Quilting makes the quilt

22 06 2014

Because I was making two baby quilts basically the same, I decided to take some photos to show how quilting makes the quilt and brings it to life.

A bit of background for quilting newbies…

While the term ‘quilting’ covers the entire process of making a quilt, it also refers specifically to the stitching used to secure the three layers together (the quilt top, the batting, and the backing fabric). This stitching can be very simple (straight lines in the seam lines — also known as ‘stitching in the ditch’ or SID), or can be very elaborate, with lots of stitching motifs or patterns enhancing the design of the quilt top and/or its fabric.

Quilting can be done ‘free motion’ (no markings, no rulers, no pattern to follow except what’s in your head or how you guide the fabric under the needle — think of doodling with the needle being a static pen and the fabric sandwich being the paper that you move under the pen… try it with a real pen and paper to see how hard it is!), or can be done using markings, rulers, and other tools. I reckon life’s to short to mark quilts 😉 so I prefer free motion quilting (FMQ), which means not all my lines are perfectly straight, not all my circles are perfect circles etc. I’m looking for an overall ‘feel’, not perfection, so I’m OK with slightly wonky lines — in fact, in some quilts I’ve deliberately stitched wonky lines for effect (see this one: https://rhondabracey.com/2014/04/21/community-quilt-137/).

Anyhow, back to the baby quilts…

In this first photo, I haven’t done any stitching to hold the layers together — I’ve only joined (basted) the layers together with pins, ready for stitching. If I only did SID, then those wrinkles and puffiness would remain with the quilt forever. You could iron them out to a degree, but essentially, what you see is what you’ll get once the quilt is finished. It doesn’t have a lot of ‘life’, in my opinion.


In the next photo (below), I’ve quilted the the three layers together quite densely, using a free motion spiral motif, with joining long U shapes (I was trying to emulate the hot sun on the African plains). The wrinkles and puffiness have been stitched out. While this quilting is quite dense (there’s not much more than a quarter inch gap between each stitching line), this quilt should hold up well to many years of laundering as the chance of the layers separating is pretty slim. You can still see puffiness in the cream band at the top — I deliberately didn’t quilt this area.


This final photo (below) shows both quilts on the line — the one on the left has no quilting, while the one on the right is quilted and is now ready for trimming and binding.


In my opinion, quilting makes the quilt, and brings it to life.

Handi Quilt Sweet Sixteen: Using bobbin thread as the top thread: Hack #2

7 06 2014

Some time back I needed to use some thread I only had wound on a bobbin as the top thread in my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen. As the spool rods are too fat for the bobbins, I came up with a dodgy system using painters tape and a paintbrush. Since I posted that hack, I’ve read about another person’s method, using what we used to call ‘pipe cleaners’ in Australia but that I understand are called ‘chenille sticks’ in the US.

So I tried it and it works fine for a bobbin spool. However, I didn’t have as much luck with a normal spool of thread as it ended up wrapping itself into the chenille bit and snapping. That’s probably more user error than it is the fault of the ‘design’!

Here’s my setup; the bobbin thread comes off from underneath the bobbin, not over the top — I think that’s where I went wrong with the other spool of thread I tried with this:


And no, the bear doesn’t come with the machine 😉 He was a gift from one of my quilting buddies.

Lint. The reason I don’t like cotton thread.

3 05 2014

Some of my favourite threads to use in my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen are the trilobal polyesters, specifically Isacord and Fil-tec’s Glide thread. Why? They run through my machine like a hot knife through butter, rarely shred or break, and leave very little lint to gum up the bobbin case, the bobbin area, the tension disks, or the thread path. And thus they are less likely to throw the timing on my machine out, or cause the top or bottom thread to gain or lose tension while I’m in the middle of quilting. However, in my experience, cotton thread leaves a LOT of lint, and it can gum up your machine pretty bad and very quickly, potentially causing all sorts of problems.

Some people swear by cotton thread and won’t use anything else to quilt with, but I’m not in that school. Some also believe that if you have a cotton quilt, then you HAVE to use cotton thread. I’m not in that school either. (And if you want evidence why that ‘belief’ is a fallacy, go to Superior Threads website and take a look at the thread videos by Bob Purcell [Dr Bob]: http://www.superiorthreads.com/videos/thread-therapy-with-dr-bob-educational-videos/.)

I quilted my most recent community quilt with cotton thread as it was the thread with the colour that best matched quilt top. And I had all sorts of tension issues at various times; ALL were related to the accumulated lint from the cotton thread. I had to clean the machine at least five times while I quilted this quilt.

