How Cotton Fabric Is Made Ready for Your Quilt Shop

We all use it, cotton fabric.  In fact, most quilts are made of cotton fabric.  Years ago fabricfabric was manufactured in the United States from cotton grown in the US.  Today, although the US grows cotton, nearly all fabric is manufactured outside of the US.

After the cotton is harvested and woven into the fabric called greig (pronounced gray) goods (unprocessed woven fabric), there are many steps that it must go through before it is ready to be dyed and shipped to your local quilt shop.   This video, filmed in a fabric plant in Hong Kong and Zhejiang, China takes you through the many steps needed to prepare the fabric, then dye, set the dyes with chemicals and heat, and finally wash and prepare the fabric for shipping.  I think you will find it interesting to see all that goes into making the beautiful and colorful quilting fabrics that we enjoy using in our quilts.

As you watch the video, remember that this was filmed in China.  China does not have the same standards of safety and cleanliness in their factories that are required by OSHAH here in the US.  For example, wet floors, the haze in the air from the chemicals and dryers, and even allowing long hair on workers would all be violations, each occurence of each violation with a $5,000 fine here in the US.  Our OSHAH inspectors would have a heyday writing up violations in a factory like this one.  However, because the labor is cheap and there are few, if any, work safety standards to worry about, we benefit by being able to purchase a huge variety of fabrics at a relatively low cost.  If fabric were manufactured in the US with our much higher labor costs and cost of compliance to regulations, we would be paying much, much more.

So, please take the video at face value and appreciate all of the work that goes into creating our wonderful quilting fabrics.

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What’s Special About Egyptian Cotton Thread?

Perhaps in quilting circles you have heard that the best quilting thread on the market is made of Egyptian cotton.  But what makes it better than cotton grown in the US, China, India, or other countries and why should quilters look for Egyptian cotton thread?

“Dr Bob” of Superior Threads explained more about Egyptian cotton in a September 17, 2017 educational post.  There is also a short video below where “Dr Bob” explains and demonstrates more about cotton thread and answers questions about the differences between short, long and extra long staple thread, coated thread and thread “memory.”

Dr Bob writes, “Last week both Walmart and Target announced that they were pulling sheets branded as Egyptian cotton from their shelves because they “suddenly discovered” that they are not Egyptian cotton. We’ve been fighting the Egyptian cotton mislabel battle for years, knowing that Egypt does not grow enough cotton to make all the Egyptian cotton sheets, towels, clothing, and thread that is sold. Our cotton threads really are made from Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton.

Here are some interesting cotton facts from a recent year:
A standard bale of cotton weighs 480 lbs.
In one year, the world produced 114 million bales.
The top five cotton-producing countries:
1. China (26% of total)
2. India (23% of total)
3. United States (16% of total)
4. Pakistan (8% of total)
5. Brazil (7% of total)
Egypt ranks number 15 among cotton-producing countries and produces only .0005% of the total amount. That is one-twentieth of one percent. If Egypt is such a tiny dot on the cotton-growing map, why is Egyptian cotton so prevalent? Why is there so much Egyptian cotton clothing, bed sheets, towels, and thread? The truth is, there isn’t. The label may say Egyptian Cotton but the contents are not. Whether it is due to false advertising, misunderstanding, or ignorance on the part of seller, the fact remains that it is incorrect. There is not enough Egyptian cotton in existence to produce all the products labeled as Egyptian Cotton. It would be safe to say that there is 10,000 times more Egyptian cotton sold than is grown.
Does it really matter? Those who know cotton quality obviously understand that it does matter. Otherwise, many companies would not be falsely claiming that their cotton is ‘Egyptian Cotton’ when in fact, it is not. There is something about the climate, soil, water, and minerals in Egypt that is ideal to grow the highest-grade cotton. It is not possible to tell the origin of cotton fibers by examining them. But you and your machine will know the difference. A high-grade cotton with advanced processing will be clean, smooth, and consistent.
What about Superior’s MasterPiece and King Tut cotton thread? As far as I can tell, we are the only thread company that can honestly say this: 100% extra-long staple Egyptian-grown cotton. Our factory buys cotton from Egypt, transports it by ship to Japan for spinning, twisting, gassing, finishing, mercerizing, dyeing, and winding, and then ships it to us in Utah, USA. And it is guaranteed to work in your machine.”   From Superior Threads.

