May 31, 2017

The Agony of Monofilament Threads

So last week I was crowing about my "success" with monofilament ("invisible") thread.


This week:  A cold blast of reality.

I have a quilt project which is just perfect for monofilament.  I mounted it on the longarm, loaded up the thread and changed the needle, dialed the tension down - everything set up exactly as I did when I was experimenting.

The result?

Well - the only thing good about what happened is that I ALWAYS test the tension every time I change the bobbin or needle in my machine.  Experience has taught me not to just "trust" that it will be OK.  No.  I pull out a test quilt and run a few inches of stitching on that before working on the actual project.

And - when I tested the monofilament, I got "hairy" stitches on the top and the bottom.  I fiddled with it for about an hour, but finally gave up.

I have no idea what I did wrong.  No idea.  I'll probably experiment again later on, but for now I'm setting that thread aside.

May 24, 2017

Experimenting with Monofilament Threads

Often times, choosing the thread to use when quilting gets to be a little bit dicey.  For many projects, the right colour is obvious - but for others - especially those with lots of contrasting areas, it's harder.

Monofilament (aka: "invisible") thread seems like the solution here.

I did some reading online, and found quite a few discussion groups where people were reporting frustration with monofilament.  It seemed a few people were really pleased with their results, but there were so many who said they'd given up - well, it was intimidating.

I asked my friend Nancy (who is a lot more experienced with machine quilting than I am) about this.  She said she's not had great results and pretty much gave up some time ago.  She had a cone of Birch's invisible thread and gave it to me to experiment with.
(click on any picture to see a larger image)

After slapping together some light-coloured scrap fabric and batting, I set up my longarm with the Birch thread as the "top" thread, and a bobbin of leftover regular thread on the bottom (having talked with Nancy and researching the topic, I knew in advance that monofilament doesn't do well on as the bottom thread - it's elasticity gets you into trouble).  I'd read that with monofilament, it's very important to keep the top thread tension very low - so I dialed down from "660" to "250".

I started stitching and immediately ran into trouble.

After stitching a few inches of small "loop-d-loops", I felt the back of the quilt and found the top thread (the monofilament) was dangling out the back in a "birds nest" mess!

It's difficult to photograph "invisible thread" - but I've drawn arrows on this
photo so you can see some of the dangling loops on the back of the practice quilt.
I tried adjusting the tension up and down, without much luck.  Then I went back to 250 - and the bird nesting just stopped on it's own!  This is somewhat disconcerting, because I don't know why it stopped - AND because when the nesting was happening, there was no indication visually or audibly that something wasn't right.  The only way I knew there was a problem was from feeling the back.

So will I run into this again?  Or will the thread behave itself from here out?  Was there something wrong with that first few inches of monofilament on the cone?

I don't know.

After the bird nesting stopped, I was still worried about how the top looked.  As you can see in the photo below, my red bobbin thread is making an appearance in the top, with every stitch.  This simply isn't acceptable.

More research on the web revealed that those who were having success with monofilament were saying that some thread manufacturers are better than others.  Superior Threads, in particular, seemed to be favoured by monofilament enthusiasts.  I ordered a cone of "Very fine, reduced sheen, Mono.Poly".  This thread is much, much thinner than the Birch monofilament - maybe by as much as half - but it seems to be just as strong.

Here's the result.

That's better.  The dots of red thread are considerably smaller.  But it's still showing through too much.  The wrapping on the thread package specified a recommended needle size of 14 (for longarms) and 70/10 for home machines.  I ordered a package of 14 needles and here's the result:
I'm delighted!  A very faint amount of bottom thread is visible, but it's nowhere nearly as bad as it was with the size 18 needles. 

You might think that monofilament ends on a quilt might poke a bit.  I'm happy to report that although you can find ends if you hunt for them, they don't poke you as you'd expect.

One more thing to report:  Both the Birch and Superior Threads cones came with little cover nets.  The Birch thread was fine on the machine without the net, but I found I needed to have the net over the cone for the Superior Threads cone; without the net, the thread was coming loose around the cone.  Without the net there would probably be a tangle up on the back of the machine before long.  I popped the net on and continue sewing without incident after that.
I have a project in my stack that is ready to mount on the longarm.  I'm still worried about the bird nesting, but will pull my courage together and attack that project soon - and I'll let you know how it goes.

May 17, 2017

So what's my excuse?

For a second week, I've actually done almost NO work on quilting.


Well... we are renovating a house.  Ever done that?  If you have, then you absolutely get why I'm not quilting.  If you haven't, let me just say this: Don't renovate a house if you can help it (just kidding.... sort-of).

This renovation has actually been going on in the background for just over 2 years.  We're converting a beautiful 1904 brick house into something that will be modern and comfortable, while retaining the charm of the original building.  It's been a demanding project, to say the least.  It's coming to an end in about 3 weeks - and suddenly we're having to do a lot of running around for this and that, doing research online, picking out curtains, rugs, and so on.  It's, well, very involved and very time-consuming.  But we're getting there.

I do have projects ready for quilting - and have some things to share about "invisible thread" and such - but it will have to wait another week.

May 3, 2017

Quilt 91: Trieste in Blue (4th time) - DONE!

This is one of my two best-selling quilts to-date.  It's the Robert Kaufman panel "Trieste", in jewel tones, with the coordinating fabric.  I think I've only got one more of these panels left, with just enough of the coordinating fabric to do one more - then there'll be no more, as the fabric doesn't seem to be available anymore.  I'm sorry for that, but you, dear reader, are probably bored to tears with the "hey, didn't you just make one of those?" quilts.

But - here it is:
50" x 68" - quilted on the longarm ("Blustery Breeze" groovy boards) - bamboo batting
When I quilted this one, I had a LOT of trouble with lint accumulating on the back.  Thinking back, this has been a problem with other bamboo quilts.  It seems the bamboo just breaks up a lot during the quilting.  I had to stop and brush/blow out the lint inside the bobbin box at the end of every row of stitching.  That was a bit annoying, but not as annoying as having to pick lint out of the stitches on the back and, in a couple of cases, take the stitches themselves out and re-quilt those areas.

Here's a closeup of the quilting with the gold backing fabric:
The previous version of this had backing fabric which was solid homespun cotton (like this one) but the colour was lighter - matched the gold borders on the front.  I like this better.  This richer gold backing really pops.

I have the materials to make one more of these.  After that - no more, as the Robert Kaufman fabric is apparently unavailable now (I honestly don't understand why that is).  I'll make one more and may just keep it for myself!