The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #30

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Question Thursday #30

It's Question Thursday time and I've had some really interesting questions this week about many different aspects of quilting.  Let's start first with a question from Bentneedle in the comments of yesterday's post about Paisley and Pivoting Designs:

Won't Paisley make your quilt stiff?

Full comment: This is a lovely design, and one I would like to try. I have yet to attempt any kind of travel stitching, however. Doesn't it make your quilt rather stiff? Also wouldn't it show up rather badly on the back? Just trying to picture everything...I suppose I should just go find some scraps and try it. :)

Yep, the absolute best way to know how a design will feel on a quilt is to quilt it.  Just try it out and see if you like it!  But there's one extra thing to keep in mind:


If you stitch Paisley, or any Pivoting Design on a super small scale and add extra travel stitching, it will look something like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Here's the back of this exact same piece:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Does it look bad to you?  This is really down to personal opinion and how you want to quilt your quilts and how you want them to look finished.

Cross this with the large scale Paisley I quilted in the video for this week:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Here's the back of this quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

There is a big difference between the large scale and small scale, and not just in the feel of the quilt.  The goddess face is quilted on a very small scale so it was designed to be super stiff.

The Batik Beauty quilt designed to be soft, but yes, there is a difference in feel between Paisley and Loopy Line or Circuit Board you see stitched in blocks nearby.

So ultimately if you want a soft quilt and are worried about stiffness, just make sure to keep the quilting lines far apart (at least 1/2 inch).  No design will automatically make your quilt stiff so long as you watch the closeness of the lines of quilting.

Of course, a big factor in the stiffness of your quilts comes from the batting in the middle.  More than anything else, the batting will determine how your quilt drapes and feels on a bed or hangs on a wall.  Here's a question from Pat at Color Me Quilty about batting:

What kind of batting do you use?

Full Question: I know that you like to use a higher loft poly batting and you pretty much stick to one kind. You probably have told us before, but what brand do you use? What do you like about this batting compared with others of this same type?

Personally the whole loft thing with batting has always confused the heck out of me.  I can go to Walmart and buy a "low loft" batting that is 1/2" thick.  I can then go to a quilt shop and buy a package of high loft Quilter's Dream Poly and it's not even 1/4" thick.  Talk about confusing!

Loft is meant to describe the density or weight of the quilt and the warmth you can expect to get from it.  A high loft will be warmer than a low loft batting.  That is pretty simple.  But different batting manufactures create batting in different ways, so you can end up with a lot of different thicknesses.

As for what I personally use: I use Quilter's Dream Poly. 

That is the only batting I use because it's reliable, it stitches wonderfully, hangs well on a wall, and looks nice on a bed.  What more could I want?!

As for thickness, or loft, I vary between the three: low (request), mid loft (select) and high loft (deluxe).

When I want to make a light bed quilt for use in the summer, I use the Request thickness.  For everything else, I use Select loft.  It's kind of my default and the thickness I use the most overall.

For trapunto, the first layer is always with the Deluxe thickness, the second layer with Select.

I like this batting because it's very thin.  Even the highest loft is less than 1/4" thick, which means your quilt will never be big and bulky.  The thicker your batting, the harder it will be to squish that quilt under the arm of your machine, so it really does help to use thinner battings.

It might seem really boring or weird that I only use one type of batting, but it's actually just another thing I do to eliminate uncertainty from my quilts.

I don't like unpredictability.  I want to know how my quilt will finish and I want reliable results.  I don't want to re-invent the wheel every time I sit down to quilt, and using different batting when I have a brand I know and trust just seems like a silly waste of time.

Of course it's good to shop around and try different things, but once you figure out what you like, do yourself a favor and stick with it!  It will save a lot of headaches and hair pulling later!

Now speaking of headaches, I had a really annoying glitch start up with my machine yesterday.  I was working on the goddess face above, a UFO that's been sitting on my floor for 6 months, and my thread started to act funny.

Here's what would happen: I'd be stitching along just fine and then suddenly it was like too much thread would be pulled down into the quilt, creating a birds nest on the back and usually breaking the thread on top.

Watching the thread feed into the machine, it was doing something similar to what Pat described a few weeks ago: looping up and twisting as it entered the machine.

Now this is really obnoxious.  It would happen unpredictably, but consistently every 2-3 inches of fill, which meant I was stopping to pick out the birds nest, hide threads, and restart stitching over and over as I filled the quilt block. It made the whole process take much longer and honestly ruined the fun of quilting because I was gritting my teeth in frustration.

Sometimes it helps to just walk away from your machine when stuff like this happens.  Maybe it's the alignment of the planets, the weather, the feeling in the air, who knows what, that causes machines to suddenly act funny.

But always remember that problems that suddenly appear usually do so for a reason.  Here's how I troubleshooted the problem by changing 1 thing at a time, continuing to quilt, and seeing if the problem persisted:

1. Change Needle - Most issues with thread stem from a bent or broken needle.  Even if you JUST changed the needle YESTERDAY that could still be the culprit.  Needles are mass produced and there's no guarantee you won't get a bent needle straight out of the package.

Whenever a needle makes trouble in my machine, particularly when I've just recently changed it, I always remember the first night James was born.  I'd cleaned him up, put a tiny diaper on his little body and we'd all snuggled down in bed for the night when he suddenly began to cry.  Josh and I struggled to figure out what was wrong and why he was crying.

