Sewing Thread: Choosing the Right Thread

Sewing ThreadChoosing the right sewing thread for your sewing project is vital for your sewing success, especially if you are using a high-end sewing machine. The more expensive electronic sewing machines are so finely calibrated that even just a little thread fuzz can wreck havoc on your machine’s performance. So, how do you choose the right sewing thread?

Types of Sewing Thread and Their Uses

Cotton thread (size 50) comes in multiple colors. This thread can be used on most sewing machines, if it is a quality thread. Store brands are cheaply made and often have small threads, some too small to see easily, fuzzing the side of the thread length. For this reason, most store brands should be avoided. Cotton thread is a good choice for cotton fabrics, rayons, and linens.

Cotton/polyester thread (size 60) is a fine thread used primarily for lingerie or other sewing when a very fine thread is required.

 Embroidery thread, not embroidery floss, (size 40) is often rayon, polyester, or a blend of the two. The array of colors availble in embroidery thread is incredible. This thread is well made, with very little fuzz. It can be used to sew most fabrics, including cotton, rayon, polyester, linen, knits, and many blends. Because it has so little fuzz, it works well for high-end electronic sewing machines and computerized embroidery machines. This is actually my thread of choice for almost all my sewing.

Silk thread (size A) is used for wool, silk, and most knits. It is very strong, and works well for machine sewing, hand sewing, tailoring, and basting. One of the best features of silk thread is that it does not leave holes from stitching after pressing. Some people like to use silk thread for applique and quilting.

Cotton-wrapped polyester is an all purpose sewing thread (size 50). It works well for most fabrics, but unless you are buying a quality brand like Coats & Clark, don’t use it. The store brands of cotton-wrapped polyester introduce too much fuzz into the machine’s inner workings.

Polyester thread (size 50) usually has a wax or silicone finish that helps it slip through fabric. Primarily used for woven synthetic fabrics, polyester sewing thread is also good for most stretch fabrics.

Nylon thread (size A) is used for machine basting, and can be used for most fabrics. It is also used in sewing nylon fabric and most lingerie fabrics. This is also a good bobbin thread.

Protect your sewing machine investment. Use only quality sewing thread manufactured by well-known companies, such as Coats & Clark or Sulky.

Photo Credit: kamuelaboy


Sewing Skirts: Tiered Prairie Skirt Tutorial

Sewing Skirts

prairie skirtSewing skirts, especially prairie skirts with three or more levels of gathers is one of my favorite sewing projects. The Bernina #16 foot makes these skirts a breeze. If you don’t have a Bernina machine, gathering feet are made for Brother, Singer, Elna, and other sewing machines, too.

When I first learned to sew , I was taught to run a basting stitch along the edge of the fabric that needed to be gathered, then ease the fabric by gathering it on the basting thread.

This is not difficult, but for something like a prairie skirt, it takes hours. With the gathering foot, I can do this one of two ways.

  • To gather only one layer of fabric, I can stitch 1/4″ from the fabric edge. The amount of gather depends on the length of the stitch. If the gathering is not full enough, I can run it through the machine a second or third time, depending on the weight of the fabric.
  • Or, I can gather and stitch at the same time by running one layer of fabric, the one not to be gathered, through the center fold of the foot, and the one to be gathered underneath the foot.

The amount of gather depends on the length of the stitch. The video below will explain how to regulate the gathers. This foot is also great for creating shirring in a garment or throw pillow, as well as gathering tiers when sewing skirts.

Prairie Fashion Style Skirts

Prairie fashion style skirts are skirts with layers of deep ruffles, reminiscent of the homemade skirts worn by women in the 1800’s. Ralph Lauren brought them back into style in the late 1900’s. In Lauren’s rendition, the prairie skirt was usually worn over an eyelet lace petticoat that peeked from beneath the bottom edge of the skirt.

