Confessions: Variegated Thread and More Thread Stuff

Before we get into today's Confessions post, Sue just shot me an email about her China Shop quilt I just shared - if you will be in the Santa Clara, CA area this weekend for the Pacific International Quilt Fest - you will be able to see this quilt in person. Not able to attend, a little birdie also told me this quilt may make an appearance at Road to California in January :) And yes this quilt may be for her bed someday, part of why it wasn't crazy dense quilted. It needed to fluff a bit and be soft enough to snuggle.

I cannot thank you all enough for the kind words and comments on the latest quilting posts. Sadly I still have a bunch of catching up to do and I'm only just now getting to share quilts I did this past Spring. One day I will catch up and be sharing what I'm working on as I'm working on it with a few exceptions here and there. I have to have a few secrets from time to time!

Oh, and a quick Maura update - Maura is now 7 months old, 29" tall (she grew another inch last month which keeps her at the 99.7% mark - she didn't get it from me, only a few more inches and she'll be half my height!), she's crawling everywhere, pulling herself up on everything and attempting to walk! Since she's so freaking tall she's fitting into 18 month pants, 12 month shirts and I'm afraid with how well she's been sleeping the last few days it's either her teeth finally about to pop through (cross your fingers) or she's having *another* growth spurt that I honestly am just not prepared for. She loves beets, so far the only food she doesn't like is avocado and obviously she eats like a champ. I love her to pieces although she wears me out most days and I know the fun is yet to come once she is truly mobile which will be here before we know it!

Okay, how about we actually get to the post you're all here for? I had a question last week from karenf asking about variegated thread and what I use on the bottom. Great question, Karen!
 As you can see I don't have a lot of variegated thread. Barely any actually. There's a reason for that and basically it comes down to I just don't like it. There is a time and a place for variegated threads but they're trendy. And trendy becomes dated. And before you know it your masterpiece of a quilt looks cheap and kitschy all because of the thread.

Alright, I may be a little over dramatic here, but you know I'm right. Or I hope you do.
 For this reason I only have these two colors of variegated thread in my cubby. And as you can see they aren't very necessary since they're stuck behind my bobbin winder and almost out of sight - like my other threads. I honestly can only remember using each one once in the last year... I almost wish I never bought them.
 I have more. I obviously don't use them that often because:
1. They're hidden in the bottom drawer
2. I couldn't remember what drawer they were in and I guessed wrong three times before I found them
3. I just don't. If I use any it's the pastel colors on baby quilts - again a time and place and baby quilts you can get away with bolder color choices than on other quilts most days.

So here's what I do if I use a variegated thread. If I use variegated thread I only use it on the top of the quilt. The bobbin hardly ever runs out along the edge of the quilt and it's too hard to line up the color sequence just right when you can't see it. It may not be that big of a deal normally, but to me that transition would stand out like a sore thumb and drive me crazy!

Once I have the top thread, time to choose the bobbin. Again I always use a solid on the back and I try to pick something in the middle - something that's not too dark or too light for the colors in the variegated thread. This can be tricky because sometimes you need to go a tad darker with the bobbin thread to compensate for the darkest colors in the top thread, and it may not work well with the backing on the quilt. There's so many variables in quilting that it's hard to give a clear answer on this one.

Basically try to find a middle ground for the bobbin, but find the color in the variegated thread that will be your troublemaker (there's always one color that's bolder than the rest) and work with that color in mind first. For example - in the pastel threads the blues or purples always cause issues because they're darker. Sometimes I would love to use a white or yellow thread, but sometimes a green or a pink is the winner because it works better with the darker colors.
 Which brings me to another topic - checking your tension. I had a client ask where my "practise quilting" was because it wasn't on the side of their quilt. Some quilters check their tension above or to the side of a quilt before they actually start working on the quilt top. Best to check and make adjustments before it's in the quilt itself and needs fixed and ripped out.

I use basically the same threads all the time so I don't need to make that many adjustments, and if I do they're small, but it happens. I start to check my tension as I load the quilt stitching along the edges where no one will see it anyway. You will always get the best results working on the same fabrics and the same batting as the quilt you're working on - no brainer there.

This is my "long arming desk" and that lime green piece to the right is my trick in this situation.
 Aside my calendar and client notes of what I need to do on what quilts, I have my colored pens to keep me organized, my pin cushion, my pins, and my trusty lime green scrap. This is a scrap of old fabric sandwiching the batting I use the most and it's what I test my tension on aside from your quilts.
 As you can see I use a ton of different threads and I try to quilt a few tight circles this way and that way and in every direction to truly test the tension. If it looks good I move on and actually work on the quilt itself.
I also use this scrap when I change bobbins. Let's face it, this is an industrial machine that takes oil and sometimes it splashes up after you put a drop in the bobbin case. Rather than having that oil slick on the backside of your quilt, I test the thread again on this scrap. If any oil spills out, this fabric soaks it up leaving your quilt clean and dry.

One other thing about threads and quilts. I try to work my way through the quilts I get in the order they came to the best of my ability, but sometimes I need to switch it up. Again, this is an industrial sewing machine and lint happens. A lot. I will never switch from black or red threads to a white quilt. No matter how much I clean with brushes and vacuums, there will always be lint. It makes appearances at the most inopportune times, or so I used to think. I noticed they tend to happen the most right after I change bobbins, especially from one thread color to another. If I quilt just a little on my fabric scrap, those extra lint bubbles work their way out. You can see some in the photo above. Those splotches of grey in the stitching. That's the lint. It can be thick and oily and messy and nearly impossible to remove once stitched in. I'd much rather have it appear on this scrap than the back of your quilt.

And in case you missed that little detail, I tend to arrange my quilts as best I can in the order they arrive, but sometimes it doesn't work. When I jot down the quilt on my schedule I also note what color thread I think I'll use. Sometimes I'm wrong, but it's an important detail that keeps my schedule running as smooth as possible. I try to work the colors of threads as close as I can just in case there's any lint (which is hardly ever, but again, this is a precaution I take that helps keep the situation almost non-existent). If I'm working on a quilt that uses a red or burgundy thread, I usually try to quilt with brown or pink, then maybe a tan before I even think of loading a white quilt onto my machine. I can always go darker easily, but going lighter is the trick. The great thing is I almost always have an array of client quilts to work with that suits my needs, but trust me - I have quite the stash of UFOs myself that I can always squeeze in if need be.

Sometimes this plan works (it usually does and is why I still keep to it to this day), but the rare exception are the crazy custom quilts that use several thread colors in one quilt. Luckily most of these quilts have a color theme that allows for thread changes, but it can still be a challenge.

I swear one day I will talk about other topics than thread, but it's hard to stop once you start. Again, if you have a question about fabrics, quilts, the quilting process, please comment below or email me at rubybluequilts (at) gmail (dot) com and I will work it into a future topic. I have so much to say and don't always have the time (with an almost mobile baby) to prep for the topics as I'd like, so bear with me. Sometimes trying to take good pictures and editing them and writing the posts can eat up a ton of my time, but I'm trying!

I hope you all enjoyed the topic for today and again, check back often for more quilt pictures and another Confessions post next Wednesday!


  1. I'll be at PIQF on Friday, definitely look for the quilt. Cant wait to see it in person!

  2. Valuable Confessions! Thanks for posting.

  3. Very interesting! Although I don't have a long arm, some of your information will be quite helpful assuming, of course, that I ever get around to quilting all those tops.....

  4. Thanks for your info. I have put together material that I want to quilt in the future. Just plucking up the courage to attempt what I want to do.


Keep the conversation going! Leave your comments here:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...