Sewing Tools of Note 5 – and a quilting thread giveaway


The fifth in my series Sewing Tools of Note is written in praise of neutrals… When I first started out with sewing and quilting, I thought the trick was to try and match my thread to the fabric pretty exactly. And while it is, definitely, really good fun to use colourful matching and sometimes contrasting threads, I was stumped when it came what on earth to do with multi-coloured fabrics and when quilting patchwork with lots of different colours.

I can’t remember how I found out about using neutral coloured threads… maybe someone took me quietly aside and explained it in words of one syllable…! But now they’re the threads I turn to all the time. Dark cream, pale beige, pale grey, dark grey, khaki green…. hmm, maybe they are a little bit pedestrian, but you really can’t beat them for usefulness and versatility. Here’s a couple of my recent projects where I’ve used dark cream to handle a wide variety of colourful fabrics:

benefits of neutral threads for quilting

and pale grey to cope with the contrast of the pale background and the bright patchwork motifs:

using neutral threads for sewing

I am so pleased to tell you that today I have sets of beautiful neutral quilting threads from the fabulous Empress Mills (a brilliant place to stock up on all sorts of sewing necessities, especially waddings, interfacings, threads, and they have lovely fabrics too) to give away to 2 lucky winners!
Christine, who is clearly a thread guru at Empress Mills (she has worked with threads for 40 years!) tells me that she sometimes watches as people browse their stand at shows. They are fascinated and almost beguiled by the sheer range of types, consistencies, thickness and sheen of the threads available.
Thread Cabinets
People always ask first about the threads’ suitability for the type of stitching they have in mind – hand or machine work, quilting, overlocking, embroidery, tailoring etc., but the next question is always about shade.
Empress Mills offers over 100 shades in all sorts of different threads (many of them processed here in the UK, which has got to be good) but in front of each display cabinet at shows, they always make sure there are baskets full of 3 particular shades:Threads Empress
Unbleached – the ecru shade of natural cotton – Christine says they call it, ‘curtain lining colour’!
Grey – not dark, not light, somewhere rather moodily in the middle.
Sage – a very mellow green.
Christine tells me that they are the most popular purchases because they are wonderful blenders – they go across most designs and merge into the background on fabrics – such a useful trait!

 Giveaway prize and rules

I have two sets of three 1,000m reels of 50 weight quilting cotton (100% cotton) in Grey, Sage and Unbleached to give away.
To be in with a chance of winning one of these sets, just leave a comment on this blog post – you are free to just say ‘pick me’, but if you want to tell me your best sewing tip or tool, then please do!
Entries from the UK only please (sorry to overseas readers!).
I will do the draw on Sunday 17 July, in the evening, so any entry before then will be included in the draw.
To get extra chances of winning, please feel free to share this giveaway on any social media platform, and/or follow Empress Mills on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram or on Pinterest, but you need to leave extra comments to let me know you’ve done so!
good luck logoP.S. I’m also giving away a set on Facebook too, if you want another chance…

55 thoughts on “Sewing Tools of Note 5 – and a quilting thread giveaway

  1. Not sure if I am too late…

    I am a big fan of quilting threads for free motion embroidery – great texture. Trying to think of my favourite tip or tool, but all I can think of is fabric glue sticks; so helpful for appliqué.

  2. Rather than use the nearly useless brush that comes with your machine to clear fluff I purchase an inexpensive but very fluffy make-up brush. I clean the accumulated fluff from my machine needle and bobbin case every time I finish using my machines. This has saved me considerable money in repairs. I too use boring colours in my quilting but not dressmaking!

  3. My tip is measure twice, cut once and my surprise favourite is actually quilting gloves especially when working with those larger quilts – I though dismissed them until I tried. Huge fan of the philosophy theres not much you can’t do it you have “beige” and “grey” in a couple of colour depths.

  4. Wow, Ali! Another great giveaway!
    I have usually used coloured thread and would love to use these neutral shades.
    I think my namesake has to be my most used tool by far, and can be used for most, if not all types of projects.
    Like Maga says, it’s hard to find thread that doesn’t break under the strain of quilting and I’d love to find out how Empress Mill stands up to that strain.
    Please pick me!
    Flashinscissors xx (aka Barbara xx)

  5. Pick me, please! I’ve recently realised that khaki green goes with everything in my wardrobe, but I hadn’t thought to use it as a neutral in sewing. My favourite sewing tool is a walking foot – they may be expensive, but the payoff in terms of reduced frustration is immense!

  6. I have used creams and greys many times but never thought of the sage green I must try. My daughter bought me a pair of quilting gloves and I have found them really helpful.