Here are some photos I took of the lint prior to one of these cleaning sessions, with some advice on what bits I cleaned and how.


I try to clean and brush from the top down, so that any bits of lint and fluff that come off the top areas get swept up when I do the lower areas. I start with the tension disks. Although the thread is in in this photo, I usually remove the thread, loosen the tensions disks as far as possible, then give the disks a good brush — and a short sharp blow with my breath (compressed air would work too). This picture doesn’t show a lot of fluff, but one of the cleaning sessions I did earlier had this area heavily coated in fluff.


Next, I brush up under the metal housing where the lights are, then down the two shafts, around the needle screw, the needle, and the foot. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of lint on these areas, but you’ll be surprised how much comes out with a good brushing.


Now I pull out the bobbin. Note the fluff at the opening. What you can’t see is the flattened gunk behind the spring where the thread comes out.


Another view of the lint inside the bobbin case as seen through the opening.



I remove the bobbin (and blow off any lint on the bobbin), then slide an old pin in the small gap between the spring and the case. Jiggle the pin around in there and slide it all the way to the right to get out any squashed gunk. You might also have to put the pin inside the bobbin case and run it up the slit as there may be some lint stuck in there too, and that’s bad as it WILL affect your bobbin’s tension.




View of the small gap where I slide the pin. After cleaning the gap, I brush out the inside of the bobbin case to get rid of the all the accumulated fluff in there.


Next, I tackle the area around the bobbin housing. Look at all that nasty lint! I took this photo less than an hour after the previous cleaning. I give the bobbin housing area a good brush from underneath to remove what I can.



Because there was so much lint/fluff below, there’s likely to be even more inside the bobbin housing area. So remove the needle plate and brush out any visible gunk.


Gunk seen from above that brushing out from underneath didn’t get. I usually single press the presser foot a couple of times to turn the bobbin housing and get any more that’s hiding underneath.


The brush gets pretty gunky too, so remove as much as you can by hand.



However, every so often you’ll have to clean the brush so that all the accumulated gunk doesn’t prevent the brush from doing its job. I run a pin up from the bottom to the top several times to get out the embedded gunk.

You can see why I don’t like quilting with cotton!

See also:

Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen: Working with metallic threads

29 04 2014


I don’t have a good history with metallic threads. They are oh so pretty, but many’s the time I’ve wanted to throw the thread in the trash as it just won’t work for me in either my domestic sewing machine or my Sweet Sixteen. I follow all the rules and guidelines, and occasionally… just occasionally, it will work. And then there will be several months before I’m willing to try it again, knowing that there will be frustration and that angry words will be spoken 😉 I’ve watched Helen Godden demo HQ machines at quilt fairs and she often uses metallic thread and she seems to have no issues with it so I figure it has to be tamed somehow.

My latest foray into metallics was using a Fil-tec ‘Glisten’ metallic thread in gold. It was such a pretty thread and the quilt top begged to be stitched in gold… I had Fil-Tec Magna Glide in the bobbin.

But I went crazy trying to get this metallic thread to work without snapping every inch or so or stitching.

Here’s my litany of frustrations and what I tried, as I emailed to my dealer:

Top thread settings and things I tried:

  • one hole only in the 3-hole thingy
  • loosening top tension to the point that I had to unpick as I had scrunchies on the back
  • horizontal spool holder and upright (it’s a cross-wound spool), with and without a thread net.
  • slowing down from 50% to 25%
  • Size 18 Groz-Beckert needle set at 5:30 and then 6:30 position (I have very little success with ANY threads at 6:00 position). HQ’s website says the size 18 needles ‘work well with metallic thread’.

I’m trying to use it with a ruler but it keeps snapping. If I’m lucky I get to stitch about 2 inches, then SNAP. Changing from 5:30 to 6:30 helped a bit, but not for long.

My test piece worked fine – no ruler for that though, and it was only to check tension. However, I need to use the ruler as I need to get straight lines around 18 blocks. I haven’t even finished ONE block after nearly an hour….

I don’t have much luck with monofilament either, but that’s not today’s issue.

While I was waiting for her reply, I checked the archives of the forum I’m on and found that some people had luck with putting a few drops of Sewer’s Aid onto the spool of thread. I had some of that, so I tried it and it worked SO much better. Not perfect, but a LOT better, though not enough for me to continue with the metallic thread after I’d finished the outside stitching around each block. By dribbling three drops of Sewer’s Aid onto the spool, I was able to complete the ruler lines around a block without a single break – it took 2 minutes instead of the hour of frustration for the first block! I put another two sets of three drops in total for the rest of the blocks, so this isn’t a one-off fix — you do have to reapply it. But it worked so much better than doing nothing.

