Monday, April 2, 2018

Adventures In Longarm Quilting Continue! Beginner Ruler Work, SID, Winding Bobbins, and Tips for Terrific Tension

Hello and Happy Easter!  Despite a busy weekend full of rehearsals and multiple Easter worship services, I did manage to snatch about an hour a day for working on my Tabby Mountain quilt.  I'm almost done with the ruler work, and it's SO MUCH FUN!!!

It's the Second to Last Row of Solid Triangles!  Yay!!
I am really happy with how the straight quilted lines are enhancing my solid triangles, and it's amazing how much better I'm getting at quilting the long diagonal lines without my ruler slipping.  Each time I advance the quilt, the next row of quilting comes out better than the last.  That is SO encouraging!

I had originally planned to quilt my solid triangle/diamond rows with more elaborate ruler work like this:

My Original Quilting Plan -- A Little Too Ambitious For a Beginner!
But just because I can DRAW that doesn't mean I can QUILT it -- at least not yet!  I was inspired to accentuate the diamonds with these angled straight lines by a photo of a Dear Jane quilt that was custom quilted by the amazing Judi Madsen of Green Fairy Quilting:

"Dear Jane" Pieced by Gwen, Quilted by Judi Madsen in 2011, photo by Judi Madsen
Please visit Judi's blog here to see even more photos of this stunning quilt.  Judi mentioned in her post that these large border triangles measure 5" across their bases, just like the triangles in my Tabby Mountain quilt.  Doodling quilting designs on the iPad is only so useful because you can't see the three-dimensional textural effects created by quilting in a drawing.  Straight lines like these would be super boring in a flat drawing, but they look anything but boring when they are quilted into fabric!  I just had to show you Judi's quilt -- I wanted to give her the credit she deserves for the design inspiration.

So...  because these triangles are so big, it was not possible to quilt the lines straight down from the tip of one triangle all the way down to the tip of the triangle below, even on my APQS Millenium that has a pretty deep throat and a larger quilting workspace than many machines.  I would need the Millie 30 to do that all in one pass.  So with the first row of triangle diamonds, I stitching that horizontal seam between rows in the ditch first, and then I traveled over that seam line as I stitched the "rays" of all the top triangles, then advanced the quilt, and stitched the rays of all the bottom triangles, again traveling in the ditch from one ray to the next.  This worked fine on the front of the quilt, but it resulted in a lot of ugly thread buildup on the backing side:

Too Much Traveling Over Previously Stitched SID Lines
Yes, I know that will look a lot better when the quilt is finished and washed for the first time, but I wanted to see if I could do better.  For the next row of diamond triangles, I did NOT SID all the way across that horizontal seam first.  Instead, I planned my quilting path so that I would SID between every other pair of rays when I quilted the top row of triangles, and I filled in the remaining SID between those lines as I quilted the bottom row of triangles: 

Horizontal Seam From Front, SID Done In Segments Between Diagonal Rays
This saved time and was just as easy to quilt, but it resulted in a much neater appearance on the backing side of the quilt with only ONE line of stitching in the ditch between rays:

Much Better, Right?
Figuring out something like that is SUCH A RUSH!  I love learning!!  And do you see how pretty those stitches look on the back of the quilt?  It's Glide thread, top and bobbin, with bobbins I wound all by myself on the not-so-scary-after-all APQS Turbo Winder.  Since I'm changing colors with every row, I'm getting lots of practice using the bobbin winder and I'm completely comfortable with it now.  Really, I feel silly for being afraid to use it for so long!

APQS Turbo Bobbin Winder Plugged Into Power Strip with On/Off Switch
The scariest thing about the industrial bobbin winder is that it is REALLY powerful and it goes REALLY fast.  It will auto shut-off when the bobbin is full, but if you want to wind a partial bobbin you have to pull that metal piece on the right away from the fast spinning bobbin in order to shut it off and risk losing a fingertip!  An easy solution to that came to me from other APQS owners on the APQS Facebook group.  Just plug the bobbin winder into a power strip that has an on/off switch, like you see in the photo above, and use the switch on the power strip to turn the bobbin winder on and off.  This works perfectly and takes all of the danger out of the equation!

While I'm on the subject of the bobbin winder, I have just a few more photos to post as reminders to myself if I spend too much time away from it and ever need my memory jogged:

Bobbin Winder Thread Path Through Tension Discs
The factory-set tension on my bobbin winder is actually fairly snug, so I have to give the thread a little tug to get it seated properly between the tension discs.

