What I Do to Make Thread Behave Better, Part 1

I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much.  Often it is thread nests, or thread shreaddings.  Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit.  In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching.  Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread.  I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.

Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles.  Sew what’s the problem?  This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio.  I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today).  So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take.  Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.

One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test.  Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first.  Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry.  This can be a very important tool for you.  If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together.  Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.

Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types.  Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best.  It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on.  Usually it is, however.

One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines.  These may include

  • humidity and heat,
  • batting types,
  • adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
  • lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
  • a faulty needle,
  • a little bur or damage on the foot,
  • a damaged/bent bobbin
  • a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
  • the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
  • a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
  • and our own mood or health at the time.

I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.

Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.

Preparing to practice some ruler work on Fritz, my Bernina Q20

I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs.  My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this.  This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton.  For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.

Here’s my chart. You should make your own that works for you, but you might want to start here.

If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup.  Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.

Thread Management in the Q20

I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:

  1. thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net.  I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
  2. the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).

    horizontal spool holder is usually an additional attachment you have to purchase.

     

    Here is the spoolholder installed

     

  3. the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads.  I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.

    This little bottle is usually included in the purchase of your machine. It is a silicone thread lubricant and is tiny but goes a long ways.

     

    thread lubrication path on my Bernina Q20.

     

  4. Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path.  I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
  5. A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity.  I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
  6. I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand.  Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about.  I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
  7. And a selection of the following needles:
    • Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
    • universal 70/10 and 80/12
    • Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
    • I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.

      Twin needle stitch plate

       

  8. A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush.  The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
  9. Bernina machine oil
  10. I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in.  You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it

    8 series multi-function tool..handy for more than the 8s

     

  11. The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it.  Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always.  I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types.  Using the gauge

As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine.  I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).

Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems

  1. Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
  2. If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
  3. If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
  4. If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
  5. It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using.  The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
  6. Check the needle.  Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle.  But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw.  You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
  7. Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully.  Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently.  It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
  8. Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
  9. Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur).  I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back.  I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
  10. Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
  11. Run your bobbin through the  tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight.  It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
  12. Replace your bobbin.
  13. Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides.  It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color.  Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads.  I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin.  I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back.  I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however.  I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
  14. Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
  15. Check your foot for damages.  I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot.  They stopped.  Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it.  I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
  16. Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
  17. Put it all back together and do some test stitching.  Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.

I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines.  Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them.  So I will break this blog into two parts.  Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Achieving a Straight Unwavy Quilt

When I started making quilts to hang on the wall, I was working with smaller quilts that didn’t seem to present problems of waves and unevenness.  I had a quilt in the 2013 Quilt Odyssey show and I attended the show.  When I saw the quilt hanging there, I was a little horrified at the wave I saw and how it looked a little crooked. It also seemed a little wiggly at the top.  There it was, hanging in a prestigious show (it has since decided to close the Quilt Odyssey shows) with all those amazing quilts.

Perspective in Threads completed in 2012  before I fixed the binding and after I fixed the rod pocket.

I wanted to grab it and run!  LOL  I couldn’t understand it.  When it was home and on the table it was flat and I guess maybe not as square as I originally thought, but certainly not so wiggly/wavy.  When I got it home I took a hard look at it, did some measuring, square measuring, etc.  I realized a couple of things attributed to the wiggles and waves and most of them had to do with the rod pocket! Here is my analysis of that little quilt.

  • The rod pocket was slightly too narrow and so it had been scrunched a little on their rod. It was sewn so there was no extra space on the back to prevent the rod from poking the top out.
  • The rod pocket was not level in relation to the quilt itself.
  • The binding wasn’t done very well.
  • It measured correctly with even sides and top and bottom though there was a very slight difference between the top and the bottom length.  It was relatively square and there really wasn’t much I could do about any minor unsquareness because of the way I had used the printed border.  I don’t think that is a problem.
  • It is basically a whole cloth quilt with a border and quilted well and evenly, so it didn’t pull it out of whack even though I “quilted it to death”.

