I’ve Heard, “Don’t Touch That Tension Dial!! “

With sewing machine advances in the last 20 years or so, we have come to rely on the machine’s automatic tension setting.  Because the machine has a preset automatic tension setting, we assume that the tension will always be perfect.  This is not necessarily the case.  This question was posed to Superior Threads wondering if machines with a preset tension ever need the tension adjusted, this is their response.

This is a big YES! Newer machines come preset with faster speeds and tighter top and bobbin tensions designed to sew with a 50 or 60 wt. polyester thread. Factory preset tension (usually set at 5.0) is too tight for most quilting and embroidery applications. Automatic tension does not know if you are using a very delicate thread, sensitive thread, or heavy thread. It does not know if you are using cotton or poly or metallic or monofilament thread. Learn to override the automatic tension setting and adjust it (usually loosen) to the point where you get the perfect stitch. Knowing how to adjust the top tension will open up your thread choices so you can use any quality thread without frustration. On most machines, we set the top tension between 2.0 and 3.5 (see Home Machine Thread Reference Guide). When using metallic thread, we go all the way down to 1.0. The tension concept is explained on our Tension Tug-O-War diagram. (Superior Threads)

What about longarm quilting?

Because we are used to the preset tension on our home machines and our fear of messing things up by adjusting tension, many longarm quilters are hesitant to adjust the tension on their longarm.  And, Once they get it adjusted, they don’t want to touch it.

Stitching with a longarm system presents several variables which are likely to change from quilt to quilt, or even within the same quilt, such as the type of batting, various types of fabrics with different thread counts, and the thread.  From one quilt to the next, changing just one of these factors is likely to change how the machine stitches and as a result, the tension may not be as perfect on this quilt as on the last one.The solution is to become comfortable with adjusting the tension on the longarm.  Regardless of whether you want to or not, get over it.  You must become comfortable and confident in adjusting the tension on a longarm.

thread tension

Thread Tension

What is balanced tension?  The tension is balanced when the top thread and bobbin thread form the knot in the middle between the quilt top and quilt back, in the middle (batting).

Adjusting Machine Tension

Tension on a longarm has to be adjusted for each quilt you are working on.  The over-all tension of the machine starts with correct bobbin tension.  Rely on your machine manufacturer for guidelines in setting the bobbin tension.  Nolting longarm machines, for example, prefer a loose bobbin tension, usually around 100-125 on the Towa Bobbin Gauge for the L-hook or 200-225 on the Towa Bobbin Gauge for the

towa bobbin gauge

Towa Bobbin Gauge

M-hook.  Once the bobbin tension is correct, then you only change the top tension to achieve a balanced tension.  If you change to a different thread in the bobbin, the bobbin case tension must again be adjusted to the same settings (as used for your specific hook) before adjusting the top tension to achieve a balanced tension.

By far, the biggest learning curve in longarm quilting is becoming comfortable adjusting the tension.  Find out what bobbin tension your longarm will operate best at, use a Towa Bobbin Gauge, if necessary, to make sure the bobbin tension is consistently the same with each type of thread, then adjust the top tension until the top and bobbin thread are in balance.

The video below offers more information on why a bobbin gauge should be used and how to use it correctly for best results.  Order the gauge.

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Border Options with Robotic (Computer Guided) Quilting

Quilting edge-to-edge designs or blocks with robotic (computer guided) quilting is relatively easy to accomplish.  Creating a “custom” border treatment can be accomplished, but it is necessary to think out of the box.  We tend to think of stitching borders like we did when hand quilting or quilting on the home sewing machine.  For best results with a longarm, we need to begin thinking out of the box, diving the space into smaller, manageable stitching areas, or using techniques that achieve the results with less effort.

Most robotic software gives you the option of rotating and flipping which can help in designing and executing border treatments.  Here are a few ideas to try.  If you have never stitched a border treatment, start with one of the simpler ideas before trying something with a more complicated layout.

Six Border Treatment Options

  1. Dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  Stitch from one edge to the other edge of the quilt top and bottom.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, stitch the same pattern in the border space between the top and bottom border.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.  This pattern can be setup in the panto portion of the software and is usually defined with height and width of the pattern.
  2. Offset dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  The
    Offset Dead End Borders Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    Offset Dead End Borders – Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    border will be stitched as in #1, but on the top border will start at the inside seam line on the left and stitch to the edge on the right.  On the bottom border the stitching will stitch from the inside border seam on the right and stitch to the edge on the left.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, and stitch the pattern in the border spaces.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.

  3. Out of the box thinking border. Break the border into manageable stitching areas.
    quilt border cornerstone

    Cornerstone Border – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    These can be separated by “corner stones” stitched between the border pattern either using sashing junctions or creating your own separations.  Because the stitching is accomplished in smaller stitch outs, the quilt does not need to be rotated.  Rotate the pattern to stitch vertically on the side borders.

