Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thread Choices - Day 2 - Color Selection

This is a second post in a three part series on Thread Choices for Quilters.

Having been a sewer for more than 50 years and a long arm quilter for almost 15, thread color choice is very important when quilting your quilt. While one can't go wrong using a white, cream or off white thread, the design and style of the quilt and quilting pattern will help to dictate other thread color choices. Personally, I like to use colored threads when I quilt.

If a quilt is simple, pieced and the pattern choice is an all over pantograph, the best way to choose thread color is to lay or "puddle the thread across the top of the quilt to see how each thread choice interacts with the fabrics. As you can see in the photo below, some threads all but disappear on the quilt while others really stand out and the variegated thread does both. What thread you select has alot to do with the finished look of your quilt. If you want the quilting to really show, the yellow or pink thread would be a good choice. If you wish the quilting design to be a secondary player to the actual quilt top itself, then one of the turquoise colors might be best on this quilt. While the bright orange thread matches the outermost border on this quilt, it might be just a bit much as an allover. I would however consider using it in just the borders.

If the colors of the fabrics in the quilt are highly varied, I will typically work with the quilter consider a bright solid found the quilt top. If the fabrics are from a particular line or collection, I study the fabrics to determine if there is a common color in the majority of the fabrics. If this is the case, I will pull thread cones from that color family to audition as possible thread choices.

In other cases, if the quilt is more contemporary, we will look at using a variegated threadl Variegated threads can be tricky as color variation can "pop" in some places and literally disappear in others. I have found that quilts made with batik fabrics work especially well with variegated threads. The yellow batik quilt below worked well with a variegated thread choice that included most of the colors in the quilt top. The thread color chosen in the pink 'zipper' quilt did not work as well and I probably should have selected a different pattern and thread color and let the beautiful fabrics show through without the distraction of the quilting on that one.

When the quilt is more modern in its design with negative space to consider and full, a solid color thread is probably your best choice. Modern quilts tend to have a minimalistic feel to them, so the thread choice should probably be close to the color of the main background or negative space.

In the green modern quilt above, I wanted to showcase and practice some freehand quilting designs. The choice of the cream colored thread was perfect. The quilting shows, but doesn't ovewhelm the modern design of the quilt.

If the quilt is more traditional, your cream, taupe, white or black thread may be good choices. Particularly culprits when the quilt is a reproduction and the quilting pattern will be more functional rather than decorative, you will want to choose a thread color that would have been available at the time the original quilt was made.

You also should consider the backing of the quilt when choosing a thread color. When the machine thread tension is perfect, it's possible to use thread colors that are very different on the top and bottom and of the quilt. Be sure to ask how the quilt will be used. If it's a wall hanging and the back will not easily be seen, top and bottom threads should probably match or be very close in color. If the quilt is a bed quilt, will be washed and used regularly, then the thread colors should match the top and bottom respectively.

In the case of applique or album quilts, the thread choices should match the background of the album/Applique blocks and be used to add texture but not to distract the eye from the beautiful applique. I have found that quilting upon the applique motifs themselves require careful color consideration. Leaves may look better with a contrasting leaf vein added, see example below. The dark green leaves needed some texture added to them, so I selected a light green thread that was found elsewhere in the quilt to make those veins and add interest. Flower petals may look best if the thread color mimics the flower which is being quilted and just to add dimension and texture. Tread carefully to avoid the need to pick out stitching.

My best rule of thumb is to use threads that will coordinate well with the quilt you are quilting. I try to avoid introducing new colors that are not found in the quilt itself. Don't be afraid to try different threads and always use the best quality thread you can afford.

My next post will address the third installment of this discussion on thread choices, thread weight and quilt use.
Stay tuned for more thready details.

#quiltingthreadcolorchoices #pickingthreadcolors #threadpuddling #variegatedthreads #threadselection #longarmquilting

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Quilting Thread Choices - Day One Fiber Content

As quilters, we have many, many options available to us in fabric, threads and battings. I thought over the next few days I would discuss thread choices. There are several things to consider when selecting your threads. Fiber Content, color, weight and use. Today, let's review fiber content.

A quilter must consider the fiber from which their various threads are made of before they use them. Different threads work well for various tasks when quilting and sewing. I used to believe that I should only ever use cotton threads in the construction and quilting of my quilts. I had been taught that cotton thread would be the best choice, because I almost always use cotton fabrics in my quilts. Cotton thread would be the right choice because stress on the seams in the piecing of the quilt would not rip the fabric fibers like a poly or poly blend thread might do. I believed what I had been told and subscribed to cotton on my threads for the majority of my piecing, Applique and quilting choices. I also learned to avoid waxy coated threads for hand quilting as I found it too difficult to work with and it was so thick and strong that I thought it would rip the fabric where stitched years down the road. Here is one of the few handquilted bed quilts I still have in my possession.

