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What is Cotton Thread?

Cotton thread is a natural, versatile fiber spun into a strong, lightweight yarn, ideal for a myriad of sewing projects. Its breathability and softness make it a favorite for quilting and clothing. With a rainbow of colors available, it promises to bring your creative visions to life. Wondering how it can enhance your next project? Let's explore its unique qualities together.
Anna B. Smith
Anna B. Smith

Cotton thread is a type of filament made from spun cotton. It is generally durable, and does not stretch or break easily. This type of thread is used in a variety of crafting projects and clothing construction.

Cotton is a kind of fiber that grows on cotton plants. It is recognizable by its fluffy, white appearance, and clusters around the seeds of the plant during harvest. It may be spun into threads or fabrics of varying weights.

Cotton field ready to be harvested.
Cotton field ready to be harvested.

This thread's resistance to shrinkage during washing makes it a common choice for use in quilting. It does not pull on the fabrics used to piece quilts together, and is strong enough to withstand years of washing and use. Many high-quality quilting fabrics are also made from 100% cotton. It is generally recommended by quilting professionals that the same material be used throughout a project, for both piecing and stitching.

Cotton bolls on a branch.
Cotton bolls on a branch.

Cotton thread should not be used in projects that utilize materials with stretch, like spandex or knitted fabric. Since cotton does not stretch or shrink, it often pulls against these types of fabrics, causing threads to bunch together unevenly across the surface of the fabric. Eventually tears may begin to appear along the stitch lines.

The durability and strength of cotton thread makes it a common choice for hand-crafting. These types of crafts may include hand-quilting, embroidery, and cross-stitch. Cotton may be found in a variety of densities, which indicate how thick or thin the strand of thread is. Each hand-craft typically requires thread with a specific thickness. For example, the thick and waxy type of cotton thread used in hand-quilting is generally not used in cross-stitch projects.

Cotton thread.
Cotton thread.

Cotton thread is also an excellent choice for use in sewing machines because it does not generate a large amount of lint. Lint is normally created when thread is run through the upper needle and lower bobbin of a sewing machine. As the metal pieces work back and forth together to create stitches within fabric, fine particles of dust can become loosened from the thread. As this dust accumulates in the machine, it forms into balls of lint.

A cotton T-shirt.
A cotton T-shirt.

Sewing machines should generally be taken to a local dealer for professional cleaning to remove all lint and to oil the working parts. A machine regularly threaded with cotton thread tends to last longer and require fewer cleanings than machines that use silk and nylon threads. These other types of threads break easily against the tension within a sewing machine, and can cause pieces of thread to become lodged in its inner workings.

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Discussion Comments


My bath robe is made with high quality cotton thread and I love it. It's very soft, thick and absorbent. It also dries very quickly. In some countries, cotton thread is insignificant compared to threads like silk. But for me, fabrics made with cotton thread are not only useful and healthy, but also great quality and luxurious.

I realize all cotton threads are not equally nice. I had a cotton thread shirt once that literally ripped after a few uses. It was obviously made with old, poor quality cotton thread.


@turquoise-- I'm not an expert on this topic but I think cotton thread can shrink during washing. But it also depends on the type of cotton thread. For example, mercerized cotton thread doesn't shrink as much as regular cotton thread. Mercerized cotton is treated with sodium hydroxide and processed in different ways to make it swell. So it's stronger and tends to remain the same after washing and drying.

When you're buying cotton thread, ask the manufacturer about what type it is if it isn't specified already. And also ask about shrinkage. If you can't find this information, you can test a small amount of fabric by washing and drying and checking for shrinkage.

If you're buying clothes made with cotton thread, the label should mention whether it will shrink with washing, as well as how to wash it for the best results.


Cotton thread doesn't shrink? But I have a 100% cotton t-shirt that comes out a bit smaller every time I wash it and dry it!

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    • Cotton field ready to be harvested.
      Cotton field ready to be harvested.
    • Cotton bolls on a branch.
      Cotton bolls on a branch.
    • Cotton thread.
      By: Carlson
      Cotton thread.
    • A cotton T-shirt.
      By: gemenacom
      A cotton T-shirt.