Thread Net and Batting Scrap Ensure Smooth, Even Thread Delivery
Other bobbin winding tips gleaned from the Internet were to use the thread net that came with my bobbin winder and to put a little scrap of batting in the guide above the thread cone.  That ensures that even slippery threads come off the cone smoothly, without tangling all over the place when the machine takes off and starts winding.

Since my APQS Millenium has the "L" style Smart Bobbin, additional lightweight aluminum bobbins for my machine are less than a dollar apiece.  (The larger capacity "M" style bobbins cost $3 each, and the large capacity ceramic bobbins for my Bernina 7 Series sewing machine cost so much that I've blocked it from my memory, like the pains of childbirth!).  But at ninety cents per bobbin, now that I know how easy it is to wind my own and get stitches that are just as beautiful as the stitches I got from prewound bobbins, there is no reason why I can't stock up on a bazillion empty bobbins and wind them up as I need them in any thread I want to use in my longarm machine.

I'm also really loving my TOWA Bobbin Gauge.  I am SO GLAD I purchased this little contraption!  I bought six different bobbin cases for my longarm machine so I can set one to the correct tension for Glide polyester thread, one for Superior So Fine thread, one for MonoPoly Monofilament thread, one for cardboard prewounds, one for Magna Glide prewounds, one for silk thread if I'm feeling fancy...  And then I will only have to fiddle with top tension when I switch from one thread to another.  (The spare bobbin cases for the "L" Smart Bobbin are only about $12 each versus $54 each for a spare large capacity "M" bobbin case, so that's another advantage of going with the "L" bobbins if you're ordering a new APQS machine and trying to decide whether to order your machines with L bobbins or with M bobbins).

Here's how the bobbin gauge works.  You pop a full bobbin into your bobbin case, and snap the bobbin case in place in the TOWA gauge just like you would click it into place in your machine's hook.  You pull your thread tail up and over the two little guide wheels and straight across to the left, and the red dial will show you a numerical value for the amount of resistance, or tension, on your thread coming out of the bobbin case.  Superior Threads has a great video demonstration right here:

You would think that  a brand-new spare bobbin case would be factory set to some standard appropriate for commonly used quilting thread, but my spare APQS bobbin cases came out of the package with ridiculously tight tension that would be appropriate for no thread on the planet -- seriously!  I was getting awful eyelashes on the back of my sample quilt, and then when I checked the bobbin case tension it was all the way up to 400!  

When Your Bobbin Case Tension Is WAY TOO TIGHT!!
With the Glide thread I'm using in my Tabby Mountain quilt, I'm getting beautiful, balanced stitches with my bobbin case tension set at about 180-200.  If you're using Superior threads in your longarm machine, they have a handy reference chart on their website with recommended bobbin tension settings for each of their different thread lines.  That makes it SUPER easy to get perfect tension with any of their threads in your machine.

Now, I'm not telling you that you NEED a TOWA bobbin gauge in order to get perfect tension on your longarm machine.  Plenty of quilters will tell you that they adjust their top and bobbin tension primarily by feel, pulling each thread independently, and then tweaking settings according to what their test stitching looks like.  However, for a newbie like me, the TOWA gauge is invaluable for shortening my learning curve and reducing frustration when I don't yet know what appropriate tension is supposed to feel like, when my bobbin tension is WILDLY out of whack and when I crank my needle tension up enough to balance the stitching, it's so tight that the thread keeps snapping when I try to sew!  The TOWA gauge gives me the confidence to experiment with ANY thread in my longarm machine.  If you want one that works for adjusting tension on an "L" style bobbin case just like mine, you can get it on Amazon here.  

I am pretty sure I can use my "L" TOWA gauge to tweak the tension on my vintage Singer Featherweight bobbin cases as well, but I haven't tried that yet.  Please note that if you have an APQS longarm machine with the larger capacity "M" style bobbins, or if you have an A-1, Innova, Gammill, Nolting or Handiquilter longarm machine that uses the larger bobbins, there's a different TOWA gauge to fit your larger bobbin case.  Use this link instead.

Ever since I started this blog in 2010, I've always included links in my posts indicating where you can find the specific tools and products that I'm using in my projects.  I do that because, when I'm reading other people's blog tutorials, I always ask myself "WHERE does she get such wonderful TOYS?!""

