Today, it’s all about the 5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting. I’m going to use the Sapphire 930 to show you some different ways the sewing machine can be threaded. Yes – it does make a difference!
Next up, I’ll chat about thread weights and how they can affect the final outcome of your free motion quilting. Let’s not forget thread color which can also affect your final product. I’ve also got tips on what to do when you have skipped stitches and thread breakage. Let’s dive in!
Number 1 – make sure the sewing machine is threaded properly
While this seems like a silly thing to say, it’s extremely important. Here are some things to keep in mind when threading the sewing machine.
I intentionally grabbed an unusual spool size for this demo. Often times we get attracted to thread because of its color, not the thread weight and certainly not the size of the spool.
I’ll start out by loading this spool in the vertical position. Looks good – right? Wrong!
Do you see what the issue is? That is a big heavy spool of thread and as the sewing machine pulls the thread from the spool, the spool has to rotate. This large of a spool in this position will affect the tension which is not a good thing. As the spool gets smaller, the amount of effort required to pull the thread will change and the tension will be affected. In some instances, this extra pull may be enough to flex the needle and cause the needle to break.
What alternatives do we have? Let’s try loading the spool horizontally.
There’s still a problem with this spool of thread. Do you see what the problem is? Yep, the spool is so large that the thread is actually resting on the sewing machine. The thread won’t pull consistently off the spool and this extra pull is going to affect the tension.
So the vertical position doesn’t work and the horizontal position doesn’t work. What other option is there?
This is an external thread stand that attaches to the existing spool holder on the Sapphire 930. It’s a brilliant little gizmo and it allows me to use that large spool of thread. Now that the thread is being pulled straight up, there’s absolutely no affect on the tension as the thread will flow smoothly and evenly through the sewing machine.
Not only does this Mega Spool Stand work for larger spools, but I prefer all my threads to sit this way on the sewing machine. I rarely have trouble with any type of thread when I use the Mega Spool Stand.
If your thread is very unruly such as metallic, invisible or other fine threads, use this thread net to keep the thread from falling off the spool or unraveling. A thread net comes standard in the Sapphire 930 tool box.
If you’re using the spool of thread without the Mega Spool Stand, make sure that you either completely remove the label or use your thread snips to ensure that all sticky parts of the label are tucked inside. Otherwise, if part of the sticky label is exposed, it can cause drag on the spool holder and cause problems with tension and needle breakage.
Number 2 – what’s thread weight and what should I be using?
Thread weight can vary from 12 up to 100. The larger the number, the finer the thread.
If you’re quilting a lot of small tight designs, then you want to choose a fine thread. Let’s say you’re doing some tight micro stippling – choose an 80 or 100 weight silk thread. If you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking as in quilting feathers, a fine thread won’t show the back tracking nearly as much as if you used thicker threads. Same thing for stitch in the ditch – a finer thread will show less than a thicker thread.
If you want the quilting to be bold, then go for a thicker thread. If I’m using a thick thread on the top, I use a matching (in color) sewing weight (50 weight) thread in the bobbin. It’s very difficult to use thick thread on the top and bobbin and have the tension come out right. It can be done, but it can be tricky.
There is nothing wrong with using regular 50 weight thread (the same weight you use for piecing) for your quilting. It’s readily available, comes in lots of colors, cotton or polyester and is inexpensive. Use it in the top on bobbin.
Number 3 – should I only quilt with cotton?
You can quilt with whatever thread you like. If you were to play tug a war with a quilt so hard that the quilt pulled apart, where do you think it would rip? At the seams, not the quilting.
So if you see some gorgeous rayon thread, polyester thread, nylon thread, cotton thread – anything will work. I don’t even worry about having the same type of thread in the top and bobbin. Often I’ll use nylon on top and cotton in the bobbin.
Some people may have an issue with that and if you do – then I would suggest doing some samples to see what the end results are. Wash the sample, iron the sample – do those nylon threads really melt? If so – how hot was the iron and is it realistic that you will iron a quilt???
I can’t say enough for experimenting with the threads. You’ll have to anyway to find out which foot you should be using with which type of thread. This experimentation is how you’ll learn and remember.
The best way to start is keep it simple. Use 50 weight on the top and bobbin. Don’t complicate your life until you feel more comfortable with the free motion quilting process.
Number 4 – Skipping stitches and thread breakage
In the event you have never seen skipped stitches – have a look at the photo below. The two arrows on the left point to the skipped stitches. Sometimes, the sewing machine will skip one stitch and sometimes it will skip a lot. You can also see that the thread broke on the right hand side of this sample.
