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2 essential tips for quilting with invisible thread

And? Have you been practicing your free motion quilting? There’s no way to say this politely, but you need to practice. Every day!

This week, I’m using the amazing Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q to quilt my pieces. While practice certainly helps, having a great sewing machine to quilt with makes the job that much easier and more enjoyable.

I’ve got a number of small pieces set aside to practice my free motion quilting. The more I do, the more confidence I’m getting and I’m on a roll. I want to quilt them all and I want to do them now. I’m having loads of fun!! It’s my hobby – it should be fun. If it isn’t, then perhaps I should choose a different hobby.

Let’s see what I pull from the pile today.

 

Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q with the optional extension table
Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q with the optional extension table

 

This is what surfaced from the pile. This quilt top looks finished, but it’s not. It’s a wallhanging about 35″ square. All the straight seams around the blocks have been stitched in the ditch, but there’s no quilting in the blocks or the border.

It was my intent to do some free motion in the blocks and the border but that just never happened. I made it so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was made. My confidence level in the free motion world wasn’t great at that time and I couldn’t complete it. Time to get this one finished.

 

Wallhanging with soccer novelty prints
Wallhanging with soccer novelty prints

 

This is the backing of the wall hanging and you can see that only the straight lines are done. Yep – the ones that I could do with the walking foot. Gosh – I was such a chicken back then!! But if I remember correctly, I also had a sewing machine at the time that just wasn’t up to snuff for getting good results with free motion.

Yes – the binding is on before the quilting is finished. I’m not sure what was happening there. I probably needed it for a sample and said, “Let’s get this binding on – I’ll finish the quilting later”.

 

The back of the wallhanging, which shows only the straight lines of quilting, are completed.
The back of the wallhanging, which shows only the straight lines of quilting, are completed.

 

I noticed that ONE of the blocks has a bit of free-motion quilting in it.

 

The back of the wallhanging shows one block with some free motion quilting
The back of the wallhanging shows one block with some free motion quilting

 

This is the front of the block that was partially quilted. I’m using invisible thread and you can’t see the stitches. Also, if you look closely, you’ll see that I was stitching right on the edges of the soccer player. Now how long did that take?? Probably forever. And it was fiddly – lots of stops and starts. That’s probably why this piece got shoved to the bottom of a pile.

 

The quilting with invisible thread doesn't show.
The quilting with invisible thread doesn’t show.

 

Here’s a close up of one of the blocks that haven’t been stitched. Yes, there will be a lot of stops and starts.

Instead of choosing to stitch around all the players/images in the block, I could have put a green thread in the machine and stitched the background and let the players pop off the quilt.

That wasn’t what I initially chose to do, but it’s an option. It would have been super easy to quilt as there would be one stop and one start per block. That makes way more sense on this type of quilt rather than all that stopping and starting which is fiddly.

Can we do anything to alleviate some of that fussy work? I’ll address that later today.

 

Unquilted block with soccer players
Unquilted block with soccer players

 

Using invisible thread can be an issue. But it’s not bad at all if you know how to use it. Personally, I don’t use invisible thread in the bobbin, although it’s possible to use it. I tend to use a thin (80wt) bobbin thread in the bobbin. You can use a small needle (60/8), although, for this exercise, I just used the 80/12 needle that was in the sewing machine.

If you do put the invisible thread in the bobbin, wind the bobbins S L O W L Y. Otherwise, the bobbins may break with the tension created by the thread.

There are two things that I think are critical to the success of quilting with invisible thread.

  • LOWER the tension.
  • Use an external thread stand.

In this photo, you can see the invisible thread has made an ugly mess on the back of my practice sandwich. One, I didn’t hold the threads when I started and two, the tension wasn’t right. It’s never good when you can actually feel the invisible thread on the underside of the work.

 

This is an ugly mess caused by incorrect tension and not holding the threads when starting to quilt.
This is an ugly mess caused by incorrect tension and not holding the threads when starting to quilt.

 

Always pull your bobbin thread to the surface when quilting. Then to ensure that the threads don’t get pulled to the underside where they’ll create a thread nest on the back, hold them in your left hand until you make one or two stitches. Then you can let go.

 

Hold the top and bobbin thread as you take your first couple of stitches.
Hold the top and bobbin thread as you take your first couple of stitches.

