Confessions: Top v. Bottom Threads

Hello again and welcome back to another Confessions of a Long Arm Quilter post! If you are new to these little ramblings of mine, this is a weekly (I try to weekly, it doesn't always happen) series where I share a little more behind-the-scenes information about long arm quilting and try to clear up some of the confusion (or assumed knowledge) that exists out there.

So the topic of this week is threads, again. I swear I could write a novel all about threads, but I won't.

Today I'd like to discuss choosing different colored threads on the top and the back of the quilt and what works and what doesn't. Now, this may be a little short and sweet in comparison to the vast amounts of options and possibilities available in today's marketplace, so to begin let's just assume you all use your brand of choice thread, use the same weight top and bottom, and work in solids. It's an easier place to start.

Oh, and yes you can use different colors from the top to the back of the quilt and if a quilter says you can't, think about running because if they don't have a good reason why... It means they don't like adjusting their tension and whatever happens happens. I do have one scenario myself that I "break this rule" but I'll explain later.

If you think about any color of thread, you have lights, mediums and darks. Just take a look at my thread cubby:
The perfect example for this arrangement are the tans/browns in the bottom center compartment. Dark, medium and light. If you try to use different color threads, the two colors still have to be somewhat close. You can use a light and a medium. You can use a medium and a dark. But not ever a light and a dark. It just doesn't work.

Even if your tension is perfect, with too contrasting threads, it will look horrible. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Think about it this way - the act of sewing is essentially tying a knot perfectly in the center of multiple layers of fabrics and batting as you punch holes through those layers for those knots to lie. Naturally the hole from the needle will be slightly larger than the thread and this is how you can see (or not see) tension issues. Ideally you'd like to see one thread on one side and the other on the opposite side without any little pops here or there. If the threads are too contrasting one of those threads will overpower the other visually and swallow it whole.

Common offenders of being too powerful (or not powerful enough) are black, red, and white. Actually the whole reason for this post today was someone in a group online asking about how they could use white and black threads and make it work. The obvious unanimous answer was no way possible will it work.

Following the dark to medium rule from above I tend to use black with dark grey, but I can also branch into other colors like dark brown, navy blue, purples, maybe a burgundy (maybe depending on the actual colors). With red I can go a bit darker into a maroon or burgundy, lighter into a magenta pink, or into other similar colors like oranges and browns. And finally white is usually good with other creams and light tans, but you can branch out into certain pastels as long as they're not too bold - like lilac or light blues may be too bold to go with white.

I hope this all makes sense. I guess a good test to see if it'll work is to take the two threads and wrap them around each other - then take a step back and look at them from a distance, a few feet or so. If you can still distinguish the two colors, it's probably not going to work. If the threads seem to melt together and you can't tell one from the other, you're good to go. It always helps to keep different threads in common color families like blue and green, pink and purple, red and orange, etc.

Alrighty, I did say I have one way to break the rules and this is it - BATIKS... I love batiks but sometimes they are a pain in my backside to quilt through. Especially unwashed batiks. The way batiks are made, and with the demand these days, there is a starch part of the printing process but it doesn't always seem to be as washed out these days. You ever purchase batiks and it looks like there's dried boogers on your fabric? Yeah, that's the excess starch. Anywho, you can hear a difference when you sew with batiks. Sometimes it can sound like you're sewing through paper. If there's a lot of excess starches and with the denser weave, it can be hard to stitch through.

Now imagine two layers of unwashed batiks plus batting... Almost nothing will dull the needles on my machine faster. Sometimes the action of sewing "punches" through the fabrics like paper (or better yet drilling through wood) where there's a visible tuft of punched fabric on the backside of the quilt. Kinda like those dang chads from voting back in the day. Or if you've ever worked with wood and the side you're drilling through has a jaggedy ridge. Same principle here.

In this case I like to use the same thread top and bottom as much as possible. It's not always possible, but I try. What that jaggedy ridge does at times is hold the knot of the thread on the one side of the quilt. The fabric lost it's ability to give/breathe and essentially give the knot a place to live. Again, it may not be across the entire fabric, but just in spots where the starches are more prevalent, but it looks awful when it happens and there's not much you can do. Some people will say try using a bigger needle, but if it's the wrong needle for the thread you're using, you're possibly creating another issue to fix an issue. Say you chopped off a finger, you're not going to chop off another finger to replace the first one and expect it to solve everything, right?

Now unwashed batiks on just one layer of a quilt are fine (usually). If they're in both the top and the back, I almost always try to use the same thread top and bottom. At the end of the day it's my work that I have to be happy with too and I know I may not be able to get the results I'm capable of with contrasting threads. I am my own worst critic (I hope) and if I'm not happy with the results, why should my client be?

Last little detail that could use it's own post but I'll touch on it briefly here. If you're trying to use different color threads in different weights, I have the best luck with the heavier thread on top and the thinner thread in the bobbin. The bobbin allows for a little more flexibility in the quilting process and less adjustments are needed. It's not a fool proof method, but it also relies heavily on the threads your machine is willing to accept as well as the project you're working on.

There are so many variables in quilting that some days it can make your head spin, but when it's all perfect - you can hear angels singing!

Does this post clarify thread choices for you? Do you have any questions or scenarios I haven't mentioned? Are there any other quilting topics you'd like discussed in this series? Let me know! Comment below or email me at rubybluequilts (at) gmail (dot) com! Honestly there's so many topics to discuss and so many conversations to have that some weeks I don't know where to start...

1 comment:

  1. Great topic, makes sense. How about Variegated thread on the top; what on the bottom?


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