For over 80 years Empress Mills, a family business based in Lancashire, has been manufacturing threads and yarns. Threads for high speed industrial machines, for hand sewing, for practical purposes, for creative use. Empress Mills have supplied threads literally from the cradle to the grave – from towelling nappies to shrouds!

Empress Mills have two stands at Festival of Quilts 2013, Thread at G31 and Fabric at G36, with a huge range of new and exclusive textiles including Empress Superliner, Vilene Lamifix, Bund Fix, metallic threads and wadding range. Empress Superliner is a very interesting new product, a 3 in 1 bag wadding, which lines, wads and stiffens in one easy step. With so many new things a visit to watch Sheila demonstrate on Stand G36 is a must. Sheila will be covering bag making, fabric laminating using Lamifix, crashing technique and more. The thread stand carries 65 varieties, including thread suitable for dyeing, hand and machine use. The brilliant and highly recommended range of Empress Cotton Quilting Thread is available in 100 shades and a 1000m bobbin is just £4.50.

For those not travelling to Birmingham, Empress Mills website is a mine of useful information as well as a great online shop. The 'Threads In Focus' section unravels some of the mysteries of thread whilst introducing you to some new, fresh ideas.

Did you know...

All threads have a 'finished twist'. Twist adds strength so that a very fine thread can still be strong. Conversely you can also have a thick thread, with very few twists which can be relatively weak!

Incredibly, for every inch of thread, there are as many as 20 complete revolutions/twists. There must never be a gap between them – this will make a 'weak spot' and the thread will break. The 'finished twist' of the thread must be even and stable. When the thread you are using snarls and breaks then the 'finished twist' has actually moved in sewing and caused a tangle/'slub' of fibres (different finishes can be added to thread to stop this happening).

Hands on, Eyes Down

Quick practical now. All sewing threads – opposed to general yarns – have the finished twist running a certain way. To check this:-

  1. Take a bobbin of thread in your right hand and pull off at least 6in of thread into your left hand.
  2. Then securely nip the thread between the index finger and thumb of your left hand.
  3. With your right hand gently hold the thread taut, half an inch from the left hand.
  4. Begin to roll the thread very, very slowly away from you between your right thumb and index finger (still securely nipping the thread in your left hand).
  5. The rolling action should begin to untwist the thread and you will see the plies/strands clearly unravelling.
  6. The thread has the correct 'finished twist' to make it sewable on a machine.
  7. If exactly the opposite happens and the strands get tighter and form a snarl then never use the thread on your machine. It will snarl, knot & break.
  8. All sewing machines are built to take a thread which will unravel as no. 5 above so check your stock of threads. If you have been struggling to use a particular bobbin then perhaps we have already eliminated one problem!

Some threads (not many) just will not unravel – don’t worry about it – they have been treated with a special coating to completely stop the finished twist moving during sewing. The prime example of this is Bonded Nylon.

Why not test your thread today? You might be surprised at how many errant bobbins you find! For more information about threads or to shop online visit and if you're visiting Festival of Quilts check out stands G31 and G36 while you're there!