Cotton vs. Polyester Thread

Is cotton thread a thing of the past? Cotton is a wonderful, natural fiber that has been woven into clothing for over 5,000 years. But as the times and technology change, even so, does sewing thread.

There are four main thread characteristics to take into account when sewing:

  • Color: Pigment
  • Weight: Thread weights are ranked by a number system where higher numbers indicate a finer thread.
  • Fiber: Fibers can either be natural or synthetic.
  • Twist: The twist is the amount of spin of the thread fibers. A thread with a high amount of twist will be smoother and tougher.

Threads are either made of natural fibers, like cotton, wool, silk and linen, or they are made of synthetic fibers, like rayon, polyester and nylon.  We are going to discuss the two most common types of thread, polyester and cotton.

Polyester thread is a synthetic all-purpose thread. It is a good choice for most machine and hand sewing projects. Polyester thread works well with stretchy fabrics as it has much give to it. Because of the wax or silicone finish that often covers this thread, it slips through the fabric easily. Invisible polyester thread is also available and is an ideal choice for some projects.

Polyester is made to be stronger than most natural threads. It is important to avoid using polyester thread with natural fabric. Over time, the stronger polyester thread can break down the weaker cotton fiber of the fabric.

There are a number of other advantages to polyester thread:

  • Durable: Designed for heavy duty use
  • Strong: More tensile strength than rayon or cotton
  • Colorfast: Polyester fibers hold color pigment longer and through more washes
  • Retains shape: It has much give to it while still retaining its original shape
  • Variety of finishes: Matte finish, or medium to high-sheen finishes
  • Longer lasting: Not significantly affected by moisture, rot, mildew or most insects

As stated earlier, cotton thread has been used since the dawn of human existence. Even though it has been around a while, it does have its drawbacks. Cotton thread has low stretch and tends to break easily. However, it’s a good choice when sewing delicate fabrics and garments like lingerie.

Cotton has various finishes, each providing specific results:

  • Mercerized: This is a treatment that allows for better penetration of color into the thread which increases strength and gives a lustrous appearance.
  • Gassed: This is a technique where the thread is passed through an open flame, incinerating any stray fibers. The final result is a polished, silky finish.
  • Glazed: Glazed thread is treated with a wax coating that protects the thread and gives it a glossy coating. A downside is that the glaze does rub off so it is not recommended for machine use.
  • Cotton-wrapped poly: Most cotton-wrapped poly threads are party cotton and part polyester. It tends to resemble the characteristics of poly more than cotton.

Whether you choose cotton or polyester thread, it is important to keep in mind the basic thread characteristics so you can be sure your finished product looks great and will last.


Tips for Tailoring Prom Dresses

It’s prom season! Come April through June, you can always count on a few prom dresses coming through your shop doors. Help your clients look their best this season. Here are some areas where many seamstresses need help when tailoring prom dresses.

Altering beaded prom dresses.

Dealing with an intricately beaded dress can be very difficult and time-consuming. Start by removing the beads by cutting threads and securing the beads left on the dress at the seam edge. Then using a zipper foot, sew the new seam, be sure to get as close to the beads as possible so you don’t have as many beads to sew back on later. Here is a great article that will help when dealing with a boned bodice with plastic boning.

Adding padding to the bodice.

Ask the client if they are going to wear a bra with their dress. This will help you determine the level of support needed in the bodice. If the dress needs some extra padding, there are a few sew-in bra cup options to choose from. Take a look at our Bra Cup Guide to help you choose and install bra cups to the dress.

Beware of the “One Size Fits All” dress.

There are many scams surfacing on the internet that offer cheap, one-size-fits-all prom dresses from places like China. As any good tailor should know, there is no such thing! The perfect fitting dress takes time and effort to shape and style correctly. Knowing this will help you inform your clients and keep high-quality garments in your stockroom.

Knowing prom “style.”

It’s important to keep up on the current trends and styles of prom dresses. Talk to your client to get a good understanding of what they want, keeping in mind what is possible for you to achieve within their budget and time-frame.

Start with a solid foundation. Having a stable base for your client to stand on can make all the difference on both the dress, and your knees. Long prom dresses can be easily altered with the help of a round fitting platform.

There’s no doubt, if you own an alteration business or sew for a friend, you will come across a prom dress this time of year. So as long as you know what your client wants and have the right supplies, you will make a very happy prom-goer.

Hot for Haute Couture

For most of the world, haute couture is mysterious clothing seen on celebrities, royalty, and the very wealthy. Because of the secrecy surrounding this exclusive garment production, few people know why these clothes are so expensive.

What is Haute Couture?

Haute couture is an exclusive garment design based on contemporary inspirations by a garment designer whose specialty is creating spectacular garments made from the world’s finest textiles, which are woven exclusively for privileged clients.

What truly defines a couture garment the most is its carefully developed proportions, which redefine the physical shape. The garments are typically sewn with highly skilled hand-sewing techniques that fit the client’s body to perfection. It is not uncommon for an haute couture gown to take upwards of 800 hours to produce.

