Turning Cotton Into Yarn and Thread

What does it take to change the harvested cotton into the thread that we use to make

Cotton ready for harvest.

Cotton ready for harvest.

Ripe cotton in field ready for harvest

ripe cotton in field ready for harvest

clothing or even sew our quilts with? Quite honestly, it takes a lot!

In our modern, technical world, we often forget and take for granted the products readily available to us. Centuries ago, and even fifty or sixty years ago, a lot of the work to make these products was done by hand labor taking a very long time. Just think back to the early 1800’s before the industrial revolution, no sewing machines, no mechanical harvesting equipment, cotton was hand harvested (even into the 1950’s), all thread and yarn was carded and made using a spinning wheel, then woven on hand looms. If we had to depend on those methods today it would take all of our “spare” time, when not working at our regular job, doing these tasks just to make the yarn and thread so we could make our clothing. Without a lot of household help which only the wealthy could afford, there would be no time for us to enjoy our favorite hobby, quilting.

The short video below shows all of the steps needed to take the raw, harvested cotton and turn it into usable yarn mechanically. I am simply amazed at the machinery needed, the knowledge and creativity it took to design machines to do this work and even take two threads and knot them together and wind them on a cone. Does anyone want to go back to the “good old days?”

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Workshop Fun With Joe Cunningham

I belong to a very large quilt club in Rochester, NY, Genesee Valley Quilt Club, that has about 335 members and meets monthly September through June at a very large building. Before the short meeting (about 10 minutes long), there ample time to search the large library borrow books, participate in the block of the month and fat quarter activities, enjoy time chatting with quilting friends new and old, turn in quilts you have made to be given away as “comfort quilts,” sign up for a workshop, check out the free table, or see what a member might have at the “sale” table that month. After the short business meeting is over we enjoy “show and tell” seeing the many comfort quilts turned in (often 40-50) and member show and tell, which is an inspiration to all of us. We take a lunch and take turns providing snacks. After lunch we have a program, usually a presentation by a well-known quilter, often with a slide show and quilt samples.

Each year I try to take at least a couple of workshops to learn new techniques or perfect techniques I already use. Because the club likes to bring in nationally known teachers and lecturers, I had the opportunity to take a class last fall (2015) from Joe Cunningham. Anyone who has been in the quilting world very long knows the names of some of the well-known quilting teachers. Because there are significantly fewer men quilting teachers than women teachers, you are more likely to know their names.

As a vendor (Nolting Longarm) at Quilt Canada in 2014 held at Brock University in St Catharines, Canada, I noticed one day a very tall, slender man strolling down one of the halls where classes were taking place. Later I noticed that same man eating in the dining area. Could it be, yes, it was, Joe Cunningham. Joe was teaching classes at Quilt Canada.

Over the years I have read articles about Joe and his quilts in various quilting magazines. His style is not traditional, not really art, although sometimes, it is simply his style. So, when I had the opportunity to take a class from Joe in Rochester, NY, I immediately signed up. Like most workshops you are provided with a list of supplies that include fabric suggestions, sewing machine, cutting tools, and sewing supplies. Armed with everything I needed or thought I might need, I went to class which was held in a very large meeting room at a church. There was more than enough room for the fifteen or sixteen quilters. Each of us had two large size tables to work on! This was the second workshop that Joe taught, having taught another project the day before.

The workshop with Joe was a joy. It was very laid back, the technique had a few instructions, very few, and the interpretation was left up to the quilter. Joe roamed around the room looking at progress as we made our 6 ½” blocks. Although laid back, there was structure and he did have the clock in mind suggesting that by 2 pm our blocks should be made. If you don’t have 36, use 28 or if you have more, fine. At 2 pm we would start working on arrangement. Thankfully we each had a lot of space to arrange our blocks. Joe would come by and spend several minutes looking at the arrangement, move a few blocks to another spot, maybe back again, but urged us to be open and look at other design options and that it would speak to us when it was done.   What was so interesting was that everyone’s project looked quite different because of the many different kinds of fabric used. Some fabrics were solids, others read as solids, others were prints with a dominant color, how value (relative strength of color compared to other colors) affected the design, every project looked very different. I remember one project in particular made of fuchsia, lime green, gray and black solids. What a modern quilt that was going to be, very striking.

Wow, the arrangement took the rest of the class time. Even then I was not sure I was

Joe Cunningham

Joe serenading us as we work.

