Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Is the thread tension too tight?  Too loose?  How do I fix it?  One of the secrets to beautiful machine quilting is getting the best stitch you can with your sewing machine.  But what does a good stitch look like?  It is when the thread from the needle and the thread from the bobbin meet and cross over exactly in the middle of what you are sewing.  When you are machine quilting, this crossing of the threads should be completely buried in the middle of your quilt sandwich.  The bobbin thread will not poke up to the top of your quilt, and the top thread will not be pulled through to the back.  (It’s especially easy to see this if you are using different color thread in the needle and the bobbin.)


Broken strings and harp assistant

The weather has been very changeable this summer, and it is important to check the thread tension every day for machine quilting, especially with weather changes.   The summer weather – from hot and humid to cold and damp, and everywhere in between – wreaks havoc with threads of all type – including the natural gut strings on my harp.  This is especially true in an un-airconditioned house!

Just like the gut strings on my harp, cotton and silk thread is a natural fiber that responds to the temperature and humidity in the environment.  Last week as the weather changed day by day, from cool and damp to hot and humid, I dutifully adjusted the tension and checked the back of my piece every day. Everything seemed to be going well … but then I looked at the back again.

Hmmmm…. the threads on the back seem to be riding on top of the fabric, rather than being firmly anchored inside the quilt sandwich.  I rechecked the top tension.  I rechecked – and changed – the bobbin tension.  I rethreaded the machine.  Nothing helped – the stitch still didn’t look quite right.


So I picked up an old practice sample, determined to get it right.  I stitched a few lines, and then looked at the  stitching samples on this piece, remembering the first time I used it.  I was demoing at my guild quilt show, and the tension became SO bad that I thought there was something wrong with my machine!


That time, I was surprised and a little embarrassed to find out it was just a bent needle.  A bent needle?  So maybe I should try a new needle!

And voila! like magic, the thread behaved just as it should and the machine was sewing that ‘perfect stitch’.


So this time, the solution to getting the right thread tension was not rethreading the machine or adjusting the tension in the needle or the bobbin, but replacing the needle.  Sometimes it can be cleaning the lint out of your machine.  I am sure there are even more solutions … what have you discovered?


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I have been assembling units for a pieced border this week and forgot how much I like using homemade starch.

Pieced border units

I usually reach for the can of starch or sizing from the store, because it is just there.  When I use it, I never know whether it will spray or dribble in globs out of the can.  If it sprays, the starch also goes all over the ironing board, the floor, or other nearby furniture.  This week I took 10 minutes and got a box of starch out of the kitchen cabinet and cooked up my own starch, using Diane Gaudynski’s recipe (which you can find on her website at the bottom of the monthly ‘Tips’ page).

I put it in a plastic spray bottle (no more metal aerosol can).  Now I can control the spray and exactly where it goes!  No more sticky globs… and the starch adds body and stiffness to my fabric without leaving white flakes all over everything.  It really helps to tame those bias seams – almost eliminating distortion when piecing triangles or other bias-cut shapes.  Of course, it’s also perfect for starching the back of your quilt just before you layer it for machine quilting.  The additional stiffness of the backing makes it easier to avoid tucks or puckers while you are basting and quilting your quilt.   And it helps your quilt slide more easily on the bed of your sewing machine when you are machine quilting.

I highly recommend using your own homemade starch!

P.S. Can you guess how many border units are in the picture above?

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