  4. Dead end borders with cornerstones. Similar to #1, but place a different pattern in the corners.  The border stitching would dead end at the cornerstone.
  5. Border and corner patterns. Many border patterns are also available with a corner connecting pattern.  Place the corner pattern first into the corner space and stitch.
    quilt border

    Border and Corner Pattern
    Sample by Joyce Blowers

    Using the panto setup of the program, create the border using the repeating pattern elements to fill the border space (height and width).  Save the design, place it and stitch.  Many programs have the option of placing the first and last stitch (connecting to the corner designs), as well as sizing the pattern exactly in the space.  Use these options to get the perfect fit.  The sample illustrated the corner and border pattern connected just to the right of center in the photo.  The corner pattern wraps around the corner while the panto portion simply goes across the border joining the corner on both ends.  This method would require the quilt to be turned to stitch the side borders.  It also takes more skill in working with patterns and using the placement features available with the program.  Practice this technique before trying it on a quilt.

  6. Create a unique border using triangles. Triangle patterns can be used to create interesting borders.  When linked together, like panto repeating elements, they can
    Border from triangle patterns. Quilt by Sally Mowers

    Border from triangle patterns – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    be sewn like a panto.  Select triangle patterns that start stitching on one side of the base of the triangle and stop on the other end of the base.  Do not use patterns that start and stop in the same point.

    quilt border

    Border created with triangle patterns.

    Use two rows of triangles, one row pointing up, the other pointing down to fill in the space and leave the end with a mitered corner.  Offset one row from the other and combine the rows so the two rows fit together.   This new panto of triangle units can be quilted onto the top and bottom border.  Remember to flip the border on the bottom.  The triangles create a beautiful complex looking border and may be easier than other methods of stitching a border with a computer guided system.    The quilt could be rotated 90 degrees to quilt the sides (create a new border if the length is different from the top and bottom).  Or, although fussy, the triangles could be placed one at a time to complete the side border.  Caution doing this.  Make sure you measure carefully when setting the individual triangles so that they will fit exactly in the side border.

Stitching borders using a computer guided system can be done.  Think about what results you want to see, then, challenge yourself to think outside the box to create it in a simpler way using the features and options available in your robotic software.

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Nolting’s Quiltmagine and the New “NV” Machine

I have been stitching with Nolting’s Quiltmagine computer guided system for over two years.  A couple of months ago, Nolting released their new generation five “NV” longarm machine which I now have paired with Quiltmagine (QM).  Without much experience under my belt yet with this system,so far I can say that I am pleased with the quick response of the machine, how quietly is operates, the awesome high illumination LED task lighting over the quilting area, and the precision of the stitching producing even stitches everywhere. Because the NV operates from a touch screen tablet, Nolting has designed a tablet bracketNolting longarm

Nolting “NV” with QM tablet and bracket.  Machine color custom white.

 

for the QM tablet which is now mounted on the left side of the machine head. This is a convenient location, although I must say that I find myself wanting to go back to the center tablet (former) location. It is funny how habits are formed and I am sure that with time, I can re-train myself to the new tablet location.  Setting up QM with the NV was SIMPLE as the carriage plugs directly into the side of the machine.  Very clean and neat.

NV has a nice feature allowing up to five profiles be saved. I have set up one of the profiles just for QM quilting. I have the stitch length set for what I want, along with the basting stitch length, and the handle buttons correctly programed to work with QM.  Upon first trying QM with the NV I discovered my original handle programing to be faulty.  I learned from Lance at Nolting that the single stitch button in QM only interfaces with the red button on the right handle. For QM to operate correctly, the red button must be programmed for the full rotation stitch (down and up).   Handle buttons can easily be programed from the profile page and every profile can have different settings.  All other functions in QM work as they should without any changes to the NV.  In my QM profile, I also set up one of the left handle buttons as a full down/up stitch because I am used to doing it that way.  Other profiles could be set up for free motion quilting at the front of the machine, or even doing a paper panto at the back of the machine.

The NV has been easy to learn how to use, easy to program the features and has a wide range of spi settings, 4 to 22. Who in their right mind would stitch with 22 spi, I am not sure. I would never want to rip those out if a mistake happened!

Nolting NV - custom red paint.  QM tablet and bracket.

Nolting NV – custom red paint. QM tablet and bracket.

One new stitches available on the NV is the Idle stitch. (gray button on left between the two purple buttons)  This is a stitch regulated stitch (4-22 spi, your choice), with the machine idling (slowly running) as it travels in and out of points (you determine the speed), then switches back to the spi setting for normal stitching. This creates crisp points. If you decide to use this stitch with QM, you must be near the machine to use the handle stop button when the pattern finishes as the machine will continue to idle stitch at the end of the pattern.