  7. Empress Mills are my “go to” threads, although I usually choose bright colours! For the sake of my projects I need to win these neutrals. 🙂

  8. Thanks for a great post! I use neutrals too, it hides my stitching too if it’s ever less than perfect 😉

  9. Great advice plus it’s more economical to use a limited colour range and buy larger cones of these useful colour blends.

  10. I think thread stitches my soul together….. still a weakness for color.. but I do want to start relying on neutrals…

  11. Just had my first order from Empress Mills and already looking to place another order. My favourite tool is a little measuring gauge, so helpful to a novice sewer.

  12. I’ve shared on Facebook, Twitter Pinterest and Google+
    My favourite tool has to be my rotary cutter and mat, they are invaluable when cutting lots of fabric for sewing projects

  13. I’m relatively new to quilting and I’d been puzzling over the thread colour issue. This article has allayed my fears of being too ‘safe’. I’d also like to be considered for the threads, please as my stash is feeble 🙂

  14. Like you, I can’t remember who told me about using a neutral, beige thread and consequently have around 5 or 6 spools dotted around (I’m always misplacing them)! I hadn’t heard about the grey/khaki option. Thanks for sharing. My greatest tip is that when things aren’t going well on the sewing front, walk away. If I keep going, I end up making an awful mess, but if I leave it for a while it invariably works out.

  15. I also thought when I started that I needed all of the colours for my quilting threads. Now, several years on, I tend to use the basics (a soft mid-grey, a bone/cream, and a navy blue), about 90% of the time!! Had never thought about a sage green though, will be keeping that in mind in the future!

  16. I recently read somewhere that one only need 3 shades of gray quilting cotton to make wonderful quilts. These colour choices seem to be saying the same thing. Very interesting…..

  17. Love using neutrals – can’t remember where I got the tip from but it works- and with Liberty fabrics!

  18. I use creanM and grey but never thought of sage so thanks for the tip. I bought a stiletto a few years ago and wouldn’t be without it. So useful for making sure the seam is even all the way to the end.

  19. Pick me please! (I also tweeted a link to this blog post & @empressmills)

    Good timing with the giveaway too – I’m currently working on a project which will need some embroidery on it. I need something thicker than machine thread, but not stranded cotton. I usually use Mulberry Silks for things like that, but I’ll need more & machine-washable. Thanks for the tip!

  20. I’m new to quilting so haven’t the experience to offer tips but would love to win the threads. Can anyone advise me what colour thread to use on a multi coloured lap quilt front with lots of cream but then a red back? (The fabric was chosen by by Mum!) Thanks in advance.

      1. Hi Diane, thanks for commenting. I’ve tried this on practice fabric but every so often I get dots of red showing through on the cream which doesn’t look great. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to adjust tension! Am beginning to think that I may just have to suggest to my Mum a different backing fabric.

      2. Hi Anna-Marie

        Sounds like the tension but I am useless when my tension goes, I would love to help you further but can’t hopefully someone else will see our posts to offer some advice, I would also be interested in the solution so I don’t have to keep getting my machine man out! Wishing you all the best

    1. Hi again Anna-Marie

      Daft as it sounds I have been thinking about your tension all over the weekend! I have had a little look via google search and found a picture of what you are describing and the looping you describe is the upper tension is too tight.

      I use a singer 99k hand cranked machine which is over 100 years old but the tension dial on that appears to work the same way as all modern machines! I have learnt that;

      Lefty – loose and righty – tight

      So try turning your tension dial to the left in small increments and stitch a short line until you get the right tension.

      Do let me know how you get on x

  21. My favourite tools are my hand sewing needles; it’s my favourite thing to do, although not always profitable! Please pick me – these would be so useful for mt quilting. x

  22. My favourite tool id the prym glue stick – it’s yellow so you can see where it goes it’s not messy and secures fabric well. It will hold the fabric for some time then just seams to fade away. I was using mine last night to do the bias binding on you very hexie needle case and it ran out and I could not find my refills and was totally lost without it!

    Pick me please – thank you for the giveaway x

  23. Hi Ali. I’ve just bought a Bernina machine so looking forward to lots of perfect quilting ! Lots of practice first I think, so extra thread would be great. I love your blog, many thanks.

  24. My favourite sewing tool is actually my clapper – I never realised how much I needed one until I got it, but it does more than anything else to make my handmade clothes look a bit more professional… Oh, and Pick Me! …pretty please 😊

  25. As a newbie I don’t have any tips that others probably already know but I did find when I took the time to cut my fabric really accurately things like triangles and pinwheels fitted together so much better

    1. I would love to try the thread from Empress Mill. I have had some real disappointments lately with the quality of some of the cotton threads I have tried (lots of lint, breaking when under strain or after wash) so it would be great to try a new brand.

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