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.

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