Thursday, April 9, 2020

Thread Pairings for Long Arm Quilting: What Are YOUR Favorites?

My "quilting time" yesterday was spent cleaning, oiling and warming up my long arm machine so I could do 10 minutes or so of practice scribble quilting, oiling my maple butcher block cutting table with Boos Oil (haven't done that in a LONG time, since the table has been completely covered with piles of fabric!), and winding an assortment of bobbins for my long arm machine.  

Practice Scribble "Warmups" and Tension Testing

One of the things that feels newfangled to me about longarm quilting (as opposed to domestic sewing machine best practices) is how many professional longarm quilters routinely pair different threads in the needle and bobbin rather than sticking with the same thread top and bobbin as is usually recommended for domestic sewing machines.  If YOU are a long arm quilter reading this, please let me know in the comments what YOUR favorite thread pairings are.  I am all in favor of learning from other quilters' experience when possible!

When I was struggling with a variegated 40 weight cotton King Tut thread last Fall, someone somewhere told me to try using 50 weight matte polyester So Fine thread in the bobbin with my King Tut, and although that sounded very risqué to me -- polyester with cotton!  50 weight with 40 weight! -- but I gave it a try and my stitches looked MUCH better front and back with that combination.  Who knew?!  

Thread Pairing Possibilities: So Fine, YLI Machine Quilting Cotton, Bottom Line, Glide, and King Tut

Although I know that a 40 weight thread isn't ideal for dense quilting or for designs requiring backtracking, I do own quite a bit of those delicious variegated 40 weight cotton quilting threads in my stash, both large cones of Superior's King Tut as well as YLI's 40 weight cotton Machine Quilting Thread, which looks and behaves the same in my machine as the King Tut.  I am considering using a few of these threads on my Spirit Song quilt, but I only had black, white, and neutral So Fine on my shelf, and none of those options are very good for blending with the top threads.  Superior's web site said that they were not currently shipping orders due to the pandemic situation (and I did not even think to look on Amazon, duh) -- so I went to APQS dealer Quilted Joy's online store to see whether she carried So Fine.  She didn't, but she had Bottom Line 60 weight polyester and I know that thread is another favorite staple thread of many longarm quilters, so I ordered some Bottom Line cones that would coordinate with my 40 weight cotton variegated threads and that's what you see in the photo above.  [From left to right, the 50 weight matte polyester Superior's So Fine is the off-white thread cone in the back row, the horizontal spools in front are all the 40 weight cotton YLI Machine Quilting thread; the pink, peach, light blue, and solid periwinkle cones are all the 60 weight polyester Superior's Bottom Line, the darker blue cone at center back is 40 weight trilobal polyester Fil-Tec's Glide, and the two cones of blue and purple variegated thread are 40 weight cotton Superior's King Tut.]

Glide 40 wt Trilobal Polyester on Left, Bottom Line 60 wt Polyester on Right
I was delighted with how quickly my package of Bottom Line threads showed up after I'd ordered them from Quilted Joy, but I had mistakenly believed that Bottom Line was a matte polyester thread like So Fine when I ordered it.  I was surprised by its slick surface ( as opposed to the "grabby" texture of a matte thread) and slight sheen, and not sure whether the Bottom Line would be a good pairing with my 40 weight cotton threads, after all.  As you see in the photo above, Bottom Line is not hyper-shiny like Glide thread, but it's definitely not matte like So Fine, as shown in the photo below:

So Fine 50 wt Matte Polyester on Left, Bottom Line 60 wt Polyester on Right
Here's an example of two threads I was hoping to use together, the variegated King Tut in the needle and the solid periwinkle Bottom Line in the bobbin:  

40 wt Cotton King Tut on Left, Bottom Line 60 wt Polyester on Right
There is a HUGE size difference between these two threads, for one thing.  The 60 weight Bottom Line is a LOT skinnier than the 50 weight So Fine, and WAY, way skinnier than the 40 weight King Tut.  I know a lot of longarm quilters like to use a slightly lighter weight thread in the bobbin for a variety of reasons (more thread fits on a bobbin so bobbins last longer before running out, and lighter weight threads not creating as much buildup and stiffness with dense quilting, for instance), but is heavy 40 weight combined with hair-thin 60 weight too extreme of a combination?  

Then, about that surface texture thing.  I know that a matte thread with a microscopic roughness to the surface can be kind of "grabby" -- grabbing at the top thread when the two threads lock together in the needle hole to form a stitch, grabbing at Minky backing or batting and pulling it up through the needle hole, in some instances.  What I'm not sure of is whether, all else being equal, is it best to pair a grabby top thread like King Tut with a grabby bobbin thread like So Fine, or would I get better stitches if I paired the grabby top thread with a slick bobbin thread like So Fine or Glide?  After all, the visual impact of two different thread sheens is nil since the bobbin thread is only on the back of the quilt and the needle thread is only on the front.  One combination that I did NOT think to try with my 40 weight cotton thread is putting 40 weight Glide (slick, shiny polyester) in the bobbin.  Hmmm...

Anyway, while my longarm machine was warming up (running for 10-15 minutes with the bobbin removed and the needle unthreaded past the takeup lever, to distribute the drop of oil I'd placed in the hook race and to wake Millie up from her long winter's nap), I wound a bunch of bobbins and organized them in plastic bobbin cases so I'd know what kind of thread each one was.

M-Class Bobbins, Organized and Ready to Go

I wound those two bobbins with King Tut during an earlier, unsuccessful experiment -- but I can't bear to just waste the thread, so they stay wound with King Tut until I run out of empty bobbins!  I've got one case set up for matte threads (I am planning to try Aurifil 50 weight cotton in the top and bobbin at some point, since Lisa Calle told us in class that's her favorite quilting thread), and the Glide 60 and Glide 40 sections in the other case have been labeled in anticipation that I'll be trying those threads in the bobbin in the future, too.  I did use Glide 40 in the top and bobbin successfully previously, but not since I switched my machine from the L size "Smart Bobbin" to the bigger M-Class bobbins.  I also have an assortment of Magna-Glide and SuperBob prewound bobbins in my stash, so I feel like I'm ready to play now.

