Not all thread is equal

I have NOT written about thread as in brands, twists and weight and how it affects seam allowance in piecing. It does, so I’m writing about it now.

I have to write about this.. I really do! I’ve written previously about how you choose your needle based upon the fabric and then you choose your thread. I’ve written about thread weight and how it looks and how it affects tension in the longarm (and the regular sewing machine. I have NOT written about thread as in brands, twists and weight and how it affects seam allowance in piecing.

THREAD MATTERS AND AFFECTS piecing big time!

Also some thread is linty and some wears your needle out faster.

So far, I have found using the three biggies (as in popular brands) in the quilting world the following.

Some thread is lintier.

Lintier, I’m not sure lintier is even a word. But there it is, I don’t like to clean out my bobbin area every time I switch out a bobbin especially when I”m in a quilt piecing frenzy. I’ve found from the cleanest (top of the list) to the lintiest (bottom of the list):

  • Cleanest
  • Superior Masterpiece 100% cotton 50/3
  • Aurifil MAKO NE 50/2
  • Mettler 100% cotton 50/3
  • Coats and Clark
  • Lintiest

Thread isn’t the same thickness

Thread affects my quarter inch seams. I sew almost always with Superior Masterpiece 100% cotton 50/3, so my eyeball is trained to “see” the amount of fabric to the right of the needle to give me a quarter inch seam. When I use a different thread.. it always affects my seam. I am pretty sure it is because the thread takes up some space. So thicker thread needs to be sewn with a “scant-ier” quarter inch seam than my normal seam. Mettler, even though it is 50/3 (like Masterpiece), is a bit thicker than the Superior Masterpiece 50/3. I’ve learned that to get the same finished size of a block with Mettler I have to sew a scant quarter inch and with Superior a real quarter inch. Aurifil acts more like Superior thread than Mettler, yet it still in between the two other brands. No one sees your seam allowances so if you switch thread (or machines) sew a quick test to make sure your finished blocks are the same.

Thread takes up space on the bobbin

Yes, it should be obvious. But somehow I just didn’t think about it much. You can’t wind as long an amount of thick thread as you can thin thread. I’ve taken to using Superior Bottom Line in my bobbin for just this reason. It’s super strong and it’s THIN! Yipee, I don’t have to change bobbins as often. I don’t get caught in the middle of a long seam because I didn’t think to check if my bobbin is going to run out. Talking about the threads I’ve mentioned above, here is a list about how long my bobbin lasts when wound with each one.

  • Lasts longest
  • Superior Bottomline 100% polyester  60/2
  • Superior Masterpiece 100% cotton 50/3
  • Aurifil MAKO NE 50/2
  • Mettler 100% cotton 50/3
  • Lasts not very long (have to wind bobbin more often)

*I quit using Coats and Clark because it’s just too darn linty. So I don’t remember how it is in the bobbin, thus it isn’t on the list about bobbin changing frequency.

As to why each thread is a different thickness, I’ve posted about thread weight 50 vs 60 etc. Thread weight isn’t very accurate when comparing different brands of thread because there really isn’t a standard system. So in my examples above, at first glance, it doesn’t make sense that the Aurifil Mako NE 50/2 is thicker than the Superior Masterpiece 50/3. However the differences I’ve experienced seem to be the truth of it.

Superior has a great article about thread weight here. UNDERSTANDING THREAD WEIGHT

So why would I use the lintier thicker threads? I want the effect they create sometimes. Sometimes I need a specific color and the nearest shop doesn’t have the brand I want. Sometimes I just got a sample, or a free spool. Sometimes, I just try something new. I do a lot of couching on the surface and I buy a lot of different threads for that purpose and I might need a specific color that I don’t have in my preferred piecing brand.

 

Longarm Lesson – Backing Too Short

Stuck with a quilt back that is too short? This is how I solved the quilt backing too small but already mostly quilted on my longarm problem.

One late afternoon, the machine was humming along and everything was going really well. I’d already finished two charity quilts. Everything was perfect, I had enough backing provided in the quilt packages and I was racing through the third charity quilt I’d promised to do. Suddenly, disaster struck!

Oh NO!

Always measure your backing or you will be sorry.
Moral of this photo: Measure your backing even if a customer has always given you enough. Always measure!

Oh NO! NO! NO! NO! The quilt backing provided was too short! I literally slapped myself up side the head. How many times had I admonished new longarmers to measure everything provided before you even put a quilt on your machine?! How many times!?!

GEEZ! NOW WHAT DO I DO!?

I called my friend Carol and put on my thinking cap. After sitting and pondering together for a bit and after a refreshing glass of _______. (iced tea?) I had an epiphany. I could solve this without taking the quilt off the machine, without having to go through the agony of getting it straight again, without having to take the several hours it seemed this disaster would need.

