Learning the Thread Tango!

MarveLes Art StudiosBlogs 7 Comments

Ah!  Dancing with the Threads!  Yes!  
Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

I am asked about these type of questions quite alot:
“How do you know what thread to use?”
And I’m gonna tell ya ~and warn ya ~
it’s not a quick answer… but it’s some of the best tips and information I share with my students when I’m teaching free motion quilting.

One of my favorite ‘couples’ – seen above on the runway of my machine bed, is King Tut and Masterpiece.  They do a beautiful tango together!  Sweet + Masterful=great quilting!  He’s King of the Hill… she’s a Southern Lady; smooth, fit, fine and graceful!  She’s strong enough to take a swing around the dance floor with the King.  Not Elvis.  King Tut, I mean!  

If you are free motion quilting and like King Tut – a very subtle, variegated, 40 weight, 100% Egyptian EXTRA Long Staple Cotton (the finest there is)… then the best partner is 50 weight Masterpiece Cotton which is also a 100% Egyptian EXTRA Long Staple Cotton.  Great marriage!  Smooth and strong.  No friction. 

  • Use a 90/14 topstitch needle (see Superior’s website for “why” topstitch needles!)
  • Lower your top tension at least 1 or 2 levels, as needed for your particular machine.
  • you can wind more on your bobbin with a 50 weight thread, too.
  • Don’t have Masterpiece?  Try a 50 weight polyester, like So Fine, or 40 weight Isacord makes for a nice substitution in a pinch.

Ditto for Superior’s “Rainbows’ 100% polyester.  Use the same needle and tension settings as stated above.

Then, when it’s time for the final, championship round, and it’s all about the sparkly ‘look at me’ GLITTER… there is only one true love partner for this dance gig.  “The Bottom Line.”  100% polyester, super fine, extra strong, no-nonsense, bobbin thread!  Smooth.  Lightweight.  It can handle the pressure to perform,  playing the best supporting role with the high-maintenance of the beautiful, yet flimsy & fragile, Hollywood Glitter superstar, and at the same time it will provide you with lots of play time,winding 40% more on a bobbin.
  • you must lower your top tension significantly with GLITTER in the top.  I lower mine to a 1.0.
  • you must use a 90/14 topstitch or metallic needle
  • stitch slower (see next)!
  • this type of thread is a flat-shaped, polyester.  It’s easily breakable, and if the needle heats up because you’re sewing fast, it will very quickly melt and break your Glitter thread!
  • I prefer not to use Bottom Line with King Tut; there is quite a bit of size disparity in weights; and I find I have to lower my tension too far, (less than 1.0) where it really affects my stitches in a not-so-good-way, so Masterpiece is  a much better partner, for this reason.

And if you are a traditional piecer – like doing styles such as the Mariner’s Compass… where multiple points of fabric meet, the absolute best choice is to use Masterpiece in both places; top and bobbin threads. Why?

  • less bulk in the seams, as this is a 50 weight thread so it doesn’t ‘fill up’ the space in the seams as a 40 wt thread does… therefore less bulk when pressing.
  • 100% Egyptian ELS cotton!  Strong.  Smooth. 
  • less lint
  • use a 80/12 topstitch needle.
  • beautiful color selection; match your top and bottom threads for best results and performance

I love the label!  Tells you what type of thread it is; this happens to be #50/2 which means it is a 50 weight thread, and two plys.  Masterpiece now is being manufactured in 3 ply, for extra strength, but in limited colors at this time.

And the label on King Tut tells you to use a Topstitch 90/14 needle!  And it says “ELS” cotton= EXTRA LONG  STAPLE cotton – the best quality in the business!  Ever touch and feel Egyptian cotton sheets?  Ah… then you know how youc an feel the difference…. and the price?  Yup.  You get what you pay for.  No doubt!

For times when I don’t have Masterpiece on hand, or when I’m employing heavier free motion ’embroidery’ style techniques, I often choose Isacord for the bobbin.  It’s a100% poly and I have a lot of it on hand, as I am a ‘wanna be’ embroider (some day!)  It is strong, economical, and can handle the weight and strength of King Tut, and in this application I prefer it for my art quilts.  With ‘cuddly-type’ quilts, I prefer cotton everywhere, usually.

And…by the way, did you know that the top tension on Bernina’s is factory pre-set for garment sewing?  True story!  Always has been!  That’s why you need to understand tension, and know when to lower it when it comes to quilting, embroidery-styled, decorative satin stitching, and for free motion!

You know how the old tv commericals always said “don’t touch that dial?!”  WELL… TOUCH THE DIAL!  Adjust it… move it… move it back.  That’s WHY there is a little red dash… you can figure out where the standard default setting is, ya know?!

From the back side of a quilt with Masterpiece on the bobbin, King Tut  on top, and my tension was lowered to a 1.0.  It’s purty, isn’t it?!

Rainbows.  Beauty and the Beast!  100% poly; it’s strong.  But this thread can shred on you if you don’t know how to play with it.  It REQUIRES a 90/14 topstitch needle (read the label!) for most excellent results.  And the best match on the bobbin thread?  A 50 weight polyester, like So Fine.  Or 50 weight Masterpiece works great, too, which I use the most often, because I have a good selection of it on hand.

Performance!  And the Emmy is YOURS for the taking with a little knowledge, practice, and application!

Superior’s thread:  Rainbows in the top on a paper fabric quilt!  Beautiful!

And when you have knowledge, you have power.  And you can use these threads in even the toughest conditions! (Sounds like Ford Truck commerical, huh!) .  

Superior Threads has a very useful “Thread Reference Guide” and lots more FREE, downloadable resources that will help you tremendously.  Print – Read – Use them!

Walk down the red carpet, and EnJOY being a thread star… in the limelight of successful thread knowledge!


Comments 7

  1. Very informative! You have answered a lot of issues that quilters have problems with. We love your creativity and wonderful tutorials.

  2. Wow! This is a wonderful explanation for those of us who are "thread challenged." I have the charts from Superior, but the way you explained how the different thread weights work together (or not) really helps me to understand. If I make your bed, cook your dinner, wash your clothes, will you come live at my house??? LOL

  3. Love your article on threads. I am not very knowledgeable in this area. I will experiment with your suggestions! All the free motion quilting you do is so beautiful!

  4. Perfect timing again Leslie, as I am about to attempt my new threads from Mother Superior. Cool pics and tons of info. Dang I didn't get enough colors…how I hate to shop! lol, SEW Excited to start! thank you for all this purtie powerful info! You are the best Chicky!

  5. Luv this couple! May they have a long marriage. I got a sample from Superior Threads so this is timely and I will know what exactly to reorder when I finish trying out your very excellent tutorial. So sashay to the left Southern lady, this northern gal is gonna take a turn to dance with the King!

  6. Please stop by my blog, as I have given you an award. I realize not everyone accepts these awards, but your creativity is definitely to be noted 🙂

  7. Wow, you put a lot of time and effort into this explanation. I found it very informative. I will have to re-read it when I'm more a awake and I shall go see if I can download the chart.
    I cannot buy any of that thread locally so I must look for some on line.

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