So there you go.  The primary problems were the binding that could have been better and the poorly done rod pocket.  I have since replaced both on that quilt, but it has not shown since.

After that, I started carefully measuring the rod pocket when I cut it out and when I applied it so it is even from the top. Instead of 4 inches I make a 5 inch or even more pocket, making sure that it is put on in such a way that there is more fabric on the back in order to make the quilt hang straighter on the top and the rod to be at the back, and although I still struggle with getting a really good binding on a quilt, I am enormously better than I was in 2012 with that. I ewill take the binding off and redo it now if need be.

I bought a laser square and am really particular about the squareness of a quilt now from start to finish. My quilts that go to shows now are seldom, if at all, out of square.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay calm and carry on…carry on with quilting, sewing, family, friends, home, and pray a lot.  Make something for yourself or your favorite person. This plan will likely give you a lot of peace.

 

 

Repurposing Sewing Patterns and Die Cut Shapes

Hi readers!  Yes, I am done with my mom’s memory quilt except for completing the hand sewing on of the butterflies.  They are taking a while.  I am very pleased with the quilt both front and back now, and if there is no show to enter it into this fall, I will go ahead and post pictures of it, which I have yet to take. But for now I am hoping to enter it first into the Mancuso show in Pennsylvania in September.

I was chatting with a friend of mine this week and we agreed that we both need new summer clothes…simple tops and simple pants made from pretty durable fabrics.  I took a look at the pattern sites and was horrified at all the ruffles and dresses straight out of the hippy Woodstock era that are definately not for me. But I did find just what I wanted in my own pattern stash and I realized some of them are still available online.  It might surprise you but I found a couple of particularly nice patterns in the “uniform/scrub” category.  I purchased McCall’s M6473.

Here is the pattern made up into scrubs.

But in looking at the line drawings accompanying the pattern, I realized they are exactly what I was looking for and, made in the right fabrics and adding some embellishments I would have the summer patterns I wanted…quick, easy, and stylish.  These are just right for my daily life.  Take a look.

The pants have a dual waistband with a smooth front and elastic sides and back and really fun pockets. All three versions of the top are perfect canvases for some interesting fancy stitches, embroidery or appliques to spice them up. These tunics are nice and loose but not pregnancy tops.

I also found in my pattern stash a Simplicity pattern I have had for some time, Simplicity 2371, that has a lot of the same characteristics, though I think the scrub pants are a little better.  I will do all the size testing/fixing on the scrubs slacks and make a couple of pair of those out of some nice sturdy knit fabrics I have for that purpose that I bought at least over a year ago.  But I will probably make some version of the long leeved tunic on th Simplicity pattern.

The Simplicity pattern from my stash. Note the pants have a simple full elastic waist and no pockets…not what I wanted exactly. But the long sleeve tunic provides a suggestion for the embellishment. I would be adding something more.

Now as I was browsing through my pattern stash I saw a plethora of bag patterns, my vintage pattern collection, and some really gorgeous jackets and suits for dressier, colder times.  I have the fabric for most of that too.  Yes, my clothing stash, though carefully trimmed, is still quite wonderful.  I will make at least one nice winter suit for this year, but mostly I am still losing weight, but not very fast, still…I want to save some of the nicer fabrics for later.  I already have some really nice summer dressier clothes.  Some of these I made and some I bought and I have kept them pretty much altered to my size as I have gone down.  So mostly I need casual summer clothes for daily wear in my studio and some nicer pieces for fall and winter.

Sew all of this clothing sewing I will fit in here and there between my quilting projects.

This made me think about how I was going to approach my wool applique project.  I have a lot of Accucut Go! dies with flowers, leaves, birds and animals, and decorative shapes.  I think I will simply cut out a lot of them in multiple colors after I back the small wool and other similar pieces  I have with a fusible and play around with making a hands on design.  Many of these have patterns with them and were designed for specific things, but I am breaking up the sets and making a bowl full of these pieces.  I also need to figure out some vines and stems, and I am thinking I may have to draw up another animal shape or two.  This should be a fun project and will result in a small sampler, a book, and a show quilt.