All in all, I give the machine great reviews. 5 stars. Nolting has done their homework in the design of the NV.

Even if you decide that moving up to the NV is not for you, as quilters upgrade to the NV, there are and will continue to be very nice newer machines that are traded in. Check with your dealer and let them know what you might be interested in and what your budget is so they can keep an eye out for a “newer” Nolting machine for you. Remember, you already own your frame, so would just be trading heads.

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Henry Ford – Thoughts For Quilters

Henry Ford once said, “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, you will eventually find you

henry ford

Henry Ford

have paid for it, but don’t have it.”

Now I am not advocating that you run right out and break the bank by purchasing every machine, tool, and gadget you think you want for quilting. But, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

Those of us that go back a few years will remember when the first rotary cutter and mat came on the market. The first I purchased was a mat and ruler set, which I still own, 12” wide and 24” long.  The mat did not even have a grid on it. We were very excited to have a tool to accurately cut patches. What a time saver as well as a hand saver from manipulating the scissors. Previous to this new tool we used ruler and pencil to make templates from cereal boxes. Try as best as possible we would cut the templates out following the line. Cutting on the lines was one of the useful skills I learned in kindergarten. Another was learning to wait in line, now waiting in the cutting line at the quilt store. After cutting the cardboard templates we would carefully trace around them on the fabric and again pick up the scissors to cut the patches. Depending on whether you were going to hand piece or piece by machine, the ¼” seam allowance might or might not be included on the template.

quilting tools

Quilting “Tools”

Wow! That was a lot of work. Not only do we have the rotary cutter today, but an even faster and potentially more accurate system, a machine with dies to cut the patches.

Henry Ford, of course, was looking at the “time is money” principle of business as he grew his auto company from each auto as a custom build to the assembly line with the goal of every family in America affording a car (and, of course, employ people and put dollars in his bank account). In business, the more labor (time) involved the higher the cost to produce.

What do we actually need to quilt? Tools and machines that will help us become more efficient. Today we spend money to get time. If a machine or tool will give us more time, then it could be worth the purchase. If the longer bed home sewing machine makes it more comfortable  or easier for sewing, then we are trading the money for that purchase for increased comfort and enjoyment in our craft. If the crank or mechanized cutter improves our quilting, gives us more time to make more quilts, and increases our enjoyment in quilting, it could be worth the expense. And what about a really big purchase like a longarm quilting machine? If you want to have ownership of the entire quilt from start to finish, quilting at your sit down home machine is a frustration, or as in my case, painful to my neck and back, or renting time is not possible, then perhaps purchasing a longarm is the right decision.

There is a trap that many of us fall into. That of thinking we must justify a purchase like an

featherweight and table

Me enjoying my “new” Featherweight and table.

embroidery machine or longarm and do work on it to “help pay for it.” What is wrong with owning something just for the enjoyment of owning it? Or owning it because it makes the process easier, more enjoyable, or simply saves us time? How many men do you know that have purchased a hunting rifle, bass boat, or the latest and greatest lawn and garden tractor want to justify the purchase by making money with it?

Certainly Henry Ford was on to something back in the early 1900’s recognizing the importance of having the machinery (and tools) to get the job done. Without the machinery to take the place of costly labor, those machines were paid for, but not owned.  For us as quilters, not owning the machines and tools we really need may save us money, but could cost us more in time, make us less efficient and productive, and lower our quality of life and enjoyment of quilting.  Although I can’t give you permission to run out and purchase what you want, I do give you permission to seriously consider machine and tool options that will make you more efficient, be more comfortable to use, give greater productivity, and greater enjoyment as you travel along your quilting journey.

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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Binding Tips Part 2

framesLike a frame is designed to complement a photo or painting, a quilt is not complete with out its frame, the binding.  Binding nicely applied is even, has sharp mitered corners, and the quilt fills the binding.

In The Quilt Show video below, Julie Cefalu demonstrates a technique to make sharp mitered corners and another technique for a nice finish.  Add these techniques to her previous video and you are all set to perfectly bind your next quilt.

Although the video is made demonstrating the techniques on a domestic machine, the same techniques can be used when stitching the binding to the quilt using a longarm.

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What Quilters Should NOT Do

If you have made a New Year’s resolution to work on your quilting skills, congratulations! There are a lot of opportunities out there to do that from guild workshops, quilt shop classes, and even online classes. There are also a few things as a quilter you should not do. Angela Walters, Longarm quilter and author, has words of wisdom that are important for all quilters regardless of skill level.

