Thread Problem Tips

If you have taken sewing classes or just read your sewing machine manual, you were probably made to understand that thread tension problems are always due to the wrong settings on your machine. Change your machine settings and everything will be okay. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that is too simplistic. It would be nice if it were that simple, but then if it doesn't work you are left pulling your hair out from frustration or you are dragging your machine to the shop for repairs. You get the machine back and you have a hefty bill, but you are told nothing was wrong with the machine. Yes, you are upset. I went through that for years and it IS frustrating.

"Bob" of Superior Threads is considered an expert on threads and even has Threadology classes. You can search for his tips on the Superior Threads website and sign up for Bob's monthly newsletter to keep updated on his tips.

My tips based from experience, classes and Bob's tips are:

1. Thread you buy from stores may not be "fresh," or it might have manufacturing problems.

Thread can sit in supply companies for any length of time, and then when it is shipped to stores, it could sit in their supply rooms for any length of time. Normally threads are stored in boxes until ready to be placed on the shelves, but once it goes on the shelves it can sit there until purchased, and collect dust. Dust is one tip it has been there too long, but you can't go by that. Just remember if you see dust, you might want to go somewhere else or look for another spool.

2. Thread may have manufacturing issues.

This has been a more recent problem, and yarns are having this issue also. It can be discouraging to be in the middle of a project and have flaws in the threads. Threads that end, and then restart is one issue. Threads that suddenly start looking shredded or unevenly twisted in the middle of a spool is another problem. I don't think you will have success taking threads back. I have seen stores refuse to take back bad thread when other people tried returning them.

3. How do you test thread to see if it is "good?"

Whether you just bought a spool of thread, have been given thread, or you are using thread you purchased in the past, you can test the thread to see if it is likely good. This won't guarantee you won't have problems later in the spool, but when you have the spool in your hand, take a piece of thread and pull it. If it tears off or shreds in your hands, then it is not good. Toss it. You can't use it for hand stitching because it won't be durable.

4. Thread weights matter.

Thread weight is an issue that can be perplexing. If you sew with regular smaller thread spools, like with sewing garments, you probably don't have an issue with this. Thread weight can matter with heavier fabrics, like denim and corduroy. Also denim threads tend to be thicker/heavier - you need to adjust the needle size and likely tension. Quilters often run into issues with thread weights since we purchase different types and sizes of threads. Each sewing machine is different too. The sewing machine store clerk told me for my machine I needed threads in a certain weight, but then that thread weight kept breaking. I had to get a different weight. Also, when you order threads in a certain weight, check them immediately upon receipt because they may have sent you the wrong weight. Four months later is too late to check and return the threads.

5. Metallic thread is hateful.

There are many types of metallic threads. Some are rough and frazzled looking, I avoid those. The unique look is not worth the trouble to me. There are smooth looking metallic threads that feel like thread. There are metallic threads that feel like wire. Normally these threads are wrapped around a nylon thread. Sometimes the metallic-looking portion gets worn down going through the machine and you are left with the nylon thread, and that part can break your sewing machine needle. You can use metallic needles, and those typically come in two sizes. Many times people in general fabric shops don't pay attention to the sizes and just order metallic needles. You will often find 80/20 in those stores, and that isn't really very good. You want to look for 90/40. If you can't find 90/40 metallic needles, then look for 90/14 topstitch needles. In fact, Bob of Superior Threads recommends 90/40 Titanium Topstitch Needles that Superior sells. Next, you need to adjust your tension. Instead of a typical 4 setting, you need to go to a 0 (zero) setting. That will relax the tension disks to allow the metallic threads to go through smoother. When the tension disks are too tight on metallic threads, you will have difficulty putting thread in the machine and you will have difficulty with breaking threads even higher than the needle. The other tip is to NOT use metallic thread in the bobbin. Use a lighter thread type. Matching the color is best as the metallic thread will often pull up the bobbin thread just enough to leave indications of the bobbin thread. This usually happens when the needle is pulled out or put back in.