Josh asked about his diaper and I shouted "I've just changed him!" I remember refusing to check because, in my brain, that couldn't possibly be it.  Turns out, he'd gone poo again and wasn't happy about it.  It's always been a lesson to me to remember to gone on ahead and check and change the most obvious thing, even if they've just been checked and changed a minute ago.

While this definitely improved the thread nesting issue, it didn't fix it completely.

2. Moved the spool - I was using a huge spool of black thread for this quilt and I figured it might not be feeding into the machine properly.  I moved it off the spool stand and further over on the table to give it more distance from the machine.

This also helped, but didn't totally fix the problem.

Then I thought back to when the problem started.

3. Mental recall - I was using a huge 5000 meter cone of black thread when the problem started.  I had not had the problem when using the smaller spool of white thread.  Ding!

Obviously there is either a problem with how that spool was wound during manufacturing, or a problem with how my machine is feeding it into the machine.

Regardless, I didn't feel like switching spools right at that moment, so I kept working with it.  Had this been a more stressful day, I might have chucked it in the trash never to be used again.  It obviously has issues and I'm not the type to accept thread breaks every 2 inches.

As I said before, I don't like unpredictability.  I want to sit down at my machine and have it quilt through space like butter, filling with no problem until the bobbin runs out.

Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way, even for me!  Just remember if your machine gives you fits this week to stay calm and carefully troubleshoot the problem by changing one thing at a time.  The culprit behind the issue will soon become clear.

Let's go quilt,



  1. I wonder sometimes if the direction that the thread comes off the spool makes a difference? For example, on a cone of cross-wound thread, the thread comes off the top and it is pretty obvious which is the top with a cone, so this is hard to do wrong. With smaller crosswound spools, the thread should still come off the end, but I imagine that one could get the top and bottom swapped -- does it matter? If you draw from the 'bottom' does it put kinks in, or untwist the ply?

    For stacked-wound, the situation seems even more confusing. First, I'll heard that the thread should come straight off the side of the spool (not the top), which requires that the spool rotate freely. Does it matter which side is 'up'? Does it really matter if the spools 'unwinds'? If you pull off the end, is it better to come off the 'top' or the 'bottom' to avoid excessive kinks (tightening the twist) or untwisting? Thanks and my apologies if this a better question for one of the thread manufacturers.

  2. This may have nothing to do with it, but when I bought my midarm machine the dealer told me that the darker the thread, the more issues it can give you--especially black. I don't remember all he said about it, but it obviously has something to do with the dyes.

  3. @Shilsenbeck, I learned something about this when I first began quilting a few months ago. I use a couple of different types of cross wound thread and YES it is important to make sure your thread spool is set up correctly. One brand I have has the top and bottom marked so I know which way is up and the other brand that I use doesn't. The difference is immediately apparent if I have my spool upside down, my tension is just slightly off so the stitches are alright but every few inches I will get a series of loose stitches or if I am FMQ'ing I get a lot more nesting, loose stitches and thread breakage.
    In the case of stacked wound the thread does work a whole lot better if it comes off the side and moves freely, I used to have a machine that only had a horizontal pin for thread, the stacked bobbins never worked well for me and at that time I had no clue why. It is the reason I switched to cross wound threads.
    Ironically all my machines now only have the vertical spool pins and I still use the cross wound threads and do not have any problem UNLESS they are upside down. Hope that helps.

  4. Thanks that was what I needed to hear. I just "unquilted" a border and walked away from another quilt that wasn't working right either. took the day off from sewing, read a book instead. some times we just need to walk away!

  5. When I got my Janome P-QC, I remember the dealer saying that this machine prefers thread that is wound in a certain direction. To my chagrin, I can't remember which direction he said, but we checked the Isacord, and it was the right way. I don't mean the way it's wound on the spool, but the direction the thread fibers are wound.I also am wondering if humidity has anything to do with it. We have had such a dry spell for months. Now all of a sudden, we have all of this humidity. Maybe it's making our machines go wacko!

  6. Thank you so much for the pictures of the back of your quilts! I am still having tension issues with the machine I am using, but yours look like they could be stand alone artwork.

    I'll be sure to post about the results when I get to try Paisley. :)

  7. Wouldn't the type of thread be part of the issue? As well as lint & other maintenance issues. I've just moved & I think, after checking all the usual suspects, I need a maintenance visit. The Baby Lock sews okay, there's just a little noise, a bit of grrr. This machine isn't supposed to be oiled, which I'd do to my Bernina.

  8. Hi Shilsenbeck - Really it's process of elimination to see which way your spool feeds better. In this situation my spool was acting funny. I switched spools and suddenly the problem stopped. Hard to say what the problem is exactly, but at least it was easy to fix.

    Hi JE - Because I had just been stitching Isacord thread in another color, I know it wasn't the thread TYPE that was the culprit for this particular situation, though yes, that is a good place to check if you're getting an obnoxious problem. First try just another spool of the same type of thread (ex: different color), then try a spool of something entirely different.

    Yes, if your machine is making even a subtle grumbly noise, it might be time for a check up with your repairman. It's good to have things cleaned and oiled at least once a year.


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