Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Thread Decisions

I don’t know about you, but my thread stash has grown to equal or beyond my fabric stash over the past few years.   I think this is caused by my many ideas for quilted art.  I have learned that the different weights and types of threads can make a huge difference in the success of the finished project.  Additionally, a lot of my quilted art projects have a lot of thread art that livens them up.

Sew I am currently trying hard to finish up the quilt I am making in my Mom’s memory using those beautiful 10 inch crocheted lace blocks as the center.  I just changed threads from a beautiful blue Superior 40 weight Magnifico, which is a polyester thread with a lovely sheen that matches my border fabric, to a Superior monopoly, which I truly have a very hard time seeing.  I am using Monopoly in the central pentagon where the five chrocheted blocks are.

This small quilt sampler has seven different thread types.

Now my Bernina machines sew well with this thread, but it took me a while to learn how to get that to happen.  After much trying and crying, I finally found that it works best with an 80/14 Universal needle.  If I use the top stitch needles I normally use for quilting, the needle will eventually “step on” the thread and break it.  It also requires the significant lowering of the upper thread tension and I use it with a 60 weight polyester bobbin thread (Superior Bottom Line). This thread is a very lively thread and requires threading to control it as much as possible.  I use the thread paths that cross the little pad with the pink silicone liquid, otherwise known as the thread lubrication unit.  This also adds a little tension to the top thread, and requires and additional little bit of tension lowering, but it holds it in the thread path really well and I am able to use it with hardly a bother.  I do this for both my Bernina 880 plus and my sitdown longarm Bernina Q20.

thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

Thread Lubrication Unit on my Bernina 880 plus.

Thread lubrication path on another Bernina. They look a little different for each of the Bernina machines that has one.

For my little B350, my travel machine, it doesn’t seem to need as much control, but the thread path isn’t as long, and I figure that is why.   Happily these adjustments also work well with any 100 weight thread I use (I use both polyester and silk for various things).

My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head. Even for this more simple machine, I do samplers before beginning to stitch a project. Circles make nice samples.

Deciding what threads to use on a project requires, once again, some testing and practice.  This is one of the big reasons I always make a practice quilted piece before I actually begin my main project.  The questions to ask that can only be answered with a little testing include:

  1. Do I want the stitching to take a front place in the overall design?  If so, use a heavier contrasting thread, even if the contrast is only one or two steps away from the fabric.  If not, use a lighter thread that matches as closely as possible the fabric, or even use a monopoly if I am stitching over a variety of fabrics in a small area (or, in this case, over hand crocheted lace).
  2. Is the stitching going to hide down in the seam or along the edge of an applique in stitch-in-the-ditch.  Or is the stitching echoing along the edge to highlight the applique or some element in the fabric, for instance.  Sometimes, like a halo, I might want the thread to be slightly or even strongly contrasting for this purpose.  The only way to tell is give it a try.
  3. What type of fabric is the stitching going on?
    • Right now, I am planning a substantial wool applique project that will include the writing of a large chapter in a book (or breaking into its own book), and will result in several samplers, the book project, and a separate show quilt.  This project requires decorative threads.  I am planning to use a variety of threads…primarily 12 weight wool/acrylic blend thread by Aurifil with a 50 weight cotton in the bobbin for most of the stitching at default tension settings with a longer stitch length, but also 40 weight Magnifico and Isacord embroidery threads, and metallic threads for some places.  These are all hopefully going to enhance and showcase the project.
    • For most of my cotton quilted projects I use the combination of 100 weight threads to sink into the background, and 40 weight embroidery threads to show the stitching.  But sometimes, I need additional types for a special thing.  I sometimes use 12 weight cotton thread by Sulky, which I have found runs smoother through the 100 weight top stitch needle with less mess on the back than other brands.  I tried a lot of brands before I settled on this one.  I have a lot of Superior 12 weight cottons that I sometimes use, but only my Bernina 880 plus and my little B350 seem to be ok with that.  My Q20 makes knots on the back with it no matter how I set the tensions and so forth. It might be the way I stitch.  Who knows.  Anyway, I usually use the Bottom Line with that in the bobbin and set the top tension just a little looser than normal to accommodate the width of the thread passing through the tension discs.

So you see, there are lots of considerations that make the thread choices successful.  Batting types and fabric densities, and yes, even the weather have an impact on these decisions.  That is why one really does need to make a small test piece, using the same fabrics, battings, needles, and so forth to practice on before stitching on your main project.  I write them down in my book I keep on projects, so I can return to these settings when needed.  It is truly helpful.  Also, be patient with the thread changes if you are stitching your masterpiece quilted art project especially.  They make a big difference.

Drawing Nigh, completed 4/17/2016. This quilt had 32 thread changes in the sky alone.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay healthy and have some fun in your studio while we are all still under house arrest quarentine.  And even after we are able to get out and move around, I hope you don’t abandon your studio.  Hugs!