My dealer also got back to me with these suggestions:

I quilt all the time with metallic both FMQ and with rulers.  I don’t have any troubles.  Here is what I do:

  • Use a thread net.
  • Reduce the tension in my bobbin slightly so that I can back off the tension on the top
  • I usually quilt at around 35-45% depending on what I am doing.
  • I will use either size 16 or 18 needle (whatever is in usually suits)
  • Mainly I use 2 holes (but have gone to 1 if thread performance is questionable)
  • I don’t look at my needle position – whatever position it is in is fine.

Recently at Helen’s workshop she demonstrated in metallic.  Of course everyone wanted to sew with that.  Most people had trouble.  But honestly the thing that will tame metallic thread is a thread net!!  It is an essential when using metallic in my book (cannot be used on horizontal spool holder though).

The thread net will add tension however, so you will have to compensate with the tension and reduce it a little.  If you are getting looping underneath, then back the tension off on the bobbin case.  You can tweak this a fair bit.  Each wrap in the 3-hole guide will also add tension, so you might find that with all of the above you still have to drop back to threading through one hole.

Also, you must consider wadding types.  Thread performance is also affected by different types of wadding.  Was your sample piece the same as your quilt you were working on?

After all that.. I am out of ideas.  I would have to sit and work with the thread myself to get it going… Sometimes – the thread just has to be filed.. in File 13 (trash!)

I have no trouble with monofilament either – but see if the abovementioned helps you to use mono as well.  All the same principles apply.



Improvise! Bungee cord system to hold up quilt

27 04 2014

One of the ladies on my quilting forum has designed a system for holding up quilts to prevent drag when the quilt falls off the edge of the table, as any large quilt will do unless you have a HUGE work area. You can buy her system from here: http://www.jennoop.com/suspenders.html. However, because the shipping costs for such as system to Australia would be HUGE, she’s also suggested that we develop our own. So I did.

I remembered that we had an old portable hanging rack that we’d dragged around from previous houses, and that had been very useful in the day. But I didn’t know where it was as we’d either given it away or stored it after we last moved some four years ago. But my husband said that it should be in the shed (I’d looked) if we hadn’t given it away, and he thought we might have dismantled it. After some hunting around in the shed, I found it in pieces on top and behind a couple of storage racks. He also said we had bungee cords in the stuff for the bike rack, so I found those too, and grabbed two of the clamps I use on my basting table, and voila! I had a suspension system for my large quilts made from stuff I already had.

Here’s my setup after I’d finished putting it together (30 minutes to find the stuff, 10 minutes to put it together).




The only downside is that I had to move the table out from the wall about 6 inches to accommodate the legs (my Sweet Sixteen is in the main living room). I’ve yet to use it, but will report back once I have. If it doesn’t work for me, then I’ll just dismantle everything again and put it back in the shed 😉

And yes, that’s an Eagles ‘Hotel California’ poster on the wall. And note the 1980s grey of the hanging rack 😉

Update later the same day: Well, these are brilliant! I didn’t realise how much drag I had put up with, as I thought I puddled my quilts pretty well. But once the drag was taken away, the quilt moved effortlessly across the table top/sewing bed without much shoulder/neck/arm movement and no death grip grabbing and pushing/pulling. Yes, I had to reposition the clamps every so often, but I had to reposition the ‘puddle’ much more when I was doing it that way. This is a winner!!


Threads and tension: Practise before quilting

26 04 2014

On the Yahoo! Groups forum for the HQ_Sit_Down_Model, J asked for some advice on what sort of threads (top and bobbin) I use in my Sweet Sixteen, and how I get the tension right. She also wanted to know whether I used the same size/colour/weight thread in the top and bottom threads.

Here’s my (long) reply… You might want to get yourself a coffee…


I know that the purists say to use the same colour top and bottom, and even the same thread top and bottom. But I wasn’t taught by a purist and I didn’t know ‘the rules’, so I do what works for me. The bottom line (no pun intended!) is that I use whatever thread I want in the top and whatever thread I want in the bottom. I always stitch on a small practice sandwich first to make sure the tension is right, and then off I go.

