Thursday, July 6, 2023

Aurifil 40/2 vs Forty3 Cotton Quilting Thread: Mary's My Happy Place, Ramona's Escher Connected + A Sneak Peek of Mary's Mid Century Mod Quilt

Good morning and welcome to the sultry, sweaty, swampy month of July!  Today I'm sharing two beautiful but very different quilts (and giving you a glimpse of a third gorgeous quilt) that were all quilted with "forty-weight" Aurifil cotton threads.  I'll be showing you the enormous difference between forty weight TWO-ply versus forty weight THREE-ply thread.  

When comparing two spools of thread that are labeled with the same weight but different ply, the 3-ply thread is a full 50% thicker than a 2-ply thread of the same exact weight.

There's a common misconception that if two cotton threads are both labeled "forty weight," they should be approximately the same thickness and should look and behave the same when stitched out.  In reality, that weight designation only refers to the weight and thickness of a single "ply" or strand of that thread, and the cotton threads we use for piecing and for quilting are typically either 2-ply (two strands twisted together) or 3-ply (three strands twisted together).  This explains why Aurifil's popular 50/2 cotton thread (the one on the orange spool) creates less bulky seams and performs better with smaller needles and sometimes different tension settings compared to 50 weight 3-ply threads such as Mettler, Gutermann, etc.  When comparing two spools of thread that are labeled with the same weight but different ply, the 3-ply thread is a full 50% thicker than a 2-ply thread of the same exact weight.  (This post contains affiliate links).

Aurifil 40/2 (Green Spool) Natural White Blends and Disappears Across Applique

In the photo above, I've quilted the Chantilly Lace E2E design across a client's appliqué sampler quilt using Aurifil's 40/2 cotton thread in Natural White.  This is their popular 2-ply forty weight thread that comes on a green spool and is widely available in quilt shops.  Although Aurifil 40/2 is a thicker, more pronounced thread than the Aurifil 50/2 that comes on orange spools (confusingly, bigger weight numbers indicate skinnier and finer individual strands or plies), 40/2 cotton is still what I consider a lightweight blender thread for long arm quilting.  Notice how the quilting stitches take on a greenish tint where this thread crosses green fabrics, but the thread seems to be a pale pink where it's stitched across the pink petal fabric.

Aurifil Forty3 Black Stands Out Dramatically, Even Against Busy Print Fabrics

In the photo above, I've quilted the Wishbone E2E design using Aurifil's Forty3 cotton thread in Black.  Aurifil has created this thread specifically for long arm quilters, it’s only available on giant yellow cones (not spools), and it’s not as widely available at quilt shops as their 50/2 (orange spool) and 40/2 (green spool) cotton threads.

I selected Aurifil Forty3 cotton thread for Ramona’s Escher Connected quilt because busy prints like these are notorious for rendering quilting designs all but invisible and we wanted a thread that would disappear against the black background fabric but show up more dramatically against the prints.  

Aurifil Forty3 Dove Grey Stands Out on Both Light and Dark Fabrics

I can't show you this quilt in its entirety yet because I just finished it a couple days ago and it's still on a UPS truck headed back to my client Mary in New Mexico.  Mary gets to see her finished quilt in person before I show it to the rest of the world!  But I wanted to include a glimpse of it here because it's great example of how Aurifil Forty3 can make a simple quilting design more dramatic and impactful.  I've stitched the Square Meander E2E design on Mary's quilt in Aurifil Forty3 Dove Grey, a silvery color that is a close match to her backing fabric but lighter in value than all of the fabrics in the quilt top.

Yellow Cone is Forty3 Aurifil Cotton and Green Cone is 40/2 Aurifil Cotton

A couple quick tips for quilting with these threads before I show you more glamour shots of the finished quilts:

