Choosing Thread Types for Machine Embroidery

This is a picture of a thread cabinet with lots of different thread types for sewing and machine embroidery.

Many of us have an assortment of thread types on hand. So which kind should you use? These guidelines will help!

Often, designers will recommend the type of thread that should be used on their projects. The choice typically depends upon how the item will be used.


Rayon started out as one of the most abundantly available machine embroidery threads. It is soft, is available in hundreds of colors, and is suitable for all forms of embroidery. It holds up well to high-speed stitching without breaking or fraying and performs well consistently.

Although rayon thread is relatively heat resistant, it has less elasticity than polyester and is not as colorfast, strong, or durable. (Note: Because of it's soft hand, Bonnie loves it for free-standing lace on garments.) 


Polyester embroidery thread is the new industry standard. It shines like rayon but won't shrink, fade or bleed, making it perfect for clothing. It is extremely strong and can have a matte finish like cotton or high sheen more like rayon or silk.

Poly is lint-free which makes it a favorite choice for quilting and even as bobbin thread.


Nylon is occasionally used in the form of a monofilament clear thread used for invisible applique and quilting. You will also see it used in stretchy threads for serging.

Monofilament is very strong with a low melting temperature, so it is not heat resistant or colorfast, and can become brittle through laundering and exposure.

Polyester Invisible

Sulky has a polyester invisible thread that's soft, heat resistant, and for those reasons Bonnie prefers it over nylon monofilament. It's great for machine "hand-look" quilting, stitching in the ditch, hemming, and invisible applique. It's available in a smoke color for darker fabrics and clear for lighter fabrics.

Because it's made with polyester, this invisible thread won't melt at a cotton setting, is very strong, stays soft and Bonnie's "go to" for invisible thread.


Cotton embroidery thread is often overlooked, even though it performs beautifully in embroidery machines and has a lovely, soft sheen. It is not as strong as polyester and, depending upon the manufacturer, can create a lot of lint.

Cotton is soft and durable, requires little care and is available in various thread weights up to very fine 100.


Depending upon who you talk to, metallic thread can have a bad reputation. Truth is, not all metallic threads are created equal. Bonnie has particularly good results with King Star brand metallic thread. It's different than other metallic thread because it has a polyester core (very strong) wrapped in rice paper.

Metallics can be used in machine embroidery and quilting. Although it is not typically recommended for use in the bobbin, KingStar has been reported to be great for stitching freestanding lace.


Silk threads absorb dye more brilliantly than any other fiber, and is top of the line when it comes to specialty threads. It sews smoothly without breaking, and offers the embroiderer the strength of polyester and the stability of cotton. It also has a distinct sheen unmatched by any other thread.

What is your favorite embroidery thread?


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  • Tina Tremblay - February 16, 2021

    I love this. I use Sulky Rayon all the time and am just now buying the polyester hopefully to embroider on shirts and towels.

  • Bonnie Welsh - October 14, 2020

    Marie—You’re welcome! =)

  • Marie Davis - October 14, 2020

    Thanks Bonnie. I have printed this so I can always refer back to it.

  • Bonnie Welsh - October 13, 2020

    Kathleen—You’re most welcome. So glad you’ve found it helpful. =)

  • Kathleen Pugh - October 12, 2020

    Thanks for the information. I have printed this so I always have it handy

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