It has been reported that some women spend between $100,000 to $350,000 annually on haute couture. Despite this extravagant spending, most fashion houses don’t make a profit off their haute couture today, but use it as a platform to market other products like perfume and sunglasses for the everyday consumer.

In the Beginning

In the 1850’s, about the time the first sewing machines were invented, haute couture made its debut. An Englishman named Charles Worth began a small business in Paris creating exclusive gowns for women. His wife would model the gowns as he flaunted her around the fashion hot spots in Paris. His clothing caught the eye of many elite socialites. One of them being Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. She became Mr. Worth’s royal patron, providing the necessary income that would send him into the front of Paris fashion. This marketing ploy showcased a collection of the newest textile styles and helped sell the extraordinary sewing and design skills that France produced. Worth created the concept known as “haute couture.”

The term haute couture loosely translates as “high-class cutting.” It’s the term for the individually styled sewn garment that’s made from exclusively woven textiles; trimmed with the most expensive trimmings, buttons and laces; and created for a very wealthy client. These first clients were members of the upper levels of French high society and European royalty. They also included wives and daughters of the modern middle classes, the wealthy industrial tycoons, and in America, the families who established huge wealth in the foundation of the industrial movement.

Dressing wealthy women provided them with gave them the social interaction to impress and gain necessary attention. Women were dressed by the glamorous French fashion houses and were at every social occasion. Often times the garments were only worn once for a greater impact.

Christian Dior once said, “First comes the fabric, then the couture.” With each client, the making of a basic body pattern that captures every detail of the client’s figure, is made and fitted to perfection. This pattern is first fit on the client then onto a dressmaker’s mannequin. From this pattern endless garment designs are formed. The lengthy fittings required for this process are often so tiresome that many women simply refuse and instead, they purchase their garments Prét a Portér, or Ready-to-Wear.

150 years after Charles Worth created haute couture, the techniques are now slowly winding down. Some say haute couture may even pass into history. The elite who can still afford these garments has declined over the decades. A larger factor is that many of the artisans who first created couture fabrics are retiring or dying. Younger generations are simply not interested in carrying on this skillset.


Keeping an Eye on Interfacings

Interfacing is a common tool used in many sewing projects. It can be your best friend when you need a bit of stiffness. There are many types of interfacings out there, and so many ways to use them. 

What is interfacing?

Interfacing is used to add stiffness to fabric used in apparel, crafts, embroidery, and quilting. Most interfacing you’ll find today is fusible, meaning it has heat-activated glue when applied to fabric with an iron. There is also non-fusible interfacing (aka sew-in interfacing) which is sewn in just around the edges. Non-fusible is best used on fabrics that do not tolerate heat or are too loosely woven to be glued. Because sew-in interfacing is attached as a separate layer only along the edges, it can “float” within each piece. Sew-in does not require seam allowances, which can reduce bulk within the garment. Fusible interfacing has been known to change a fabric’s properties when glued down over the entire fabric surface.

How to choose the correct interfacing?

The way that interfacing is constructed will determine how it will behave. Most interfacings are non-woven. This means they do not have a grain and are made from fibers bound together rather than woven, like the Intra-Face Medium Weight interfacing. While a woven interfacing, like the Armo Weft, will behave more like fabric and therefore be more appropriate in projects where retaining the natural flow of the fabric is desired.

The next factor in choosing interfacing is the weight. Interfacing typically comes in three weights: light, medium and heavyweight. A good rule of thumb is to keep the weight of the interfacing equal to or lighter than the main fabric.

See our selection of interfacings here.

Why Sew with Beeswax?

Beeswax helps to reduce static and tangling, and strengthens your thread. Beeswax can also be used to improve the glide of an iron and even ease sbeeswaxtiff drawers in your old sewing cabinets! Waxing ensures durability of a finished garment and makes hand-sewing much easier.

You should always wax your thread before performing any of the following tasks:
  • Hand-working buttonholes
  • Sewing on buttons
  • Padstitching
  • Setting-in a sleeve by hand
  • Hemming
  • Inserting a zipper
  • Hand-stitched French Seams on fine fabrics
  • Sewing-on patch pockets
  • Sewing fur
  • Quilting
  • Beading

Generally, any task that requires a little extra strength from your thread will benefit from using beeswax. Cotton and silk thread should always be waxed before hand sewing with it. Waxing is also important to keep polyester thread from tangling and achieve some needed stiffness.

Tips for Waxing Thread:

When hand sewing, your thread should generally be about 36 inches long, or from your shoulder to wrist. Working with anything longer could lead to knotting. If you have to use a longer piece of thread, avoid tangling by waxing the thread and working slowly.

Once cut, draw each thread two or three times through the wax, then press it with an iron between a folded piece of paper or a pressing cloth to blend the wax and the thread. This also removes excess wax. Ironing through another piece of material is recommended if you don’t like the idea of coating your iron and ironing board with wax. Some professionals recommend simply pulling the thread between your thumb and the index finger to set the wax, or to wipe it with a soft cotton cloth.

Be careful, when sewing with white fabrics: beeswax may discolor the fabric or thread, so be sure to do a test run first!



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