Choosing Threads For Improv Quilting

Hi there! This is Shannon of Shannon Fraser Designs and Amanda of Broadcloth Studio. And today we’ll be taking over the Auribuzz Blog, talking all about how we like to play with our threads, especially when it comes time to quilt our improv patchwork works.

In addition to being quilters and designers, we’re also a teacher (Shannon) and a podcast host (Amanda). We’re also the two gals behind the 30-Days of Improv QAL, which is a month-long improv patchwork challenge that runs through August. We just wrapped up our second year and we couldn’t be more thrilled with how the month went. Improv patchwork is such a joy for both of us: we love the tactile play, the puzzle it presents, the unexpected results, and the freedom of it all!

If you’re not familiar with the  #30DaysOfImprovQAL, here’s a quick recap: over the course of four weeks, participants are encouraged to make 20 small improv blocks. Every week, we highlight one shape and provide five daily prompts to help encourage QAL-ers to explore the shape. The idea is to make one block, five days a week, as a way to set aside a little time each day to play, to experiment, and to create. At the end of the challenge, we talk about how to take your blocks and turn them into a finished quilt top. And one of the key aspects to this final step is, you guessed it, THREAD!

While Shannon and I share a love of improv patchwork (as well as of striped t-shirts and winter weather), we definitely approach our improv quilting in our own unique ways. We thought it might be fun to share our own processes as well as some of our top tips for when it comes to choosing what threads and thread weights to play with. So, without further ado…

Shannon @shannonfraserdesigns

When it comes to thread, I’m often drawn to thread colors that coordinate with my fabric selection. I don’t necessarily need matchy-matchy, but a hue that’s in the same family as the materials I’ve featured in my improv patchwork is. What I love about thread is, not only the color play it offers, but the textural details you can sneak into your pieces by adding different thread weights.

You know I’m a tactile lover and can’t resist running my hands over my quilted projects. And thread is one of the glorious ways you can add texture and dimension (read more about how to do that here: Which Way Up Quilt Modern Improv + Hand Quilted – Shannon Fraser Designs). Which is why it’s no surprise to find 40wt, 12wt and Aurifloss in my 30 Days of Improv QAL thread selection.

How did I come to select these beauties?

My first step was pulling out my color card. I rave about color cards on the regular and it’s for good reason – they work!

Here’s what I was on the hunt for:

I knew I wanted a deep inky purply blue that would tie in with my background color. That was my starting point. From there, I also knew I wanted a soft lilac in 40wt for any machine quilting I might be tempted to do.

To have some textural options on hand, I picked up #2420 in 12wt for a fresh big-stitch hand quilting option and this lighter creamy shade #2315 in Aurifloss.

The surprise element? Gravitating towards this 12wt variegated thread. Remember when I said it doesn’t need to be matchy-matchy? These colors are not exactly what I have featured in my improv quilt, but I was curious to see what impact it would have on my quilt.

I love how the variegated thread adds a surprise element for the viewer as they get closer to the quilt. From afar it reads as a solid light color, but as you get closer you see the variance from white, to yellow to lavender. It’s a fun little detail to play with!


  • The color cards were genius at helping me find the exact shades I needed. Give it a try for your next project!
  • Think beyond just color, consider the thread weight(s) to help add depth and dimension to your improv quilt.

Amanda @broadclothstudio

Shannon and I are 100% on the same page when it comes to amping up our quilting texture by employing a variety of thread weights and incorporating some hand quilting (especially with the 12-wt and Aurifloss!).

All that being said, when it comes to my larger improv patchwork projects I am a bit more of a less-is-more. There is often so much going on in my improv patchwork that I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by all the potential ways I could add a little extra emphasis here and there. So I definitely lean more towards matchy-matchy when picking my thread colors!

I often stick with an all over edge-to-edge quilting pattern using a 50-wt Cotton thread that blends into the background. I especially love to play with grids (from 0.5-inches up to 2-inches) as I love the juxtaposition of those clean angles against the free flowing energy of the patchwork. The zig-zag stitch on my machine is also a favorite of mine: it’s quick to mark, easy to sew, and I just love the subtle movement it brings. For my 30-Days of Improv QAL project this year, I used this lovely soft pink (#2420) in Cotton 50wt.

But, what I love about the #30DaysOfImprovQAL is that I am always left over with an extra block or two that just didn’t work in my final composition. And those blocks are the perfect tiny canvas to have fun with, adding in hand quilting, maybe even some #quiltbroidery stitches (you can find step-by-step tutorials here on the Broadcloth Studio Blog). These “micro quilts” are like an extension of the process that underlies our  #30DaysOfImprovQAL: by adding parameters (in this case the size of the quilting “canvas”), I’m able to create the perfect-for-me environment that allows me to try, to experiment, to play with my threads.

Even on these micro-quilts, I love to match my threads to my fabrics, playing with the thread weight to subtly emphasize certain elements. I used #2420 in Cotton 12wt to quilt the “background” light peachy-pink fabric, then switched to 12wt in #1154, #2277, #6724, and 2783. In the larger micro quilt, I also used #6724 in Cotton 50wt to balance out all the 12wt hand quilting.


  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed or daunted by trying something new, adjust the setting until you feel excited to dive in (well, maybe excited AND scared). Whether it is the size of the quilt you are working with, or just playing with one weight of thread, or only hand quilting, whatever the “secret sauce” is that gets you moving forward again, that’s the right way. You can always change the parameters on the next project, the important part here is that you give yourself the time to play!

We hope this was helpful and that maybe it even gave you some ideas for how to play with your threads on your next project, whether it’s giving variegated threads a try or making a micro quilt to try out all the wild-and-crazy quilting you’ve ever wanted to!

And we doubly hope that you’ll join us next summer for the third-annual  #30DaysOfImprovQAL in 2023, whether it’s your third, second, or first year joining us!

Shannon & Amanda P.S. If you’re looking for some improv play before August 2023, we’ve got a couple of fun improv projects on the horizon, so make sure to follow us on Instagram so you don’t miss a thing: Shannon is @shannonfraserdesigns and Amanda is @broadclothstudio!

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