Thread matters for EPP: Aurifil 80wt
I heard mixed things about Aurifil thread for hand sewing. Some stitchers love it, while others feel it is not strong enough and it breaks too easily. When I started English paper piecing (EPP) few years back, I tried Aurifil 50wt. I didn´t like it at the time because as a beginner, I simply didn´t realize how to handle the delicate cotton thread. So I turned to polyester threads instead. Last spring I had an opportunity to test Aurifil 80wt. I must confess I had my doubts, but I am happy that I did because my test was a success and it proved that Aurifil thread can be a great solution for your EPP or applique needs (if handled correctly). In this blog post I would like to share my tips on working with Aurifil 80wt that could be the difference between success and failure in learning about hand stitching, especially for those who are new to EPP.
What is Aurifil 80wt?
The Aurifil 80wt is a super fine 2 ply 100% cotton thread. It comes on small cherry wood spools (300 yards / 274 m) in 88 colors. The color palette is simply amazing, even though I tend to use mainly light colors (natural white, beige, light gray, soft pink) that go well with soft colors of Tana lawn and Tilda pastels.
When I get a new thread, I always test its strength. The simplest way is a "rip" test. I sewed 3 pairs of hexagons using whip stitch with 3 different threads (cotton Aurifil 80wt, polyester Deco-Bob 80wt and polyester Invisafil 100wt) and then ripped them apart to test the strength of the seams. You can see the test on the IG post (third slide) here .
Of course, fine cotton is not as strong as polyester thread of the same weight and it might look fragile if you try just to break it. But once it is sewn, fine cotton thread is surprisingly strong and resistant.
Here is the result of the "rip"test:
1. Aurifil 80wt is gentle to the fabric but strong in the seam. Great strength for a fine cotton thread.
2. Deco-Bob (80wt) is so strong that the seam stays intact but the fabric rips.
3. Invisafil (100wt) is strong for the fine thread but doesn´t rip the fabric.
All three seams were hard to rip.
How to sew with Aurifil 80wt?
Stitching with Aurifil 80wt requires different approach than sewing with polyester thread.
With polyester we can use long pieces of thread (as not to re-thread fine needles with tiny eyes too often) and one needs to pull more to keep the things tight as it is slippery. But you can´t do that with fine cotton.
If you are like me and sewed in the past with polyester thread only, it might take a few sewing sessions before you get the feeling that you don´t need to pull the cotton thread. Our muscle memory in this case is our "worst enemy " because if you do a lot of hand stitching your sewing technique becomes kind of automatic. From my experience the adjustment did not take too long though.
With Aurifil 80wt it is crucial to use shorter lengths of thread (12-15 inches). It prevents breakage issues. Thread your needle with thread as it comes off the reel and it will decrease tangles. Personally, I don´t use thread conditioner but I know it definitely helps if you are experiencing tangling problems.
Also just a threading tip - cutting your thread with sharp scissors makes threading the needle easier.
I also found it helpful using needles with a larger eye because a small eye of a needle wears fine cotton thread and, as a result it breaks. On the first project I used Clover gold eye applique needle #9 then switched it to Tulip Hiroshima Milliners Straw needle Big eye #10. It is not only easier to thread the needle but the thread doesn´t break anymore.
As a result of those small adjustments to my sewing technique, my stitches on Tana Lawn with Aurifil 80wt are the most invisible I have ever managed to achieve with different types of thread (the size of the triangles is 1 inch).
I also used Aurifil 80wt for applique. If the thread color matches your background fabric, your stitching becomes invisible.
That tote bag was a special project where I first time used Aurifl thread of different weights:
80wt - for EPP and applique,
40wt for sewing and machine quilting,
12 wt for hand quilting.
I absolutely enjoyed hand quilting with 12 wt. It is perfect for those projects where you would like to add delicate stitching details. It is a great alternative to Perle cotton or few strands of embroidery floss I used earlier. And the way it glides through the fabric is so delightful.
Since then I made few projects with thicker quilting cottons and I have been very happy with the process and result.
For example, the EPP panels on these bags were stitched using Aurifil 80wt.
I have been using Aurifil 80wt for my 1 inch hexagon quilt as well.
The more I sew with it, the more I find myself reaching for that particular thread even though I have few other great polyester options in hand.
It is important to understand that we are all different and our sewing techniques are different and there is no perfect solution available for everyone. Threads and needles are the matter of personal preferences. I encourage you to try Aurifil 80wt and who knows, it might become your new favorite as now you know how to handle it correctly!