Possible Quilting Plan for Spirit Song, 59 x 75
...Meanwhile, I've been thinking about how to quilt Spirit Song.  (See iPad doodle above).  I like the secondary design created at the block intersections and want to emphasize that with the quilting almost as if the quilt had a diagonal setting alternating two different blocks rather than a straight horizontal setting of all the same blocks.  That means I won't be doing SID (Stitch In the Ditch) quilting of the horizontal and vertical seams between my 16" blocks.  My green lines represent where I will be doing SID, and the pale blue lines are where I will be doing additional straight lines to emphasize the diamond effect -- those are the quilting lines that I thought would look cool in the variegated 40 weight cotton threads, by the way, with no backtracking involved.  The off-white areas will be quilted with denser fills in the off-white So Fine.  Then in yellow, I started thinking about how to quilt the borders.  I sketched in some feathers first, but that was too fussy and too traditional.  But I think I'm liking the idea of extending those straight lines from the interior of the quilt out through the borders, like an echo or a ghost.  The purple variegated King Tut looks really pretty against that border print fabric, especially if it's just going to be straight line ruler work there.

Anyway, that's what I'm thinking at the moment.  All is subject to change.  The most important thing I wanted to work out was which seams should be SID since I'll do all of the SID on the entire quilt first before going back to do the ruler work, and finally the fills.  I'll be loading this 59" x 75" top sideways for quilting so I can see as much of it while I'm working on it as possible, and also to minimize the downtime of stopping to advance the quilt to the next section.  

Again, those of you who are longarm quilters, please let me know in the comments about which threads you keep the same, top and bobbin, and which threads you like to pair with a different bobbin thread.  I'm especially interested in learning what folks like to use in the bobbin with monofilament thread in the needle or with metallic thread in the needle.

I'm linking this post with ·       Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  .


Frog Quilter said...

When I use glide it’s in the top and bottom. I use so fine in top and bottom. I like using king tut on top and so fine in the bobbin.

Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts said...

I use lots of different thread combinations, depending on the quilt I'm working on. I have success using Omni (40#) on top, with either Omni or Bottom Line in the bobbin. That's usually my default combo. If I use Glide on top, I will use Omni or So Fine in the bobbin - I find that I have less tension issues if I use a 'matte' thread in the bobbin with the Glide on top. I've also had great success using Isacord. It's a 40# and is shiny like Glide, but works in my machine better than Glide. For scribble quilting and stitch in the ditch, I love using Glide 60 with Bottom Line in the bobbin. There's so many different combinations that will work. Your choice will depend on the quilt, the type of quilting you'll be doing, and what your machine likes (as silly as that sounds).

Quilty Chaos said...

I bought my longarm used less than a month ago, so I'm by no means an expert, but the professional quilter I bought it from suggested (like Beth above) that using a matte thread in the bobbin when using a super slick thread in the top would make balancing the tension easier. She also goes down to 100 weight for micro quilting. I bought a variety from Superior in her recommendations and I'm working with So Fine and it's going well on the first 'real' quilt on the frame. I love Superior Masterpiece for making the quilt, so starting with their quilting thread options seemed safe. My piecing machine is hugely fussy about thread, so I'm comfortable using a tension gauge and adjusting the bobbin pretty drastically when I change threads. Conveniently, it's the same one for the longarm bobbin case.

dq said...

I learned a lot reading about your threads. I have a sit down longarm Juki. It just performs so much better with certain threads than with others, but I love variegated threads. I have had some success with the rainbow line and some bad stitches with it as well. I might have to try bottom line.

The King Tut I have is very thick and heavy looking. I like a softer look.

Lette said...

I’m a professional long armer and have, over the years after trying a variety of combinations, settled on only one thing; finer weight threads in the bobbin. Either Bottom Line (if I have the right color) or Glide 60 wt. I’ll put anything in the top thread depending on what effect my customers want but try to stay away from anything too linty. My dealer is two hours away and the less I have to lug my Fusion down there for a thorough cleaning, the better. Many of the cotton or cotton-based threads are pretty linty, but a shiny poly just doesn’t work in a primitive or muted tone quilt (says my customers). Having said that, the Glide 60 Linen color nearly disappears in just about anything. It’s so fine and all you really get is the texture. I’ve used it in both the top and bottom together and have never had a tension issue. Ever. In fact, my machine seems to really like the combo. So, it’s all in what you feel comfortable using.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks for your comment, Lette. I tried to respond to you directly but you seem to have "no reply" in your privacy settings so I'll answer you here and hope you check back.

YES, I wish I'd gotten that finer-is-better-for-bobbins advice sooner! It would have saved me so much frustration. I nearly went off the deep end when I tried winding 40 weight King Tut in my bobbin and tried to get perfect stitching on both sides of my quilt... I just ordered a bunch of Magna Glide bobbins, the 40 weight Delights that match the Glide 40 cones, but I agree that everything goes more smoothly with a 60 weight in the bobbin when possible. What do you think about So Fine matte polyester from Superior for those very traditional or "primitive" style quilts? I would be so much better off if I could just pick one thread line and stick with it, but I must have ALL OF THE THREADS in ALL OF THE COLORS... Hah! :-)

Unknown said...

Do you always do your SID first on your longarm?

Rebecca Grace said...

Yes, if I’m custom quilting, I always SID at least between blocks first, to prevent distortion during denser fill work.