6. Thread bird's nests or tangled messes on back side.

This is usually due to not starting with both threads held to the back of the needle when you start sewing. You can also pull the bobbin thread up first by putting the needle down through the layers of fabric and pulling it up one time with the bobbin thread pulling up as a little loop; then take a pin or sewing tool and pulling the loop up so the bobbin thread end is loose. Hold that with the other thread end together and to the back of the needle and begin sewing. A lot of people also don't pull up the thread from a freshly-wound bobbin before sewing, and just allow it to come up on its own. That can also cause a bird's nest.

7. Matching thread colors to your fabric.

It is best to have a sample of fabric with you when you buy the thread, it is too difficult to match without the fabric. Select threads a little darker than you think and check it against the fabric. You need one strand of thread against the fabric, you can't know for sure just looking at the bulk thread on the spool against the fabric. Also, don't assume all blacks, grays, blues, reds and so on are alike. Far from it as they all have a little different tint/tone to them.

8. Clear threads are hateful too.

Clear threads need a change in tension, but there are some that shouldn't be used at all since they are too brittle. Winding bobbins with clear threads is often the worse part, and if you have ever had a bobbin explode when you wind it, it is because you were winding too fast. Slow the speed down a lot when you are winding bobbins with clear threads. Also, there are fabrics that are inappropriate to use clear threads.

9. The beginning stitches bunch up and suck your fabric in the feed dogs (lower pressure plate area).

Each machine is different, some grab the fabric with no problem. Some people don't reset feed dogs after changing the heights. You might need to adjust the high of the pressure foot to fit your fabric thickness. The way to get around this is to start sewing on a scrap of folded fabric first, then jump to what you are sewing on, leaving a stitch or two spacing between the two. You snip that off when you are finished with that seam, and you can reuse that. That is a technique a lot of people piecing in quilting blocks use.

10. Bobbin sizes.

I have a lot of sewing machines, most from one manufacturer - Baby Lock. All clear bobbins, some have a blue tint, but the same bobbins come in complete clear. The problem is not all machines take the same bobbins - I wish. They may be millimeters or fractions of an inch difference in size, but they are different, and that slight difference in size can make a huge difference in whether the machine works properly or not. Keep the bobbin types separate, and I have been told to use a dot of fingernail polish in different colors (allow to dry completely) to identify bobbins. If you sell sewing machines, give the bobbins for that machine with it so you don't end up with bobbins you can't use.

11. Cats and Threads Do NOT Mix.

Do not allow your pets, particularly cats to play with threads or even yarns. It is best that they don't play assistant in your sewing room for many reasons, as they can pick up and swallow pins, or get burned by irons, or poke their head through the neck/harp on your sewing machine as you are sewing. Cats' tongues can catch the thread and not be able to release it so they end up having to swallow the threads. Cats are operated on to remove bundles of threads (and pins) often. It is not cute for cats to play in your sewing room.

12. Storing thread to protect it.

Almost everyone who sews at one point or another uses the thread racks on the walls. The problem with these racks can be that they can collect dust. You can place a light piece of fabric or plastic over the racks to protect them from the dust and sunlight, or cats. If you have a lot of threads, you can buy the clear plastic drawer carts like the Iris drawer sets or similar drawer sets from Ikea. Designate drawers with labels for different colors or types. This is very popular for fiber artists who have a lot of threads.

13. What color or brand is this?

My pet peeve is that the labels on a lot of thread spools are on the end of the spools. You pop that spool on the spool pin and off goes the label, or it gets poked through. The information on the spools is lost forever unless you have another spool of that same thread. You really can't ever count on being able to find the same color or brand of thread as these can go out of season like anything else, people can buy out what's left while you are waiting to finish your product, you wait too long to use that thread and on and on. One tip, always buy enough, but you don't always know. The other thing is using index cards for projects, notebooks or such to document your projects. Write down the brand, color code and color name of the thread spool before you start using it, and even attach a sample of it to the card with tape. Several manufacturers or companies, like Superior Threads, do have thread sample cards you can buy that will help you to select threads to purchase, and help you to identify a thread you have purchased from them.

