The Free Motion Quilting Project: Picking Thread Color

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Picking Thread Color

I'll be honest, I'm no expert on what color thread you should use on your quilt top.

In fact, because I like to contrast threads so much, I'm probably the last person you should ask for help with this.

As I say in Free Motion Quilting Basics for Beginners, thread color choice is an extremely personal thing, and the best thing you can do is take you time looking at the quilt and the many different thread colors you can choose from.

I'd still like to explain my method for picking out thread colors as I'm at this stage of working on My Cup Runneth Over.

1. Select Test Thread - This is the fun part! It's the perfect excuse to go shopping and buy any thread you think MIGHT work on your quilt. It's a good idea to select a wide range here because you never know what's going to work the best.

For example, the most obvious choice for this water goddess's hair color is a dark teal, but I decided to also try dark red, purple, and lavender just to make sure teal was the right choice.

2. Create many samples - I know of absolutely no quilt that uses 100% of the fabric it calls for. You always end up with scraps.

Instead of stuffing these scraps away, use them to test your thread. Make up small sandwiches with the batting and backing you're planning to use on your quilt. You don't need to put pins in these and actually baste them if your samples are no bigger than 6".

Not only is this a great way to test your thread, you also get a nice forewarning if there are any weird tension problems going on with your machine.

3. Test your Thread - If you have a motif you're stitching on your quilt, mark a section of it, then test your thread by stitching around it, then filling in the background area.

You can see the lines of the "hair" that will be trapuntoed in this quilt and the areas I've filled with various thread colors and filler designs.

Here is a dark Purple Thread with Stippling and a new "Hair Filler" design:

free motion quilting | Leah DayHere's a dark purple border, with teal Hair Filler:

free motion quilting | Leah DayHere's the same dark teal in both stippling and hair filler:

free motion quilting | Leah DayAnd here's the teal again stitched with simple lines:

free motion quilting | Leah DayIn truth, I really like the purple, hair filler the best, but I'm still on the fence. I'll just have to wait until the quilt is further along to make the final decision.

You never know, I might end up trying a new color of hot pink and going with it!

Here's a little test I did over the water section with another new design called "Swirling Water":

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I was testing out 5 different colors of blue thread over a fused mix of fabrics just to see what it was going to be like quilting over the water section.

Honestly I couldn't tell a difference from the fusible at all except with the metallic thread. It didn't want to stitch well for me and kept skipping stitches.

Mostly I think this was due to my laziness of not wanting to bother putting in a metallic needle just for a stitch test!

So that's it for today! I'm off to start the first batting layer to her hair and hopefully be starting the quilting process by Saturday.

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. The quilt is absolutely stunning! So do you fuse all the pieces together and just stitch over the pieces or do you stitch them all together? What kind of fusible do you use?

  2. NM I just had an opportunity to go back through your posts. Of course I had to order the book :-) I love the quilt, it is mind boggling gorgeous!


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at