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Joe showing us his quilts.

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One of Joe’s quilts using his bias tape technique.

happy with my arrangement and spent at least another hour or more on the design wall at home before deciding that was enough and started stitching the blocks together. Joe did spend a little time talking about finishing, adding borders, or not, and, of course quilting. He had a number of samples to look at which provided lots of inspiration.

As Joe started packing up his quilts for their journey back to California, I learned something about storing quilts. I noticed that he did not fold them nice and even by quarters, then fold again into a nice square. Instead, he flopped one corner over, then another corner over and each corner, rather haphazard, like a child might “fold” something. So I asked. Quite simply, folding haphazardly in different ways each time reduces the fold marks that you often see in quilts that are neatly folded and stored. So, I guess sometimes it is best not to be so neat.

My project is now finished, assembled, quilted, and bound.

My finished quilt "Joe Cunningham" style.

My finished quilt with closeup of binding finish technique.

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Piped binding technique.

The workshop with Joe was one of the most fun filled workshops I have ever taken. Low stress, using a free, no thought cutting technique, an encouragement to think out of the box, and he even serenaded us with his guitar and songs. Thank you, Joe Cunningham for a very enjoyable workshop experience.

Below take a tour with Joe Cunningham in his studio in San Francisco.  And, if you have a chance, sign up to take one of his workshops.

 

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Is Your Thread Unwinding Correctly?

It seems fairly easy. Put the spool on the spool pin and thread the machine. This simplethread selection task, however, may be the source of thread issues if you have not first noticed how the thread is wrapped on the spool.

How Thread Is Wound On The Spool

You have probably noticed that thread is wound differently with some thread wrapped around the spool in parallel winds (stack wound) while on other spools or cones the thread is cross wound creating the “x” signature.   How the thread comes off the spool or cone does make a difference in how it sews. In fact, some thread may actually kink up or twist as it unwinds.

Position the Spool/Cone Properly

Spools with thread that is stack wound or parallel wound should be positioned so that the thread will unwind straight from the side of the spool. On your home sewing machine the spool should be placed on a vertical spool pin so that the thread can unwind off the side of the spool as the spool rotates. For cones or spools where the thread is cross wound, the thread should come off the top of the cone/spool rather than the side. On a home sewing machine, these small cones or spools would be placed on a horizontal spool pin where the thread pulls off the top of the small cone/spool.

Longarm quilting machines typically use cross wound thread on large cones which unwind from the top of the cone when sewing. The cone holders are vertical pins near the back of the machine where the thread unwinds up off the top of the cone and up through a thread guide above the cone as the machine is threaded. Sometimes Longarm quilters want to use specialty, decorative threads that are usually used on a home sewing machine. Often these threads are stack wound (parallel wound). To use these threads successfully on a longarm, a horizontal spool pin must be used to prevent these threads from twisting and knotting. Additionally, because a Longarm machine stitches so much faster than a home sewing machine, the twisting and knotting can be very frustrating with many stops and starts to try and remedy this situation. Horizontal spool pin adapters are available and may be made of plastic or metal. Some of these adapters screw into the machine and others clamp onto the existing spool/cone pin.

Cone/Spool Adapters

The video below from Superior Threads below illustrates the two different types of thread wrap as well as how to use the Superior Threads thread stand for use with either type of wound thread. I have one of these stands and use it at my home sewing machine when using the large cones of thread I might use at my Longarm. These cones, of course, are too large to mount on my horizontal spool pin in the top of my Janome Horizon. Other times I might use a decorative stack (parallel) wrapped metallic thread. These threads are known to have kinking and twisting problems. The only way to successfully use these threads is with a side delivery method. The Superior Threads thread stand can be set up for this use, too.

Another spool pin adapter system is called “Specialty Thread Spool Pin Adapter,” www.thethreaddirector.com. This has a sturdy post adapter with a spool pin that is perpendicular to the post adapter. Depending on which way you attach it to a vertical or horizontal post it can be used for either stack (parallel) wrapped or cross wrapped thread.

Although you might “get by” positioning a spool incorrectly, using the correct thread delivery method for the cone or spool allows more successful stitching. While a stitching issue might look like a tension issue, it may really be caused by how the thread is coming off the cone or spool. Remember, when thread is manufactured, parallel wrapping goes on from the side and must come off of the side. Cross wrapped goes onto the cone from the top and must come off of the top.

 

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