This is a second post in a three part series on Thread Choices for Quilters.
Having been a sewer for more than 50 years and a long arm quilter for almost 15, thread color choice is very important when quilting your quilt. While one can't go wrong using a white, cream or off white thread, the design and style of the quilt and quilting pattern will help to dictate other thread color choices. Personally, I like to use colored threads when I quilt.
If a quilt is simple, pieced and the pattern choice is an all over pantograph, the best way to choose thread color is to lay or "puddle the thread across the top of the quilt to see how each thread choice interacts with the fabrics. As you can see in the photo below, some threads all but disappear on the quilt while others really stand out and the variegated thread does both. What thread you select has alot to do with the finished look of your quilt. If you want the quilting to really show, the yellow or pink thread would be a good choice. If you wish the quilting design to be a secondary player to the actual quilt top itself, then one of the turquoise colors might be best on this quilt. While the bright orange thread matches the outermost border on this quilt, it might be just a bit much as an allover. I would however consider using it in just the borders.
If the colors of the fabrics in the quilt are highly varied, I will typically work with the quilter consider a bright solid found the quilt top. If the fabrics are from a particular line or collection, I study the fabrics to determine if there is a common color in the majority of the fabrics. If this is the case, I will pull thread cones from that color family to audition as possible thread choices.
In other cases, if the quilt is more contemporary, we will look at using a variegated threadl Variegated threads can be tricky as color variation can "pop" in some places and literally disappear in others. I have found that quilts made with batik fabrics work especially well with variegated threads. The yellow batik quilt below worked well with a variegated thread choice that included most of the colors in the quilt top. The thread color chosen in the pink 'zipper' quilt did not work as well and I probably should have selected a different pattern and thread color and let the beautiful fabrics show through without the distraction of the quilting on that one.
When the quilt is more modern in its design with negative space to consider and full, a solid color thread is probably your best choice. Modern quilts tend to have a minimalistic feel to them, so the thread choice should probably be close to the color of the main background or negative space.
In the green modern quilt above, I wanted to showcase and practice some freehand quilting designs. The choice of the cream colored thread was perfect. The quilting shows, but doesn't ovewhelm the modern design of the quilt.
If the quilt is more traditional, your cream, taupe, white or black thread may be good choices. Particularly culprits when the quilt is a reproduction and the quilting pattern will be more functional rather than decorative, you will want to choose a thread color that would have been available at the time the original quilt was made.
You also should consider the backing of the quilt when choosing a thread color. When the machine thread tension is perfect, it's possible to use thread colors that are very different on the top and bottom and of the quilt. Be sure to ask how the quilt will be used. If it's a wall hanging and the back will not easily be seen, top and bottom threads should probably match or be very close in color. If the quilt is a bed quilt, will be washed and used regularly, then the thread colors should match the top and bottom respectively.
In the case of applique or album quilts, the thread choices should match the background of the album/Applique blocks and be used to add texture but not to distract the eye from the beautiful applique. I have found that quilting upon the applique motifs themselves require careful color consideration. Leaves may look better with a contrasting leaf vein added, see example below. The dark green leaves needed some texture added to them, so I selected a light green thread that was found elsewhere in the quilt to make those veins and add interest. Flower petals may look best if the thread color mimics the flower which is being quilted and just to add dimension and texture. Tread carefully to avoid the need to pick out stitching.
My best rule of thumb is to use threads that will coordinate well with the quilt you are quilting. I try to avoid introducing new colors that are not found in the quilt itself. Don't be afraid to try different threads and always use the best quality thread you can afford.
My next post will address the third installment of this discussion on thread choices, thread weight and quilt use.
Stay tuned for more thready details.
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