14. What do I do with ends of thread spools with just a little bit of thread left?

Keep a sewing basket dedicated just to a sewing kit. You can keep these pieces of threads in there on the spool, or wrapped around folded paper. I keep a sewing kit dedicated for my husband's work clothes. Normally I have pre-threaded needles and threads for white, black, gray, browns, khaki pants' colors of all types. I also have a small pair of scissors and other things that might be helpful.

15. Keep a project box or basket for just the project you are currently working on. Place the threads you are using, that thread index card, pre-wound bobbins, fabric sample, etc.

Joy the Kitten

We have a Bengal cat that is 5 years old. Gracie is super sweet and has been a blessing since our previous cat died from cancer after a sudden illness. The day we confirmed she had cancer was May 19, 2010, on my birthday, and I was heart broken. She died about a week later. My husband and I were both pretty torn up about it, neither one of us imagined how many tears we would cry. We had a previous cat die extremely suddenly from a heart attack, and that upset us, but not like this. We both swore we would never have another cat, but then I realized our previous cat had been more of a companion support animal for me. I subscribe to Freecycle, the groups where you can give away items or post that you need something. Someone posted they had a kitten available, born on my birthday, and she thought of me first. I had posted the cat's items to give away. After discussion and prayer, we decided we would do that and we had to go out and get all new cat things. The Bengal is a different kind of cat, very active, almost wild at times. Very social and talkative, not so much meowing as really talking. Super smart cats. She has been slowing down and sleeps a lot, concerning. One thing we have had to do with her that we didn't know cats even had an issue with, was have her anal glands drained on a semi-regular basis. Bizarre, but true.

So, we kind of started talking about a new cat. We had a lot of discussion about it over several months. We didn't want to upset our present cat who has never had an issue with any bad behavior. In fact, when she has to spit up, she will go to the bathroom and do it in there. We finally decided that if we got a young cat, that might work okay. We are aware of the issues of having two cats, sometimes there are a lot of problems.

I went to the animal shelter in the county where we live. It is much cheaper than other shelters and I thought I would look and see if any cats would work. They had a lot of male cats, and we definitely didn't want a male. One cat that was young seemed alert and definitely wanted "OUT." I asked the tech to let me look at her and verified she was a female. The way she was so outgoing and the type of color she was, I thought she wasn't. I got her scent on me and went home. I took my top off and laid it out in the chair and my cat immediately went to it, sniffed and fell asleep on it. Sounds good so far. My husband and I discussed it again.

So my husband dreamed about cats during that night and so the next morning was like, yes, let's get a cat. So we went and looked through the cats available again, and there was that same cat, still wanting "OUT." My husband looked at her and agreed that would be a good one. We had taken our carrier, so we went to pay for her and we found out she was free. That was the national day to "Clear the Shelters," but this shelter hadn't advertised it. After filling out the paperwork, finding out the cat hadn't had shots etc., the tech gave us a crocheted blanket the size of the cat carrier for her to have as her own. Volunteers had made a drawer full of blankets.

On the way home, Joy (as we named her) started sneezing. She didn't act sick, but she kept it up. We went into Petsmart on the way home and picked out some food and items for her. When we walked in the door, our Bengal started hissing like crazy. We took Joy upstairs to our bedroom, let her out and started setting up her world. We have watched the cat whisperer guy on TV, so we decided to keep them separate and gradually introduce them. Joy kept sneezing, and then I got worried because she was nothing but skin and bones. It was like you could feel every bone in her body. I was concerned she had worms causing that, but the vet later said no, but gave us stuff to give her just in case. The vet said to keep the cats separate. She tested her for feline leukemia and other things, negative. We are to bring her back in another week, and go from there. The rest of the shots need to be started, and we have to get her spayed. Our vet doesn't spay cats until they are six months, the shelter requires it be done within one month, so I am hoping a note from our vet will delay that. We almost lost one cat from early spaying, the anesthesia caused her to get pneumonia. Having to use a humidifier in a room that let out steam that turned on our fire alarm, that brought firemen to our house, was a big enough experience and we don't want to repeat it.

