sulky thread

Sulky of America is fortunate to have several longarm machine experts among its national educating staff. Sue Moats, who works on a Gammill machine, and Evelyn Byler, who works on an APQS machine, have compiled hints and tips to help you use Sulky specialty threads on your longarm machine.

Tips for Using Sulky Threads on Longarm (LA) Machines By Sue Moats (Sue uses a Gammill Machine)

Q. I've been afraid to use Sulky specialty threads on my longarm machine. What are the basics for doing this?

A. While all Sulky threads can be used on LA machines, some may need special handling. Some of the most important things are: Sew more slowly; use a soft, smooth thread in the bobbin; and use a needle with a larger eye, even when the thread seems very thin like the Sulky Original Metallics, Sulky Sliver Metallics, and Sulky Holoshimmer Metallics. It is not unusual to need to adjust the top tension on LA Quilting Machines when using decorative specialty threads.

Q. Are needles sizes the same as for domestic home sewing machines?

A. No, needle numbers for LA machines are usually given as 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, (smaller to larger eye).

Q. What about tension adjustments?

A. Adjusting tension can be more challenging on LA machines than domestic home sewing machines since there are no numbers or notches on LA machines. To simplify it, keep a log of how much you have turned the top tension either up or down (1/8, 1/4, 1/3, etc.) so you can find your way back to the setting you prefer when using what is your most common quilting thread.

Q. What about spool holders?

A. Sulky usually works best on the small spool holder (IMHO). Thread should come from the back of the spool, over the top, forward to the tension area. (Hold spool vertically to bring either Sliver or Holoshimmer off the back of the spool and then put it on the horizontal spool holder on your LA machine). I find that chilling the spool in the refrigerator sometimes helps too! Lengthen stitch size and sew slowly.

Q. Could you give me some specific recommendations for each type of Sulky Thread?

A. Sulky Rayon:

30 wt: Available in 102 Solid Colors and 54 Variegated and Multi-Colors. Works best in my LA machine. It also works well in the bobbin. Use a 3.5 needle and loosen the top tension slightly.

40 wt: Available in 333 Solid Colors and 55 Variegated and Multi-Colors. Use Sulky 40 wt. in the bobbin when you use Sulky 30 wt. Rayon, Metallic, Sliver or Holoshimmer on the top. You can also use Sulky 40 wt Rayon in the needle along with Sliver or Holoshimmer to help them work better.

Washing restrictions for Rayon: While Rayons are colorfast in hot and cold water, you should not use bleach, or detergents that contain whiteners or optical brighteners, etc. (Sulky Poly Deco thread is good for quilts that will need lots of washing, or washing in bleach.)

Sulky 40 wt. Poly Deco:
Available in 138 Solid Colors. Works extremely well on LA machines in both the needle and bobbin. If you are having trouble with metallics, etc. in the needle, try Poly Deco in the bobbin. Poly Deco is excellent in both the needle and bobbin because it is smooth and strong. Use needle size 3.5-4.0

Sulky Invisible:
Works well in either the needle or bobbin, or both. Sulky Invisible is a very fine .004 continuous poly monofilament thread. Many quilting teachers have recommended Sulky Invisible for years because of its excellent runability. You may need to lower either needle and/or bobbin tension. Wind bobbin very SLOWLY and NOT completely full. Use Needle size 3.5-4.0

Sulky Metallics:
I usually use a 4.0 needle with Sulky Metallics. Lower the top tension and sew slowly. I like to put metallics in the refrigerator for a while before using them. Lengthen the stitch. Sew for a shorter amount of time. Avoid quick motions and designs that cross over.

