Monofilament thread is made from two materials -- nylon and polyester. Both nylon and polyester monofilament thread are readily available to quilters and have a similar appearance. The threads may be used interchangeably in machine quilting or for "mock hand appliqué" stitched on the machine. Invisible thread is helpful for beginning machine quilters since it makes stitches less noticeable.
Nylon monofilament thread
Be sure to buy size .004 monofilament thread. Nylon monofilament thread is available in your sewing machine dealer, quilt shop or fabric store -- under different brand names. Some stores stock all brands available and some stores only stock the brand the owner or buyer prefers. Ask store personnel for recommendations.
The most recognized brands for nylon monofilament are Sew Art International invisible nylon, YLI Wonder Thread, and Collins by Prim-Dritz. Nylon monofilament thread is packaged on cardboard tubes or cross wrapped small white cones. If possible, check the thread before you buy. Try to break the thread. It should break very easily and not be coarse or stiff.
Nylon thread that comes in large cones is usually used for the serger and not recommended for machine quilting. Serger thread and is thicker and not as soft and would not have the resiliency needed to be used in a quilt. The small amount of money saved would not be worth the unsatisfactory results.
Nylon thread becomes brittle after it is stored on the cone for long periods so it is better to buy fresh thread in smaller amounts.
Polyester monofilament thread
Sulky makes a polyester .004 monofilament thread and that comes on a regular spool. It is recommended by many professional quilters and quilt book authors over the nylon because of its softness and durability. Some quilters prefer to use polyester monofilament thread because they are using polyester batting and wish the thread to be a similar fiber content.
Polyester monofilament is slightly more expensive than nylon but is known to be softer and less visible when stitched into the quilt.
Both nylon and polyester monofilament threads come in clear or smoke. The clear would be best for lighter colors of fabric and use the smoke color on darker fabrics. One of the main reasons to use invisible threads is because they are invisible.
Be sure to purchase a well know brand name for monofilament thread. This is one area where you don't want to cut corners. Inexpensive monofilament thread is stiff and breaks easily -- and will not wear well in your quilt over time. Remember, the better quality monofilament thread will be soft and pliable.
Sewing with monofilament thread
Monofilament thread is usually used in the top thread with regular cotton thread used in the bobbin. Because the thread is very fine and is sometimes difficult to thread your machine. One way to thread the machine quickly is to simply tie the monofilament to the end of the existing thread and pull it through the machine loops -- sometimes you can pull it all the way through the needle as it is so fine even the knots will go through the needle eye.
When using monofilament thread on the top of the machine use a 50-weight 3 ply or 60-weight 2 ply 100% cotton thread in the bobbin. Invisible thread can be used in the bobbin with success, although Sue Nickels, award winning machine quilter, prefers the appearance of cotton thread on the back of her quilt and the combination of monofilament on the top and cotton in the bobbin provides a weight and appearance similar to hand quilting. Harriet Hargrave, author of many machine quilting instruction books, says that nylon invisible thread is the only thread other than cotton that she recommends to use on quilts.
Remember that invisible thread is heat sensitive so if you will need to press your stitching be sure to use a pressing cloth between the stitching and the iron.
Because the nylon and polyester monofilament threads are not natural fibers and have not been used in quilts until recent years we do not know how they will last over the long term. Some quilters prefer to use all cotton threads on their heirloom quality quilts and use monofilament on quilts that are more likely to be used up.
Although several professional quilters have used monofilament threads and the threads are still soft after quilts being used and laundered we have only used these threads in quilting for about 20 years. So make your own choice concerning the type of thread that you wish to use in your quilts. You might want to use the monofilament threads for baby quilts, placemats, tote bags and things that will be used up and not left for future antique dealers to sell at high prices.
Remember it is your quilt and make it to please you.
Piecing Quilts On A Serger
I pieced my first quilt top on a serger or overlock sewing machine. It was a Trip Around the World that was pieced in strips and cut and those strips stitched together. My second quilt top, a Log Cabin, was also pieced on a serger. All other quilts I have made in the twenty-two years since then were pieced on a standard lockstitch home sewing machine. I prefer the standard lockstitch to the excess thread needed to make the stitch on the overlock.
Sergers or overlocks usually come with an option of making stitches with either three, four or five threads. The three thread stitch is designed to use on knits so quilts would need to be stitched with either the four thread or five thread seams. Obviously the more threads involved in making the seam the bulkier the seam allowance.
When sergers first were available to home sewers, they would stitch approximately twice as fast as a standard home sewing machine. A serger stitched at 1500 stitches per minute in comparison to a lockstitch machine that would stitch 800 stitches per minute. Many strip piecers liked the faster speed of sergers.
The past several years many of our standard lockstitch machines designed for "short-arm" quilting with the larger 10" throat will stitch 1500 - 1600 stitches per minute. The larger throat machines can also be used on a standard table and used for piecing making for faster stitching.
Don't let the faster stitching of the sergers or larger machines fool you into thinking you will be able to sew twice as fast -- remember that when piecing or chain piecing small pieces there is almost not enough time to get to top speed before having to slow down to add another pair of patches. The faster machine speed is simply too fast to be advantageous to use for basic piecing.
Many sergers come with a differential feed. What is differential feed ratio - it is the ratio of differential feeding power that is adjustable with the main feeding. To translate -- with differential feed you can set the machine to prevent thin materials from puckering, and you can set the machine to prevent elastic or very stretchy knits from stretching or puckering.
Do not confuse the differential feed on a serger with a walking or even feed foot on a standard sewing machine. The walking foot or even feed foot on a standard sewing machine helps stitch the three layers of the quilt sandwich without a shifting of layers. The differential feed on a serger has an entirely different function. Differential feed is only needed for knit and stretchy fabrics to keep them from puckering.
If you are going to piece quilts with tightly woven 100% cotton fabric you would not use the differential feed on the serger. A serger that didn't have differential feed would be adequate for all quilt piecing.
If your piecing style is making large strip sets you might save some time using a serger or a faster machine. But remember there will be more bulk in the seam area because of the extra thread.