I know it sounds like a lame excuse because, regardless of what it is, the weather gets blamed for many things. “My shoulder hurts every time it rains.” “My hair gets frizzy when it is humid.” “Mom, I failed my test. It was too hot to think!”
Can the Weather Be Blamed for Poor Longarm Stitch Quality?
While there may be some justification and truth to the above statements, to blame poor stitch quality, tension problems, and the machine “doesn’t like me today,” on the weather does sound like a lame excuse. But, not so fast. Before we dismiss this as a lame excuse, let’s examine the facts and the science behind it.
A few weeks ago one of our longarm customers contacted me by email wanting help with her Nolting Pro machine. It normally stitched beautifully without any problems with stitch quality and tension, but had developed problems. The tension could not be adjusted satisfactorily, and once adjusted, it didn’t stay and within a few inches was bad again. I replied with the standard list of things to try such as, change the needle, check the thread path, make sure the bobbin area is clean and oiled. Along with a few other suggestions, Sue did her best, but after several days of trying, nothing worked and we scheduled a time to go check out her “Miss Daisy.”
We arrived on a warm humid afternoon and went to her beautiful new studio. Armed with all of the tools we might need we checked the tension assembly and decided that the tension spring seemed a little weak and might need adjusting or replacing. Sue had already purchased a few replacement parts and had one on hand (we had more in our spare parts), so we decided to replace the tension spring. This repair is easy to do and instructions are found in our book, Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting. The repair, however, did not completely solve the problem. Because she complained of a bigger tension problem stitching in one direction, we had her demonstrate. Immediately I knew it was needle flex, so we also adjusted the timing. Although there was some improvement, neither of these fixes solved the problem tension issues. At that point we began talking about the weather.
About the time Sue’s problems started, the weather turned quite hot and humid, and there was a heavy rainfall which even seeped into their basement. The studio is not in the basement, however, it is in a converted garage. The floor is raised above the original ground level floor, but in years past, the garage floor would take on moisture. Having done all we could do and after giving Miss Daisy a checkup, we knew that mechanically she was perfect. Our prescription was to purchase a dehumidifier.
As Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of The Story”
We do not like leaving a customer with an unsolved issue because it looks like we haven’t done our job. But, in this case, there was nothing more we could do. A few days later Sue purchased a dehumidifier. She called me about three days after starting the dehumidifier running to give me a thumbs-up report. She was back to quilting and Miss Daisy was working perfectly without making any adjustments. In fact, the dehumidifier bin had filled several times and she dumped many, many quarts of water pulled out of the air in her studio. The humidity in the studio the day she started running the dehumidifier was 78% and was now down to about 50%. The best news, of course, was that she was back to quilting without any problems, without making any adjustments, and could finally work on her customer’s quiet.
Other Similar Experiences
This was not the first time the humidity has been a problem. Several years ago one of our Canadian customers contacted me with a similar list of complaints. Yesterday it quilted perfectly, today, nothing but tension problems. Although she did have a dehumidifier in her basement studio, her husband had turned it off to save on the electric. They had been having a spell of very hot, humid weather. I recommended that the dehumidifier be turned back on. She did and emailed me several days later that her Nolting machine was stitching perfectly again.
I have also experienced similar issues. Prior to having my nice studio, my studio was located in the second floor of our Cape Cod house. There was very little ventilation and it gets quite hot. Summers here can be humid, too. On a number of occasions I simply had to quit quilting for awhile until the weather changed. Nothing I did mechanically or with adjustments corrected the tension problems. When the weather became more normal, cooler and much less humid, I could go back to quilting with no problem. (solving other tension problems)
The Science Behind This Type of Tension Problem
Let’s talk about the science now. Quilts are made of cotton fabric, both the top and the backing. Often the batting is cotton or a blend of cotton and poly, and very often the thread is cotton. Cotton is a natural fiber and does take on moisture. Think of what happens when you are wearing a cotton t-shirt when you are working outside on a hot, humid day. The t-shirt gets wet from perspiration. If you hang your laundry outside on a humid day, you will also realize it takes a very long time for it to dry. The facts are that cotton can take on and hold 40% its weight in water.
OK, but the quilt isn’t wet, or is it? Science lesson #1. (I was a high school science teacher – sorry) Things (like moisture) always move from where there is more of it (the air with high humidity) to where there is less of it (the quilt, batting, thread). Remember studying osmosis in biology? Well, probably not. Never the less, although not osmosis, this is a similar physical phenomena that is happening. And, even if you are using poly thread, the moisture taken on by the quilt sandwich causes uneven drag on the thread resulting in tension issues.
Science lesson #2. This transfer (of moisture) will continue to take place until equilibrium is met. Eventually both the air and quilt would be the same humidity. This is not likely to happen as it would take a very long time because the body of air is so much larger than the quilt. However, as long as the quilt is in the humid environment, there will be a subtle increase in the moisture in the quilt sandwich which cause adverse affects on stitch quality. The illustration below shows how with time the particles in the left side will migrate to the right side until equilibrium is reached with he same number of particles in both sides.
Science lesson #3. Warm air holds more moisture than cooler air. As a result, when the temps go up in the summer, that air will be able to hold more moisture. The relative humidity of 78% at 90 degrees holds much more moisture than the relative humidity of 78% at 70 degrees. Stated another way, at 90 degrees and 78% humidity, the air is holding 78% or what it could at that temperature. The key phrase is “at that temperature.” The higher the temperature, the more moisture it can hold making hot, humid summer days very uncomfortable. The higher the actual level of moisture in the air (because of higher temp) the more moisture transferred to the quilt sandwich.
Solutions to the problem
- Forget quilting when the weather is hot and humid, or even normal temperature, but humid. It is the changing weather, upper trending temps and humidity that are the problem.
- Run the air conditioning making sure it is also dehumidifying the air.
- Get a dehumidifier and run it during humid weather. We always recommend using a dehumidifier in a basement studio. Basements, regardless of how well they are made will usually be higher humidity.
Yes, it can be the weather. Higher humidity conditions can cause poor stitch quality and tension issues. The tech staff at Nolting Longarm are now realizing that humidity can be a contributing factor. If you are uncomfortable because of the weather, more than likely your quiet sandwich is too. As frustrating as it seems, once the quilt sandwich takes on moisture, even though it doesn’t feel wet, quilting may not work and you will simply be frustrated because nothing you do will solve the poor stitch quality. My best suggestion is to just walk away. Get a dehumidifier going to pull the excess moisture out of the air, the quilt sandwich and thread. When the humidity levels return to normal in the studio and quilt, go back to quilting. Think of the time off from quilting as a mini vacation. You now have time to go to the beach, visit the museum or park, or, piece another quilt.