So with that said, here are some of the things I do when deciding on a thread to use and then testing it out:

  • I pick one or more colours for the top thread. I don’t really care what brand – it’s the colour I’m looking for. I tend to favour the trilobal polyesters over cotton (far less lint!), and favour Glide and Isacord over other brands. But if the colour I want to use is only in a rayon or cotton, then I’ll use that. I’ve even used DECADES OLD overlocker/serger thread in the top! See also: Threads I’ve used in my Sweet Sixteen
  • Most of my top thread stash is 40 wt thread, no matter what variety.
  • I’m lazy so I don’t like winding/changing bobbins too often. So I’ll try to use either a pre-wound Magna Glide Classic (no cardboard sides) bobbin (made by Fil-Tec; 60 wt, size M), or a bobbin filled with a lighter weight thread (a bobbin takes a lot more light weight thread than 40 wt, for example). I’ve used these sorts of threads in the bobbin – Deco Bob (80 wt) and Invisifil (100 wt) from Wonderfil; Bobbinfil (70 wt I think); and 40 wt threads as per the top. My preference is the Magna Glide Classic pre-wounds (I only have their ‘white’, which is really a light creamy colour when you look at it; part # 12445), followed by Bobbinfil, followed by Deco Bob and then Invisifil. I’ve never used Bottom Line in my bobbin as it’s hard to get where I live and is very pricey compared to the others.
  • Mostly, my top and bottom threads are totally different in brand, weight, and type – as I said, I’m not a purist.
  • My top and bottom threads often aren’t the same colour either. Depending on the quilt, I may try to match the bottom thread with the backing fabric. But I find that except for really dark backs, the white Magna Glide Classic pre-wound just disappears into the backing fabric and is hardly noticeable. Then again, I’m not quilting show quilts, so I’m not so fussed about the colours being slightly different.
  • If I’m using a dark thread on top and the top is also dark, I might use a darker bobbin thread (e.g. black Bobbinfil), but only if the bobbin thread starts to show on the top.
  • I ALWAYS drop-test my bobbin thread tension before threading the top of the machine. I use Jamie Wallen’s method and it works every time for me. Once I have the bobbin tension adjusted, I rarely, if ever, have to change it for that bobbin.
  • I thread the machine using 1, 2, or 3 of the holes, depending on the thread. Cottons and trilobal polys seem to do OK through 3 holes, but the rayons mostly do best through just 2 holes. Metallics, monofilaments, or fine threads like 80 wt or 100 wt, seem to do best for me through just one hole.
  • I use a thread net over the cone/spool for fine threads and metallics to help prevent them spooling off too quickly and getting tangled.
  • I brush out the bobbin area at every bobbin change, and put one drop of oil in the bobbin area then too. But with the Magna Glide Classic pre-wounds, there’s not a lot of lint in the bobbin area.
  • I try to change needle with every quilt I do (but if I have a couple of small quilts, I might use the same needle for a while).
  • I mostly use a size 16 or 18 needle. I have 14s but I only use them for very fine thread.
  • I usually have the needle in the 5:30 position – that seems to work best for my machine; 6:30 position sometimes works too, but I don’t have a lot of luck with the 6:00 position.

Once all that’s done (hopefully I didn’t forget anything!), I grab my practice sandwich and:

  1. Stitch a couple of loops and points at the speed I’m likely to use on the quilt.
  2. Pull the sandwich away from the needle and turn it over to see the back – I’m looking for looping thread and eyelashes at this stage. Looping thread (see 2 and 3 in the photo below) and eyelashes (1 in the photo below) mean my top tension is too loose, so I turn the top tension knob at least one turn (depending on how much loopiness/eyelashes) to the right (away from me) and test again. And repeat until I can’t see any top thread on the back (actually, that’s not quite true – I use a cream practice sandwich mostly, so if I see tiny pinpricks of the top colour, I’m OK with that as my practice sandwich is a usually a little thinner than the actual quilt)
  3. Once I can’t see top thread on the back, I’m pretty sure that everything on the top will be OK, but I look at it anyway. If the top is puckering or I can see more than a dot of bobbin thread at the points, there’s a good chance that my top thread is too tight, so I turn the knob a little to the left (towards me) to lighten off a little. And test stitch again. And loosen. And stitch. And look at the front and back. And adjust the top tension knob in smaller increments until I have stitches that lay flat on both top and bottom and that don’t pucker the quilt.