 

In this photo, you can see what happens if you don’t loosen the top tension. The invisible thread pulled up the bobbin thread like crazy. This is NOT what you’re looking for. As I was stitching, I was playing with the tension and you can see on the right side of the stitch out that the tension looks way better. I believe the tension was set to 2.2. This is quite loose considering the default is 4.6 on the BRILLIANCE 75Q. The tension settings on the sewing machine go from 0 to 9 with zero being NO tension and 9 being the tightest.

I don’t completely understand the mechanics of this, but if you don’t loosen that tension, you’re asking for trouble. It’s a good exercise to do – put the invisible thread on the machine and play with the tension to see what happens to it as you move through the various tension settings.

 

The tension is too tight on the top and it's pulling the bobbin thread to the front of the quilt.
The tension is too tight on the top and it’s pulling the bobbin thread to the front of the quilt.

 

Here’s the second thing I like to do when using invisible thread. I like to use an external thread stand. It creates a longer path from the spool to the sewing machine tension disks and just seems to work better. You can use the invisible thread if it’s placed on one of the spool holders on the sewing machine, but this is my preferred setup.

Gosh – look at that messy work surface! Hey, when you’re quilting up a storm, there’s no time to keep things tidy. But it’s also a working studio and there’s always stuff around.

 

Using an external thread stand for invisible thread
Using an external thread stand for invisible thread

 

Remember how I said to start small with the quilting projects? Well, this piece is larger, but I still have no issues with getting it through the arm of the BRILLIANCE 75Q. Once I move to an even larger piece, I’m still going to have loads of room to work.

I’ll have to change my tactics slightly if I go to a very large piece, so it’s best to start small to get the hang of the quilting. Then I won’t have to worry about maneuvering a large quilt while learning to free motion quilt. Remember – it’s all about removing as many variables as possible.

 

There's loads of space to work with this quilt to the right of the needle.
There’s loads of space to work with this quilt to the right of the needle.

 

OK – so let’s get back to the shortcut I’m taking on these blocks to eliminate some of the stops and starts.

This is a trick that I learned years ago. It’s called free-motion stitch in the ditch! WHAT? I know – I pull up my bobbin thread in the ditch surrounding the block. I travel in the ditch to the image that needs to be quilted. I go around the image and end up back at the ditch. Then, I travel to the next image and repeat that process for the entire block.

Lastly, I’ll go into the center and do the few images that couldn’t be reached by this technique. Learning this technique is key to FAST free motion quilting.

Get out some orphan pieced blocks and try stitching in the ditch with your free motion foot! Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your quilting progresses.

 

Stitching in the ditch with the free motion foot.
Stitching in the ditch with the free motion foot.

 

I was having so much fun quilting this piece that I finished it! You bet that I did a happy dance because one more piece is finished.

Here’s one of the blocks with all the quilting inside the block completed.

 

The free motion quilting is now complete for this block.
The free motion quilting is now complete for this block.

 

Now here’s something else to consider. As you look at these next two pictures, look at where I quilted. I only quilted the outline of each image and notice that I did NOT stick exactly to the outline. Sometimes, my quilting created a ‘bubble’ around certain parts. Like hands and hair. You are NOT going to take the time to quilt each little detail. Think about the end piece and how or where it’ll be used. It’s not necessary to quilt all those small details.

You have to think about the density of the piece as well. If some parts are quilted super dense, the piece will look unbalanced.

Here’s something else to contemplate. The slower the speed at which you stitch when doing free-motion, the worse the stitch will appear. What? Yes – if you’re stitching very slowly because you’re trying to be right on the outline of the soccer player, the stitching will not be as nice as if you speed up a wee bit and overshoot some of the lines.

The first picture is the first image that I quilted. I was going very slowly. See how the black bobbin thread pops to the surface and how small the stitches are? That’s not ideal and it certainly doesn’t look nice.

 

The black bobbin thread is pulling to the front of the wallhanging
The black bobbin thread is pulling to the front of the wallhanging

 

Now, look at this guy. He was the last one I quilted. I was much more confident and I had sped up from super slow to medium slow and the quality and consistency of the stitching are much better. Goes to show – slow isn’t always best!

This is an exercise that you can try. What happens to the stitch length and the tension when you change up the speeds on the sewing machine and the speed at which you move your work.

The characters on this wall hanging are a good example of why I don’t use the Start/Stop function on the sewing machine. I may need to slow down a wee bit to get around the smaller bits, but then I speed up when I go along the straight edges. I’m always aware of trying to keep a consistent stitch length.