This quilt proved that heavy duty hand quilting thread is not the best choice. When I carelessly tossed a section of it in the back of a car hatchback, little did I know it would be exposed to battery acid. The cotton fabrics melted away but the poly batting and waxy thread stayed intact. It was really strange to see. I ended up redoing that entire section of the quilt and vowed never used waxy hand quilting thread again. For those of you that know me as a machine quilter, yes I can do some pretty awesome tiny hand quilting, but choose to quilt by machine these days.

I love doing invisible machine applique and have found that clear nylon thread works well to hide the stitches and give the appearance of hand applique. Years ago I had taken a mock hand applique class from Harriet Hargraves and she had us use this invisible thread made by SewArt. This pumpkin quilt is one of many applique quilts I have done using mock hand applique, with invisible nylon as the top thread and a lingerie thread in the bobbin. It's next to impossible to find that lingerie thread these days as I used to purchase it from Clotilde online before Annie's took them over. Now they don't stock it anymore. So I substitute white bottom line thread from Superior and it works well. The idea behind the invisible thread on the top is to make almost invisible stitches and the bottom weight thread must be fine and neutral. I found Bottom Line thread to work well, light or white if the background fabric are light, and black or darker grey color if the background fabric is darker. The great think about bottom line thread is that it is a fine weight poly thread and more of it fits in the bobbins as you wind them so, whether you are quilting with it or using it to stitch on your domestic machine, you won't have to change bobbins as often.

When machine quilting my quilts in the long arm, I started out only using Signature 100% cotton thread. I think that choice was due to that was the easiest to find and buy at the time. More recently, I discovered Superior brand threads and realized how much better I liked quilting with them. Signature threads are wonderful, but they shed a lot and cause significantly more lint build up on the machine that the Superior brand. This slows me down as I have to clean the raceway and bobbin area as well as the needle and needle bar and hopping foot every time I change the bobbin. This doesn't happen with Superior. I can go much longer without significant lint build up or breakage.

Now I am slowly phasing out Signature Threads and using those cones as my piecing threads in the home sewing machine, and replacing them with the various Superior threads in a wide variety of colors. Now, if a customer demands cotton threads I will use it and they have a choice of the more expensive cotton King Tut made by Superior or Signature cottons I have on hand.

Another consideration for thread fiber content is the actual quilt itself. When I quilt vintage or antique quilt tops, I will always use a cotton thread choice. I try to select thread colors that would have been available at the time the top was made and will often take my queue from the seams in the quilt top itself. Not always, but its a good thing to consider. Here are two photos of one of the vintage tops I purchased and quilted years ago. I used cotton batting, cotton thread and muslin backing so an offwhite thread seemed to be the perfect choice.

That quilt is well loved, used alot and washed frequently. Its held up beautifully and is soft and lightweight.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 - Quilting Thread Choices, A Color Discussion

#threadfibers #quiltingthreads #myfavoritethreads #threadcolordiscussion

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Baltimore Album Quilts (BAQ)

I recently had the opportunity to quilt a stunning and carefully hand appliqued Baltimore Album Style Quilt for a customer in PA. I needed to purchase backing to use on the quilt and also used 100% cotton Warm and Natural batting as the filler. I had the perfect color of threads to use on the top and backing, both in the green blue category. I chose Superior's So Fine #50 thread to quilt it. I cleaned and oiled my machine, put in a new needle and set out to quilt this beauty.

I had spoken briefly with the customer both in person and over the phone. She told me she liked cross hatching but that I was free to quilt it as I saw appropriate. It was a dream come true!

Custom quilting is something that this quilter really enjoys. I find that looking at the quilt and allowing it to speak to me and helps me to decide how it should be quilted. There are an unlimited number of possible ways to quilt a quilt, but not all are appropriate for each different style of quilt. This particular Baltimore Album Style quilt had large wide open borders enhanced with a small curvy line and many green leaves with big beautiful ruched flowers in the four corners. The vine and leaves were a very dark green and the flowers were a printed fabric.

In addition, each border contain two sets of raspberry colored prairie points on the outside and inside of the borders. I decided to perform stitch in the ditch (SITD) quilting around the prarie points and then stitch another row of quilting inside the border away from the SITD (stitch in the ditch) thread. This gave those prairie points a dimensional quality to them. Next I employed the use of my favorite 6" ruler to sew small straight lines on the outermost section of the of the border. I call it matchstick quilting. Inside the vine and second set of decided that a nice random but curvy filler, also known as McTavishing would look perfect. I added the stitching, randomly sneaking in some hearts to echo those found in the appliqué blocks. I also stitched closely around the stems and leaves on both sides.

The center of the quilt consisted of 9 large, appliqued blocks, each one different from the others. The center block had two smaller sections of background fabric. I had to figure out how to quilt them and blend in the extra background. I had studied BAQ quilts online and saw one intricate example where the blocks were without sashing. It had been quilted with a feathery border in between the blocks. I loved how it looked and decided to use that around the inner border edges and between the blocks themselves. I sewed these feathers free hand.