Prairie Skirt Tutorial

bernina 16To make a prairie skirt using the Bernina number 16 gathering foot, cut one rectangle the width of your hips plus twelve inches by 1/3 yard. Brother and Singer also have gathering feet for their sewing machines. Each subsequent row of fabric needs to be two or three times the width of the one preceding it, so you may have to piece some rows. Usually, I start with the measurement for the hips, then cut the fabric to make the second row two full widths of fabric (36″ to 45″) by 1/3 yard. The third row will be three full widths of fabric by 1/3 yard.

Sew the two fabric strips for the second row end to end (only on one side). Sew the three strips of fabric for the third row end to end, but do not connect into a circle. Iron the seams open. I know this is a pain, but it really is important. An alternative to ironing the seams open is to use a serger to finish the seam.

Using the gathering foot, sew along one long edge of each of the second and third rows. Using the regular presser foot (I use Bernina number 20), sew the gathered edge of the third row to the un-gathered edge of the second row. One row may be longer than the other when they are sewn together. This happens due to the amount of gathers in the gathering stage. More gathers reduces the width of the strip. Don’t worry about this. It will be corrected later.

uneven gatheringUsing the regular presser foot, sew the gathered edge of the second row to the bottom of the top row with right sides together. Don’t worry if the fabric strips are not even.

After all the gathering is completed, carefully arrange the sewn fabric and adjust the fabric so that the bottom of the gathered section is lined up with the exact top of the same section, then trim the excess off of each row. Sew the trimmed ends together. Now you should have a gathered tube of fabric.

At the top, turn the fabric under 1/4 inch and sew down. Turn it another 1 1/2 inch and sew to make a casing for the elastic. Do not sew shut: leave an opening to insert the elastic. Measure elastic to fit your waist plus 2″. Cut the elastic and thread it through the casing. Stitch the ends of the elastic together, and sew shut the opening.

Cut another piece of fabric 1/8 yard wide the width of the bottom layer of the skirt. Do not gather this layer. Be sure to trim this to be the same width as the bottom of the bottom tier. Sew it together into a loop. With right sides facing, sew this layer to the bottom layer of the skirt. Press all gathered seams up toward the top of the skirt.

Press the un-gathered seam at the bottom down toward the bottom of the skirt. Instead of sewing a skirt hem, on the last attached fabric strip, fold under the edge of the fabric 1/2″ and press. Pin this to the seam above the edge, capturing the bottom seam inside. This will help prevent ravels on this seam. This seam can be hand sewn or stitched on the machine. I prefer to machine stitch it, since it would take forever to hand stitch around the full width of the skirt.

sewing skirts detailTo prevent raveling, from the top side of the skirt, topstitch each gathered seam 1/4″ from the seam using a straight seam and taking care to catch the seam. If you prefer, you can use the embroidery stitches on your machine to embroider instead of using the straight seam, as was done in the image here.

Be aware that it takes at least twice as long to use an embroidery stitch as a straight stitch. Also, you will have to go slow enough not to deform your embroidery stitch.

I usually make this skirt in cotton. The only part I ever iron is the very bottom row. The weight of the skirt will pull the rest of the wrinkles out. Also, this is a good skirt to pleat broomstick style. Depending on the fabric used, this skirt can be dressed up or down.

Prairie Style Lace Petticoats

If you need prairie style lace petticoats, you can use the instructions above. You might want to decrease the width of the tiers, since it will be worn beneath another skirt. You can either make it with white cotton fabric embellished with eyelet lace, or you can purchase eyelet lace fabric, which should also be embellished, at least at the bottom, with a band of gathered eyelet lace.

Though not required, wearing a lace petticoat beneath a prairie skirt gives the prairie skirt more body, and helps it to hang better. And white lace peeking from beneath your skirt occasionally is a charming addition to your skirt or costume.

The video below will show you how to use the Bernina No. 16 gathering foot.

More Great Prairie Styles

For more great prairie fashions and styles, Modern Prairie Sewing: 20 Handmade Projects for You & Your Friends has 20 projects that not only look great, they help increase your sewing skill by introducing gussets, box pleats, and more!


Sewing skirts is particularly fun when you are sewing a long skirt style such as a tiered prairie skirt. Please let me know if you use these instructions to make your own skirt.