The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #17

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Question Thursday #17

Time for a new Question Thursday post full of your questions and my answers (and a lot of opinions!) about free motion quilting.  I swear I've missed these posts more than anything else during the break and I'm excited to see what questions have come up over the last month.

Let's start with a question I received about wholecloth quilting before the break:

Can a bed sized wholecloth quilt be pieced from two large pieces of fabric?

This is the tricky thing about wholecloth quilts - finding good yardage that is wide enough for larger quilts.

Typical high quality quilting cotton runs around 40 - 44 inches, and that is simply not wide enough if you're wanting to make a full or queen sized wholecloth.'s the deal: in the purest technical definition of a wholecloth, this is a quilt created from one single piece of fabric.  A quilt pieced from 2 or 3 large strips of 40 inch fabric really isn't technically a wholecloth because it's not made from a single large piece of fabric.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
But keep in mind, this is a technical definition similar to a "real" Hawaiian quilt only being constructed with needle turn applique.  I've created a few Hawaiian quilt blocks a few years ago and I fused them!  I certainly don't consider my blocks traditional, but I think it certainly still counts as a quilt inspired by that quilt design style.

Also keep in mind that it really won't matter whether you create a wholecloth from one big piece or multiple pieces of fabric unless you plan to show the quilt.  If you're making the quilt for yourself, for a friend, for a family member that will use it, it really doesn't matter if it's made from 1 piece of fabric or 100.  They're not going to judge it!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again just to grind it in a bit further: creating a quilt to show just isn't in the same ballpark as creating a quilt to use on your bed.  You have to fastidiously follow every official rule in the book if you want to compete to win.  Finding wide enough yardage is not an option, it's a necessity.

When looking for wide yardage, you might be tempted to look at backing fabric.  Just be double and triple sure your backing fabric is a nice, high quality fabric.  If it's so sheer you can watch TV through it, and full of slubs and thread breaks in the weaving, chances are that's not great fabric for a wholecloth.

The next question from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin is also related to wholecloth quilting as it deals with marking a quilt top:

How many marking pens do you need to mark a large quilt top?

Full question: How much mileage do you gals get out of one marker?  Leah, can you shed some light on this subject?  How to store them, use, and mileage we can expect to get from one?

This is a frustrating aspect of liquid marking pens - they just never have enough ink!  Depending on the size of the project and how much you're marking, I'd generally expect a single water soluble marking pen to cover around 9 square feet of fabric (36" x 36") if the markings are very close (1/2" to 1 inch apart).

I'm basing this opinion on my experience with The Duchess.  Each quarter of that quilt took 3 pens (12 pens total), and yes, I ran out many times.  Each time I purchased a new pen, I'd think "I'll finish it up with this one..." only to be back at the store again the next day.

I know this seems ridiculous, but fabric really likes to soak up water soluble ink, and it's better to understand this going into a project rather than have high expectations for a single pen covering an entire queen sized bed quilt.  It probably won't cover a quarter of it.

When it comes to storing marking pens, I've always kept mine in drawers or cups, depending on which sewing machine they were next to.  If a pen has mostly been used up during a project, but still has a bit of ink left, I'll mark the end with tape so I know not to depend on it for a big project.

Yes, chalk and ceramic pencils do have a bit more longevity when it comes to marking, simply because you can refill the tool rather than just throw it away.  If you're working with dark fabrics where a light pencil will work, make sure to have at least 2 refill packs of lead to get you through the entire marking process. 

As always - test before starting!  Make sure you know how your pen or pencil is erased and test it on your fabric first before marking. 

Now let's move on to a question about thread breaks from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

 If your thread breaks or your bobbin runs out in the middle of FMQ and there aren't ends long enough to bury in the inside, what do you do? 

Do you start stitching a little on top where stopped? 

I know some techniques are easier to understand when they are seen rather than written about, so I shot some photos this morning to illustrate this technique.

When your bobbin runs out or thread breaks in the middle of a quilting section, it usually looks something like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Super short thread tails at the end of Stippling make for a trick situation.
Step 1 - Pull your bobbin thread to the top.  Give the top thread a little tug and you'll see a loop form - that is the bobbin thread.  Pull on it to bring your bobbin thread up to the top.  Both threads will probably be pretty short, especially if your thread broke suddenly.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Step 2 - Pick back.  You're not using a seam ripper, but instead gently tugging on the thread closer to the stitching.  This will pull up a loop of the other thread and you can gently un-stitch about 1-2 inches of stitches.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I usually try to find a place to rip to - a point, cross over in stitching, any area of travel stitching - these are all areas you can easily hide the start and stop within.