The solution turned out to be hilarious and my friend Carol took a video. The simple solution was to take off just the bottom of the quilt and leave the top attached.

I had a tea cart that set a small sewing machine on and just sewed a strip onto the bottom of the backing. It was a quick and easy matter to just re-attach the bottom and quilt on. Watch how I did it.

Dye Class at Houston Quilt Show 2017

I took a gradations dying class from Cindy Lohbeck. Her class was all about creating color value. I have been learning a lot this past year about value which is basically lightness or darkness of colors. In Cindy’s class we used dilutions just like I did in chemistry class back in college. We made six values from light to dark of seven different colors. It was awesome to make 42 fat quarters of these rich colors. It is something that I am going to keep in mind when I dye in the future.

My new use for an old spool tool

I was getting frustrated with trying to control a very long binding I was putting on a king size quilt. I tried throwing it over my shoulder. I tried putting it on a paper towel cardboard tube. I tried draping it over my sewing machine. Finally, I tried my trusty cone holder! Success!

Fabulous Flat Quilt Hanging Hardware

Using inexpensive metal straps and plates from the hardware store with neodymium magnets makes a quilt safe hanging method.

Deciding to change the art quilt on my wall pretty often, I realized that a traditional nail wasn’t going to cut it. My quilts have variable sizes and weights. I got the idea for this setup from my magnetic name badge. Surfing my favorite magnet website, I found that there are magnets strong enough to even hang a regular quilt.

Hardware for flat hanging art quilts
Hardware for flat hanging art quilts. Tie plates, tie straps, command strips, neodymium magnets.

Neodymium magnets are very strong, and have a polished clean finish. Magnets strong enough to hang a bed quilt should be used with caution. Their strength could damage your fingers if your fingers or skin got slammed in between them.

For my test, I am hanging a 24×24 art quilt. I wanted temporary but strong and reliable setup so chose 3M command strips of the strongest I could find. My local home depot had 16 lb velcro sets for hanging framed pictures.

Tie plate adhered to wall
Tie plate adhered to wall with command strips

I used 1 13/16 in x 5 in tie plates (found in the lumber department in the structural straps section), and I also bought a variety of 20 guage strap ties in various lengths. 18 Guage would work too. But keep mind that there is a tradeoff in how strong a magnet sticks (thicker metal or more iron in the metal) versus weight of the metal. These bars will not sag because they will be oriented flat to the wall.

Use tape to overlap the straps and secure them to each other. Use enough straps to fit behind the quilt back.
Use tape to overlap the straps and secure them to each other. Use enough straps to fit behind the quilt back.

I overlapped two flat metal bars so they were long enough to fill the entire quilt sleeve but not stick out beyond the quilt. I put the command strips on the small tie plates. This size, five inches long, give enough surface room for the long command strips. The tie plates are then fixed to the wall and I allowed them to adhere for an hour to allow the command strip adhesive to develop full strength. I checked the width of the quilt back and made sure the tie plates were hidden behind the quilt. Put a magnet on the top of the tie plate.

Testing the setup
Testing the setup. Velcro command strips can support quite a lot of weight. I chose strips that will support 16 lbs. The horizontal bar will go inside the quilt sleeve.
Metal tie straps used to hang quilt
Metal tie straps used to hang quilt

I slid my assembled strap into the quilt sleeve and set it against the magnets. it was super easy to adjust the level. And it will be super easy to add length and tie plates with magnets.

The result is a super flat against the wall hanging arrangement that fully supports the quilt without pinching, compressing, or putting holes (pins or tacks) in your quilt.

I believe this is my hanging method of choice from now on!

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Quilt by Suzan Engler
“Turning Over a New Leaf” art quilt by Suzan Engler. Suzan made this quilt for the Ovarian Cancer Awareness Quilt Project. Auctioned in 2014, the quilt raised money for Ovarian Cancer Research at MD Anderson.

Thread Weights Look Like What?

Lots of science boils down to this: 

Higher wt number on thread means it is skinnier and will kind of hide so the fabric is more emphasized. The lumps and bumps are more emohasized. 

Lower wt thread is thicker thread so the thread shows more. 

Choose your thread weight by the effect you want to get out of your quilting.  

Of course, if you want to break the rule of thumb, then pile on and paint with the skinny thread to show up more like Libby Lehman does it. 

And think about this, if your freemotion or longarm pattern requires a lot of traveling over previous stitches, a thinner thread won’t pile up as much as a thick one. 

On Long Arm Quilting with Monofilament

For Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Bottom Line (or any thread in the bobbin) in the bobbin. I use the TOWA tension gauge to set my bobbin case to a value of 180. I loosen my top tension knob about 2.5 turns.