How does one get rid of skipped stitches and thread breaking? Here is a checklist of things to try. Hopefully one of them will solve the problem.
- Make sure your sewing machine is properly set for free motion quilting. The Sapphire 930 has the advantage of two different settings – free motion floating and free motion spring action.
- Make sure that your free motion foot is the correct one for the chosen mode of free motion quilting.
- A single hole stitch plate can help. It helps to stabilize the quilt during the stitching process.
- A new needle in the event there’s a burr on the existing needle. We will talk more about needles tomorrow.
- Make sure the sewing machine is threaded properly. Watch the size of spool and use a Mega Thread Spool if necessary. Try the thread in a vertical position or horizontal position and see which one provides a better stitch. If there are any issues – remove the bobbin and the top thread and completely re-thread the sewing machine.
- Drop the feed dogs. Your threads may be catching.
- Try a different brand of thread. Some sewing machines do not like particular brands. Don’t fight with the thread – just get rid of it.
- Try a different color. Yes – sometimes the color can affect the stitching. I have black thread that’s full of static, yet other colors of thread do not have that same issue.
- Try a different thread weight. If you’re having a lot of issues with heavy thread – try a lighter thread.
- Try a different thread in the bobbin.
- Try a top stitch needle or metallic needle if using metallic thread.
- Do not use old thread! It’s brittle and will break no matter what you do.
You see, skipped stitches and thread breakage can be the result of many factors. The most common is that the needle/thread combination isn’t correct. It may require a bit of perseverance and a lot of trial and error.
That’s why I highly recommend that if you’re just starting – don’t complicate the situation. Use regular 50 weight thread that you piece with. Once you’re comfortable with that thread and everything is working fine, then try varying the factors one at a time – try a heavier weight thread on the top and keep the 50 weight in the bobbin. Do you need to use the spring action foot? Do you need a larger needle? Varying the factors one at a time is a good way to learn.
Number 5 – what color thread should I be using?
Whatever color you want! Actually if you’re a new quilter and don’t want your stitches to be visible, then it makes sense to try and find a light weight thread that blends in with your quilt top. This is where busy backings and busy fabrics for the top are a blessing. You can experiment to your heart’s content and no one will really see what you’ve done. They’ll see the texture, but not the stitching.
However if you want the quilting to be bold and stand out – then go for high contrast – use light colored threads on dark fabric and vice versa.
And what about the thread in the bobbin – should it match the thread in the top? Not necessarily. Many people don’t give great attention to their quilt backing. Often choosing muslin or some other solid because it’s inexpensive. These type of fabrics will show every wobble, every thread hiccup, every teeny tiny mistake will be way more visible.
Instead, I like to use very busy backs. No one can see if I had to do multiple thread color changes, they won’t see if I had to change a bobbin and restart my quilting.
In these samples below, you can see that the main part of my quilt top is yellow with a very high contrast red border. I made this quilt years ago and I chose a solid yellow for the backing. When I quilted the yellow part, I used yellow thread in the top and bobbin which worked very well. However when I went to quilt the red border, I didn’t want to take the chance of using yellow thread in the bobbin in the events of thread pops – little bits of bobbin thread showing through to the top.
So I changed the color of my bobbin thread to match the top thread. If I would have used a busy fabric for the backing, the thread color change wouldn’t be so obvious. Some day you may want the bobbin thread to show but we aren’t there yet!
If you’ll be working an overall pattern on your quilt top with light and dark areas, then choose a medium value (color) thread that will show equally on all parts. If you use too light of a thread, it will blend into the light parts of the quilt but really show on the dark and vice versa. A medium value will show equally more or less on the light and dark parts.
Ive been known to use very high contrast threads on the top and bobbin. Sometimes, I end up with an issue like this photo below. Do you see the black thread showing through. Is that a tension issue??? No, it’s actually the black thread that’s shadowing through the hole made by the needle.
As long as you cannot pull those threads out (which would be a tension problem) then you have two choices – leave it as is and when the quilt is washed, those fibers will relax and cover over the holes or change one or both of the threads so they’re more similar in value.
There you have it – the 5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting and some very important issues that have to do with thread and how it works with your sewing machine. The Husqvarna Viking 930 has lots of options for dealing with thread and that means that I can pretty much use any type of spool that I want. No restrictions. Again – today’s topics was pretty easy. Although a bit more involved since you need to do some experimenting. But remember – start with 50 weight thread. Have fun playing around. Tomorrow we talk needles and tension. Have a great day! Ciao!
This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: 6 tips to set up the sewing machine for free motion quilting
Go to part 3: 4 essentials to solve thread tension issues