Joy has been expensive so far. The vet says based on her teeth and weight (underweight), she is 3 months old. That would be the same month as our current cat and me. The vet started to put down the 17th of May and my husband told her to use the 19th of May so the three females in the house would all have the same birthdays! The first visit was $180, the shots and all are going to be twice that much, and that doesn't count the spaying. She has also had a bottomless pit for a stomach. She no longer feels bony. She is very active, loves to play. She had to have been taken from her mother too early because she tries to nurse on my fingers. She is a sweet cat and hasn't bitten us or anything.

So, we still have the trauma of introducing the two cats.

Our Bengal Gracie.

10 Degree Template for Quilting

There is a lot of math involved in quilting. That is one thing that attracts some men to quilting. I wish I had thought of the idea of a bicycle art quilt months ago, as the World Champions of Cycling will be in Richmond VA in September. There is an increased interest in all things bicycles here in Richmond. One rescue squad is raising funds by selling bicycle artwork.

I sat down to think of ideas for an art quilt with bicycles and came up with a few ideas. I then thought about how to make the spoked wheels. With art, things don't have to be as they appear, you take an artistic license with it, so it doesn't have to look exactly like a racing bike. However, I would want the spoked wheel to look professionally laid out and not mishappenly drawn. Taking some wheels as having 36 spokes, and 360 degrees is in a circle, then each segment between the spokes would be 10 degrees.

I had to search out on the internet for a 10 degree template. I have a 9 degree template, and I have larger degree templates, but that didn't work. I finally found one at Missouri Quilt Company. I have received it. It is a long template, so you can make a lot of things with this, it is measured off bottom to top. You can make the circles as wide as you want due to the length of the template.

So now that I have it, and I don't have time to make this before the race, it will have to wait for another day. This template will come in useful for other projects.

Blocking Art Quilts and Quilts

Many people don't realize the huge different in appearance an art quilt or a quilt will look between not blocking the piece or blocking the piece. Making art quilts, I learned that judges will be very critical of a piece if it is not blocked correctly and then squared before binding. Blocking helps a piece to hang straighter and flatter, and it helps the piece to be more accurate.

How do you block?

That is a common question. You can block any type of fiber art or garment, like a crocheted or knit garment. It will look more professional. After you complete the piece and before you square and bind, you should follow these guidelines.

Supplies for blocking an art quilt or quilt:

Spray bottle with clean water
Long sharp pins with a ball head or something with a grip
Pliers (in case the pin head comes off)
Preferably a large fiber filled mat that has measurements (looks like a cutting mat with lines and measurements, but is fabric, made of thick cushion.
Alternatively, a Berber remnant rug. Preferably measure it off and use blue painters tape to make proper alignments on that.
If you have a pet that could get on the piece while it is blocking, place a sheet over it while it is waiting to dry.

I prefer to allow a lot of drying time, but if you need to dry it faster, use a fan. It may feel absent of moisture, but that doesn't mean it is dry. That is one reason I allow a longer period of time.

I have a large mat like I described. If I find the name of the company and it is still in business, I will provide a link. I am making a series of art quilts and I am on the second one. It is drying right now.

How to block:

Use an example of an art quilt that is 24" x 36".