This week on my facebook longarm quilt group, a member asked about using monofilament. I mentioned monofilament in a blog post https://wordpress.com/post/freeformquilts.com/626 a while back. Now that I have experimented more with monofilament I need to save my observations here.

I want a monofilament that sews like regular thread but “disappears” into the background fabric so that the quilting and fabric are emphasized instead of the thread lines. After many combinations and brands of monofilament, I finally came up with a repeatable easy solution that works every single time for me. I use Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Superior Threads So Fine in my bobbin.

Thread Chemistry affects stitching

I tested several clear monofilament threads. Mono filament thread is a single continuous strand of fiber of polyester. Polyester seems to be stronger than other monofilament thread types.

Nylon monofilament threads stretched more and I didn’t like using them, even when I had all the tension loosened way up, they still stretched. I didn’t like how it formed stitches and I liked even less how much they could pull fabric up and warp it.

Quality of thread manufacturing also affects the stitch out. A single strand that is made to exacting thickness will give a consistent result. In a multi fiber thread, slight variations of thread thickness are compensated by the multiple fibers. In a mono filament, a thinner section of thread can cause breakage and malformed stitches.

Once I got my machine setup to form beautiful stitches Superior’s Monopoly did not break. Monopoly also comes in both a clear and a smoke color.  Monopoly is matte finishe and so you don’t see a “sparkle” when looking at the quilt from an angle. The smoke is also clear but smokey looking which is great on darker fabrics as light reflectance is minimal and this thread really disappears on dark backgrounds. Due to its matte finish and strength and consistent stitching, I greatly prefer Superior Threads Monopoly.

What is monofilament?

Keep in mind any mono (one strand) filament thread is going to be weaker than a two strand or three strand thread, to compensate that one strand is going to be a little thicker than the single strand of a multi-strand thread. It’s worth mentioning because you might observer that the thread is a little thinner than what you would normal consider for a specific needle size. In face Superior is only .1 mm thick! Needle choice will have a BIG impact on stitching with monofilament. Try first what the manufacturer of that thread suggests. It really does matter.

Needle Size

Superior recommends a #14 needle. I generally use a #14 needle but may go up to a #18 needle in certain cases. If it seems the needle flexing is causing the monopoly to break, go up to a bigger needle size. This is more of an issue when freemotion quilting with monopoly. A thicker/bigger needle is stronger and going to flex less.

Threading path changes

If I am having the monopoly break, I check my threading path. I thread through the only one hole in the top guide post instead of the normal winding around through both holes on the top guide.

Tension really matters

The key to beautiful stitches with Monopoly is your thread tension balance between the top and the bottom. You will need to loosen your top tension. On my Innova two to three full turns to loosen the top tension knob are required. Exactly how much depends on the thread I choose for the bobbin.

Bobbin Thread Affects Stitching with Monofilament

I have found that using monofilament in the top and bobbin really doesn’t work. Monofilament, because it is only one strand of fiber, is very slippery. The monofilament will not “grab” onto another monofilament thread and so the stitch doesn’t form and hold. Sometimes the stitches even skip completely. To get a good stitch formation, I have found that using a multi filament thread in the bobbin is a must. The multi-filament thread will grab the monofilament and form a better stitch.

I choose my bobbin thread based up on the effect I want to see on the back of the quilt. If I want the bobbin thread to have a disappearing effect, I will choose a bobbin thread such as #60 bottom line by Superior and very closely match the color to the quilt backing. Bonus to this combo is that Bottom Line is very thin and a LOT of yardage fits on a bobbin. Less bobbin changes is a very good thing in my mind. I often use #50 weight of many types such as cotton or trilobal polyester. I rarely go to a thicker thread, but have successfully used #40 weight polyester thread too.

Bobbin Case and Tension

The key to the bobbin thread no matter the thickness, is to have consistent tension.I keep repeating this because it is just that important.  I have a TOWA bobbin gauge and that has made all the difference in my long arm quilting. GET ONE!

Summary of What I Do to Set Up for Monopoly

For Superior Threads Monopoly in the top and Bottom Line (or any thread in the bobbin) in the bobbin. I use the TOWA tension gauge to set my bobbin case to a value of 180.  I loosen my top tension knob about 2.5 turns. Then I test on the edge of the quilt sandwich set and adjust only my top tension knob either looser or tighter to get a perfect stitch. I also test after each bobbin change or whenever I feel the stitch isn’t right.

Problem Solving Tips

  • Pokies on the top = loosen top tension and/or check bobbin tension with gauge
  • Pokies on the bottom = tighten top tension and/or check bobbin tension with gauge
  • Shredding thread.. quilt fabric and batting tension might be too tight. Bop it and see how it bounces. I have a habit of making this too taut.
  • Refer to my troubleshooting notes.