  • On my Bernina Q24 long arm, I use a size 110/18 Universal or Jeans needle with Forty3 Aurifil.  With the thinner 40/2 Aurifil, I use a 100/16 Universal needle if I'm running the machine with the Q-Matic computer, but might go down to a size 90/14 needle if I was using this thread for hand guided free motion quilting.  
  • I never use the really thick threads like Aurifil Forty3 in my bobbin.  Two reasons for that: First of all, the thicker the thread, the less of it will fit on a bobbin.  Using a lighter weight thread in my bobbin ensures that I can quilt an entire row of a dense pantograph design without having to stop, tie off, and restart in the middle of the quilt.  Secondly, a lighter weight bobbin thread requires less force (less tension on the needle thread) to pull it up into the batting layer than a thicker bobbin thread would.  Using a moderate thread weight in my bobbin with a thick needle thread enables me to use a moderate upper tension setting that produces more attractive stitches without having to worry as much about my bobbin thread flatlining or eyelashing on the back of the quilt.  I generally pair Aurifil Forty3 in the needle with either Aurifil 40/2 in the bobbin or Superior's Masterpiece 50/3 cotton thread in the bobbin.  Being a much lighter weight thread, Aurifil's 40/2 cotton thread performs well for me in both the needle and the bobbin.
  • I often use a silicone thread lubricant with heavyweight cotton threads such as Aurifil Forty3, YLI 40 Tex Machine Quilting Cotton, and Superior's King Tut threads.  The thread lubricant counteracts the tendency of cotton thread to dry out from low humidity in the winter months, reduces static electricity and heat friction from high speed sewing, and reduces the incidence of skipped stitches.  For Bernina long arm owners, a little pink bottle of thread lubricant came with your machine accessories and you just need to put a drop of it on the felt pad in your machine's upper thread path.  Owners of other brand machines can use the Dritz or Collin's Sewer's Aid lubricant sold in the notions sections of most big box sewing stores in the same way -- just put a few drops of Sewer's Aid on a scrap of batting wedged in the first thread guide above the cone.  
  • Prepare yourself for the lint, and deal with it!  If you have been primarily quilting with polyester thread up until now, resign yourself to thoroughly cleaning your bobbin case and hook area with every single bobbin change and/or every time you advance the quilt on your frame.  Even the highest quality long staple cotton threads are going to produce significantly more lint than synthetic fiber threads.  In my opinion, a few quick swipes with a lint brush are worth the beauty and character of quilting with natural fibers in the same way that the advantages of wearing cotton clothing are worth the time it takes to empty the lint filter in the clothes dryer.  ;-)
  • Generally speaking, heavier weight threads look more attractive with a longer stitch length and lighter weight threads look better with a shorter stitch length.  On my Bernina Q24, I like to quilt at 10 SPI (stitches per inch) with Aurifil Forty3 but will reduce my stitch length to 11 or even 12 SPI for Aurifil 40/2 thread.  

And now, for the Glamour Shots!

Mary's My Happy Place Quilt

My client (and quilt guild buddy) Mary made this fabulous machine applique sampler kit using the My Happy Place kit by Lori Holt, available here on Etsy.  It features all of Mary’s favorite craft hobbies: quilting, knitting, and needlepoint, and Mary is planning to display the finished quilt on the wall in her sewing room.

Mary’s 74 x 88 My Happy Place Quilt with Chantilly Lace E2E Quilting

The details in this pattern are fabulous, aren't they?  Check out the ricrac trim for the iron's cord in the photo above, and the sweet little embroidery scissors and hooped cross stitch in the photo below.  This project must have been so much fun!

Since Mary knew this quilt would be for wall display, I used Quilters Dream 80/20 Select batting.  Just enough loft to create texture with the quilting design without looking puffy, and this batting hangs nice and straight over time without sagging out of shape.  I am really, really pleased with how the thinner 40 weight 2-ply Aurifil cotton thread looks on this quilt.  Even though my quilting stitches right across and over top of Mary's hand embroidered cross stitching in embroidery floss, the quilting thread just melts in and disappears so that Mary's hand work is the main attraction.

Detail of Aurifil 40/2 Stitched Over Hand Embroidered Cross Stitching

A lot of quilters would look at an appliqué sampler quilt top like My Happy Place and assume that it "needs" custom quilting, but I think we absolutely did this one justice through the careful selection of a simple design and inconspicuous quilting thread that complements the appliqué theme instead of competing for attention.

A few more beauty shots...  Even where it's a high contrast situation, white thread stitching across red or dark turquoise fabrics, the thread is thin enough that you don't see it.  It's almost like I switched thread colors for every fabric in the quilt (NOT!).  The only thread that would have been more invisible would have been invisible monofilament thread.

One more, because I cannot get past the cuteness of the little scissors in their little sheathes!

The yarn skeins, the crochet hooks, the embroidery floss and the spools of thread...  I can't decide which part is my favorite.

Here's what Mary's quilt top looked like before I quilted it (right before she added the final borders):

Mary's My Happy Place Quilt Top Before Quilting

Thank you so much for choosing me to quilt this for you, Mary!  If you ever get sick of looking at this one, it can come live at my house.  Just sayin'.  😍

Ramona's Escher Connected Quilt

Ramona's Escher Connected quilt is another recent favorite; this is the one where I chose the much heavier 3-ply 40 weight Aurifil cotton thread in Black to make the quilting stitches stand out as much as possible against those busy Kaffe Fassett print fabrics.

Aurifil Forty3 Cotton Long Arm Thread in Black

Ramona made her striking optical illusion quilt using the Escher Connected pattern and kit from Quilt-Agious, swapping out a few of the fabrics in the kit for other Kaffe Fassett Collective prints in her stash.  There's also a pattern for making a very similar quilt to this one in Ruth Ann Berry's book Stunning 3-D Quilts Simplified, available here on Amazon.

