January 22, 2012

Yay! I am NOT the only quilter in the world who does not use the Bernina knee lift! Thank you for letting me know that… I am not alone. If and when I need a new machine, a hover mode feature will definitely be on my wish list.

Awhile back, Jan Louise wrote,

I watched a quilting program in which the guest said she always uses silk threads to do her appliqué. I use DMC threads because I can always find a matching color. What do other stitchers use, what do you recommend, and why?

Hi Jan Louise! There’s a long answer and a short answer, Being the over-achiever that I am, I’ll start with the long answer :).

I’m also a DMC user. We’re talking about DMC 50-weight cotton machine-embroidery thread. I got started with it because it’s available at my LQS and like you say, comes in lots of beautiful colors. I have a whole library of it, and I use it for both hand and machine appliqué. I’ve stayed with it because 1) I like it, and 2) I don’t want to start a whole new collection.


The entire line is available online at Sharla Hicks’ Soft Expressions.

Everything else I know about thread comes under the category of hearsay. Being an avid quilter and appliquér for about 20 years now, I’ve kept my eyes and ears open. I’m happy to pass along what I’ve learned, with the caveat that what I say from here on is not through direct experience.


I tried out Superior’s MasterPiece Thread in an earlier post. MasterPiece is a fine cotton thread favored by the Piece o’ Cake gals and Alex Anderson.

Mettler’s Silk Finish is widely available at quilting and sewing stores and can be used for appliqué. It’s not silk, it’s cotton, but has a smooth finish, which is why they liken it to silk. It’s also a 50-weight thread, but it’s 3-ply, which effectively makes it a little thicker. You’ll notice I have a few spools of it on the bottom row of my thread rack, and there are a few more in the drawer. I use it sometimes for machine appliqué when I want a little bit heavier edge finish.

Mettler also makes a cotton 60-weight 2-ply that my pal Pam uses. It’s also the thread of choice for Karen Kay Buckley, who offers collections of it on her website.

Pat Sloan likes Aurifil 50-weight thread. You’ll see her on the web page. Pat does machine appliqué, but according to the website this thread is thin and a good choice for hand appliqué as well.


Lots of appliquérs swear by silk thread. It’s extremely fine, like 100 weight, and sinks beautifully into the fabric edge, effectively disappearing. I’ve heard it said that you don’t need as many colors, because it blends very well and you can get away with just a few basics. YLI and Superior are two brands that I know of.

I’ve also heard that silk thread is so fine and slippery that you tend to lose it out of the needle, and there’s some sort of way of tying a knot on the end to keep it from doing so.

There’s also some urban legend in the appliqué world that silk is stronger than cotton, and over the years will outlast the cotton and chew through it. Bob Purcell addresses this issue in the Silk Thread FAQs on the Superior Threads website.


Libby Lehman’s The Bottom Line is the thread of choice for many appliquérs. It’s very fine and comes in lots of colors. Again with the urban legend about matching the fiber content of the thread to the fiber content of the fabric. Check out Bob’s Poly Thread FAQ.


There are many more thread companies and probably types of thread suitable for hand appliqué that I have no knowledge of. If you do, please chime in! If you use Robison-Anton, Presencia, Madera, or another kind, please let us know!

Now for the Short Answer, a quote from my book Inspired by Tradition:

I use 50-weight 2-ply cotton machine-embroidery thread. Others use 50-weight 3-ply or 60-weight thread, and still others swear by very fine silk thread. All of these are good choices for hand appliqué. Use what you can find conveniently.

That’s what it comes down to for me.

Jan Louise, I hope this has helped. Thanks for reading the blog!!

I’m off to Phoenix tomorrow. See you in a week!

By Kay Mackenzie

P.S. Since I showed you my thread library, I thought I’d show you a small portion of my fabric stash, filmed by the DH.


8 Responses to “Thread for hand appliqué”

  1. Jen on January 22nd, 2012 11:49 am

    Thanks for all the Info about the thread! Love the video :)

  2. Jan Louise on January 23rd, 2012 6:48 am

    Thanks for your “Threads” response to my questions…nice to know I’ve gotten the threads right! Your fabric stash is like mine – in plastic bins! I think it’s easier to find what I need if I can see it easily. There’s an added bonus: they fit under beds LOL!

  3. Kristen on January 23rd, 2012 6:52 am

    Thanks for the great post about threads, and especially the link to someone who sells the whole DMC thread line. It’s my favorite for appliqué but I haven’t been able to find it for sale anywhere, online or in person. I recently bought a spool of Superior’s silk thread because I couldn’t find the DMC and nothing else I liked for hand appliqué at Jo-Ann’s.

    Also, I don’t use the knee lift on my Bernina (I must have missed your post about that). Primarily because I have a 1930 Singer which is powered by a knee lever rather than a foot pedal, and if I were to put the knee lift onto my Bernina I would be repeatedly lifting the presser foot when I intended to push the foot pedal!

  4. TOBY on January 23rd, 2012 6:56 am

    We’ve been wondering about the lovely Max. Glad to see he knows where he fits into the fabric stash!

    Sandra Leichner recommends Aurifil Mako 50 for hand applique. I had a job to track it down in small sizes with lots of colours over here in the U.K. Found a supplier called “lacewings” – very helpful.


    I am gradually replacing all my colours with it.

  5. TOBY on January 23rd, 2012 7:00 am

    N.B. Erin has been posting info about aurifil over on her blog “One Piece At Time”

  6. Debbie St.Germain on January 23rd, 2012 7:29 pm

    My machine has a setting for speed that I have yet to try. I tend to go too fast, too slow, so that might be something I need to use. I use thread for machine quilting, but for hand quilting and embroidery, I use double strands of floss, since I like the prim look.

    Have a wonderful time in Phoenix.


  7. marcella Peek on January 26th, 2012 11:35 am

    I’m a fan of cotton too. I have a big stash of mettle 60 wt which I like because it is fine and smooth and a few spools of auriful 50 wt because they have different colors and a very cute bobbin ring of colors of the superior masterpiece. I like them all.

    The saddest show and tell ever at my quilt guild was the lady that had hand quilted a quilt in silk thread. Then she sprayed it with a stain remover to get rid of the marks and put it in the wash. She brought a lovely bound quilt to show with no quilting. The enzymes in the cleaner (the gets out blood and other protein stains kind) dissolved the silk thread. So, while I don’t worry about thread “cutting” the fabric as the stories go, I do worry that when we mix materials that need different care we should probably note it on the label or something so as the quilt gets passed on people know any special care instructions.

  8. Jennifer in CA on February 2nd, 2012 10:03 am

    I love Superior Bottom Line Thread for hand applique. Sinks in and is very fine, lots of colors and even comes pre-wound onto bobbins and sold in a wonderful assortment in a bobbin holder. Easy to carry with when I take my projects to go.