How much thread does the factory need for samples?

thread_spools_lets_beadI’ll bet you all thought I’d run away and joined the circus… it’s been crazy busy, same as every December. That reminds me; if you’re looking for services, responses will be slow or maybe even non-existent until the end of January or midway into February. Timing is everything. Be persistent.
Some errors that DEs make are so cute that they make me giggle. Not sending enough thread is one of them. Context is that we’re discussing thread for samples or prototypes, not production (by production, you won’t be making this error). Typically, the designer has taken great pains to put their package together—to include what they would consider “extra” thread—because the designer figures the garment couldn’t possibly use more than the total linear feet of one spool. The number of sewn inches is immaterial which is why I think the thread oversight in sampling is cute.

So how much thread do you need? It’s not easy for me to tell you but suffice to say, it could be much more than you thought. For the easiest and best response, ask your provider. Don’t balk if you’re asked for five times as much as you’d planned on (you’ll get the spools back with hardly anything taken off of them).

The reason it is hard to know is because it is based on your product and the process to make it.

Product: Specifically, the kinds of stitches and the machines needed to form them. For example, nearly everyone has a product that is overlocked (serged). For this stitch, you will need a minimum of 3 spools but it could be as much as 5 or 6 (if it is an overlock safety stitch).  If you need single needle seams, you’ll need another spool for that, although in a perfect world, we would get two spools for the single needle (one for the bobbin).

Process: What is the sewing order? Is the product such that one could complete all of the overlocking and then go onto another machine or will one have to rotate back and forth between the two (or more) machines? If the process is simplified in that one can do all of one type of stitch, and then go onto to the next machine, you’ll only need spool count to match the requirements of the machine that uses the most spools. If you have to go back and forth between machines in stages, you’ll need thread for each machine.

Reason being, nobody is going to be happy to unthread Machine A (because they don’t have enough thread) to sew one seam on Machine B, particularly if they know they have to go back to Machine A later to finish the job. And sure, you could think that is their job so they should just tough it out but you’re the one who will end up paying for threading down time. Not fun. I feel your pain but on the other hand, adjusting tensions after threading is also a pain. To whit, I have one machine that can be used for any customer provided they don’t mind mint green thread.  That machine and I, we’re not friends yet so I’m not up to re-threading it without adult supervision nearby.

Garment complexity doesn’t provide much of a clue to determine spool needs either. A man’s suit may only need two spools because it is made by single needle. If somebody is helping to sew garment parts (as is often the case), you’d need 2 more spools for the other machine.

By comparison, a simple tee shirt, may need as much as >eek< nine spools of thread! That is a worst case scenario. Five spools will be needed for the coverstitch hem but 3 of those could be pulled from the overlock machine and once the hemming is done, 2 spools could be pulled from the coverstitch to lock the hems on a single needle.

And sure, some of you are saying right now that your contractor or sample maker didn’t ask you for all this thread—except for a coverstitch if it is needed—so I’d respond by asking you to examine the inside seams of your product; you may find mismatched thread. And most of the time, this is okay particularly for prototypes. For inner seams (linings etc), I don’t expect my customer to provide spools because I probably have something that is a close enough match.

Image courtesy: Let’s Bead.


  1. theresa riess says:

    Kathleen, it’s not easy for us home sewers to gauge how much thread we need either. Good post. An enlightening look at what goes into a garment. As a home sewer I tend to simplify when it comes to overlocking. Garments get divided into “takes light colored thread” and “takes dark colored thread” to cut down on the time to switch thread on the machine but I can see why sending extra spools helps the sample maker and produces a nicer looking product.Report

  2. Lisa Blank says:

    How timely! I just went through this exercise over the weekend.

    Project: sleeveless shell with bound neckline and armholes and a matching cardigan

    Thread needed: 2 spools for coverstitch (I had a separate cone of serger thread that was a good match for bottom cover); 4 spools for mock safety overlock; 1 spool for single needle (bobbin wound from it)

    Solution: Buy 1 1000m spool of thread and use cordless drill to wind off onto empty spools as needed

    Seriously, I did this, but I was just making a one-off for myself. I have a ton of thread leftover for the next time I need cobalt blue. :-)Report

  3. Elena Demicheva says:

    And again, a piece of priceless information that I could not find anywhere else! Thank you Kathleen!

    I also wonder if there is any way to test thread for quality (like one does for the fabric) in order to chose the right one for the production? Or maybe you just have to know particular high-quality thread manufacturers and buy only from them (like Gütermann)?


  4. sameh zaky says:

    lisa blank: it not good to remake spoole from another because you may affect on thread but you have to solve problem from the begining by collecting what you actually need for your production then you will save your money and your time and places for stock in store and effort to make another spool from abig one.
    but finally you have good thinking for using your stock again to save money. good thinkingReport

  5. Lisa Blank says:

    Hi Sameh, I agree that no one should do what I did for their production. I am a hobbyist and am willing to do this when making one item for myself.Report

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