  • Original Metallics - While I have used this in the needle by itself, I usually combine it with Invisible, Rayon, Poly Deco, etc. to lower the possibility of breakage. It is possible to use Sulky Original Metallics in the bobbin.
  • Sliver Metallic - I usually run either Sulky Invisible, Holoshimmer, Rayon, or Poly Deco along with Sliver. Some LA Quilters use Sulky Sliver in the bobbin.
  • Holoshimmer Metallic - Works extremely well on LA machines. Run Sulky Holoshimmer by itself or in combination with any of the Sulky threads. Put a soft/smooth Sulky thread in the bobbin.

    Sulky Cottons: Both 30 wt. and the heavier 12 wt. are now available in 66 beautiful Solid Colors and 42 fabulous new Multi-colored Blendables that change colors every couple of inches.

  • 30 wt. - works well in either the needle or bobbin, or both together.
  • 12 wt. - also works well in either the needle or bobbin, but not well in both needle and bobbin at the same time. I usually have 30 wt. running in the bobbin with 12 wt. on top. The heavier 12 wt. is great for bobbin work (with 30 wt. in the needle).

    Use at least a 4.0 needle with 30 wt. and 12 wt. Sulky Cottons. If you experience any thread breakage in the needle when using 12 wt. on the top, try changing to a 4.5 or 5.0 needle.

    Lengthen the stitch, especially for the 12 wt., and use for smooth quilting designs with few points so that there is no issue with thread build-up at the points. Clean the bobbin area frequently when using the 30 wt. or 12 wt. cottons. Also, it may help to lessen your speed a little, if needed.

    The Sulky Blendables have 42 great short-run color combinations so they blend in or accent your quilts beautifully.

    General Comments:

    • Loosen your needle tension and check the bobbin tension as well. Both should be looser since these are heavier threads than you might normally use.
    • I put the spool on the small spool holder in the top middle of my machine. Mount the spool so that the thread comes from the back, over the top of the spool, toward the front of the machine. If you have the new threading mechanism, I suggest that you just come straight forward to the 3 hole guide and not go backwards into the new tensioner.
    • With some of the Sulky threads, I just make one pass across the quilt, then tie off and go back to the beginning for the next row or section of free-motion.
    • Avoid pantographs that have a lot of sharp points where the thread can build up. Try for smooth easy movement of the machine.
    • Try putting the thread in the fridge or freezer for a while. Any threads like to be cool and moist.
    • Don't quilt for too long a time, especially if you are having problems. Take a break and have your favorite beverage; put your feet up; let the machine, needle and, most importantly YOU, cool off before trying again.

    Sulky Stabilizers:

    • Sulky Tear-Easy can be used to make designs to stitch over instead of marking the quilt.

    • Sulky Totally Stable can be used the same way. These can be "attached" to the quilt with Sulky KK2000 Temporary Spray Adhesive or pins.

    • Sulky Solvy or Super Solvy are good for designs to see through to quilt.

    • Sulky Ultra Solvy is great for stitching lace, appliqués, constructing faux "designer" fabric for garments and scarves, etc.

    • Sulky Fabri-Solvy is the NEWEST Sulky Solvy. It has the firmness and feel of fabric but it washes away.

    • Sulky Soft 'n Sheer Cut Away - I have enjoyed using Soft ‘n Sheer as an inner layer in several of my quilted garments.

    • Sulky Sticky+ can be used to make templates of designs to stitch around by layering several pieces together.

    Sulky of America is grateful to Sue Moats for her friendship and compilation of "Tips for Sulky Threads on Longarm Machines". Sue is a nationally known professional LA Quilter, educator, and author.

    Additional Tips for Using Sulky Threads on Longarm (LA) Machines By Evelyn Byler (Evelyn uses a APQS Machine)

    Q. I already have one brand of thread that works. Why should I try something different?

    A. Trying new things keeps me growing and interested. The same old thing gets boring and I lose interest, and then quilting isn't fun anymore for me.

    I love to share what I have done that is different and unique. Sulky Threads are a big part of that unique expression that is mine alone.

    Money! That's right, Money. If you quilt for others, mastery of specialty threads helps you earn top dollar. It sets you apart from all of the competition.

