Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tutorial ~ Helpful Hints When Working With Silk Thread

Silk thread is wonderful to use when sewing things like needle-turn applique or English paper piecing (EPP) hexagons and pentagons together.   This strong thread is very thin and because of that, the stitches "sink" into the fabric virtually disappearing.  While loving the attributes of silk thread, it does have its down side.  Because it's silk, and slippery, it often slips out of the eye of the needle causing you to re-thread and re-thread the needle.  Frustrating, to say the least!!

Like everything in quilting, it's always the hints and tips that can make such a big difference in the pleasure we get and the ultimate outcome of our work.  Here are my tips for ease and success when working with one of my favorite thread!

These are my preferred tools for working with silk thread.  They are part of a very helpful technique I'm about to share with you.  I love the taupe color silk thread paired with the John James Golden-eye applique needles (size 10).  I use Thread Heaven conditioner and a Clover needle threader.

Look for these items at your local quilt shop!  If you can't find them there, they are available on my website.

I use the taupe color silk thread for 99% of all of the sewing I do using silk.  It blends very well with every color fabric.  (You'll see pictures of how it looks in patchwork at the bottom of this blog post.)  The only time I don't use the taupe thread is when I'm working with all/only black fabrics, and then I use black silk thread.

*Cut a length of silk thread no longer than 18".   Any longer and you'll just struggle with it.

*Run the entire length of thread over the Thread Heaven conditioner.  Thread Heaven gives the thread some body, removes static cling and helps to prevent it from knotting and twisting.

For needle-turn applique, and EPP, I prefer using the John James Golden-eye applique needle in size 10.  It's a perfect partner with the silk thread.  The "golden" part of the eye helps you to see the very small eye.  This narrow needle and the needle threader help immensely with this technique making everything easy to hold.

With the 18" of silk thread, fold over a 3" tail.

Push the loop of the thread through the wire threader.  (The end of the tail should still be on the other side of the wire.)  The needle is still resting below the silk thread.

Carefully lift the needle off of the threader.  In doing so, the thread will go through the eye of the needle.  You no longer need the needle threader.  The needle should be positioned half way between the looped end of the thread and the end of the 3" tail. 

Bring the sharp point of the needle inside the center of the loop.  Hold onto the needle and pull the threads down toward the eye.

*This technique results with a slip knot at the eye of the needle!  Can you see how the thread is wrapped around the eye?  The knot will stop the silk thread from constantly slipping out of the eye so you don't have to re-thread the needle over and over again!

Use this technique only when using silk thread!  The thin John James #10 needles and the thin silk thread are narrow and small enough that the knot does not interfere at all with your sewing.  Any other needle and thread will be too thick, and the knot too large, that the needle won't penetrate the fabric.  Hence, this technique only works with silk thread.

Here's a look at a bit of my patchwork stitched with the taupe color silk thread.  The basket block above was needle-turned using it, and these hexagons were sewn together using it.   Barely detectable, the silk thread sinks into the fabric, and the taupe color blends well with all color fabrics!  

Remember, the silk thread, Thread Heaven, needle threader and John James needles are available at your local quilt shop.  Please ask for them on your next visit.  If they don't have them, you can get them from me on my website.

I truly hope you find the tips in this tutorial helpful.  If you've never worked with silk thread, I encourage you to give it a try.  It's really wonderful!  

You can always access this tutorial (and several others) by clicking on the "Tutorials" tab at the top of my blog page.  It will be there whenever you might need it!

I've also received a new shipment of these wonderful clip-on magnifying glasses, and as of this posting, and all other notions are back in stock.  


  1. great tips. I have never used silk thread, just bottom line for EPP. I would add one tip learned the hard way. Put the top back on your thread heaven every time. I didn't and mine went all solid and rubbery.

  2. This is great information! I'm off to my LQS to get the thread heaven and #10 needles to try it out today. Thanks

  3. I love thread heaven but have not tried silk thread. Thanks for the tips, will try .

  4. Thanks for this great tutorial. I will be giving it a try for sure.
    I can 't even see any of the joining stitches . Beautiful!

  5. This is SO useful, Pam! I've been using silk thread for applique for years, but never thought to do the threading trick to keep it from un-threading! Since I'm just starting a Lucy Boston quilt, this will be very helpful. Thanks very much!!! Annie

  6. I haven't ever used silk thread or Thread Heaven (is it a beeswax replacement?), but I do love those needles. What slick tips! Thanks for sharing them with us, Pam!

  7. WOW!! Thanks for this great info!!

  8. Thanks for the great tips, Pam. I'm about to start making some hexies, and these tips will help when I get ready to sew them together.

  9. I have never used silk thread, but whenever I have to hand sew - usually only sewing the binding on - I use BottomLine thread and I always use the slip-knot so my needle doesn't come unthreaded. Since BottomLine is a 60 wt. thread, it is also thin enough that the slip-knot doesn't interfere with the sewing. That is a great tip. I'd like to know if you have any tips on using silk thread on my longarm.

  10. Kath, if you haven't already thrown the Thread Heaven away, you can pry out that square and turn it over in the box. I get twice as much use of my TH when I do this.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing! I LOVE the results of using silk thread, but it is always slipping out of the eye. No more of that frustration thanks to your tip!

  12. Thanks to you, Pam, I've been using the thread, needle and threader but now I know how to keep the thread from slipping out all the time! Thanks for such a great tip!

  13. Interesting post. I use Auriful 50wt thread, but I do know some that use silk & love it.

  14. Thank you, Pam, for sharing all your secrets - I actually use almost the same notions, unfortunately finding it all out the hard way by trial and error (before I found your tutorial today!). There's one minor change I made in the last months: I'm still doing most of my appliqué with silk thread, but switched over to Sajou Fil à Gant for EPP and attaching my bindings (love it for this purpose!). It was used in the past for hand-sewing and repairing gloves. "It is a waxed cotton, n°120, both fine and solid", stitches sink in nicely, but it's not as slippery as silk, no static cling, much less knotting and twisting. (I am not paid by this brand, this is just my personal experience.)
    If you have a chance to give it a try I would love to hear your opinion.