From personal experience, I use both Master Piece for all of my piecing and King Tut for longarm quilting.  I have found they are excellent, low lint cotton threads that are strong and perform to my highest expectations.  There are many colors available to blend with any quilt.  Although they are more expensive, they are higher quality than regular cotton thread and I know they will last and I won’t have problems with breakage, knotting, or bird nests.  Inexpensive thread is never worth the aggravation.  For the few pennies extra per project, I find using top quality thread is always the best decision.

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Practice Quilting Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

Yes, we all know that practice makes perfect.  Practice develops muscle memory which is used to repeat the movements needed to free motion quilt (both on the home sewing machine and longarm) or to follow a panto smoothly with a longarm.  But, how can we practice without feeling like we will spoil a nice quilt or charity quilt, or without wasting fabric and batting?

The “Strokes” of Free Motion Quilting

Although cursive writing is no longer being taught in schools, back in the day when it was, students took a class called penmanship.  In that class they traced the letters and repeated the strokes needed to create beautiful hand writing, or at least legible writing.  This usually started in late 2nd or in 3rd grade.  Learning to free motion quilt is very similar to penmanship class.  There are only five strokes you need to practice which are the arc, “s,” loop, hook or point, and straight line.  Unlike penmanship class, however, these strokes (movements) need to be practiced and mastered working in all directions, not just left to right.  Like penmanship, mastering the strokes first before applying them to a design is helpful and actually shortens the learning curve of free motion quilting.

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

One quick look at a panto will confirm that all free motion quilting designs are a combination of two or more of these strokes (movements).  So, how or where does a quilter practice to become proficient and confident?

Practice Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

The good news is that it is not totally necessary to practice at the machine or longarm.  Simply moving the hand and arm through the strokes builds muscle memory.  As a result, the quilter can create a series of exercises making these strokes on a whiteboard with a dry erasable marker, using a pencil on paper, or even following a panto pattern with your finger.  Remember that these strokes must be made in all directions, R to L, L to R, top to bottom, bottom to top, diagonally, etc.  Although these exercises are a wonderful place to start and practice to remain proficient, at some point it is necessary to work at the machine.

Practice At The Machine

For longarm quilters, pantos are a great place to start.  The design is already there, the strokes pre- planned, and the results should look very nice.  And remember, no one knows whether your laser was on the line or not.

If you feel you are not ready to tackle one of your quilts, or even a charity quilt, the next

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

best option is to purchase inexpensive fabric and batting (neither recommended for quilts you cherish or give) and simply practice the strokes over and over again.  Then begin to build the strokes into simpler designs at first, progressing to more complicated designs.  If you are feeling wasteful in doing this, know that veterinary offices usually welcome things that can be used as mats in the pet crates.  Our local vet has crates that are 14″ x 18″ for the cats.  Because I use a lot of practice fabric and batting on the frame at quilt shows (about 5-7 yards per show), I always “recycle” or re-purpose the “quilt” into cat crate mats.  I cut them to size and either zig-zag or serge around the edges before giving them to the vet.  They do appreciate them, use them, may even wash them a number of times until they are no longer usable.

If you want to learn a new design, learn feathers, or improve the designs you already do, practice them before you start quilting on the quilt.  Use the whiteboard, paper/pencil, trace with your finger, or trace the design with the machine not running, or keep a practice “quilt” ready.  Even when I free motion quilt a small project at my home machine, I always have a practice piece ready to get warmed up on.  For larger projects I plan to longarm, I always have a large practice “quilt” ready to zip onto the longarm.  Practice is never a waste of time or materials.  It is the best, and only way, to improve your quilting skills.

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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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Squaring Up Flying Geese Units

Regardless of the technique we use or how carefully we work with fabric patches, there are bound to be slight irregularities in seam allowance or minor distortion in the fabrics.  To correct these problems, it is a good idea to start with slightly oversize patches and square up the subunit to the correct measurement.  I usually start with 1/8th to 1/4th inch oversize patches.  Once constructed, there is a little to trim off when squaring to the correct measurement for the subunit.