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Selecting Thread for Machine Quilting

Why Machine Quilting Thread

Whether you are a Longarm quilter or quilt at your domestic machine, it is important to choose a thread designed for this type of work. Longarm machines operate at higher speeds than domestic machines. Also, stitching through the three sandwich layers of a quilt cause more wear and tear on thread than ordinary sewing. Fortunately thread manufacturers understand these demands and have designed thread for machine quilting.

Machine quilting thread can be found in both cotton and poly and is available from a number of manufacturers. Because of the larger volume of thread required in quilting a quilt, machine quilting thread is available on cones that hold 2500 yards or more. Although we may balk at the price of machine quilting thread on cones, we need to remember that they hold several times as much as a standard spool of thread. When compared to the price of the spool, this thread really does not cost that much more and often costs less per yard than spool thread. It is important to know that hand quilting thread should never be used on a Longarm or domestic machine as the glazing on the thread will gum up the machine.

Considerations for selecting quilting thread:

  1. It is designed for machine quilting
  2. Choose a fiber type
    1. Cotton – select long staple cotton for the least amount of linting
    2. Poly – usually is low lint
  3. The look wanted on the quilt
    1. Dull look to the thread or shiny look of the thread
    2. More visible – select thicker thread, less visible – select a thinner thread
  4. Color
    1. To blend with fabric color but show quilting texture, select a couple of shades lighter or darker rather than the exact color of the fabric.
    2. For contrast, select a totally different color than the fabric.

Angela Walters is a Longarm quilter and author of several books on quilting. In the video below from her blog, she answers the question, “What are your favorite threads?” As she notes in the video, these are her opinions and she is not promoting any particular product.

 

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Learn To Quilt Feathers

Feathers are a traditional and beautiful way to embellish a quilt.  Many quilters, however, shy away from them because they seem hard to do, don’t turn out “right” or look uneven.

Have you struggled trying to make feathers on either your domestic or Longarm machine?  The good news is that there are a few guidelines, but there are really no rules.  Feathers are as individual as handwriting and that is OK.

If you have struggled with feathers or feel you could use help in improving your quilted feathers, Lisa Calle’s video starts with the basics and walks you through feather techniques and several feather designs.  She then demonstrates how to stitch feathers on both a domestic sewing machine and a longarm.

Stay tuned – although the video is long, by following and practicing her suggestions, you, too, can make beautiful quilted feathers.

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Rusty Longarm Quilting

What does rusty quilting look like?  For me, it looks like wavy lines, flat curves, terrible feathers, and lack of confidence in executing designs.

Recovering this summer from total hip replacement surgery in June, I was not able to stand at the longarm and quilt for many weeks.  As a result, my hand guided longarm quilting skills have gotten a rusty.  I first noticed this (rust) when doing a quilt show.  The longarm systems were all set up and someone wanted me to demonstrate how to use a template and make more of it than the shape.  Stitching around the template was no problem, but my free form feathers were awful.  Not being able to quilt on a regular basis really showed.  I had become a rusty quilter!

Recently a friend brought two quilts for me to work on.  To be honest, I was afraid of one ofwall quilt 20150913_135722 20150913_135745 20150913_135852 the quilts.  It is only 32 inches square, but has a lot of design opportunities.  Starting with a mariners compass in the middle, three small paper pieced blocks, and every border different, this little quilt from a round robin challenge presented me with quite a challenge for custom quilting.  Not only did I have to dream up different designs, but then I had to quilt them.  The rust had to go!

Getting rid of the quilting rust is the same as first learning longarm quilting skills.  Thankfully muscle memory helped, I just need practice.  I put a large practice piece on the frame and spent most of a day practicing arcs, loops, stars, curves and points, swirls, straight lines, combinations of designs and more.  I got out my resource books and looked for filler designs to practice, worked with templates, stitched feathers, and as the day wore on, I felt more confident and less intimidated by that little quilt.  When the practice piece was totally filled up I declared now or never.

I used a number of tricks from the longarm quilters bag, templates for defining shapes, continuous curves, and ditch stitching, free motion feathers, swirls and emphasizing the fabric pattern.  With all of the detail on this little quilt it took a long time, but it certainly was a very good project to help me get back into quilting again.  I am not sure what Norma will name this quilt, but to me it looks like a bowl of summer fruits – cool, luscious, and lovely.

I can’t say with any certainty, but am told that medically a person will loose 20% of their muscle ability in just one week if not able to move.  If you translate that to longarm quilting, the 10-12 weeks of no hand guided quilting put me in the negative numbers.

Regardless of whether you have gone that long without quilting or only a few weeks, more than likely your skills have diminished.  My recommendation would be to always keep a practice piece around that you can easily put on the frame to brush up on your skills.  And, if still unsure, before quilting a special quilt, spend time quilting a comfort or charity quilt.  They are a great way to productively work on your skills, build or refresh muscle memory, and try new techniques.

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