Sew you see, you don’t have to use the patterns or pieces like the original designer intended, and you can often find just what you want by opening your creative mind and looking further at the designs and giving them some thought.

So next I will start two new quilting projects…the wool applique one and a more complex art quilt design in one of my ongoing series.  This second half of the year promises to be much more fun than the first half.  I am hoping and praying that in spite of the darkness of the hour in the country, the light will begin to shine through and clear away the dark.  Like the hymn that has been buzzing around my head for at least a week “Morning has broken, like the first morning…”  Remember, morning starts at the darkest part of the 24 hours.

Sew happy everyone!  Make yourself something fun just for you.

 

 

 

Finishing Up the Quilt: Beads, Butterflies, Rod Pocket, and Labels

These are the five 10 inch squares of crocheted lace that I found in Mom’s workbasket. They inspired the quilt.

Oh goody!  I have finally finished the construction of my Mom’s memory quilt.  I still have to add the beads, labels, the rod pocket, and a small set of pretty crocheted butterflies Mom made that I plan to add to the back.  I have a few spots where the paint soaked through to the back when I had my brush too wet.  There is no removing it, and I originally thought I would cover it with an additional label that gave a little bio and pictures of Mom.  But then I remembered the colorful crocheted butterflies.  They are just right to add a lot of fun to the back and will completely cover the paint spots.  I know there are some out there who think it is “cheating” to cover problems on the back of a quilt, but I believe that if you address the problem in some creative way it is just another part of making the quilt right. Besides, they are cute and I should add them regardless.  That way, the bio/picture label can still go on, but on the lower left side of the quilt oposite the info label on the lower right side of the quilt.  I will look around and see if there are more of the butterflies to sweep across the back of the quilt, but even if not, it will be a fun solution.

I was going to sew on the beads today…the hand sewing part.  There is also a machine sewing part and a hot fix part.  I have to test the hot fix first.  Chores and disintangling some bead strings took up most of the day and now it is really getting warm in my studio.  I may still get to some bead work, but it is Saturday.  I usually go a little easier on Saturday…a habit I picked up from all my years of my demanding job for the government…do a little more rest and recreation on your days off!  Same now…I still consider this a light or no work day and Sundays the same.

In any event, I think this quilt will be completed this coming week.  Hooray!  Then I have a long list of exciting future projects.  I have spent more than a year on this quilt.  During this time I had my main sewing machine die and I bought a new Bernina 880 plus and spent a while getting to know it.  I love it.  It works magnificently.  I usually make three to four show quilts in a year, but last year there were none, and this is the first one this year.  I will be making smaller quilts for the rest of this show quilt making season.  They will be art quilts and I will hope to sell them.  Selling smaller quilts is a little easier, because people are more likely to have the space on their wall for them.  They aren’t necessarily cheaper, but it depends on the techniques I have to deplow.  But I am also using them for book samples.  That way I will hope to get double duty out of the coming quilts,  and I will not be selling Mom’s memory quilt.  It’s just the right size to fold in half and place on the foot of my bed, or even unfold and use as a topper.  I don’t have a space big enough for hanging it, and even so it is considered a “small wall quilt”.  I guess I just am not cutout to make bed sized quilts.  They aren’t my thing.  Besides, I truly love making pictorial art quilts.

I really have no idea how to categorize this quilt.  It is truly not a traditional quilt, and it is not an art quilt exactly. In any event, I hope my Mom can see it from heaven and likes it.  It’s a tribute to my magnificent talented Mom, Zephana Compton Bivens.

Sew happy everyone!  Stay safe, well, and happy in spite of all the chaos swirling around us.  Take some time off just to goof off, read, take a walk, or sit outside. Cheers.