What You Need to Know About the Quilting Thread on Your T-shirt Quilt
April 10th, 2023
By Andrea Funk
What is Quilting Thread?
Quilting thread is a special type of thread made to withstand the high speeds of a long-arm quilting machine.
A quilt’s three layers are held together with quilting. Most T-shirt quilts are quilted with a long-arm quilting machine. This article answers the most asked questions about the thread used to quilt T-shirt quilts.
What Is Quilting Thread?
Quilting thread is a special type of thread made to withstand the high speeds of a long-arm quilting machine. Long-arm quilting machines can sew 500 to 3000 stitches per minute. And the machine changes sewing direction all the time. It takes a special type of thread to withstand these conditions. The video here shows how fast a quilting machine moves and how it changes direction.
On a traditional quilt, you see the thread on the front and the back of the quilt. A T-shirt quilt is different. You still see the thread on the back of the quilt like a traditional quilt. But, because of the characteristics of T-shirt material, the quilting on the front is typically seen more as shadow line.
Is the Same Color Thread Used on the Front and Back of a T-shirt Quilt?
The thread on the back comes from the sewing machine's bobbin. The stitching on the front comes from the top threads – that’s the thread that goes through the needle.
You can put a different color in the bobbin than you are using on the top. This would let you use a different color for the front and the back of a quilt.
But the results of using two colors are never perfect. In some places you will see the top thread on the bottom of the quilt. In other places you can see the bottom thread on the top. This tension variability is typical of any sewing machine stitching fast while moving on an X, Y axis.
Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts we use the same color thread on the front and back of our quilts because it looks better.
Do You Use the Same Color Thread as the Backing Material?
You can if you don't want to see the stitching. Some quilt makers use the same color thread as their backing material to hide their quilting. Some quilt makers do very little quilting and just don't want it to been seen.
Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, we want you to see our stitching! It’s one of the things that make our quilts so cool. We spend extra time to make sure that the backs of our quilts are awesome. Read more about our quilting here.
Below is an example of two T-shirt quilts. The quilt on the left is by Campus Quilts. This is a great example of a quilt maker wanting to hide their quilting. On this quilt there is minimal quilting. The thread is the same color as the backing material.
Compare that to the Too Cool T-shirt Quilt on the right. The blue thread in this quilt contrasts with the black backing. You see all the quilting and it's a lot of fun.
Which one do you like better? Read a complete comparison of these quilts here.
What Color Threads Do You Have?
We have a wide variety of threads from which to choose. We typically use lighter colored threads because they look better on the front of most T-shirts quilts. When a quilt calls for a darker thread, we also have those available.
Planning a T-shirt quilt?
Here are step-by-step directions for ordering your Too Cool T-shirt quilt.
How Do You Choose What Color Thread to Use?
We let the quilt, the color of the backing fabric and the binding color guide us. We try to select threads that complement the quilt and ties the binding colors with the backing color.
For example, if we have a navy blue backing fabric and a brown binding, we would use a tan thread. If you had that same navy backing and were using a red binding we could choose a number of colors. First, we would check to see if the quilt is being made for a male or female. If it is for a female, we could choose a pink thread that softens the blue. If the quilt is for a guy, we could choose gray or light blue.
Sometimes we agonize over thread color. We put a number of threads on the backing material and then hold up the binding color to chose the best one. If one or two of us can’t agree, we pull over whoever is around for another opinion.
Here's a quick video about choosing thread colors.
Do You Use Black or Dark Colored Threads?
I avoid using dark colored thread because I don’t like how it looks on the front of the quilt. It might look great on the back, but I think dark colors don't look good on the front of the quilt. It’s too dark and distracting on the front. So I stick to pastels and lighter colored threads.
But if the quilt is very dark on the front, we can use a darker thread because it won't look wonky on the front of the quilt.
I Don’t Want to See the Stitching on the Front of the Quilt. Do You Ever Use Clear Thread?
Most light color threads don't read like stitching on the front. You see a shadow line from the thread, but not the individual stitches. On the back you can see the quilting, but on the front, not so much.
We don't use clear thread here for a few reasons.
- I hate clear thread.
- It is it very difficult to work with.
- I don’t think that it’s good for the fibers of the quilt.
Clear thread is the same thing as fishing line. It can be sharp and cut the fibers over time. I am sure that there are many opinions on clear thread that are totally opposite of mine. And that’s ok. But that’s why we don’t use it here. And we want you to see our quilting.
There are many different options for choosing thread colors for T-shirt quilts.
We have been making T-shirt quilts since 1992, and over the intervening years, we have tried various solutions. However, we have found that the best approach is to choose a thread that is visible on the back of the quilt. We opt for lighter thread colors that blend well with the front of the quilt and use the same color for both the front and back. We believe that the quilting is a crucial aspect and should look fantastic.
Below are a few examples of quilting on our T-shirt quilts.
What to learn more about T-shirt quilts? Visit our Learning Center.
We have over 200 articles about all aspects of T-shirt quilts.
Andrea Funk is the inventor of T-shirt quilts made with multiple blocks sizes. The modern method of making T-shirt quilts. In 1992 she founded Too Cool T-shirt Quilts. Her life has been immersed in T-shirt quilts ever since.