Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monofilament Thread: Nylon or Polyester?

When choosing monofilament thread, which type should be used: nylon or polyester? For stitching-in-the-ditch on bed quilts and outlining applique shapes, I use nylon--either Sew Art or YLI Wonder, available in clear or smoke. Use clear for light colored fabrics; smoke blends in well with medium and dark fabrics. I load my bobbin with a cotton thread, usually Presencia 50/3 or 60/3. Auriful 50/2 is also fine. The combination of nylon and cotton gives a good result.

Use a size 60 or 70 microtex sharp needle. Loosen the top tension and quilt a bit slower for successful feed along the thread path. To avoid thread wrapping around the vertical thread stand at the top of your machine, try standing it on the table at the back of the machine. Use a 2" piece of surgi-tubing and wrap that over the spool with the thread feeding out the top. This creates drag and keeps the thread under control. Superior Thread sells a plastic net product for the same purpose.

Polyester monofilament is slightly more shiny, stretchy, and wiry than nylon but is still a good product, just different (see Superior's MonoPoly below). I used the clear in an art quilt where the shine was desired to highlight snowflakes. There is the point that polyester is more heat resistant than nylon (that statement infers nylon isn't heat resistant and should be avoided) but you need to consider how you are applying heat to your quilt. If working on an art quilt where you may be applying heat to the surface, even polyester thread will melt from direct contact with an iron. Quilts we sleep under encounter heat from a clothes dryer. Avoid the highest heat setting and your quilts containing nylon thread will emerge from the wash/dry cycle intact. No melting or popped stitches. Become your own expert by taking quilted swatches of each thread and see how applied heat affects each.
Quality does count. Some brands of nylon and polyester threads are too heavy and strong; steer clear of threads that feel like fishing wire which can damage your fabric. Try breaking the thread. With a slight tug the thread should break easily--Sew Art, YLI and Superior brands all do. Lower quality threads, the "tough" stuff, can be used in art quilts that will not be going through a wash cycle. For bed quilts, however, a true .004 lightweight nylon thread is my thread of choice. See Heirloom Machine Quilting by Harriet Hargrave to view exquisite quilts made with nylon quilting thread.

Copyright ©2008, Sharon Baggs

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Inspiration Olympics, from the precision of the Opening Ceremonies to the architectural design of both the Water Cube and Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium, plus the aesthetically pleasing color scheme and swirly designs on banners everywhere, have been nothing short of awesome. It was my intent to work on UFO's while watching Michael Phelps repeatedly win gold but so far I've just been viewing and not really sewing.

The Water Cube mimics the geometric design of soap bubbles and changes color which naturally appeals to our visual sense. The stadium reminds me of the retro craft of wrapping starched yarn around a balloon. This is wonderful imagery I don't want to forget.

Even the NBC peacock has adopted a crayon colored plume, a bit more muted than the traditional bright colors. Take note of how design plays an important part in what we like to look at. Then during a commercial break, sketch some swirls in your notebook, capturing a memory of the magic surrounding Beijing 2008.

Copyright © 2008, Sharon Baggs

Friday, August 8, 2008

Using Decorative Threads

Glamour and glitz on the surface of a quilt is the result of using decorative threads. Technically, these are heavier than standard sewing thread. Some decorative threads can be threaded through the needle while others are too heavy and must be couched or drawn up from the bobbin.

For threads that can be threaded "through the needle" use either a size 80 or 90 topstitch needle. The topstitch has a larger eye and can accomodate most threads, including metallics. Other needles can work but the topstitch is usually successful. Try this: take a sewing machine needle and insert it upside down in a pin cushion. Thread the needle with a decorative thread and pull it back and forth to see how easily it runs through the needle; if it snags and the needle tries to tip over, try a larger size needle.

For threads that are too heavy for top threading, use them for couching or bobbin drawing. For couching, load the top thread with either invisible monofilament thread or a neutral fine polyester that will blend with the thread, cord, or yarn that is being couched onto the fabric. A couching foot for your machine will help feed the thread to the surface of the quilt while the top thread zig zags over the top and secures (couches) the thread. (See Machine Quilting Made Easy!, p. 41--Exercise 13: Learning to Couch by Maurine Noble.)

Bobbin drawing uses the same machine set up for the top thread but the heavy thread is in the bobbin. Loosen the bobbin thread tension. Turn the quilt over so the back is facing up. As you stitch and see the top thread, the bobbin thread will be drawn up to the front surface of the quilt.

Decorative threads I've used include: Superior Thread's Razzle Dazzle, Rainbows, King Tut, and Glitter; Yen Met Metallic, YLI Variations, and hand dyed perle cotton, chenille yarn, etc. These can add a special sparkle to wall hangings and novelty quilts. Give them a try!

Copyright ©2008, Sharon Baggs

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Threads for quilting

This is a broad category that contains plenty to meet the fiber needs of quilters today. The threads I choose for a bed quilt will be different from what I choose for an artistic wall hanging. In addition to thread, many art quilts employ the use of yarn, beads, metal, and found objects as an example of mixed media. But thread is used in virtually everything quilted. Here's what I use in my beginning quilt classes and for general quilting:

Sew Art Monofilament Nylon Thread--when stitching in the ditch I stand a cone of this at the back of my machine for the top thread and use a cotton thread in the bobbin (Presencia 60/3 or 50/3) to anchor all the horizontal and vertical quilting lines. Also great for outlining applique' pieces. Beginning quilters may find this easy to work with while learning the process of free motion quilting--any bobbles and wiggles are easily disguised.
Presencia 50/3--excellent choice for quilted items that will be washed regularly. The 60/3 can also be used for fine heirloom quilting when stitching lines are close together (1/2" - 2"). The 40/3 is also suitable for quilting lines that are further apart and it works well on flannel.

Superior King Tut--beautiful for quilting open feather designs, this 40/3 cotton variegated thread changes color every inch or so. I use Presencia 50/3 in the bobbin so the resulting thread application doesn't look or feel too heavy. Choose a bobbin thread color that will blend with one of the variegated thread colors on top.

Copyright ©2008, Sharon Baggs