Ask the Longarmer – Thread Color

I want dark green thread on the top of my quilt, and white on the back. Why can’t you do this?

Actually, while this can be done, I usually advise against using two different colors of thread as you might not be very happy with the outcome. With a longarm quilting machine, we are moving the machine around in all directions over the quilt sandwich at a high rate of speed. As we change direction, the thread tension often changes slightly as well. Ideally the portion of a stitch where the top and bobbin thread meet will lock exactly in the center layer of the batting, but this is not always the case. Then you end up with what we longarmers call ‘pokies’ – little dots of the top thread showing on the backing, or bobbin thread showing on the top of the quilt sandwich. When you use two threads that differ widely in color or value, these ‘pokies’ are very pronounced.

Here is a design stitched with green thread on white fabric – pretty, isn’t it? (Panto is Holly Panto 3 by Donna Kleinke of One Song Needle Arts.)

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The contrast of green thread on white fabric really lets this lovely quilting design show.

What happens when we use a contrasting thread in the bobbin? Now the back of the quilt is not very attractive, right?

    Using white thread in the bobbin allows 'pokies' of the top thread to show if the tension isn't perfectly balanced.

Using contrasting white thread in the bobbin allows ‘pokies’ of the top thread to show on the back of the quilt if the tension isn’t perfectly balanced.

(Sometimes we can minimize the effect by using a thinner thread, or a high loft batting. So if you have your heart set on contrasting thread colors, choose a loftier batting.)

Normally when I explain this to a client, and show them a sample of what can happen, they agree with me to use the same color thread on top and in the bobbin. After all, if you were hand quilting your quilt, and using white thread on top, what color would you use on the back???????

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Ask The Longarmer – Backing & Batting

Do you really need the quilt backing and batting to be 8″ larger than the quilt top? I don’t cut them that big if I’m hand quilting or quilting on my domestic sewing machine (DSM)!

There are several reasons why I ask for the batting and backing to be a total of 8″ wider and 8″ longer than your quilt top. When you are hand quilting or quilting on your DSM, you baste the layers together before starting. Since you lay everything out flat, it allows you to see if you are going to come up short in one area or another BEFORE you ever start the quilting process. Then you can make adjustments so you don’t run out of backing over there in the lower left corner, or wherever.

I do NOT baste your layers together before loading them on the frame. First, I load the backing on a set of rollers. The backing is attached to canvas leaders, either by pins, or a clamping system. The clamps I use take up about 1″ on both the top and the bottom edges of the backing. Since I don’t want to hit these clamps while sewing, and break my hopping foot, I need to leave a little breathing room – let’s say another inch on each end.

Now let’s take a break from quilting and go read a magazine…..what?? Bear with me, and you’ll see how it pertains to our discussion!

See how the front cover (quilt top), pages (batting) and back cover (quilt backing) are all perfectly aligned?

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Now what happens when I roll the magazine up???

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All of a sudden the back cover is much shorter than the front cover! This is exactly what happens when I roll the quilt up on the frame as I quilt my way down it – the backing ‘shrinks up’. Different thicknesses (lofts) of batting will make this phenomenon even more pronounced. (So if you DO have a quilt back that’s on the skimpy side, you should request a thin batting…….or go buy a new backing ;-). Consider an extra-wide quilt backing – it means you don’t have to piece, and it will save you money as well!) So now you know why I need several extra inches in length.

Why do I need the extra width? Well, again, I use clamps on the sides of your quilts to apply the right amount of tension to prevent pleats and puckers on the backing. Those clamps take up an inch or so……don’t want to run into them with the hopping foot…..yada, yada, yada…..oh, and it also gives me a place to test my thread tension before starting to sew on your quilt top. Different combinations of backing fabrics and battings and threads can require some ‘tweaking’ to get stitches that look pretty. I’d rather test that out on the side than on your quilt top.

It’s also important for your quilt back to be square. If you give me a backing that looks like a parallelogram, when I load each edge onto the rollers and roll it up, instead of being nice and flat and straight, it’s going to look like a hammock.

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(While hammocks are lovely for sleeping in on a warm summer day, they don’t make nice quilt backs. You will end up with pleats and puckers on the back of your quilt, I’ll be sad that I couldn’t do a nice job for you, and neither of us will be happy!)

Since many backs come to me that are NOT square, the extra inches also allow me to square your backing up without it ending up too short. Yes, that’s something that takes me extra time, and No, I do not charge a separate fee for squaring a backing (although I’ve heard that some longarmers do). But it’s just one more way that I can ensure your quilt comes out looking great in the end (and on the back)!

So now do you understand why I ask for an extra 8″? 😉

Ask the Longarmer….

When I’m working on a quilt, I often have lots of time to think. Sometimes I wonder if my clients question why I do some of the things I do, or have certain requirements for them to follow. (“Really?!?!? She wants me to do WHAT????”) 😉

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I’ve been longarm quilting for over 10 years now, so most of what I do is second nature to me. But I realize what is commonplace to me may be very foreign to someone who has not worked on a longarm – or maybe even seen one in person. I’m starting a new feature here on my blog called “Ask the Longarmer”. I’ll offer tips and hints and insight into why I ask you for some of the things I do. There really ARE logical reasons for my requests, and the end result will be a quilt we can both be proud of.

I’d also like to answer questions from you if there is something in the process that is confusing or does not make sense. Please email your questions to me at andi@andicraftsquilting.com. I’ll keep copies of these posts all together on the “Ask the Longarmer” page – you can find that on a tab way up on the top of my blog. So you can always return to that page if you need a refresher on something. And if you subscribe to my blog (over on the left side) you’ll be sure to never miss a post.

So let’s get started. Here is something you might be wondering about:

What is the stitching around the edges of the quilt, and why is the thread color sometimes different than the main quilting design?

When I load your quilt on the frame, I baste the edges of your top to the batting and backing as I work my way down the quilt. This ensures that the quilt will stay square and straight. Not all LAers do this, as it takes more time, but it’s important to me to have your quilt look it’s best when it’s finished. The thread is sometimes different colors as this is how I use up partial bobbins ;-) . You may remove this stitching if you wish, but most clients tell me they like it as it makes it easier to apply their binding.

So now it’s your turn – what would YOU like to know? You can post as a comment below, or email me and I’ll try to answer in an upcoming post.

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