    Sulky educates.s Talk about service after the sale. Sulky's FAQS will provide the answers to many questions, and Sulky goes beyond the industry norm by offering you the “Ask Sulky” option at There you are able to get answers to your personal concerns.

    Q. Why would I want to try the entire Sulky Line?

    A. Cost. Thread is one of the smallest investments we make relative to the time, effort and money that is spent to buy the fabric and notions needed to piece the quilt. I prefer to spend slightly more to get the quality I can count on with Sulky Threads. Sulky also gives you the option to buy smaller spool put-ups, so, for the same $$ investment, you can try a wide variety of Sulky fibers and colors for the same cost of several large cones. If you want more, virtually all of the Sulky Thread line is now available on Jumbo cones, over 840 SKU's. If you have a quilting business with a resale tax number, these can be ordered right from - click on “Ordering”.

    Another VERY important fact: The color you got from Sulky last year, and the color you get today is the same. No more mismatched dye lots if you run out. Sulky's computerized color matching minimizes dye lot variances. This means you can begin with the old stock while you order more with confidence.

    Not all threads in all weights are available in the 388 colors that 40 wt. Rayon comes in, so pick up a free, printed thread chart at the Sulky booth when you go to your next show. It contains that information as well as many other helpful features including a handy, tear-off pocket inventory chart. Or, send a stamped, self-addressed #10 envelope to:

    Thread Chart Offer
    Sulky of America, Inc.
    P.O. Box 494129
    Port Charlotte, FL 33949

    Q. Where can I find Sulky Thread locally in the size put-up I want for my work?

    A. Sulky has recently added a Retailer Locator Service on their website. For those who buy wholesale, contact Patti Lee at for wholesale sources.

    Q. I have my machine set for one kind of thread and I am afraid to change anything, especially the tension. Don't those fussy threads always break?

    A. I understand that very well. Tension and thread breakage problems can make quilting a miserable and frustrating experience. There were times when I have wondered what made me ever think I could do this, and regretted spending the money for my machine. When I had a deadline, it became more than a frustration. Over time though, I have found solutions to most all of the problems.

    Here are some things that I have learned:

  • One big lesson was the need to slow down sometimes.
  • Cotton threads always leave more lint behind.
  • Although rayon fibers have a lower tensile strength, Sulky 30 wt. Rayon runs great. With a lot of fussing, I can run the 40 wt., however, there are so many colors in Sulky 30 wt. Rayon, I reserve the matching 40 wt for the bobbin.

    So let me share with you some other things I have learned from my own experience:

    Fabric fiber content matters. Sulky Rayon Thread has a rich, high sheen. It is a pliable fiber lending itself to intricate work. It does not have a high tensile strength, so abrading and fraying may be an issue with fabrics such as a tightly woven batik. The solution: Try Sulky Poly Deco. Same great look, but Poly Deco is extremely strong and it is my number one choice when I want a no fuss, no muss shiny decorative thread.

    Invisible threads are not all equal. Most are nylon fiber. Sulky Invisible is made of Polyester. It is soft and supple enough even for baby quilts. Nylon can melt at cotton iron temperatures, or become brittle at high dryer settings.

    Cotton Threads are not all equal. Here fiber quality and length matters; the dyeing process matters; consistency of twist and strand matters. Sulky Cotton passes every test. 12 wt. in the needle and 30 wt. in the bobbin is my choice for flannel quilts. 30 wt in both top and bottom is an easy to use choice for anyone preferring Cotton. Take a look at the new Sulky Cotton Blendables for the quilt tops where one color just won't work. There is likely one that is just perfect. When using Cottons, take special care to clean and oil the bobbin area to nearly eliminate poor stitch quality and breakage. I clean the lint out every bobbin change, and put a drop of oil in the race every 8 to 10 bobbins. I know it seems like a lot of oil, but I am brushing most of it out with the lint.

