A number of people have asked me about the use of monofilament thread in machine quilting. I use monofilament (which comes in clear or smoke) in the top of my machine when I am doing ditch stitching.It is unobtrusive, which is partic- ularly helpful if the top you are quilting has not been pieced perfectly.I also use
monofilament in the bobbin if either of these instances occur: 1) there is a multicolored print on the back of the quilt and I have not found a thread that I like with it; or 2) there is a high contrast between the back of the quilt and the front. If you have a dark front and a light back (or vice versa), it can be difficult to match threads and not have dots of one thread come through on the other side. In that case, I will use monofilament on the back and tighten the upper tension (move to a higher number) so that the clear comes through to the top rather than the top thread dotting to the back of the quilt.
One of the key principles in machine quilting, or any quilting for that matter, is density. The density of the quilting must be even over the entire quilt for that quilt to hang well without ripples down the sides and what is sometimes called a “wavy bottom”. So, if the quilting in the interior of your quilt is fairly light and open, then you must choose an equally open pattern for your border quilting; if the interior of your quilt is heavily quilted (i.e., cross-hatched or stippled), then your border quilting must be equally heavy.
It seems to me that the best way to assess density in a quilt is from the back, where the color and pattern aren’t a distraction. Before I decide I have finished with a quilt, I turn it to the back to see if there are any areas less quilted than the rest.They will “pooch” out as if to say, “Quilt me!”If those areas are then quilted, the finished quilt will always hang better.
I am often asked if I begin my machine quilting from the middle of the quilt and then stitch toward the outer edges. The answer to that is no. If the quilt is pin- basted properly there is no reason to start quilting in the center of the quilt. In- stead, I stitch all of the “long lines” first. In other words, I look at the quilt and determine which are the longest lines to be stitched. Usually, these are the long lines that run from the top to the bottom of the quilt and separate the blocks. Keeping in mind that you don’t want to have more than half of the quilt under the arm of your machine at any one time, stitch all of these long lines from start to finish, both vertically and horizontally. After all the long lines are stitched, you can
go back and stitch each individual block, either in the ditch or using free motion.
When stitching sashings, make sure that you stitch both sides of the sashing in the same direction (I.e., top to bottom or left to right). If you stitch each side of a sashing in opposite directions, you get “fabric shear”, an unattractive diagonal pulling of the fabric.
I like to use monofilament thread (I like Wonder brand by YLI) for all of my ditch stitching. Be careful to stitch a little slower when using it so that it will not stretch as you sew it into your quilt. You should also be stitching at a little slower (than piecing) speed when you are using your walking foot.It is called a “walking” foot, after all, not a “running” foot!
If you choose to use monofilament thread in the bobbin, be sure to wind your bobbin at half speed so that you do not stretch the thread as it winds onto the bobbin. Stretching the thread as you wind the bobbin causes the thread to contract when it comes off the bobbin and thus puckers when it is stitched into your
Sometimes when you have stitched all of your long lines in one direction and begin your stitching in another direction, you can see a pleat begin to form as you stitch toward a previously stitched seam. When you see this happening, stop sewing with the needle down in your fabric. Lift your presser foot and insert a
straight pin from the previously stitched seam all the way back to under your presser foot. Insert these pins at about 1/2” intervals. This pinning will “ease” that potential pleating and you can stitch very slowly and carefully over the pins to eliminate that pleat.
I always complete all of my straight stitching with my walking foot before I start (or mark) my free motion stitching. This gives you some advantages. One is that you can look at the back of the quilt to determine the density of what is already stitched before you start thinking about the decorative motifs. Another is that if your top is difficult to mark for quilting (scrap quilt or difficult color to see markers on), your areas are already defined. You can flip your quilt over to the back and see where to mark your quilting motifs.Hopefully, you can see your markings better on the back. You can then mark the back, reverse your threads (thread to show on the top would be in the bottom if you are working from the back) and
be on your merry way!
Free motion stitching takes practice! There is nothing scary about it, it just takes the time to sit down and practice and “acquire the skill”. I have read in several places that it takes 20 to 25 hours to acquire a skill.That means that if you practice your free motion stitching an hour a day for 3 weeks or 1/2 hour per day for 6 weeks, you will become proficient. It’s putting in the practice until you find your rhythm.Once you find this rhythm (or “sweet spot”, as I call it), you won’t ever lose it. A few minutes of warm-up and you’re ready to go!