I decided to cross hatch 5 of the blocks, the four corner blocks and the basket block in the center. This ended up being the most labor intensive part of the job. I had done cross hatching before, but on Wholecloth quilts not ones with tiny appliqued stems and leaves and berries. Cross hatching involves measuring the center and corners of the quilt and sewing those lines first. You set the stitches at the start and end of each line. When your line intersects an applique piece, I had to stop stitching, set the stitches, clip the threads and move the needle to the next section of the line. I figured out it took me about 1.5 hours to quilt each block with cross hatching. This also means there was going to be a lot of snipping and clean up on the back of the quilt once I was done quilting, to trim to threads that skipped over the appliqued pieces. It turned out that the clean up and snipping went very quickly in the end.

While it took many days to complete the quilt, I think it turned out stunning and the customer, her sister and the end recipient (her great niece) loved the quilt. I hope they enjoy it for many generations. It truly was a work of art.

#baltimorealbumquilt #customquilting #appliquequilt #BAQ #allinadayswork

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Dawn of a new solution!

Over the weekend I was working on a very large custom quilting job on an almost vintage quilt top. The quilt was a dark blue calico mixed with a solid cream fabric and the pattern was an 8" snow ball. The customer chose a very pretty block pattern called time after time, which essentially is interlinked double hearts. In the borders she wanted me to quilt a linear pattern called Pumpkin Coach.

I spent day one quilting the upper border and several rows of thes blocks. Each block required me to set the block pattern up, walk around the machine, check layout and centering, walk back around the machine, set the threads, trim, sew the pattern, stop, walk back around, set and trim threads and repeat. Mike watched me one afternoon and he was amazed at how much walking and movement I had to do. I think he understands why some nights I am tired from just quilting. It was another one of those quilts that strengthened my desire for a computerized longarm.

After the first day of quilting, I cleaned and oiled the machine so it would be ready for the next day's early start. The following morning with a steaming mug of joe, I headed to the studio and began my quilting day. I decided to quilt little double hearts into the snowbal corners. I started to stitch from the front of the machine and I noticed, the oil had soaked onto the needle and bobbin threads and created a dark line in the stitching. I was beside myself. This didn't happen in the dark pieced section, it happened on the lightly colored cream fabric and cream printed background. I immediately stopped and took the stitching out and wiped out the bobbin and needle to remove the excess oil. I stitched on a fabric scrap to ensure the oil was gone. I marked the section with a small safety pin and kept on quilting. I was really mad at myself for not remembering to do this before I started to stitch.

That evening, I did some ruler research online and found this set of videos by Rusty Farrell. As we watched Ancient Aliens on TV, I worked my way through his YouTube video channel and I really enjoyed binge watching most of them. He has one video on how to clean and oil your long arm. He was working on an Innova machine, but I figured I can always learn something new. As he was putting the bobbin case back in he casually mentioned that if you ever get oil on a quilt the easiest way to remove is with a touch of SEW-Clean or Dawn dishwashing liquid. I thought, wait, what did he just tell me how to fix that problem with the oil in the quilt? I backtracked and listened intently to the video 2 more times. Sure enough, there was my answer! THANK YOU RUSTY!

I googled Sew-Clean and realized it was not easy to find locally on short notice and expensive. So I decided to try option 2. Thankfully I use Dawn dishwashing liquid in my kitchen and for cleaning around the house. I had a bottle of white Dawn. I found a new baby toothbrush in the cabinet, put a little dab of Dawn in a small dish and headed down to try it. I also grabbed a microfiber towel en route.

I carefully put a little Dawn on the toothbrush and gently scrubbed the area on both sides of the quilt. I let it soak for a couple of minutes and then added some water to the dish and rinsed the brush. I dipped the brush into the water mixture and continued to brush the fabric. Low and behold, the oil disappeared!!! I blotted with the microfiber towel and rinsed the brush again with clean water. Rubbed it again onto the quilt top and back to remove the residual soap. I repeated this on the back of the quilt until I was sure there was no oil or soap left in the quilt.

I am happy to report, the quilt was saved. When it dried, there wasn't a trace of the offending oil or dark stitches. One important note: Dusty did say to only use clear Dawn, not the original blue formula which might discolor light fabric until the quilt is washed. I would recommend using the clear or white Dawn formulas if your quilt is light colored and use it sparingly.

While I am usually very careful to ensure that my long arm is well maintained, cleaned and oiled, accidents happen and I was really happy to find this great solution to a problem that I am sure is not unique to me. I just had to share it with you in case you ever need to figure out what to do like I did.

I learned two important lessons this weekend. Always wipe down the machine needle and bobbin every morning BEFORE stitching begins and DAWN works really well to get rid of sewing machine oil should lesson #1 be forgotten. I hope you never need this time, but if you do, remember, DAWN to the rescue!

#dawntotherescue #removeoilfromquilt #dawntakesitout #howtofixyourquilt #oopstheresoilonmyquilt