A couple of years ago I put together a class in response to seeing many sewists struggle because they didn’t know the things I’m about to talk about. Even if someone took a sewing class, more often than not things like thread weight, needle types, bias and ease weren’t covered. If you don’t know this stuff odds are your setting yourself and your project up for trouble if not failure.
I do think it’s better when this outline is accompanied by my talking it over, but in the interest of getting this information out there I’ll post my outline here. Because it’s long (8 pages) I’ll do it in parts. The following is the first part (Intro, Thread, and Needles):
Who is this class
- Self-taught sewists
- Beginner sewists
- Anyone who ever had something go wrong while
sewing and couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem.
- Students should walk out of this class
understanding basic sewing concepts that will set them up for success in their
This class assumes you will be using a sewing machine.
However, many of the concepts covered in this class also apply to hand sewing.
This class deals with woven fabrics only – no knits.
Thickness & Weight
The higher the number, the thinner the thread.
Most of the threads you will use for garment sewing use
weight (wt) to refer to thread thickness. Thread weight is determined by the
number of kilometers of thread that it takes to weigh 1 kilogram.
- 60 wt. Often marketed for fine sewing or as
bobbin thread for machine embroidery.
- 50 wt.
This is basic sewing thread. This is the thread you will use the most.
- 40 wt. A thicker thread. Often used for
decorative stitching, machine embroidery and machine button holes. If you need
to sew canvas consider using this weight thread.
- 30 wt. This is often sold as top stitching
thread. You could also use this thread weight on tent canvas.
- 12 wt. Often sold as decorative topstitching
In addition, there is 100 wt. thread (I’ve only seen this in
silk), that can be used for sewing fine silk, voile, or lawn fabrics.
When you are buying thread for your project, pay attention to the
weight/thickness of the thread, not just the color.
- You may need to buy 2 types of thread for your
project ( e.g. one for the seams and one for buttonholes).
non-obvious consideration when buying thread is how fuzzy the thread is and how
much lint it will throw off as it flows through your machine. Check out this article
showing threads under a microscope: http://owensolivia.blogspot.com/2012/10/your-sewing-thread-under-microscope.html
- If you find that your machine is getting gummed
up with lint quickly, thread is tangling in the bobbin area (i.e.“birdnests”),
thread breaks, stitches are not forming correctly, you may want to switch to a
smoother, less-fuzzy thread.
Clean your bobbin area
frequently. Lint buildup can cause problems with your stitching and can
eventually damage your machine.
does not age well! Air and sunlight will cause thread to rot. Thread should
be stored inside some sort of container (at least a drawer) and away from
sunlight. Old thread may break or cause you trouble. Think before you use
thread of a questionable age, and test.
When threading your machine, always do so with the pressure foot up.
- When the pressure foot is in the raised position
the tension disks are loosened, allowing for you thread to pass through the
Parts of the Needle
In general, needles are characterized by 3 factors:
- The thickness of the needle,
- The size of the eye (the hole through which the
thread passes), and
- The shape of the needle point.
- The thicker the fabric, the thicker the needle
- The thicker the thread, the larger the eye
Needle type is determined by the shape of the point and the
size/shape of the eye.
Common needle types
for sewing seams on woven fabrics:
– has slightly rounded point
– sharp point; good for silks
– sharp point and larger eye; good for thick fabrics and threads, or quilting
– Larger eye
If you want to use a 40 wt machine embroidery thread for
decorative stitching, try using an Embroidery
needle. A topstitching needle can work as well.
The higher the number, the thicker the needle.
For most of your sewing, you will use a size 80 needle. A
size 80 is good for medium to heavy weight linens, all but coat-weight wools,
light to medium weight cottons, etc.
However, there is a general rule of thumb that you should
try to use the smallest needle size possible. This is because you don’t want to
poke unnecessarily big holes or damage your fabric.
Try using a 70 or even a 60 sized needle for sewing fine
silks, linens, or cottons, such as handkerchief-weight linen, voile, lawn,
organza, or batiste. Remember to use a finer thread, such as 60 wt. cotton or
100 wt. silk.
Consider using a 90 or larger size needle on heavy canvas,
twills, and coat-weight wools.
If your needle breaks, try moving to a bigger needle. If your thread
shreds, try a larger-eyed needle.
Using the correct combination of thread and needle is one
key to sewing success!
How to test
thread/needle combos: Needle Slide test:
- Cut about 18 in of the thread you plan to use.
Take the needle you want to try out of its package and thread it with the
thread you just cut.
- Hold the thread up, one end in each hand. Tip
the thread at a 45 degree angle.
- If the needle slides smoothly, then the eye of
that needle is big enough for your thread.
- If the needle hesitates at all to slide, then the
eye is too small for your thread.
Start each new project with a new needle. If something goes wrong, the
first fix to try is to change your needle.