Find the right thread for the right job.
Upholstery Journal | August 2008
by Jake Kulju
Without paint, there would be no Mona Lisa.
Without water, there would be no wine. And without thread, there would be no upholstery and the widespread use of textiles we enjoy today. Thread is the element that holds a project together. In the furniture, automotive and commercial seating industries, a sturdy stitch is essential for satisfactory, finished products and repeat customers.
Good thread doesn’t grow on trees—it comes from suppliers. American & Efird is one of the largest and oldest suppliers in the thread industry. Dan Moore has spent 30 years working with textiles, and is the technical services representative at American & Efird. He breaks down the types of thread used for furniture, automotive and commercial seating into nylon and polyester categories.
“Nylon and polyester threads are both continuous filament yarns,” Moore says. “They are popular for their dynamic and structural aspects.”
Both nylon and polyester threads are flexible and durable enough to easily run through the machinations of a sewing machine. These threads add strength and structure to seams, and provide resistance to splitting and fabric separation.
“As a rule of thumb, nylon is stronger and more abrasion resistant and fatigue resistant than polyester,” Moore says. “Polyester has an advantage in that it’s more chemical and UV resistant and has better color fastness—the ability to hold onto its dyed color.”
While nylon and polyester are popular threads, PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) is a common choice when strength is necessary. W.L. Gore manufactures Tenara. The ePTFE thread is guaranteed to outlast the life of the fabric. Mildew, mold, outdoor elements, UV rays and cleaning chemicals are no match for this thread.
Walt Mameniskis, product manager of Plastomer Technologies, agrees that PTFE sewing threads are popularly used for outdoor and heavy use applications.
“PTFE thread is typically used in applications where UV resistance is necessary,” Mameniskis says. “PTFE thread outperforms most threads from other materials in outdoor applications as it is better resistant to sun and water exposure. Also used in high-end heavy fabric applications, PTFE thread is strong, durable, hydrophobic, chemically inert, temperature resistant (minus 250 degrees Celsius to 260 degrees Celsius) and weather resistant.”
Moore sees upholsterers using nylon almost exclusively for furniture and indoor applications, has mixed opinions about nylon or polyester for automotive applications, and believes polyester is used for outdoor and marine applications.
“Auto upholstery is behind glass, so the advantage of polyester is mitigated,” he says. “You can use nylon for sewing in your auto upholstery and not have an issue with degradation because the glass helps filter out the wavelength of UV that works on nylon. Nylon, as a fiber, tends to bond better. It’s a tougher thread and survives the sewing aspect a little bit better. In terms of sewability and strength, polyester loses, but for outdoor convertible tops, it works.”
Products like Plastomer’s SolarThread are replacing polyester in many applications, according to Mameniskis.
“The outdoor fabric industry is looking more to PTFE thread as the customer base does not want to pay for more repair work due to UV exposure damage with other threads,” he says. “PTFE threads used in outdoor applications typically last the life of the fabric.”
Moore says the best way to get consistently good thread is to stick with the major companies you can trust.
“They own their own spinning plants and they sell themselves on consistency,” he says.
He also recommends having a full knowledge of the fabric and application you are working on.
“Know what your own requirements are,” Moore says. “Do you have seam strength requirements? Issues with puckering and seam appearance? Needle cutting? Do you have requirements that include stitches per inch or durability? Work with a company that has technical people that can help you design and engineer your item, because this is an engineered product.”
Moore explains that there haven’t been many new thread innovations over the last several decades, but that the formulations used for both nylon and polyester threads have evolved over time.
“Advancements in consistency in the thread have come a long way,” he says. “Technology has improved so that basically every centimeter is the same as any other centimeter on a spool of thread. The chemistry has also improved, like lubricants and the bonding chemicals that go on the threads.”
New eco-friendly practices in the thread industry have become more mainstream as environmental issues continue to gain focus among U.S. businesses.
“We’re seeing a bigger market for organic cotton that’s grown in certified organic farms—that area has really been an impetus to create eco-friendly products,” Moore says. “They’ve also taken the heavy metals and chemicals out of thread dyes and reformulated them to make them less toxic.
“Environmentally, it just makes sense because it will come back to you,” he says. “We have to live in this community as well.”