retailer. The pattern calls for general quilting supplies– cutting mat, ruler, rotary cutter, iron, small scissors, thread, and a sewing machine in good working order (with manual close at hand).  Check, check, check… but wait. Thread. There are so many options and you feel overwhelmed with decisions!

While one post can’t tackle it all, let’s take a look at your decision-making process for what type of thread you’ll use to prepare that quilt top. After all, the finished quilt will probably be used by generations of loved ones!

More than likely, your fabrics are quilting cottons, a mix of cottons and cotton linen blends, or even a lightweight lawn fabric, but primarily high quality quilting cotton fabrics. You’re going to take time to cut all that fabric and sew it all back together again, so you want to ensure your quilt is made from the very best quality materials you can possibly find.

The same goes for your tools– mat, cutter, rulers, scissors, sewing machine– whenever possible, they should be the very best quality you can afford. You will use them daily, so take care of them, and they will take care of you. Start with a fresh blade in your rotary cutter and change your sewing machine needle for each new project.

So that just leaves your thread selection! Cotton or a blend or a polyester? Silk? 2-ply, 3-ply? Solid or variegated? And finally, what color? And for that matter, what is a ply?

It’s easy, right? Aurifil 50wt. It’s every quilter’s go-to thread. But why?

To answer that question, there are some basic things about thread that must be considered. First, the material from which it is made. You want your thread to be made from the very best cotton, which is grown in the Mako region of Egypt, in a small part of the Nile Delta. Cotton grown in just the right amount of sun and precipitation in just the right soil lends itself to produce a long staple fiber. When spun, this long staple fiber creates a very fine, premium quality cotton that is smoother, finer, and stronger than any other existing cotton in the world. 

Second is the construction of the thread. Spinning turns the cotton staples into single strands of cotton. These strands are then twisted together to make a single thread. Two ply is two strands twisted together; three ply, three strands.  Aurifil Mako 50wt 2ply thread (Aurifil MAKO NE50/2) is a 2ply thread made from long staple cotton grown in the Mako Region of Egypt. This makes it a stronger, higher quality thread, without adding the bulk to your seams that a 3ply thread would add.

And THAT is why Aurifil 50wt cotton thread is the go-to thread for quilters! High quality, minimal lint, high sheen thread creating less bulk in your project, without sacrificing strength.

Let’s investigate thread weight and ply as applied to piecing while focusing on my pattern, Homeward using my latest fabric line Our House for Windham Fabrics.

First, let’s talk color. My preference for a scrappy or multicolored quilt is a variegated thread. Variegated threads provide a boost of color to any project without the need to change thread spools. They also work wonderfully for piecing multicolored fabrics.

I chose to use the Golden Shrimp Plant Color Builder set featuring variegated color 3817, “Marrakesh”. Marrakesh provided just the right mix of warm and cool colors to blend with this selection of fabrics and Aurifil 50wt thread is the perfect weight for the variety of piecing techniques used in Homeward.

The center block of Homeward is made from a total of 144  2″ finished squares. With that many seams in one block, it’s incredibly important that those stitches hold, and you don’t want a lot of bulk in those seams when you send it off to your long arm quilter. With Aurifil 50wt you’ll avoid lumps or bumps, getting only nice flat seams.

This quilt also has foundation strip-pieced blocks in the design.  When foundation paper piecing, you’ll want to shorten the stitch length, because once pieced, you’ll be tearing all of the foundation paper from the back. That will put a strain on the thread as well.

There are sew and flip flying geese blocks in this quilt too. Which means you’ll want a flat seam (and therefore 2ply thread instead of a thicker 3ply) when you flip that fabric over the seam.

And finally, there are large pieces in the corner blocks of this quilt – large runs of stitching along with foundation strip pieced blocks, flying geese, and small squares.

With the large variety of techniques in this one quilt, you’ll want your thread to be versatile. Grab your Aurifil 50wt thread with confidence. This multi-purpose thread weight can handle a multitude of techniques. You’ll be using it again and again.  

So, the next time you decide to put your efforts into a project that has stolen your heart, a quilt that you MUST make for yourself, or a smaller project that you want to give as a gift, remember – – thread really does matter!

HUGE thanks so Natalie for sharing some of her tips with us today! We hope that you’re feeling inspired to dive into a new quilt! If you’re curious about our 2022 Color Builder Subscriptions series, click on the button below to find an available subscription.

Did you know that Natalie’s curated thread set, Norma Rose, features a handful of variegated threads, including her favorite, Marrakesh (3817). The threads are small spools of 12wt, perfect for hand quilting and embellishing after you’ve finished piecing your new favorite pattern.

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Natalie Barnes is owner of beyond the reef patterns, and a licensed fabric designer for Windham Fabrics and Anthology Fabrics.  She is also a Janome Maker and an Aurifilosopher for Aurifil.

Natalie lectures and teaches at Retreats, Guilds and Shops, and is called an “encourager” by those attending her events.

You will find Natalie in sunny Southern California, enjoying walking with her dog, Stitch, working in the garden, or kayaking on the bay.  

* All images + Natalie Barnes
* Pattern + Homeward by beyond the reef patterns
* Fabrics + Our House by Windham fabrics, available April 2022

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