How To Choose The Right Thread For Sewing

ThreadsChoosing the right colour thread for a sewing project can be tricky. Check out the above! Lots of colours going on in that crazy fabric. I grabbed four spools of thread from my collection.

But here’s a trick I learnt from watching the stall holders on Walthamstow market. Don’t just hold a solid spool against your fabric. Pull out a strand of thread, and watch how the colour disappears – or doesn’t.

See how each of my spools has a single thread lying horizontally across the fabric? Against this swatch, chestnut brown thread was the surprising best choice. You can hardly see the lowest strand.

Choosing the right colour thread is not about gauging the strongest colours in your fabric print. It’s about interpreting colours. In sewing as in life: the obvious is not always the best option. Fascinating, huh?

Anyone else have tips for matching thread to fabric?

Threads ii

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53 Responses to How To Choose The Right Thread For Sewing

  1. Karen says:

    Oooh Karen, gorgeous colour palette – what are you making? Love reading your blog – have not sewed for years, knit and crochet instead, but am tempted to invest in sewing machine and get started again after reading all of your posts and seeing your stunning creations.

    • onedabbles says:

      Do it! You know you want to… : ) Such fun and possibility. I first read Karen’s articles in The Guardian and, together with Tilly and the Buttons, they really started something for me.

  2. lisa g says:

    excellent tip! more than once i’ve been surprised at what thread was the best choice.

  3. Mrs.Smith says:

    Yes! I was looking for thread for a fabric that was a brownish olive green and was holding spools of thread up to the swatch. The very kind lady at Hancock fabrics came over shaking her head “no” 🙂 She pulled a thread on the one I was holding to show me that it wasn’t a good match and then found the right match. Now I pull threads to double check! 🙂

    And yes, that last thread disappears into the fabric!

  4. Fran says:

    I like your idea in choosing thread colors. I tried to match just by looking at the thread. There were to choices. I did end up pulling a piece of thread out to lay on the fabric and I picked the right one. The colors of your fabric are beautiful. Can’t wait to see what you’ll make with it.

  5. Caitlyn M. says:

    A tip I’ve seen among knitters is to use a yarn that’s close but not exactly the same color (and slightly thinner and smoother, if you have the luxury) for seaming garments like sweaters. That way it’s nearly invisible, but if you ever have to open up the seams, you don’t have worry about accidentally snipping through the garment yarn. I think it might have some application for sewing as well. Perhaps for the seams of a wearable muslin, to make potential adjustments easier?

  6. Marie says:

    Wow, what gorgeous fabric! Karen, what will it be…is it a secret? I love it! And yes, I always pull away strand of thread to test on my fabric…but not sure how well it goes down in shops…especially when I decide it’s a bad match! Haha!

  7. Jenny says:

    Great tip, thanks! I tend to try to go a bit darker as I assume most seams will be in a little of shadow, but I’m not sure if that’s the “official” approach!

  8. Emmely says:

    That is exactly how I audition threads for a new project! I’ve been very surprised more than once about which colour ended up working best.

  9. Thank you for this great Tip! And what a lovely fabric!

  10. sarah says:

    Ahh Good tip, I learnt this one recently when matching jeans top stitching thread. colours can certainly be deceiving.
    Gorgeous fabric by the way, but I did look quite puzzled when your post came up on my blog reader and the small thumbnail made it look like a cross-stitch design ha!

  11. Chris says:

    I recently discovered the same thing and ever since I pull out a piece of thread. Before I used the much more unobtrusive “inofficial method” of chosing a slightly darker shade, but now I’m a thread-puller I’m sure the ladies in the haberdashery department hat me… Oh well…

  12. Sewer from Across the Pond says:

    All those threads would work, depending on the effect desired. If you want an almost invisible stitch, you pick a thread that is one shade darker than the fabric. One shade lighter reads as a design detail.

  13. I do not have a large collection of thread – I have basically one shade of each major colour, cross my fingers and hope it’ll co-ordinate (it’s working so far …) Last summer I had cut out a wizard costume from a wild orange flame-y fabric, went to thread the machine and discovered … I didn’t have any sort of orange.

    I ended up doing what you did above and laying out threads of the contenders. Weirdly, yellow, red and white all stood out horribly despite being present in the pattern, whereas a light caramel brown – not at all like the fabric when just looking at it next to the spool – disappeared into the design pretty much invisibly.

  14. Karen says:

    If you don’t want to unravel the thread, you can squint at the spools (you can try it on the photo above) and see which one “disappears”into the fabric. That’s the best match. It works for matching fabrics, too, if you can’t decide which looks better.

  15. Maddie says:

    I say as long as it “goes,” it’s good to go. Also, and I picked this up while taking a craftsy class on serging, having a contrast thread is not so bad. What if your garment is black and has hot pick seams?!

  16. EmSewCrazy says:

    Fabulous tip! I do the same thing but it is always amazing to see laid out on the fabric like that. I too can’t wait to see what you make. Lovely fabric!

  17. barbara says:

    Really interesting post. Thanks for the tip. I tend to hold the fabric up to the solid spools in the shop. You’ve shown how a single thread is a much better approach, thanks.

