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!

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.

 

Most Unlikely of all Sewing Aids is Sex Lube

I like a challenge. One of my friends told me that I spend too much money on “Sewing Stuff”. So I set out to find alternatives to things I can buy in a quilt shop. This is the first in a series I plan to write about those alternatives. I decided to start with something that would make her eyes pop.

I like to free motion quilt with metallic thread. My machine handles it really well if I use the correct needle, turn the tension down a bit, and lubricate the thread.

Bernina’s Thread Lubricator Guide is fantastic. The guide comes with a tiny vial of silicone lubricant. You put a single drop of silicone lube on the felt pad, stick your thread in the groove and thread your machine like normal. The wee itty bitty bit of lube really makes a huge difference. However… the Bernina and thus its included guide fall into the spending money category. I had to find an el cheapo alternative for ‘any’ machine. Someone suggested mineral oil.. but hey that stuff smells, I’m not sure I want that around my fabric.

Before I got the fancy schmancy thread guide for my Bernina, I would buy Sewer’s Aid thread lubricant and put a thin stripe on my spool of metallic thread. This stuff is between 6-9 bucks for a little half ounce bottle. And, it’s made of liquid silicone. I also know for a fact that the Bernina lube is silicone. So here is where does the “sex” comes in.

Well… I couldn’t find that little bottle of Sewer’s Aid and it was 8 bucks so I really didn’t want to buy more of it being that I was on the “Cheap Challenge”. What did I have around that was silicone and liquid and cheap?

Image of a sample size of ID Millennium Lube
This sample size hold .1 ounces of lube. Perfectly safe for no leak carrying and ready when you are (for lubricating your thread that is).
A funny elf put a cute little sample size of ID Millennium lube in my Christmas stocking. Millennium supposed is incredibly good for doing the deed in a hot tub because it is liquid silicone and doesn’t dilute or wash off in the water. I was really hoping I was getting a hot tub for Christmas. But, alas, that was not to be. Hoping to have a hot tub tryst at some point in the future, I kept that little packet in a drawer. Knowing it was liquid silicone, now was the time to pull it out. Honestly if I’m not going hot tubbing with the hubby, a little late night experimental quilt action fulfills some of my needs pretty well.

A teensy dab of ID Millennium lube on my spool of thread and wa-la! It works!

I also found out a couple of drops of ID Millennium silicone lube is a great substitute for a Supreme Slider. Two drops of sex lube on a piece of batting, rub it around on my sewing surface and wow… It lasted a long time too. It isn’t icky, slimy, smelly, or any of those things. I priced a 12 ml tube (just under half ounce) and it’s about two bucks. At the one or two drop at a time rate I’ll use it, it will last practically forever.

Now about that tryst… I’m still holding out for a hot tub.

Titanium needles are not too expensive

Titanium coated needles are sharper, lasts longer and end up being cheaper in terms of how many needles I need to use to quilt the same number of miles of thread.

As a quilter, 90% of my free motion to date has been on cotton fabric, I delve into silks on occasion. I like top stitch needles for most of my sewing. Top stitch needles have a longer eye and deeper groove which protects the thread from rubbing and wear as it passes through the fabric and into the bobbin mechanism. I also spend just a little more on the titanium needles. I’ve been told by some of my friends that I’m crazy for doing so. I don’t think I am at all. Here’s why.

Being called titanium needles is really a misnomer. They actually are titanium-coated needles. The titanium doesn’t make the needle stronger in terms of not breaking, But it does make it wear longer against rubbing. And thread is abrasive, so is fabric. A regular needle lasts maybe 8 hours of sewing and needs to be swapped out. Thread will wear in the eye of the needle and fabric will wear the tip of the needle.

I’ve found a titanium coated needle stays sharper and lasts 2-3 times longer. It’s true that the titanium needles are more expensive if you compare needle to needle. But you can’t. Due to the life of the needle a titanium needle will last 3x the life of the regular needle. And they do not cost 3x the price. So I believe titanium needles are actually cheaper in terms of how many needles I need to use to quilt the same number of miles of thread.

And for metallic threads.. which I like to use a lot when free motion quilting… titanium is the way to go. Metallic and Top Stitch needles are identical. Same eye size, same groove, same tip shape.. So I use my better wearing titanium top stitch needle for metallic thread. Often shredding of metallic thread is caused by incorrect needle size or by a worn eye on the needle. A titanium needle lets me sew longer. I use a 90/14 for most metallic threads I own.

Do I use regular needles? Yes, I do. I can’t alway find titanium needles and I am going to sew anyway.

