In June Leah Day wrote an excellent blog on her thread preferences. I pretty much agree – I love Isacord. It holds tension well and has a nice sheen that enhances the design. I also think Sulky falls into this category and their selection of variegated thread as well as the ability to get smaller spools for when you only need a bit of a color is great.
The bobbin thread is for me still an issue, sort of. Leah recommends using the same thread in the bobbin, preferably the same color. It helps with the tension issues, any thread pop ups are unnoticeable and the machine likes it better.
However, that doesn’t always happen. I currently am working on a quilt that is very different in back than in front – it’s meant to be reversible. The person who commissioned the quilt wanted me to use cotton thread. Ugh. It’s been a royal pain, not to mention the prodigious dust bunnies that collect in the bobbin area; I have to clean it out with every bobbin refill. It shreds and if I vary my speed (machine or hand) the tension reacts poorly. I am hoping that washing will help even things out a bit. In fact I have come to hate cotton thread for quilting – I have tried Guttermann, Essential, Robison-Anton and Mettler and I just have a hard time making it behave consistently. Maybe I am still too much of a novice. I also hate the lint it produces in the bobbin area.
I really like to use clear thread in the bobbin. Ann Fahl’s book Dancing with Thread suggests this option. It allows you to change colors on the top with no color change on the back. It does not show through the front. It is thin, so a spool holds a lot of thread. Because it is a bit stretchy, you may have to increase the top tension. I have a Janome and I have to crank the tension to about 6. However, if you are using a dark thread on top and the quilt backing is light colored, it’s still really hard to not have thread heads show on the back. It comes as polyester and as nylon. There’s some debate about whether nylon will become brittle and discolor with age, but since you can get a clear polyester (Sulky makes a good one), why bother? That way, you are using the same composition of thread in both top and bottom, which helps with controlling tension. I talked with one lady, who used to service Bernina sewing machines. She said that nylon is tough enough to actually wear grooves into the bobbin case! Not so with polyester.
Superior makes bobbin thread that I have had good luck with and Isachord and Sulky do fine as bobbin threads.
There has been some debate about whether polyester will cut cotton. There is a great discussion that debunks this as a myth.
Another must have or at least must read resource is Threadwork Unraveled.
Needles are another consideration. I have pretty much settled on using topstitch 80/12 for most of my quilting. Occasionally a 90/14 topstitch is warranted and a 70/10 can be used with very fine threads (like if you were to use clear both top and bottom). The topstitch needle has a deeper guide groove, so shredding is usually not an issue. Sharps are also good. I haven’t had much luck with universals. I just use topstitch needles for everything including piecing. I change needles about every 2 to 3 bobbins worth. Here’s how I stash my various sized needles that are still good:
|This is a stick on magnetic strip labeled with sizes. My sewing platform slides over this and keeps the needles out of the way until needed.|
Finally the big bugaboo: Tension. You just have to experiment. I am coming to the conclusion that you need to always do some quilting on a test piece every time you start, with every needle change, with every bobbin refill and with every top thread change. I also think that weather changes (humidity, etc) cause the thread to behave differently.
What to do about the ends? Well, I have seen everything from just clipping them to meticulously knotting and burying them. After having had to rip out a fair amount of quilting so I have seen what seems to hold and what doesn't, I have settled on starting and ending with some very small stitches that lock the threads. I pull the bottom thread to the top both when starting and finishing. I then just bury the ends – rarely will I knot. I use a large needle that has a loop of thread tied to it.
|The needle with thread loop and my second helper needle. I use small embroidery scissors to clip the loose ends after they have been pulled through.|
I insert the needle exactly where the threads come out and exit about 1 to 2 inches away and pull it through until a small amount of the loop remains. I use a second needle to help me pull the thread ends through the loop. Then I just pull the loop the rest of the way – the ends are pulled along. I tug on them and clip them off. I have seen self threading needles suggested, but for me, the ends got shredded too often. I like the loop system better.
With every piece I quilt, I learn more. I can see the progress and hope that it continues!