Longarm Lesson Learned

Always check the sizes of fabric, always! Even when a the charity coordinator says it is all measured and ready. Even when the first three quilt tops and backs you did were correctly sized for longarming. Always check! Grrrrr!

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.

MQG is Loving the Improv Charity Quilt We Made

The Balancing Change quilt my guild made for Quiltcon 2016 was truly improvisational from beginning to end.
At each step, we improvised and modified. Even the quilting wasn’t decided until the quilt was on the frame. But at each step we kept basic design theory in mind.

Balancing Changes - San Antonio Modern Quilt Guild 2016 Challenge Charity Quilt , view of quilt front.
Balancing Changes – San Antonio Modern Quilt Guild 2016 Challenge Charity Quilt , view of quilt front.

The Balancing Change quilt my guild made for Quiltcon 2016 was truly improvisational from beginning to end.

We knew we wanted to make a quilt for the Quiltcon Charity Challenge that embodies how random things become organized, how chaos ends up organizing and balancing out in the end. In the greater San Antonio Texas area 2015 saw an overwhelming amount of destruction, Wimberly flooding probably being the worst. I think we did succeeded.

In our first sew-in, we all talked about ideas and we decided a triangle, the symbol of change, would be important imagery. We also discussed traditional blocks that we could use as inspiration, specially the churn dash, as a symbol of change. I saw this an an opportunity for me to get a beta ‘test’ of a improvisational ruleset I am working on to publish (more on that in a future post.) We added a few more rules such as scissors only, no rulers. For at least half of our group, this was a very uncomfortable situation. We all knew this quilt would expand our horizons.

Our first go around resulted in an interesting mess that didn’t inspire us to move further. We looked at it and moved parts around and it just didn’t work. So we let it rest for about a month in order to let our creative juices get to work.

2015-BalancingChange-3
Balancing Changes, view of quilt back.

Sarah Jimenez found a sketch of a black and white triangle with a couple of bars all done in pencil. It began a conversation about the concept of balancing. We considered two bars, but felt that it could be taken as a political statement and we wanted to avoid that even though there is much chaos in politics. We wanted this to be about the abstract concept of changes affecting us and not about a specific idea. Instead of directing the thoughts of the viewer, we wanted our quilt stimulate and open those thoughts.

I had also been reading a lot of design theory and wanted to apply some ideas of depth and movement through relative sizes and layering of objects.
Sarah and I worked together to combine the ideas into the final layout.

Taking the design concept of depth one step further during the quilting process I applied comic book drawing theory. In comic books line value and thickness are often used to indicate depth of field. Thinner lines with color value closer to the background indicates farther away from the viewer while bolder thicker more color value difference indicates closer to the viewer. So I used a variety of very thin 60 wt threads, and thicker 50wt and 40wt threads when quilting. I had planned on using 30wt thread too, but it required mechanically adjusting my machine to accommodate the very thick needle. There was not enough time to get out the tools before the quilt had to be in Pasadena for Quiltcon 2016. I plan on trying the thread weight ideas on a future quilt though. The idea intrigues me.

This quilt really pushed our group to get out of our comfort zone and to really think about improv as a concept that still requires design theory application to get a great results. We are all happy with the outcome. We all learned a lot. I hope this group will do this again!

 

MQG talks about it on Instagram

#quiltconcharityquilt, #quiltcon, #improvquilting, #quiltcon2016, #quiltconcharitychallenge

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).

I have demoted two of my free motion quilting tools.

Seriously, I found something last month, used it today and immediately bumped it to the top of my favorites list. The quilt halo. It is a hefty iron ring coating in a slightly tacky plastic. It really keeps the fabric from bunching up right under the needle. Keeps the fabric flat and at just the right tautness or flatness which helps with tension issues. I don’t have to wear those uncomfortable gloves any more. It makes me happy! Oh, it also seems to lessen the need for a free motion slider.. but with both in place.. it’s like quilting on an ice rink. Seriously, I like this tool. If I had to choose between the slider and the halo. I’d pick the halo. Before you ask, NO! I’m not getting paid to endorse. I just like this tool a lot. If you local quilt store doesn’t have it, you can buy it from the source.
http://purpledaisiesquilting.com/collections/top-10-products/products/quilt-halo-free-motion-quilting-tool

I Love this free motion quilting tool for holding fabric
Quilt Halo is amazing for free motion quilting. It holds the fabric flat and makes it super easy to move it around. It’s better than those uncomfortable gloves and way better.

Superior Threads Reference Guides

Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson posted a list on TheQuiltShow website about their favorite Superior Threads reference pages. They just happened to post my go-to pages! How about that?! Here is the link on The Quilt Show of that very helpful list.

Superior Threads Reference Guides.

PSST. The $42 bucks I spent on the full access star membership for thequiltshow.com is the best return on investment I’ve gotten on quilting education. And they didn’t pay me to say that. There is such a wide variety of topics and guests on the show, it’s amazing. I’ve had a lot of ah-ha moments watching the episodes.