Unlike Batman, I Will Always Tell You Where I Get My Wonderful Toys!
Going forward, I will be participating in the Amazon Associates Affiliate Links program so that Amazon can compensate me when readers purchase the products I recommend on this blog.  Mamma needs thread money...  ;-)  As in the past, I will only be linking to those products that I personally use and that I have found to work well for me, and I promise to tell you if I ever get freebies in exchange for writing a review.  This will help me justify to my husband why I spend so much time writing these blog posts and reading and responding to all of your terrific comments and questions.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!

Okay, now -- back to the cool stuff I'm learning with my Tabby Mountain quilt!  Once I've got my bobbin case tension adjusted just so with the TOWA gauge, I do some test stitching on a fabric scrap that I just plop down on the excess batting and backing that extends beyond the sides of my quilt top.  I stitch side to side, up and down, stitch some clockwise and some counterclockwise circle loops, and a few points.  It's easy to see if the stitches look good on top, but I can't see the stitches on the back of the quilt unless I crawl under the frame and look up -- and then the light shining down through the needle holes makes it really difficult to see whether the tension is well balanced anyway.

Can YOU Tell If Those Stitches Have Perfect Tension?
So now I lay a couple sheets of white paper on top of my test stitching to cover up the needle holes, and I use the camera on my iPhone to reach under the quilt and snap a photo of the stitching without climbing under the frame.

Same Stitches, Still On Frame, MUCH Better Visibility
See what a difference that piece of paper blocking the light from above makes?  Now I can zoom into the photo on my iPhone and scroll around to get a really good look at the stitch quality on the back of my quilt.  This tension is pretty close, in my opinion, with just slight eyelashing on some of the curves.  I think I gave my upper tension about a quarter of a twist of tightening to correct that for a beautifully balanced stitch on both sides of my quilt.  Easy peasy, and no vertigo from climbing under the quilt frame to look up at my stitches!

By the way, I'm only using two rulers so far on this quilt:

Hartley and Handi Quilter Rulers I'm Using for Tabby Mountain
The 12" long Hartley ruler on the left is the one I am using for all of the long diagonal lines on this quilt.  It came as a freebie with the purchase of the Hartley ruler base that I had to buy for my Millennium in order to quilt with rulers.  The 2" x 6"  HQ Mini Ruler on the right was much easier to control for stitching the shorter SID distances horizontally.  I feel like I'm going to be using that one a lot!  I put a couple of TrueGrips on my HQ Mini Ruler to reduce the tendency for the slick acrylic to slip and slide on top of my quilt while I'm stitching, and those work fine for small rulers, but I've got two lengths of Nexcare first aid tape to tame the slippery bottom of my 12" ruler.  The first aid tape is clear, has a slight rubbery grip to it, and is easy to tear off at the end of the ruler when you're putting it on.  This is the stuff I use, and since it comes in 20-yard rolls it's ridiculously inexpensive:

And once again, my "quick blog update" has grown into a monstrously long post.  Meanwhile, I've got just ONE MORE ROW of solid fabric triangles to be quilted with the ruler before I can roll back up to the top of the quilt and begin free motion quilting in the print fabric triangles!

And now, for my Question Of the Day:

What is YOUR favorite notion, product or tool that you routinely use for your sewing or quilting, that is NOT intended for or marketed for that purpose?  Let me know in the comments!

Today I'm linking up with:


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I think you are doing great work on your longarm - learning is a long process but you appear to be getting the hang of it for sure. I can't think of any product off hand that I use that is for something else

Rebecca Grace said...

I can think of something! You showed how you were using antique irons as weights or something once!

Ramona said...

Your quilting is coming along beautifully. It’s a bonus that you are having so much fun. I have two things I use for quilting that are not sewing notions. First is a cookie sheet. I use it to carry pieces from my cutting table to my machine. I also use one to keep my little things together next to my machine. The second thing is a milk glass dish with a lacy edge. Scissors, seam rippers, pens, etc. go in the lacy holes and pins are in the bowl. Have a great week!

Unknown said...

I sew a lot of garments and made my own pattern weights from old bearings from my husbands shop. I cover them with felt and they works pretty good.

Arna said...

My favorite tool for sewing are the bloc loc templates that I use for squaring up my half square triangles.