Thursday, July 24, 2008

Threads for piecing

Thread is addictive. I love the colors, textures, and different applications for using them--piecing, quilting, and embellishing.

When piecing a quilt consisting of cotton fabric, I stick with cotton thread. Especially for quilts that will be washed regularly, such as bed quilts, cotton on cotton is a solid fiber marriage for the long haul. Use a quality thread--avoid short staple cotton threads. These may seem fine but they contain slubs and are weaker than a long staple or extra long staple thread.

A quality spool of cotton thread will cost less than a yard of fabric. My favorite piecing thread is Presencia 60/3. It is available in 600m spools or 125 gram cones so you can piece forever!

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This 60 wt. 3-ply thread is fine yet strong. When aiming for an accurate 1/4" seam, this thread yields both precision and strength. A taupe or light/medium gray works well with most fabrics. Presencia 50/3 thread, available in 182 solid colors, is also excellent for piecing and quilting. Try sewing a seam with each of these threads and compare the difference.

Pictured below from left to right: a 125 gram cone of 60/3; a 500m spool of 50/3 and a 400m spool of 40/3. When sewing binding on a quilt, I machine sew the double fold binding edge to the front of the quilt with 60/3 thread and hand sew the fold to the back with 40/3. This is the recommendation of Harriet Hargrave and it gives a strong finish to the quilt edge.

A popular choice for piecing is Aurifil Mako Cotton and Superior's MasterPiece, both 50/2 threads. With just two plys it's important to shorten the stitch length on your machine to insure strength in the seam.

With 60/3 thread you get the benefit of an accurate 1/4" seam without adjusting the stitch length. Also the 3-ply thread has about 50 more twists to it, adding to its strength. For this reason, Presencia's 60/3 is my hands down favorite piecing thread. Check out their full line of quality threads at

A fine polyester such as Superior's Bottom Line or So Fine may also be considered for piecing projects that are not bed quilts. Wall hangings, miniature quilts, wearables, bags, crafts, etc. are perfectly suitable for using polyester thread. Again quality is important so look for the word "trilobal" on a spool of polyester thread.

Copyright ©2008, Sharon Baggs

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sisters Quilt Show

Always the second Saturday in July, the Sisters Quilt Show attracts thousands of visitors to view hundreds of quilts. Pictured above are Ruthann and Rod, friends from church who invited me to join them this year. Armed with my new DSLR camera, I was able to get some close-ups of fine quilting examples (click on pics. for a closer view.)

This batik quilt of a sharply paper-pieced star reflects even and interesting quilting. I like the movement of the lines quilted through each part of the star. The outline of the star stitched in the white fabric is simple and classic. On the border feather, there are two lines quilted inside the feather.

Clamshells are my favorite to quilt so I was delighted to see them used here to highlight the scales on this fish. White really stands out; maybe a lighter value orange would also work. The spirals on the blue background have an added hook (click on pic. for a closer look). Didn't "catch" what this quilt sold for.

There were many featured art quilters at the show including Gabrielle Swain. Her color composition in this quilt of different leaves is lovely with impeccable hand quilting. The line designs bring out the texture. See how the straight lines of the background accentuate the flow of the leaf shape.

At the end of the day while sitting in the Stitchin' Post quilt shop, these beautiful ribbons caught my eye from a seat near the front of the store. I bought two spools of thread: orange and magenta then sat down to observe the myriad of quilters getting their last minute souvenirs of a memorable day in Sisters.

Copyright ©2008, Sharon Baggs

Friday, July 11, 2008

Final Photos--Cat Quilt

Camie has had her cat quilt back for two weeks now but I promised to post a few final pictures for her friends who have been following the progress.

I used red silk thread (YLI 100 wt.) to microstipple around the print on the Santa cat. White swirls were quilted on the beard for a curly effect. The background between the snowflakes is a jagged line simulating etching--I used clear polyester monofilament (Superior Monopoly)because it is shinier than nylon.

Pirate kitty has a white clamshell design on his leg and black circles quilted on his paw-print body. The background patchwork is stitched-in-the-ditch to keep it from rising up and looking "loose".

The full length view of the 12 cats. Camie is planning to finish it with a scrappy binding, add a hanging sleeve and display it proudly. There are a lot of design decisions to make when it comes to quilting a quilt like this but it was a great education for me to work on it and apply my free form quilting skills to something more than a practice piece. Mission accomplished!

Copyright 2008, Sharon Baggs

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Batting: Part 3 of 3 -- Personal Picks

What batting do you use is a question I'm often asked. The answer depends on what I'm making and the look I want to achieve; then I choose the appropriate batting.