 

No bobbin thread is showing
No bobbin thread is showing

 

Black doesn’t photograph well in my space, but this backing is black. You can see pops of batting showing through to the back. I may be needing a new needle in the sewing machine. Sometimes, the backing fabric we use is too thin and the batting will come through the needle holes. To disguise it you can use a busy backing and use a different color of batting.

 

Some of the batting has bearded through the needle holes
Some of the batting has bearded through the needle holes

 

So the blocks are all done, but what about that border? The border is so busy, I don’t want to do anything custom here. I kept the black bobbin thread and the invisible thread and I went around each of the soccer balls and meandered between them to get from one to the other so I wouldn’t have to start and stop.

Because the binding was already on the quilt, there wasn’t a whole lot to use as a guide on those edges, but my quilting gloves were extremely effective in helping me maintain control.

This is NOT a recommended practice. It’s much better to quilt the quilt and then put the binding on.

 

Quilting the border
Quilting the border

 

Here’s a close up of the meandering stitch between the soccer balls. In order to keep my stitches somewhat consistent, I’m constantly aware of the speed of my hands relative to the speed of the machine. If I need to slow my hands down to go around a tight corner, then I slow the machine down to match the reduced speed of my hands. If I speed up my hand movement, then I also speed up the machine to match. This definitely comes from practice, but I think you’ll be surprised at how little practice is needed to grasp this concept.

 

Meandering stitch using invisible thread
Meandering stitch using invisible thread

 

Here’s the final piece. All that remains is for the sleeve to be stitched in place. Yes – this one is also going on the “almost finished” pile.

I’m super happy with it! I think I said it yesterday, but I’m so excited with the results that I’m getting that I don’t want to stop quilting. It’s just a question of finding the time. And none of the pieces that I’ve worked on this week took very long to finish stitching once the BRILLIANCE 75Q was set up and ready for machine quilting.

If you happen to have a second machine, then leave one set up for free-motion quilting and one for piecing. Why not?

 

The soccer wall hanging is complete
The soccer wall hanging is complete

 

You can’t really see the quilting detail on this quilt. That’s the intent. I didn’t want the stitching to show and it doesn’t. In real life, you can see the definition of the quilting and that makes the soccer players and the soccer balls puff up a bit. Yep – I’m happy with this piece.

 

Close up of the soccer quilt
Close up of the soccer quilt

 

Here’s the back of the finished piece. Oh gosh – I see a paw print on the black sleeve. Those two girls of mine are so excited whenever a quilt goes on a flat surface at my house. They have to investigate everything.

Here’s something else that we didn’t address. How far apart should the lines of quilting be? When you look back to the first picture, those blocks are 5″ and there was no quilting within the blocks. Personally, I don’t like minimal quilting. I want my quilting to be somewhat close so I get some texture.

Now the density of the entire piece is very similar. I’m happy!

 

The back of the quilt shows a fairly even density of quilting
The back of the quilt shows a fairly even density of quilting

 

Here’s a close up to better see that the density is very similar across the surface of the quilt.

 

Close up showing the even density of the quilting stitches
Close up showing the even density of the quilting stitches

 

There we have it – another successful day of quilting with the Husqvarna Viking BRILLIANCE 75Q. It’s such a great machine and with that amazing extension table, and all the flexibility of the functions and features, all this quilting is a breeze. And yes – I did use my smart speaker to set an alarm so I would take regular breaks! My neck and upper back thank me!

I’ve so much more to share with you that I’m undecided what to do for tomorrow. Be sure to pop back because there’ll be more exciting tips.

Have a great day!!!

Ciao!

 

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: Quilting with the Brilliance 75Q and the technology to lend a helping hand

Go to part 5: 2 excellent tips for free motion stitch in the ditch

Elaine Theriault is a teacher, writer and pattern designer who is completely obsessed with quilting. Elaine’s Tech Tips column (originally published in A Needle Pulling Thread magazine) is now available online in e-book format at QUILTsocial.com. When not quilting, she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Lexi and Murphy, or can be found cycling across the country. Her blog is crazyquilteronabike.blogspot.com.

3 Comments

  1. Keta Caudillo

    I am so jealous now. I want a new Husqvarna Viking sewing machine. Mine is not this fancy. Mine seems so slow. I’m now so disappointed.

    • The people at Husqvarna Viking keep innovating their machines making the sewing, embroidering and quilting process SO easy! Thank you for your comment Keta!

  2. Heartland Honey

    Does the machine have the ability to enter the plate, needle, foot and thread type? With all this information, do you still need to work so hard to “dial in” the stitches?

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