  18. Pat says:

    I just found a spool of multi-color thread in my local Joann. I was working with a purple cammo exposed zip, so having a spool of thread that had the same colors of the cammo was great. I’ve been surprised too when a color that I wasn’t sure about turned out to be the best for the fabric. I’ve also learned to go outside in sunlight to check the color because sometimes in daylight what I picked out wasn’t so great.

  19. erin says:

    Thanks, it’s a good tip!

  20. Yes, the thread–and when in doubt, if you want it not to show, go for the darker thread (and zipper, button, etc.). Lighter colours reflect more and draw the eye. I couldn’t help but notice that the pink, though bright, also disappears pretty well (because it’s darker)–whereas the two light neutral colours both show pretty strongly.

  21. oonaballoona says:

    i have no tips, lost all sense when i saw THAT FABULOUS FABRIC.

  22. I agree with Pat a multi-colored thread in a darker shade like your brown would also blend very nicely with your multi-colored fabric. I love the fabric!! So beautiful. The brown thread you have is very good choice 🙂

  23. Sam says:

    I do this, can’t remember who told me too, but it always seems to work.
    Gorgeous fabric by the way.

  24. Keren says:

    Great tip, Thank you!

  25. Christine says:

    I’ve always gone by the darker thread rule. It’s easy since I usually work with solids – but this is a really neat trick. I just might have to find some funky fabric so I can use it!

  26. victoriapeat says:

    Love your illustration! If choosing between two different threads, I always go for the darker shade

  27. KathleenS says:

    I do this with the single thread but I have learnt that I don’t need to obsess about the match as much as I used to. There can be several acceptable options, not just one, and if it’s difficult to choose between two, then either will do. In this case, yes, the brown is the best, but I think any except the light peach would work fine.

  28. Helena says:

    Great tip and surprising result!

  29. Rosesred says:

    I always choose thread that is a bit darker and a bit less saturated than the fabric I am working with. Same goes for the zipper. Stitches are pretty much invisable that way. In a pinch I will use muddy mid-gray thread for pretty much anything except white. Love the fabric.

  30. LinB says:

    When in absolute doubt — or when in desperate need, as when a deadline looms and the shops are not open, etc. etc. — you can use a grey thread. Grey (gray?) comes in lots of hues, and lots of shades, so you can almost always find a grey that will do nicely. Obviously, the “shops are not open” situation assumes that you have at least a light, medium, and dark grey thread somewhere in your thread stash … . This was standard practice in costume shops, decades ago.

  31. Very useful tip – thank you!

  32. Never mind the thread, where’s the fabric from and what are you making with it?! Love it. Seriously though, I had never thought of pulling threads to check – I’m not sure I’d dare to in my local shops, some of the women working there can be a bit snooty!

  33. senjiva says:

    I do the same thing. I have learned again and again that what I *think* a color is and what it *really* is are often two different things. Especially greys, purples, and that coral thing that was happening a lot last spring.

  34. boldlygold says:

    This is one hell of a tip! And how philosophical haha!

  35. Wonderful advice! I love your choice of illustration. This will definitely be a new tool in my toolbox.

  36. Excellent, thanks for this. It’s something I struggled with recently when I made a dress for Christmas, blog block print in green, red and white, it was a very difficult choice!

    • LinB says:

      Oonaballoona — among others — has been known to sew with a white thread for topstitching, then take colored permanent markers and dye the thread to match whichever part of a print it travels across. She is a better woman than I, on that front.

  37. symondezyn says:

    That’s a great tip!! I’m a boring sewist and mainly go for solids, but I do have a few fabulous prints in my stash, and I’ll be sure to use this tip when they finally emerge!! 🙂

  38. Geo P says:

    I always love your sewing – real life analogies 🙂
    When I don’t find any thread to match my fabric, I go for grey. If you have 2-3 shades of grey, you can always find one that blends well with anything.

  39. I’m more of a feltmaker and embroiderer than a dressmaker, so am a tiny bit nervous about making my eldest daughter’s wedding outfit. Any tips for getting it right when doing a rolled hem on a circular skirt (so edges are on the bias) in a lovely heavy drapey crepe fabric will be lapped up! Thanks …

  40. amanda says:

    Ive always been taught that if you’re not sure between shades of a colour or cant get an exact match always go for the darker shade as it recedes into the fabric in the same way the chestnut brown does on your example, whereas a lighter shade will generally stand out and be more noticeable.

  41. Amy W says:

    I have this pattern and I’ve been wanting to use it soon. Your dress looks great! I’m working on a linen Hawthorn dress and there is snow outside. Tights will be the way to go.

  42. vi says:

    Dress looke great on you! I have been making horizontal buttobholes for a few decades now and the fashion police have not caught up with me yet! They prevent gaposis at the bustline!

  43. Maureen says:

    Gotta love Croft Mill!

  44. Fashion Memos says:

    Hello dear, lovely dress…do you use any tutorials that you can share?:)thanks

  45. This is what quilters do. I love how much cross knowledge you get by trying different types of sewing

  46. Rosie Martin says:

    I LOVE THIS DRESS. I admire you for persevering despite doubting the sanity of the dress Karen. Great vision! It looks like an oil painting : ) xx

  47. Pingback: Wow, You Can Sew Anything! | By Eitchy

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