 

Bernina 830 versus Janome MC15000

My conclusion, each of these machines has pros and cons. I COULD live with either one. But I am lucky that I can afford both. So I generally piece quilts on my Janome, MC1500, while I appliqué and free motion on my Bernina 830. I will use either machine during embellishing art quilts depending on what stitches or effects I want. I embroider much more on my Janome because of the ease of monitoring and changing thread (nice threader).

I have been a member of the The Quilt Show for several years. Recently we started a thread about machines and features. I felt compelled to write about my two favorite machines. Here is what I posted to the forum on the Quilt Show.

Since a few have posted about their Bernina 830 experience. I thought I would too. I did not get a lemon and I absolutely love my 830. It is a solid workhorse for me. It takes any thread I throw at it even metallic. And I love the huge hoops. I also have a Janome MC15000 and I like it too. However it doesn’t free motion as well. It straight stitches better. However the Janome has a tendency to have nesting thread on the beginning of a stitching line. The Bernina does not.

Here is my experience Bernina 830 vs Janome MC15000

Straight stitching: Janome wins with a beautiful straighter stitch but with the caveat to use a bit of scrap material to start other wise I get a rats nest on the bobbin thread at the beginning of a stitching line. Holding the top and bobbin works too, BUT who wants to do that if they have an automatic thread cutter. You can attain a very nice straight stitch on the Bernina if you use a single hole plate, and carefully match your thread to needle size. But still Janome’s is a prettier straight stitch.

Thread cutter: both machines will cut thread. I think cutting is faster on the Bernina than on the Janome (this is an impression, not measured with a stop watch). Bernina sews without nesting after using it’s cutter. Janome will form nests if you sew after the cutter. On the Janome you will need to use a bit of scrap or pull out and hold the thread tails when you start sewing again.

Freemotion: Bernina wins hands down, no contest

Needle threader: Janome’s is better and more consistently threads the needle. Both machine’s needle threaders work better than my lower end machines.

Heavy or lots of layers : It really depends. Heavy tight weave several layers like quilting on a denim from denim backed with batting, I use my Bernina. Thick tough fabrics like cordura 400 or 600, I use the Bernina. The Bernina doesn’t skip stitches like the Janome can in situations like this. “This” is comparing same thread, same needle, same fabric, same number of layers, and sewing at half speed machine, etc. I do like the dual feed on the Bernina, especially when piecing flimsy or wispy light weight chiffon or silk fabrics. BUT! I like the ease of adjusting the pressure for the dual feed on the Janoma. I think the dual feed on the Janome is better for normal quilting cotton and cotton batting. I go to my Janoma for doing straight stitch quilting in a modern quilt kind of look where you would quilt with lots of straight lines or expanding circles or spirals. Bernina actually recommends an extra walking foot for this kind of quilting.

Embroidery: Both work great. Both do a great job. But due to thread change on these single color machines, I prefer the Janome because of it’s more consistently working needle threader. (though I Think the thread path on the Bernina is easier to do). MC15000 has an extra pro: I like the fact this machine is wi-fi capable.. that I have an app on my iPad that I can ‘see’ where in the process the embroidery is, if thread broke, if the machine stopped, and if i need to change colors. I can run around my home and do chores while doing embroidery without having to check to see the status of my machine. I actually get more embroidery done because of this.

Knee lift: have to put two paragraphs one for each machine explain this one.

Pro for the Bernina is that the knee life is mechanical. This makes doing appliqués more fun on the Bernina instead of the Janome. I can barely raise or take the pressure off the fabric when turning curves or corners and still have some pressure from the foot helping me keep things lined up and it acts like an extra hands. On the Janome, the knee lift seems to actually be an electronic switch, when I use the knee lift, there is no infinite range of lifting the pressure foot, it is either up or down. I don’t like this. So I typically do appliqué on my 830. (I also prefer the double blanket stitch the Bernina has over the similar stitch on the Janome).

Pro for the MC15000 is the knee lift will set to control other things besides lifting the presser foot, you can use it to control stitch width. Yes, really! So for an art quilter, I can use it for neat effects. I also use it when couching lumpy irregular yarns and other items to art quilt while embellishing. It’s very fun once you learn how to control it.

Conclusion

My conclusion, each of these machines has pros and cons. I COULD live with either one. But I am lucky that I can afford both. So I generally piece quilts on my Janome, MC1500, while I appliqué and free motion on my Bernina 830. I will use either machine during embellishing art quilts depending on what stitches or effects I want. I embroider much more on my Janome because of the ease of monitoring and changing thread (nice threader).