In a recent conversation with my Daughter-in-law Beth while we were looking at one of my ongoing quilt projects and discussing how I might make something look right using different weights of threads, it occurred to me that the use of thread in fabric art requires a different set of considerations than for other types of sewing and even for other types of quilting. That being the case, and the fact that I frequently use differences in the broad array of great threads now available to accomplish certain looks, I decided to share my viewpoint on this subject.
Recently, my thread stash has grown to be almost equal to my fabric stash. In fact I am getting simpler with my fabric needs, and more complex with my threads as I grow as an art quilter.
Here are some basic things to know about threads (a lot of you may already know this, but bear with me):
- The higher the number the thinner the thread.
- Polyester thread may melt if overheated with your iron, but just require a little care to prevent that. Polyester comes in many different lusters and qualities and some are more susceptible to melting than others.
- Rayon thread is usually the shiniest, although there are some polyesters that are also prettily shiny. Rayon has a higher tendency to fade or run and shrink when washed. I actually had a quilt nearly ruined when a dark brown thread decided to run when I blocked my quilt. High quality rayons, however, will usually not run.
- You can use up to 12 weight in your machine if you use a large needle (I use a 100/16 top stitch/embroidery need for this). Adjust your needle size to your thread size.
- Thicker threads need to be used either for bobbin work or for couching, but are still great options for certain looks. I used Ricky Tims Razzle Dazzle for bobbin work to do the horsehead outline in “Sky Horse” (see my last post).
- The quality of monopoly threads vary widely. My favorite is Superior’s new reduced sheen lightweight thread. It sews beautifully (using a 60/8 or 70/10 needle) and virtually disappears on the fabric.
- The standard weight for sewing clothing is 50 weight (using 80/14 needle) and most machines are calibrated for this weight thread. This means you may have to adjust the tension for higher weight (thinner) and heavier weight (thicker). The thing to take away from this is that it is OK to adjust your machine tension for both the top and the bobbin. You only need to figure out how to put it back to the default setting BEFORE you do any changes (like a tiny dot of red ink or reading the manual).
- 90/16 embroidery/top stitch needle does great for 40 wt threads.
Sew how do I use this information?
- I have a small notebook where I keep notes on threads, usages, settings. At some point I’m going to put this info together to share, although your machine may need different settings.
- I frequently “draw” with my machine stitching as if my project were an ink drawing. My best example of this is my quilt “Perspective in Threads” that is basically a whole cloth quilt with a border. The main lines were 12 weight cotton, and the fills were varied as needed with the tiniest being the section under the stairs in 100 wt silk. I used four different weights in this quilt (I don’t have a great picture of this quilt at the moment…it’s being rephotographed).
- I use the various thread lusters to enhance the look I’m trying to achieve. For instance, hair should have a slight luster and have a moderate variety of colors in the same family. I find Superior’s Rainbow to work best in this situation. See her hair below where I used two different variegated threads.
- I found that Superior’s Glitter pretty much matches the qualities of Angelina Fibers. So if you are trying to match that, it works well when you use a 90 top stitch/embroidery needle and loosen the top tension way down (see that little bit in the top of the wave in the picture above). I used both that and monopoly for that.
- Glitter also shows well when you want to add bling. Longer stitches show both glitter and metallic threads blingier than shorter stitches.
- Around those rocks in “Waiting…” and for much of the rock quilting (see the picture above), I used Superior’s Rainbow. I also appliqued them with the double blanket stitch because I wanted the edges to stand out and look like separate rocks as much as possible. I loved the look…not sure what anyone else thinks about it. It’s what I’m planning to do with my current project, which is the second in this series and something of a remake of it with quite a few changes (she has her daughter with her, and there is a small lighthouse in the background scene, for instance).
- However, I used 100 weight black thread with my deep space quilt Angelina Fiber applique. I have found if you match the background with fine weight thread it makes a very nice look (see my last blogpost).
- For my latest quilt “Kanazawa Memories”, in which I did a great deal of Sashiko stitching, I used King Tut by Superior. That is a 40 weight cotton thread and does well when you are trying to create a hand or antique looking stitching by machine.
- But the quilting for the moon was different. For the flowers I used Superior monopoly for appliqueing, 100 wt. Kimono silk for quilting the actual flowers and for the fill on the moon, King Tut for the little critters around in the moon to give them a little more character and make them stand out just a little.
Sew back to my original comment…Beth and I were discussing how I could make a light house beam look right and we came out with using 12 wt toward the outside pointing down and using 100 weight toward the top outside pointing upward and something in between, like King Tut perhaps, toward the middle all in slightly different tones of yellow, if I can find all that and if it works (I’ll have to experiment with that first). This should result in a more intense beam down toward the ocean and more disappearing beam toward the top toward the sky. The lighthouse will be up on a hillside and fairly small and should not “take over” the scene.
Sew happy everyone. Please comment with your thoughts or questions. Cheers.