|"Remember the Alamo," 60 x 80 Charity Quilt Finish|
Why Bed Sheets, Drapery Panels and Shower Curtains Make Bad Quilt BackingsI used to think that longarm quilters who refused to accept bed sheets as quilt backings were just being picky quilt snobs, but now I totally understand why a longarmer would have that rule. The backing for this particular quilt was a cotton/polyester blend, either a sheet or an unlined readymade drapery panel. It was a tighter weave and a heavier weight than quilting cotton, and no amount of changing tension settings, different size threads, different size needles, begging, pleading, or cursing could coax this fabric into cooperating for consistently balanced stitches. What's more, the quilt top itself is comprised of lots of different types of fabric, with many of them a heavier weight and tighter weave as well. If I managed to get the tension looking good on one patch of fabric, it would be off again as soon as the quilting stitches traveled onto a patch of a different kind of fabric.
|Directional Tension Trouble on Bed Sheet Backing: This Is the Best Stitch Quality I Could Achieve|
Here's The Skinny On Directional Tension Trouble:Here's what I learned this week! When your tension looks great in some directions but you have unbalanced tension only when stitching in certain directions, that indicates that your needle is flexing -- bending as the stitch is formed, so the top thread is not meeting up with the bobbin thread in exactly the right place to form a good lock stitch. What causes needle flex, you may ask?
- The needle is too small. Thicker needles bend less than skinny needles do -- which is why longarm machines quilt with larger needles than you might use to quilt on your domestic sewing machine.
- The quilt sandwich is stretched too tight on the quilting frame. This is a common newbie mistake -- the quilt shouldn't be flat and taut like a drum; it needs to drape down around the machine bed and, as you move the machine around on the quilt, it should look like a critter is tunneling around under there.
- The quilter is trying to quilt way too fast and needs to slow down.
- Stitch length is too long. Longer stitches allow the needle to bend more than shorter stitches.
- Thread Composition: The APQS article I found on directional tension says that cotton thread pulls harder on the needle than a smooth polyester thread does, especially if it's also having to pull through cotton batting. My So Fine thread is a lint free 100% polyester thread with a matte finish that looks like cotton. My batting was polyester, but my atypical fabrics were giving resistance to the needle already -- perhaps switching to the slippery-smooth Glide polyester thread would have helped the needle "glide" through this challenging quilt more easily, with less flexing?
- Batting: Again, according to the APQS article, very dense, like a 100% cotton, is more difficult for the needle to penetrate, and if the batting doesn't have enough loft, there isn't much room for the longarm machine to form that locking stitch. I don't think my Fairfield low loft polyester batting was a contributing factor this time around, but that's definitely something I'll keep in mind when I'm selecting battings for future quilts.
- Fabric type and thread count -- this is what was killing me on my charity quilt! The needle just had to work too hard to punch through that thick, tight fabric weave. Bed sheets have a much higher thread count and tighter weave than quilting cottons, but beautiful batik quilting cottons have a tighter weave than regular cotton prints and they can be challenging, too. APQS suggests trying a smaller needle and/or a slippery polyester thread in this situation -- again, maybe the smooth and shiny Glide thread would have been a better choice. Then again, I was dealing with a very tight weave/high thread count, AND a heavier fabric weight overall with my backing, as well as a quilt top that had some dress weight, bed sheets, and even drapery fabrics. So a smaller needle would have a high risk of BREAKING, especially since I was quilting "blind" from the back of my machine and couldn't see whether I was approaching bulky seam intersections...
I chose to use So Fine thread for this project because I thought the matte finish would make my beginner quilting stitches more inconspicuous than the shiny, showy Glide thread, and because I don't happen to have a nice neutral shade of Glide on hand that would have complemented this particular quilt top. I am realizing that there is more that goes into selecting the best thread for each quilt than just the aesthetics of color and sheen preferences! Even monopoly invisible thread would have slipped through these tight weaves better than the thread I used. I'm learning, so it's all good -- and when you look at it from a distance instead of sticking your nose up to the bobbin stitches like you're the Chief Inspector for the Quilt Police, this quilt looks fine:
|Floral Meander Pantograph, Front of Quilt|
|Backing (Bed Sheet) Side of Floral Meander Charity Quilt|
|It Had To Be A Solid Color to Show Every Imperfection, Too...|
|Smoother Curves Than My Last Hand Guided Pantograph Attempt|
This charity quilt is only my second try at a hand guided pantograph, and I can see that I'm getting better at staying on the design lines -- the round parts of the design are starting to look rounder and smoother and the "ogre toes" are going away, and as Martha Stewart would say, that's a good thing!
|First Pantograph Attempt. Compare Oval Inside Hook to More Rounded Shape In Prior Photo|
And so, in my own mind, I have named this charity quilt "Remember the Alamo" because it was a bloody battle (figuratively!) but I fought a good fight and even though I wasn't successful, I never gave up. Also I will REMEMBER my Alamo and never, ever load another bed sheet/drapery panel/shower curtain on my longarm frame EVER AGAIN!
So I have one more of these charity tops waiting to be quilted that was pieced by the same church group. It has the same 1/2" seam allowances and the same variety of fabrics in the top, and I'll be using the same low loft poly batting. However, for this top, I purchased a length of cotton quilt backing from JoAnn's with a nice, busy paisley print to camouflage any oopsies from the back side. My wonderful APQS dealer suggested that, instead of following a paper pantograph from the back side of my machine, I quilt this one with a freehand allover meander from the front of the machine instead, so I can at least avoid stitching through bulky seam intersections and see what's happening while I'm quilting. I think that's a great idea. What I have NOT yet decided is whether I'll tackle the second charity top right away. I might decide to load up a sample quilt with just plain muslin top and backing, "normal" batting that I would typically use for one of my own quilt projects, and use that practice piece to get my tensions tweaked again just so, practice that allover meander a little bit, and rebuild my confidence after my Battle of the Alamo...
Meanwhile, I'm linking up with:
• Let’s Bee Social at www.sewfreshquilts.blogspot.ca/
• Midweek Makers at www.quiltfabrication.com/
• WOW WIP on Wednesday at www.estheraliu.blogspot.com
• Needle and Thread Thursday at www.myquiltinfatuation.blogspot.com/
• Finish It Up Friday at www.sillymamaquilts.com
• Whoop Whoop Fridays at www.confessionsofafabricaddict.blogspot.com
• Finished Or Not Friday at www.busyhandsquilts.blogspot.com/