    Q. What about breakage? How can I determine what is causing the breakage? How do I stop it?

    A. In my experience, the first thing to look at is the end of the thread. Is there fraying? Is there a clean end or perhaps a hook on the end? Was there a pop when it broke? If there has been fraying, the needle usually causes it. The needle could be either too small or worn out. Change needles. I consistently run 4.0.

    If it is a clean or hooked break, the top tension is too tight. Or, if I am running a flat thread or metallic thread, there may be a problem with the way my thread spools are mounted. I recommend spooling off the side of the spool for all metallics, and it is an absolute must for flat threads like Sulky Holoshimmer and Sliver.

    If the threads pull from the end of the spool, a loop will be put in the thread for each round. These loops will pile up and cause certain breakage. If they do manage to go through the tension assembly, the kinks will almost certainly not go through the needle. Either the thread or the needle will break. The fix? There are several accessory companies that make thread holders just for this, and I do own one now, but until I found that option and decided to spend the money, a piece of bent coat hanger duct-taped near the front of the machine worked pretty well. I preferred it to be slightly up from horizontal so that as the spool turned, it was less likely to fly off the end.

    Q. How do I set the tension for specialty threads? I am afraid I will never get it right again.

    A. First, lets look at what tension is. The top tension is not only affected by the tension assembly (or assemblies) on your machine, anything that causes drag or pressure anywhere in the thread path adds tension. Perhaps when using a heavy thread like Sulky 12 wt. Cotton, the dial cannot be backed off enough without completely losing control of the assembly and take-up spring. Look for other ways to reduce drag. Shorten the thread pass or go through fewer holes on the flat guides. Skip the pretension, don't wrap around the guide. You can still maintain control of the thread while reducing the drag so proper adjustment can be made to maintain stitch quality.

    Q. How do you routinely adjust tension when changing threads?

    A. I thread up my machine, thread the needle, and pull a couple of feet of thread through the entire path of the machine. I am checking for hitches in the thread path and I want tension on the loose side. Next, I single stitch to tie off, and then, at a slow speed, stitch a straight line. Many times I place a scrap of fabric in the margin of the backing beside the top for this. How does it look from the top? I feel the underside and run a fingernail along the stitch line. If there is a pop pop pop, the top tension is too loose. I tighten the top tension a little at a time until I see just a pin dot of the bobbin thread on the top side, then I back it off 1 or 2 clicks. If the piece is critical or I am doing points and curves, I will then do circles both clockwise and counterclockwise, inspect both sides, and fine tune for the best tension.

    Q. Do I need to use the same thread in the bobbin as the top?

    A. No. In fact, I will not run 12 wt both in the top and bobbin. It is simply too much thread to fit through the clearances around the shuttle. The rest of the Sulky lineup of threads can be exactly matched, but many times I will choose a finer weight of the same thread because more of it fits on the bobbin. I prefer 40 wt. Rayon or Poly Deco in the bobbin when running Holoshimmer, Sliver, or Metallic in the top.

    Q. How does the fabric I choose for the quilt backing make my job easier?

    A. A print will hide less than perfect tension on the back. The starts and stops are also easier to hide. Keep in mind that if you have a top with lots of white or light colors, and a back that is in the dark range, and you want to use a light color thread in the needle, if you match the top color in the bobbin, there will be a high degree of contrast showing every detail on the back; or if the bobbin matches the backing color, it will be difficult not to have pin dots show on either or both sides.

    Sulky of America is grateful to Evelyn Byler for her friendship and compilation of ”Tips for Sulky Threads on Longarm Machines”. Evelyn is a nationally known professional LA Quilter and educator, and is responsible for the design and quilting of many of the projects you see in Sulky books and in Sulky appearances on numerous PBS TV Sewing and Quilting shows.

    For additional questions about Sulky products, log on to, and visit the Question and Answer Section of the website, or write to

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    Last modified: July 22 2008.