Crafts: (i.e. quilted bags, table runners, pot holders, wall hangings, etc.) -- flat polyester such as Dream Poly or a cotton batting with scrim (Hobbs, The Warm Co.) Fairfield's new bamboo batting also has a scrim, allowing the quilting lines to be further apart. If a flat, no-shrink appearance is desired, prewash your fabric and presoak the batting. To presoak: fill wash basin with tepid water, lay batting in and allow to soak for 10 minutes; spin out water--avoid agitation--and dry on a warm cycle for 10 minutes.

Bed quilts: Natural fibers such as cotton, wool, or silk are my top picks because they b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Polyester fiber, on the other hand, traps heat and can be quite warm. For a puckered, granny style quilt, do not prewash your fabric and batting. Simply layer, quilt, bind, and wash so everything shrinks together. My favorite cotton battings include: Fairfield's Soft Touch, Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon, and Hobbs Heirloom which is 80% cotton and 20% polyester. Hobbs Wool and Hobbs Silk are quality products--no bearding (fiber migration through the quilting holes), machine quilting friendly, and loft is retained after quilting. Because I like drapability and close quilt lines in a bed quilt I generally avoid battings with scrim. Note: If you plan to sometimes hang a bed quilt for display, avoid using wool and silk battings that can sag over time. Best to use Hobbs 80/20, Fairfield Bamboo/Cotton (50/50) with scrim, or 100% polyester.

Baby quilts: I see more baby quilts with polyester batting because it is inexpensive but it does not breathe. Unless the child lives in an igloo, try one of the natural fibers mentioned above. Baby quilts get more wear and tear than the average bed quilt so a batting with scrim (i.e. Bamboo) may hold up longer. I try new battings by using them in a baby quilt.

College dorm quilts/throws--lap size: Whether it's a quilt on the dorm bed or a couch, Hobbs 80/20 is the universal batting that works well for these items. College kids may not wash their quilts often but they will treasure a soft, drapable quilt that this batting provides.

Test for yourself: The best way to know what you like is to start gathering available battings and quilt some samples. Use different combinations of pre-washed fabric/pre-soaked batting and unwashed fabric/unwashed batting. It's your personal preference that counts so educate yourself on what works for you. For a batting sample square set, check

Copyright 2008, Sharon Baggs

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Batting: Part 2 of 3 -- Choices

Used to be the main players in batting were flat cotton and super lofty polyester, but the field has expanded and choices abound.

Polyester: Super loft is great for hand quilting and tying quilts; however, it creates a slippery feel for machine quilters. I can only quilt on the puffy stuff if I use basting spray. There are some flatter, denser polyester battings available now, such as Quilter's Dream Poly, which are much easier to machine quilt and are particularly suitable for wall hangings and trapunto work. A bit of polyester (10-20%) is sometimes blended with cotton or wool to create a batting with added stability and less fiber migration. Polyester doesn't shrink or breathe like a natural fiber will.

Cotton: An excellent choice for machine quilting. It adheres to cotton patchwork, lies flat, and rolls up easily under the arm of the machine. A cotton batt such as Hobbs Heirloom (80% cotton, 20% polyester) is a good choice for lap and bed size quilts. Use 100% cotton batting without scrim for authentic looking antique quilts that will be quilted closely and shrink after washing (i.e. Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon or Fairfield Soft Touch). The 100% cotton batts with an inside layer (scrim), such as Warm and Natural/White are more rigid with a quilting density of 8-12". Beginning quilters may be starting with this but it best for craft projects. Try this: take two squares of cotton batting--one with scrim and one without. Compare tugging on them and you'll see the difference.

Wool: Another natural fiber that breathes, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Comfortable to sleep under. Wool has a loft that gives a trapunto look. It machine quilts like a dream is washable.

Silk: Another fine feel batting that resembles wool, just not as lofty. Good for lightweight quilts and quilted garments.

Bamboo: The new kid in town being touted for its environmental attributes, made of 50% bamboo fiber and 50% organic cotton. It does contain a scrim but it is soft and cuddly for a baby quilt or any craft projects. Check out this product at

Corn: Another addition to the environmentally friendly family of battings, corn is a natural fiber that prides itself as an alternative to the use of polyester fibers in battings. Look for Eco-Friendly Batting (100% PLA Fiber) and Eco-Friendly Batting Blend (50% PLA and 50% Cotton Fiber) from the makers of Mountain Mist. Both are soft, durable, and can be quilted up to 4" intervals.

Copyright 2008, Sharon Baggs