Thread Weights and Needle Sizes for Free Motion

You may hear a lot of things about what is the best or the only weight thread to use for free motion or longarm quilting. Personally I don’t think there are any rules. As long as you choose your thread, evaluate your fabric and then choose the appropriate needle for thread-fabric combo AND are willing to tweak your tension settings, you can free motion with almost any thread. Your machine just has to accept it. Some machines can be finicky about weights of threads or even material the thread is made of. Often you can tweak or adjust your method to help use it.

Quick Guide to Thread/Needle Size
Thread Wt Needle
40 wt 90/14
50 wt 80/12
60 wt 70/10
100 wt 70/10
12-30wt 100/16
MonoPoly
(Invisible monofilament)
70/10

Normally I go to a 50 weight cotton or polyester trilobal thread. I really like threads by Superior Threads, though I am not married to their products. Using a 80/12 Topstitch needle works great with their King Tut, Manifico and Fantastico lines. I have found that as long as I use the same thread in top and bobbin of my machine, I do not have to adjust tension at all.

Note: Superior Threads note on their spools and cones which tell you which size needle is recommended for that particular thread.

If I want a thicker line of thread to show, I will use a 40 weight thread. There are free motion people out there who do not like this thread. But I believe that if the look you want requires a 40 weight go ahead and use it. A 90/14 needle works great.

Thick threads have smaller weight numbers, while bigger needles have bigger numbers. Thread and needle sizes run in opposite directions.

You can even free motion with a 30 weight thread if you want, however, put it in your bobbin of your machine. Thick threads do not work in the top of a domestic sewing machine and will shred or mess up your top tension discs. So in the bobbin it must go. This is often called “bobbin work”. The process is the same, you will just have to work from the back side of your quilt so the heavy thread in the bobbin shows up on the front. If you think your machine could handle a 30 weight thread,  you would probably use a 100/16 needle.

Thinner threads than 50 can look really neat. Using silk 100 weight thread for example can have a really nice look. Some of the top free motion people who win shows use silk almost exclusively. I would try a 70/10 needle for this.

Monofilament is also an interesting choice. Typically it is almost colorless. It will really “disappear” into the quilt so the texture is really evident and the thread is almost unnoticeable. There are two types, nylon and polyester. In years past, monofilament, which was made from nylon, got a bad rap because in the early days when it was invented it was very stretchy. So it was difficult to use. You would have to go very slow and have very low tension settings. Nylon also melts at lower temperatures than other fibers. Lower temperatures mean more stringent rules for care of the quilt, you can’t iron it, must wash on low, etc. Newer polyester fiber is in several brands of monofilament. My experience has been with Superior’s Monopoly. It requires a couple more ‘numbers’ lower on the top tension and I do tend to go slower with it. But it really has a nice look, washes on medium heat, and can be ironed. It’s great for trapunto too. Monopoly is slightly matte and that helps it disappear too. It comes in a light/clear and smokey clear for using on darker fabrics. I don’t hesitate to use the light monopoly on dark fabrics if I do not have the smoke available. It really is fun to use.

I am so not the Queen of Organization, but this organizer rocks!

20130924-234448.jpgI used to, well I still do, keep scores of thread cones in baskets. I love thread almost as much as I love fabric. I always had a problem keeping tack of all the threads currently being used on the three or four projects that I seem to jump between. Until now –drum roll please–I have found the most awesome cone thread holder in the world. Yep! I think I have.

I use those 3000 meter spools from Isacord, Aurifil, Superior, Sulky, Floriani, and a few others, so the run of the mill thread holders for those dinky spools just wouldn’t do. ROM Woodworking of Modesto, California, is making some of the nicest oak thread holders I’ve ever seen and now am using. I bought the Ultimate Felicia Thread Holder. It is both free standing or wall hanging. So it is easily moved around your workspace Or put away on the wall. It can also hold your basic larger rulers and cutting matt in slots on the back of it. And, it holds 96 spools of thread. The thread holder rods are thicker than the ones on those mass produced things you buy in the crafty stores. It is made of furniture grade solid oak. The edges are all routed and finished. It’s sturdy without being ugly. It is simply fantastic.

A-plus! Thank you ROM.

By the way, in addition to thread holders, they make ruler holders, spinning notions holders, and all kinds of sizes too. They even make floor standing spinners that would be great for a longarmer or professional embroiderer. This is definitely something that anyone sewing would be interested in.

Hey, I’m not being paid to endorse these products… I just really like them and wanted to give a shout out about it.