Ramona's 90 x 108 Escher Connected Quilt with Wishbone E2E (Sideways)

I quilted the Wishbone E2E design on Ramona's quilt, but I loaded her quilt on my frame sideways and scaled the quilting design so that the quilted loops and angles would match and align with the piecing, enhancing the optical illusion of the patchwork design.  Because the black thread is color matched to the background black fabric in the quilt top, the quilting only stands out on the printed fabrics for a custom quilted effect.  I used an 80/20 cotton/poly blend batting for Ramona's quilt as well, but I used Hobbs 80/20 this time because it comes in Black.  The black batting ensures that these vibrant, saturated colors don't get washed out and diluted by a white batting showing through any of the thinner fabrics, and it also eliminates the possibility of seeing any white batting specks showing through the needle holes.

This quilt looks even cooler in person -- it was a lot of fun to quilt and hard to say goodbye to this quilt when it came time to box it up and ship it back home to Ramona.  Here's what Ramona's Escher Connected quilt top looked like before I quilted it:

Ramona's Escher Connected Quilt Top Before Quilting

Thank you so much for choosing me to quilt this for you, Ramona!

👀 PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  I am currently scheduling quilts for completion in August of 2023.  Click here to learn how easy it is to book a quilt with me!

I'll be linking up today's post with my favorite linky parties, listed below.  Thanks for stopping by and happy quilting!


Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Can I Get a Whoop Whoop? at Confessions of a Fabric Addict

Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  


Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  


Gretchen Weaver said...

I couldn't follow everything you said about the threads but obviously you know what you're doing. Mary's quilt is beautiful! You both did lovely jobs. Happy stitcing!

Sandy said...

Both of these quilts are wonderful -- made even more so by your quilting, Rebecca Grace! I have to say that I especially love the Escher Connected one, and the quilting design you chose fits it perfectly. :)

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

Love Ramona's quilt said...

When I looked at Mary's quilt I commented about the iron cord. . .too cute. I think my favorite part are the embroidery flops skeins! What a beautiful finish! Ramona's quilt is ooo--la-la! Mary's quilt with the sliver grey thread. . .I love that quilting texture. You do an awesome and amazing job quilting these orders. Each one comes out looking like a masterpiece!

Elizabeth V Kelbaugh said...

Thanks for the interesting information about the threads. Fabulous job on the quilting.

Ramona said...

You do such amazing work on these quilts that come to you. Your attention to detail goes above and beyond! Thank you for making my quilt look so good. :)

Gwyned Trefethen said...

You give the best lessons on quilting. It's sad, but I never knew what the 2 or 3 after the weight designation of a thread meant. Not that I was unfamiliar with the meaning of ply. I use a fine thread in the bobbin for a one more reason. Since I do intense FMQ vs more open E2E quilting and change my top thread to blend with the top, I choose the bobbin thread to "blend" with the top. Of course, all my quilts are designed to hang on the wall.

You have some clients making remarkable quilts and there is a reason why they come to you. Your work elevates their quilt. I especially like the extra design element achieved on the gray and yellow one.

neverenoughfabric said...

I always learn so much reading your blog and the quilt eye candy is the icing on the cake! Thanks Rebecca for sharing your wealth of knowledge and all the beauties that come through your studio!

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Oh wow, these quilts are amazing, and you know exactly which thread and which quilting pattern will enhance them even more. Great information about threads too, it's funny how the white one is not showing on the appliquéd designs.
Thank you for sharing these beauties, and linking up!

MMorton said...

Thank you so much for the lessons on thread and batting while sharing these lovely quilts and your beautiful quilting. I am particularly interested in thread colors (Aurifil, of course) that seem to take on the tints of the fabric colors they cross. You mentioned that’s true of the Natural White you used on one quilt; is that the same color used on Mary’s quilt which seemed to do the same thing?

Kim said...

Oh, the knowledge in that quilting mind of yours. =) Simply Amazing! As always each quilt is sublimely quilted by you. The whimsical detail in Mary's quilt is lovely and as for Ramona's quilt....just wow.

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

Love your attention to detail! Fun read. Fascinating to see how the different threads quilt out, especially the ones that disappear! Thanks for sharing on my weekly show and tell, Wednesday Wait Loss.

Leanne Parsons said...

Your quilting really enhanced all of these quilts, Rebecca! I enjoyed seeing how the different thread weights affected the look of the finished quilts, too.

Linda said...

If you taught a class and I lived closer, I'd just sit and listen to you! You have the most fascinating blog, and I love reading about your thread and quilt pattern choices. If I didn't want so badly to keep learning to quilt myself, I'd be on your wait list for my quilts. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience so generously.

dq said...

I still cannot believe the detailed work you do like lining up the pattern with that wonderful 3D quilt!!

Chantily Lace pattern has been around for awhile. It is gorgeous on the Lori Holt pattern (which I love and wish I had made when she first released it).

Thank you for the thread lessons. You are a wealth of knowledge and creativity all wrapped up with a pretty bow! I absolutely love your blog!!