If nothing is close by or if the design you're quilting doesn't contain any of those elements (Stippling doesn't), just rip until you have long enough thread tails to tie a knot and hide them in the middle layer of the quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Try ripping to the smallest stitch close by as it will form the most secure end to the stitching.
Step 3 - Hide the threads.  Pop em' in a cheater needle and slide them through the middle layer of the quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Step 4 - Start stitching.  Looking at the remaining line of stitching, insert your needle into the 2nd to last stitch hole.  Pull up the bobbin thread and hang on to them as you start stitching off the line. You will overlap just that one last stitch, which will secure that line and hopefully hide the new thread start as well.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Step 5 - Hide the new start.  When you've stitched a few inches away from that area, tie a knot and hide the two new loose threads within the quilt as well.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
 It may take some practice to get this down perfectly, but it's definitely worth it to take the time to rip back, hide, and carefully restart stitching in this manner.  It is possible to have absolutely undetectable starts and stops, but it does require practice to master.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Can you tell where the thread break happened?
 I know this seems like a complicated set of steps, but once you get into the habit of it, it really takes no time at all to pick out the thread tails, hide them, then start stitching again.

Yes, this is exactly what I do every single time I break thread, whether accidentally or on purpose, which is why I take pains not to break thread very often.  If only machine manufactuers would figure out a way of making machines take a spool of thread in the bobbin as well as the top so we wouldn't run out of bobbins anymore!

Now with all this talk about wholecloth quilts, I have to admit I'm feeling tempted to take a look back at The Duchess.  I've been thinking and talking about creating a new, reloaded version of that quilt for more than a year and it's finally feeling like now is the right time.

I'll definitely keep you posted as I dig out the old pattern and start working on this huge wholecloth project this weekend.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Thank you Leah ~ Very helpful information! I really appreciate your taking time for us to help us along in our quilting journey! Looking forward to doing our quilt alongs again~

  2. Enjoyed the pic of the Hawaiian inspired block, and also the talk about "wholecloth" quilts. I was hoping you would have a better solution for the thread breaks, though. That is exactly what I have been doing myself. :) Love you blog, BTW, it is my fave read lately. Have a super day!

  3. Hey, Leah. One machine manufacturer used a spool of thread in the bobbin. There is an Eldredge "two-spool" sewing machine that does this. The bobbin spool sits in a holder under the machine right where the bobbin would be and winds off as you sew. The bobbin winder is long enough to accomodate the spool instead of a traditional narrow bobbin. I've seen one on ebay and didn't buy it. I haven't seen another, anywhere, in two years. One day, I will find one, tho. Lane

  4. what about a high quality cotton sheet for a wholecloth quilt? I have used them for my quilt backs before and if you wash them and then trim off all the sewn edges they work great- I haven't had any issues. I imagine they would work fine for the front too- I always look for 100% cotton in a 300+ thread count and always make sure I can feel them and look through them before buying, which at most nice linen stores isn't a problem. Just a thought.

  5. What an awesome explanation for thread breaking! Thank you!

  6. thank you for the instruction on 'hiding' the broken thread. that is a much better idea than mine which is to sew over it form a stich back, cut it off and move on! I will be trying your method.

  7. Hi Leah -- I've read that Karen McTavish recommends using batiste fabric for wholecloth quilts and wondered if you have ever used something that lightweight? I've seen it at at a 60" width. Also, any thoughts on using linen, which also seems to come in widths greater than the usual 42-44 inches.

  8. thank you leah,,,,being a crochet and knitter, you would think that i would have thought of doing this,,,but it never entered my mind,,,,,,tks for being an inspiration, and your wonderful teachings,,,,:))

  9. Lots of great questions about wholecloth fabric! Let's see if I can answer a few here:

    Molly - Personally, I think a high quality bed sheet is just fine. I once asked an older quilter about it and she said the higher thread count would be a problem??? I think she was coming from a hand quilting perspective, but I think it would be a great option.

    Laura - Karen uses batiste for shadow trapunto where the batting intentionally shows through the quilt. Personally I didn't like the flimsy nature of this fabric and had trouble marking it and keeping everything from going wonky, so I prefer organza, and I don't mark the organza, I mark the shadow fabric (you'll need to check the Winter Wonderland Pattern for more info on that).

    When it comes to using different fabrics, I've created wholecloths using both silk crepe and crepe back satin. Both weren't much fun because the fabric just wanted to slide and slither away from me.

    If you feel like a challenge though, there's really a whole world of fabrics to play with! Just jump in and have fun figuring out what works best for you!



  10. "If only machine manufactuers would figure out a way of making machines take a spool of thread in the bobbin as well as the top so we wouldn't run out of bobbins anymore!"
    Leah, you are a genius. This thought had never occurred to me until I read that line in your post. Why CAN'T they do this? I think it can be done. I don't know why I think this, but I do. If enough of us launch a campaign toward the sewing machine manufacturers, maybe they WILL do it!!!

  11. ciao Leah! come si fa ad avere regolarità e lunghezza dei punti sempre uguali????


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