If you’ve started sewing clothes and other projects, you probably matched your thread to the fabric and used it in the bobbin. However, as a quilter, thread is like fabric, and you can choose any pretty color or use only a neutral like cream.

Who are the Quilt Police?

The ‘Quilt Police’ are the quilters in a group that say, “You can’t, don’t ever do that, or that’s wrong.” Usually, it’s because that is what they were taught. When I was told I was doing it wrong, I asked why, and I learned why. You need to know the rules before you break them. My recommendation is not to start breaking a rule without learning the purpose behind So, let’s take a look at and learn the rules around thread.

Thread – How It’s Made and Why You Need To Know.

Thread is spun two ways onto a spool: on an angle or straight. Thread wound straight onto the spool is made to be pulled off of the spool vertically, like on a domestic sewing machine.

When thread is wound diagonally it is made to come off the spool by being pulled up and looped over a thread mast.

This is why longarm quilting threads are on a diagonal. As I said previously, know the rules. Any threads can be used on the domestic machine to sew with or on a longarm machine to quilt with. The rule is how it was made to come off the spool, so ensure you are aware of the position your thread spool is being used. 

Types Of Thread.

“Only quilt with cotton.”

“The top thread and bobbin thread have to be the same.”

“Neutral or blended thread looks best.”

These are all personal opinions, not rules that have to be followed. With a Handi Quilter machine you can quilt with any type of thread: cotton, polyester, cotton/poly blend, rayon and more. What helps me decide what thread to use on a quilt? I always ask myself, who is getting the quilt, how will it be used, how do I want the quilting to show, and what the density of the quilting design. The answers to these questions help me decide.


The choice between cotton and polyester is only important if the person I quilt for cares. Older family members who received my grandmother’s quilts will get cotton because that’s what they have learned to like. Cotton is the first choice when I want a traditional quilt look.

For a kid’s quilt, I use any thread that is variegated with fun colors. Maybe more toward polyester because it can have a nice shine to add to the fun.

Rayon is used in art quilts for wall hanging or small projects that need that extra little touch.

Polyester can be made very thin, much thinner than cotton, without breaking. Pre-wound bobbins often use a thin polyester. If you do dense quilting (micro quilting) and want an invisible look, you will want a thin polyester.

Cotton is great when wanting a traditional look or a thicker thread to sit on top of the quilt for art quilts or adding a design element.

When selecting the type of thread, it leads you to the thickness of a thread. That is known as weight. The weight of the thread also determines what needle size should be used. 

Weight of Thread – How it Looks and What Needle to Use (Needle Size for Longarm Quilting)

Understanding the weight of thread is an important part of longarm quilting. Thread weight is often measured in numbers, but these numbers can be misleading. In longarm quilting, the thinnest thread used is typically 100 wt, with 80 wt used in bobbins. The heaviest weight is 12 wt, which is usually only found in cotton. This thick thread size is often used in applique or to create a quilt design in negative space for accent.

The normal average weight of quilting thread is 40-50 wt, with 40 wt being recommended for quilters who are first learning. It is hard to break a 40 wt thread, and it is a good choice for beginners. Using an 18 size needle with a large needle eye is also a good combination for beginners, as it is the most sturdy option.

Personally, I prefer to use 50 wt thread. This slightly lighter weight helps the thread sink in a little more, so it doesn’t lay on top as much. I often use a polyester pre-wound bobbin with the 50 wt cotton on top for about 70% of my quilts. This combination allows the thread to look a little thinner and last longer. I also use variegated or colored thread to add a little design element.

It is worth noting that many thread charts are specific to a particular brand. While I mostly use Wonderfil thread, I will use any brand if a customer brings me a thread, or if I have a color that is perfect but from a different brand. I have created my own Thread and Needle chart that works with any brand of thread.

In Hawaii, there is a lot of Asian influence. One hand stitching design called Sashiko has a unique look. I love the appearance of Sashiko designs, so I use a 12 wt thread and lengthen my stitch length to give the quilt center designs in blocks a more hand-sewn look.

Thread is the starting point in quilting. Understanding tension on a longarm machine is what allows a new owner to love or give up on longarm quilting. Before watching all the videos   on tension and what your threads look like, I recommend looking at your thread and  determining how it is wound on a spool and what the weight of the thread is.



Match your thread to the needle size. Start with one brand of thread weight (40 or 50) and needle size and quilt with that combination through several quilts. Each quilt might need little tension adjustments because the fabric and batting will affect the tension.

Longarm machines are designed to quilt a straight stitch at a very high rate of speed, which is why tension is so delicate on a longarm compared to a domestic machine. They aren’t comparable, as they work differently. Don’t get discouraged with tension. Give yourself time with one thread weight and needle size, and once you are consistent with adjusting that tension, move onto another combination.

Playing with thread weight, trying different thread colors, and choosing particular designs on a quilt is what makes quilting an art. Your quilting thread, color, and design choices should be another layer of design you are adding to your quilt. I hope you are encouraged to play with threads, and if you have been frustrated with tension, I hope these tips help you get started with quilting.