Flying geese units often have more issues with construction than other units, especially if made with the traditional method using triangles.  Newer techniques help minimize the problems, but it is still a good idea to square up the subunits.  (See “The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!)

There are several rulers on the market designed to easily square up flying geese units.  All will help preserve the ¼” seam allowance and keep the points from being trimmed off.  Some, however, only work with one or two sizes of flying geese.  Studio 180 Design, however, has, what I think, is the best flying geese ruler on the market.  It is called Wing Clipper.  With it you can square up flying geese units from 1”x1 ½” to 5 ½” x 10 ½” in half inch increments.  There is also Wing Clipper II for squaring in ¼” and ¾” measurements.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design's Wing Clipper ruler.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design’s Wing Clipper ruler.

I have used Wing Clipper for a number of projects and really appreciate how easy it is to use and how beautiful the flying geese units looks when squared up correctly with this ruler.  Click to see a video demonstrating the Wing Clipper.  If you can’t find this ruler at your quilt store, you can order it on line from Studio 180 Design.  The ruler comes with excellent directions for both left hand and right hand cutting and a chart with cutting instructions for all of the sizes you can trim using the ruler.

 

The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!

I love making blocks that use flying geese now that I learned this construction technique.  I no longer am sewing bias edge triangles together.  The technique is easy to do and with each construction you are making four flying geese units which are enough for a block.

Below is a short video from Fons and Porter showing this construction technique.  From 5 pieces of fabric you will have 4 flying geese units.  I recommend cutting the patches a little over size so that the final flying geese unit can be squared up to size.

Once you try this technique, don’t hesitate to tackle any block that has flying geese units.

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Easy Flying Geese

Flying geese subunits are the mainstay of many star blocks.  The challenge with the flying geese subunit is maintaining the points and the distortion because of bias stitching.  All of this results in subunits that are not quite rectangular.  If you try to square them up, another challenge is the math and trimming (squaring the subunit) to keep the ¼” accurate so that the points are nice and sharp.  As a result, many quilters simply avoid making anything with these flying geese.

The good news is that there are several methods and techniques that, when used separately, or combined, result in perfect flying geese.  Not only are these methods and techniques easy, but fun.  In the next several posts I will cover techniques and methods for piecing perfect flying geese.

One Seam Flying Geese

Nothing could be easier than stitching only one seam.  Sounds impossible, but it is true.  Following are two videos that illustrate this technique, one with Ricky Tims and the other with Jenny Doan.  After you see this technique, you will want to run to your stash and start making these easy flying geese by the hundreds.

 

 

 

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Avoiding Fold Marks in Quilts

Fold marks on a quilt distract from the beauty of the quilt and over time can damage and weaken the fabric.  Whenever possible use a method that does not involve folding.  Here are a few possibilities for storing quilts to minimize or avoid fold marks.

Storage Methods Without Folding

  1. Small wall hangings can be hung on pants hangers. The area under the clip can be padded with extra batting.
  2. Larger wall hangings can be layered on top of each other and rolled. For support when rolling, use a pool noodle.  These are inexpensive and can be purchased at a “dollar” store.
  3. If you have an extra bedroom, lay the large wall hangings and bed quilts out flat on top of each other on top of a bed. Lay a sheet on top of the pile to protect from dust and especially if there is a lot of sunlight in the room.

Biggest Challenge – Avoiding Fold Marks When Storing

At the end of a workshop I took from Joe Cunningham last fall Joe started packing up his quilts to put into the large suitcase for the trip back to his home in California.  As he was talking to us he casually flopped one corner over, then another, and another, then part of the quilt, and so on.  Thinking this was just a “guy” thing I asked what he was doing.  He stopped and talked to the class about his method of folding and that it helped avoid fold marks.  This was especially important for his quilts that often lived in the suitcase traveling from workshop to workshop and back to his studio.

Folding the quilt on the diagonal places the folds across the bias of the fabrics.  Start by folding in one corner on the diagonal, move around the quilt folding in corners.  Each does not need to be exactly the same.  Then fold across on a diagonal, and so on until the quilt is small enough for storage.  The key is to use a different fold pattern the next time to reduce the stress on the fabric.

Alex Anderson recently discovered this method from a friend.  She shares her experience and the technique in the following video.

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