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OK, ladies, I'm going to give you my lecture on threads to be used for applique and why I use them. First of all, the 'issue' generally becomes whether to use silk (which glides through the cotton fabric beautifully and is easily hidden) or cotton, then which weight of cotton? So, the silk worm extrudes miles and miles of silk filament, which is reeled off through boiling hot water because that's when it's at its strongest...when it's wet. And its *very* strong. Now take cotton thread. It's short, the cotton staple at best being 3/4" long. It's very fragile and weakest when its wet. So now take your applique quilt in 100 years (and we do love those antique quilts). If silk has been used, it's cut through the cotton fabric and the thread people (who sell silk thread) will tell you that it's so strong it's still fine. Ya, it's fine, but the quilt isn't! So now cotton: Cotton will, in fact, become one with the cotton fabric it's stitched onto. This will have a better chance, In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) of surviving intact. Most curators will tell you the same thing.
So I opt for cotton thread on cotton fabric for that reason. I do use silk thread, but only on silk fabric. I prefer Mettler 60/2 wt cotton. It's one ply less than the normal 50/3 wt. and therefore is fine enough that you can hide it in your fabric, if you come out on the fold of the applique fabric and give it a slight tug to tighten it. I have tried DMC 50 wt. and it's very nice, though a little 'hairier' than the cotton. My guess is that it hasn't been 'gassed", that is pulled quickly through a gas flame to burn off the little fuzzies. But it's still a good product. If all else fails and I can't find the right colour in either of these two brands, then I use Gutermann cotton, 50 wt. It's just fine. So if you have Mettler 60/2 or DMC 50/3 available locally, buy them. If you only have Gutermann, then use Gutermann...as long as it isn't the poly thread, which is a whole other issue .
So there you have my little lecture on thread. This comes to you from 29 years of weaving/spinning experience. I hope I've helped you make an informed decision about whether you want to use silk or cotton. In the end, it's your decision and your quilt
Happy Stitching!

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you Annette for sharing your wealth of experience with us.You are very right about the thread being hidden if the stitch is done properly as seen by looking at your gorgeous examples of applique.
Annette,, I never thought about the silk thread in that way. Thanks for sharing this info. Mettler is my thread of choice, but have used silk when I can't find the right color in cotton.
Thank you Annette. The person that gave me my first "real" lesson in Needleturn insisted that only silk thread be used. My biggest problem with it (other than the silk/cotton issue you mentioned) is that I could not keep my needle threaded (the thread was slippery and would slip out of the eye when I wasn't looking), and I found it very hard to get that thread through the eye of my straw needle in the first place.
I too prefer using cotton thread. Will have to check on the local availability of the weights you mentioned.
Annette, great discussion! This morning I was working on my Baltimore applique anniversary quilt and was thinking about cutting out complex patterns. The thread I use is mostly Coates & Clark or other cotton covered polyester because it comes in so many colors and is a bit less likely to break than cotton. I also use this thread for machine piecing. For hand piecing I use quilting thread. The info about silk thread is absolutely true. I've been told by a majority of teachers and fiber artists is that you shouldn't use thread that's stronger than your fabric, precisely for the reasons you listed above. Barb
So Barb, are you going to show us your Baltimore Album?
Yes, I will! I have to take pics of what I can finish of the Funny Babies (until she's born and we find out what her name is. At the same time, I'll lay out my blocks and see if I can get them all in the camera lens...if not, segments will have to do...whenever I try taking pics on my bed, it's never light enough.
I've always known that the silk was stronger than the cotton and would cut the fabric eventually, but I think that I just undervalued my quilts as being important enough to be antiques someday. You are right about the cotton thread being better because it's matched to the fabrics used.

My favorite threads for piecing and quilting are Mettler and YLI, though I do use Star sometimes, and they are all 50/3. I will have to look for the Mettler 60/2 thread to try for my applique. When I do use cotton for applique, I have just used the 50/3. For hand quilting I use either the Mettler or YLI machine thread with the thread heaven stuff, or the same brands in hand quilting threads.

As for the silk thread being slippery and sliding out of the needle's eye, there is a trick to preventing that from happening. Take the short "tail" after threading the needle, and pierce the thread with the needle as close to the needle as possible. Then make an "S" curve and pierce the thread with the needle again. Repeat one more time, then pull it all to below the needle. It will knot the thread and keep it from slipping out of the eye. When you've used up the thread, just cut it between the knot and the eye and remove.
You are correct, Annette, in your assessment of the thread. But it's in the artist's realm to decide for oneself.
I recently bought the "frostings"- prewound bobbins of Masterpiece thread (50/2) from Superior threads to work on the AZ Centennial quilt. There are 36 colors and they are sold as 3 separate sets of 12, or Superior threads sells them as a set in the donut bobbin holder for $36.00. They can be bought thru the Piece O Cake website or directly thru Superior threads. This thread is wonderful! No fuzz, thin, many different colors to choose from. I am very happy with them. You can buy separate bobbins from Piece O Cake to replace the ones you use up for $1.00 each. I have started using this thread for my piecing also and am very happy with the smoothness of the seams.
I haven't tried it yet, but when I went to my LQS for the hand applique group today, I purchased a spool of Mettler 60/2 thread to try. When I pulled the clear protective sleeve off and pulled a bit of thread out to inspect, I saw how nice and thin it was and think that it's going to be every bit as good as the silk was. Also, I learned something...I did not realize until someone told me today that if the printing on the Mettler spool is green, it's a 2 ply thread. I'd been searching the spools looking for the ply and couldn't find it anywhere, so I was really happy to receive the tip. Am I the last to know this??? lol
If you check your Mettler tube, you will also see on the bottom that it says 60/2. So that's 60 wt., 2 ply. I use (and sell) Mettler and absolutely love it. But I think the Superior threads are lovely as well. So the nice thing about the Superior threads coming along, is that if we can't find the Mettler colour we want, and all thread companies have a limited palatte after all, we can look for Superiors thread. I'm not a thread snob at all, and so have also tried the DMC 50 wt. thread, which is fine. It's a bit fuzzier than Mettler and a bit weaker. I'm not sure why, but it is...or at least it has been in my experience stitching with it. However, it does have a colour range that is absolutely awesome....after all, it *is* DMC So look for the green label and I hope you have a pleasant experience with your Mettler. You've made the right choice, IMHO.
I just looked at the spool that I purchased on Friday once again, but it doesn't say the 60/2. In green it says 60 (100) and says that it's "fine embroidery thread". I will watch for the DMC and Superior. Locally they have Mettler (in mostly the 50/3), some Aurofil (I don't know what the weight and ply are), and Presencia, which is a 50 weight, but no ply number shown. Are you familiar with Aurofil and Presencia? If so, what do you think of them and how do I tell what the ply is? I suppose that I could try to take apart a piece of the thread to see if I could tell that way....


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