1. Spray both sides of the art quilt with the water. You want it damp but not soaked.
2. Lay it down against one of the vertical measuring lines, say the left side at 1" vertical mark. That entire left side needs to be pinned to that 1" mark, up and down.
3. The entire right side needs to be pinned to the 37" vertical mark, up and down.
4. The entire top edge needs to be pinned to the same horizontal line, so say the horizontal line is 1", then mark the entire top edge to the 1" line. Spray more water if needed.
5. Repeat for the bottom edge.
6. Recheck all the measurements and add pins if needed.
7. Allow it to dry completely, preferably 2 or more days depending on the size.

You can use this same technique with a quilt. You will need a large rug remnant and preferably you have marked off lines with the blue painters tape so you have guides. The exact lines are very important, otherwise there is little point in doing this. You can find remnants of Berber rugs at Ollie's, Walmart, etc., or at a rug retailer. The easiest thing to do is to place this on top of large tables (like the folding tables for banquets), or on top of an unused bed. You will need something stiff underneath the remnant if you do it on a bed.

After you finish blocking, then square the quilt and bind it.

Central Virginia Modern Quilt Guild

Central Virginia Modern Quilt Guild is in the baby stages. Their first meeting was earlier in August, and the next meeting will be September 2, 2015 at Quilting Adventures. Last year I was a member of the national Modern Quilt Guild and I was checking into the MQG site to see what was going on before I joined for 2015. I noticed then this new guild just beginning.

The Modern Quilt Guild movement is more for modern quilters who don't necessarily want to "follow the rules" that many quilters like to follow. This doesn't mean the quilts break all the rules, but it takes a more modern spin. The funny thing is that most quilters who like to "follow the rules" don't realize that their rules haven't always been followed. The Gees Bend Quilts are an example of that. Not all older quilts used sashings. Many quilters fail to realize that many quilters of older times used just what was available. Shirts, clothes etc. were cut apart once they were well used and put together.

The CVMQG have already scheduled their first charity project for breast cancer, making Carolyn Friedlander's "Shirt" blocks in pink on a gray or white background.

Selfie Raw Drawing

I'm participating in an online drawing class with Susan Shie, a fiber artist who is well known, and I have respected her artwork for a long time. In the past, you could only take classes with her in person. I was happy to learn of the online class.

Today's work, post a selfie photo of yourself. Optional, draw (with no pencil drawing draft etc) a selfie drawing from that photo. This was done with a black pen, markers, and Prismacolor colored pencils.

Why take drawing classes if you are a fiber artist?

I have been taking art lessons since I was young. You never draw enough, it is a continual learning process. There are various styles of drawing, techniques of drawing, so it is important to draw and to keep learning. I have worked with almost every type of art medium. Making art quilts, I use drawings a lot in some shape or form. My weakest point is using sketchbooks continuously. This class works on that issue for me since the drawings must be in a bound sketchbook.  I have boxes of drawings, drafts of pieces I have made, drafts of works I have in progress and drafts of pieces to make in the future. I have some bound sketchbooks like smaller Moleskine books, but those aren't a continual body of work.

Beach Art Quilt 2015.1

I have a small series of art quilts with the beach theme, for my husband's family as a memory keeper of the time spent at Gulf Shores, Alabama on the beach. This is about the first one that was presented for his brother's birthday. The other two will be revealed probably in October.

The name of this piece is "Thanks for the Memories."

The birds are not embroidered on machine. I drew the designs out on a tearaway stabilizer, backed it with a stiff Pellon stabilizer. I then used a variety of threads and used the sewing machine's needle as a "brush" and "threadpainted" and blended the threads to get the results. I then cut and trimmed the birds, then stitched them down.

I have exhibited a lot in the past, and per the exhibit rules the past few years, the back shows the finished work. You keep it as neat as possible, no "bird's nests" of threads, etc., but you don't cover it up. Judges want to see the finished work.

This did not start out as an art quilt, I was making a large throw. My brother-in-law does not care for "warmth" as much as many people, and I was a bit concerned about whether he would use it at all. I divided it and turned it into an art quilt. Besides, I was trying to hold back the creative juices from doing the threadwork, but I just couldn't.

About Madeline

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