And then I’m ready to put the quilt under the needle. Even so, I start stitching on the quilt and after a few inches, I stop, lift the quilt to see the back and check my stitches (it helps if you have excess border fabric etc. to do this test stitching in). If the top thread is looping/eyelashing on the back, then I tighten the tension knob (and if it’s bad, I pick out the stitches and start again), and start stitching again. And then I check the back and front again to make sure it’s all lying flat. Once I’m happy with my test stitches on the quilt, I’m off and running.


Yes, all this sounds an awful lot to check/test, but in reality it might take me just a minute or so.

That’s not to say that I don’t get frustrated with tension issues at times, but the worst of those have usually been related to something else, like the timing going out as a result of a needle breakage/jam, and thus the machine can’t make a proper stitch.

When nothing seems to work, I try a new needle, different thread top and bottom, and switching the power off and walking away for a while. Wine helps too 😉

If all that doesn’t work for you, can you take your machine back to your dealer and get them to use it (in front of you) and you use it in front of them to see if it’s you or the machine. Sometimes it’s the machine! And it may need a service or the timing adjusted.



Easy cathedral windows quilting motif

19 01 2014

I have LOTS of 2″ squares in my scrappy quilt — probably about 500. As all the fabrics are a mixed bag (batiks, cottons, fabric from old clothes, cheap fabrics, expensive fabrics, stiff fabrics, fraying fabrics, etc.), I wanted to stitch a quilting design that held them all down as much as possible and that secured the seams and joins as far as possible, while also creating a rounded effect against the stark geometry of the squares. I decided on the cathedral window quilting motif (shown finished below), and took photos as I went to explain how to do it super simply.


What I like about this motif is that you get all sorts of sub patterns within it — you get circles, semi circles, flower shapes, and curved diamonds all in the one pattern!

While I could have used rulers to create the arcs, I would’ve spent many hours quilting each block and likely getting frustrated if the rulers moved a little. This quilt is for me to use — it is NOT a show quilt — so my arcs didn’t have to be perfect. The method I describe and illustrate below took me about 15 minutes to stitch in one continuous line — that’s 15 minutes per 1100-square block. And to be honest, the effect is just as dramatic as ruler work if you don’t look too closely 😉

The essence of this motif is the ‘S’ curve — if you can free motion stitch an ‘S’ curve you can do this!

How to create your own cathedral windows:

  1. Start at the top of a block of squares — I started one square in from the edge of the block.
  2. Stitch an ‘S’ curve with the centre of the ‘S’ going through the seam join. I tried to make my curves between 1/4 and 1/2 inch at the fattest point, and arcing relatively evenly throughout the curve. But don’t beat yourself up over this — it doesn’t have to be perfect as the end result still looks good. Just go with the flow of the ‘S’ curve.
  3. Repeat the ‘S’ curve motif all the way down to the bottom of the column of squares.
  4. When you reach the bottom, come back up the column stitching ‘S’ curves in the opposite direction.
  5. You’ll end up with small ovals with pointed ends (like little footballs).
  6. You end up where you started so stitch an arc across to the top of the next column and repeat the ‘S’ curves going down and then back up.
  7. When you’ve finished all the ‘columns’, arc down to the rows and stitch ‘S’ curves across all the rows. Turn the quilt if you find it easier to stitch up/down than left/right.
  8. Stitch an arc at the end of the row down to the next row and repeat….
  9. Repeat until you get to the bottom of the block, then stitch arcs across the bottom and up the left side until you get back to the beginning.

And you’re done! Cathedral window quilting the easy way.

Here’s a diagram in case you learn better this way or want to practice with pen and paper first (explanation below the diagram; the arrows show direction):


  1. Start at the green star position.
  2. ‘S’ curve down the column (solid line with yellow ‘1’ in the diagram).
  3. Come back up the column in the opposite ‘S’ curve direction (dashed yellow ‘2’ in the diagram).
  4. Stitch an arc to the next column (yellow ‘3’).
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for all columns (NOT shown on diagram).
  6. When you’ve finished the columns, stitch an arc to the edge of the block (red ‘1’ in the diagram).
  7. Stitch another arc down to the first row (red ‘2’).
  8. Stitch an ‘S’ curve along the first row (red ‘3’; solid line).
  9. When you get to the end of the row, stitch back in the opposite direction (red ‘4’; dashed line).
  10. At the end of the first row, stitch an arc down to the next row (red ‘5’).
  11. Repeat for the rest of the rows (NOT shown on the diagram).
  12. At the bottom, stitch arcs all the way along the bottom, then up the left side (NOT shown on diagram), back to the start position (green star).