What I Do to Make Threads Behave Better, Part Two

Picking up where I left off on my last blog post, I want to address the problems of dealing with various threads when sewing and embroidery as opposed to free motion quilting.

I have had an interest in threads for a very long time and have been fascinated to see the development of threads over the past few decades.  Threads I use today are clearly considerably better than those I used decades ago when I had my fashion design and tailoring business in Ithaca, NY in the mid 70s to mid 80s. Even the threads I used then of the same brands have seemingly improved in their tencil strength and reduction of lint.  Even then though I used what I determined were the best thread brands available. So I suggest not using older threads from your great aunt’s basket, but any of the threads in your stash of a good brand are probably ok even if they are a decade old.

These are pretty, but best to place old threads in decorative jar or bowl and use more contemporary thread.  If you want to use one just for memories, just stitch a few inches somewhere it won’t be getting any stress.

One of the chief things is to keep your machine clean and oiled, your thread properly threaded (pulling off the top if it is cross wound, and from the side if it is stack wound).  Almost all the machines today have a method for both threadings.  Check your manual. My Bernina 880 plus has a little metal eyelet hole to send the stack wound through before threading it.  I am not sure that is obvious, so check your manual.

Thread path for stack wound spool on the 880 plus pulling sideways as needed for this wind.

First of all, I suggest you go back and read my last blog that was centered around thread management in free motion quilting.  Even so, though there are many things there that are the same for sewing and embroidery.

For the most part, when sewing clothes and accessories on the sewing machine, the tension goal is the same as for quilting..a balance between the top and the bottom, but tension settings sometimes have a different goal especially for decorative stitching and embroidery where the tension may be best when pulling to the back more than the front.  My Berninas automatically adjust that when I switch to decorative stitching and I never really have to think about it.  But if you are having trouble with your threads breaking or somehow misformed stitches, then it is likely some adjustment to the tension needs to be made.

Yes, you can change the bobbin tension!!!!  I have heard so many people say they were told not to change the bobbin tension, and that limits you to the standard thread weights and cuts out some wonderful specialty thread work you could do. But you may want to have a separate bobbin case if your bobbin works that way to use for specialty bobbin work or changing the tension to accommodate a specialty thread. My Bernina 880 Plus has a tension adjustment method built in using that little multi-purpose tool. Check your manual.

8 series multi-function tool.

Having the proper foundation for your sewing or embroidery project can make a huge difference in the behavior of your thread as you work.  For the most part, when quilting, the batting and backing fabric provides sufficient foundation for even rather intensely quilted projects, but if you are doing fancy stitching with specialty threads on your sewing machine for say, your new summer dressy top, you will really need to add interfacings and/or stabilizers (tear away or wash away is best).  I think I will write a separate blog on that subject because it is important and there is much to say about that. But getting it wrong can make you think there is something wrong with your machine or make your threads break and misbehave and your project get all bumpy and pully. So pay attention to the foundation.

Just like when you are quilting, you need to test things before you begin a project and periodically at certain phases of your project to make sure you have things working right before you stitch on your expensive fabrics. Make a test piece and take notes as you go  If your machine saves personalized settings then use that function to save time.

I realized I wrote a post that addresses a lot of thread decisions already and it belongs with these two blogs.

Here is page 18 from my Bernina 880 plus manual.  It has a great explanation of needles and what they are used for.  I thought you would like to see it:

Sew after you read that blog and my last blog and this blog, (and your manual) do you have any questions I may be able to help answer in thread management?  Please let me know.  I want to help people enjoy their sewing and quilting with little frustration and a lot of fun.

Sew happy everyone.  Take time to test and read your manuals as part of your project time especially if you have a deadline.  Unsewing is no fun at all.  Try out some of the wonderful specialty threads available. Cheers everyone.

 

 

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.

 

 

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!