Friday, September 18, 2015

Tips for appliqué with monofilament thread

My Craftsy class, Start Appliqué, launched this week! The student questions have started rolling in, and I’m not at all surprised to see that questions about monofilament thread were some of the first.

Often known as invisible thread, monofilament is a very fine, clear thread that’s, well, virtually invisible. Stitch down the edges of an appliqué shape with it, and you’ll pretty much never know the thread is there. Perfect!

Except when it’s not. Monofilament behaves differently from conventional threads because it’s made by a different process. Most threads are made from fibers twisted together into a thread with multiple plies, whereas monofilament is (literally) one long strand of extruded plastic. So the monofilament is usually springier and can be frustrating to work with when you’re used to conventional threads. Here are some tips for taming monofilament.

Use quality thread.

Bargain-basement brands can be stiff, thick, and harder to work with. This is one place where pinching pennies isn’t worth it. I use Sulky Invisible Thread—even the smallest spool has 440 yards, which will last a long, long time.

I use the clear thread for appliqué, but the smoke thread is shown in the photos below so you can see it better.

I recommend a polyester monofilament, mainly because it’s more heat resistant than nylon. It seems to me to be softer too, and it’s not supposed to yellow over time. But other teachers swear by nylon monofilament. See what you like best.

Pair it with the right needle and bobbin thread.

For the extremely fine thread, use an extremely fine needle: my machine likes a size 60/8 microtex (sharps) needle with the monofilament I use, but some students find better success with a 70/10. In the bobbin, use a lightweight cotton, around 60 weight. The texture of the cotton fibers can help grab the slick monofilament (or so I’ve been told!).

Aurifil’s 50-weight thread is 2-ply, so it’s similar in fineness to Mettler’s 60-weight fine machine embroidery thread.

Orient your spool properly.

The way thread is wound onto a spool determines which spool pin you should use: stacked spools on the vertical pin, cross-wound spools on the horizontal pin. Many threads will cooperate with either pin, but getting the orientation right for monofilament can vastly reduce tension and breakage issues. I made an infographic to explain this better and help you remember what spool goes where.

Thread Delivery Infographic
Click the image for a printable, high-resolution version you can keep near your sewing machine.

Read your manual and use your accessories.

Make sure you’re using the right spool caps, cups, platforms, pads, or whatever came with your machine to help thread feed properly. One of the most common problems I notice when teaching machine appliqué is students not using the right accessories to mount their spools. This especially happens with vertical spool pins, where manufacturers often provide some sort of base for the thread to rest on. If you don’t use it, monofilament will almost certainly wind itself around the bottom of the pin, increasing the tension until the thread breaks.

As the thread feeds, it’s winding around the spool pin below the spool.

The lip of the spool cup lifts the thread away from the bottom of the spool.
Every machine is different, so check your manual for the right accessories and threading details.

Watch for snag spots.

The bounciness of the thread makes it prone to catching on any protruding piece of the machine. Even with the right mounting accessories, monofilament may get wound up on the base or tip of a spool pin, or snag on a threading guide—I’ve even seen it catch on part of a machine’s handle.

See how the thread’s wanting to coil around the tip of the spool pin? When sewing at speed, this can cause a royal tangle.

Make sure there’s a clear path from the spool to the threading and tension devices. As you’re sewing, if the thread starts to feel like it’s resisting and getting tighter, stop and check if it’s caught on something on the top of the machine. Because the thread’s meant to be invisible, it’s hard to spot when this happens, but you can usually feel it and sometimes correct it before the thread breaks.


Try a thread stand.

If your machine isn’t equipped with the right spool pin, or if the right spool pin still isn’t preventing snags, an external thread stand can guide the thread to the machine in a clearer, smoother path, and the extra distance between spool and threading device gives the monofilament space to relax a bit. I bought a thread stand that screws onto the back of my Janome 8900, and it’s usually the best place to feed my monofilament from.

If you look closely, you can see the kinks in the monofilament as it comes off the spool. See how much straighter it is when it comes back down to the machine (in front of the white spool)?

My machine uses a secondary threading guide with the thread stand, which helps keep the thread away from anything it could catch around.


Adjust your tension.

Monofilament is a different beast, so you’ll need to adjust your top tension. I usually lower mine to about 1; the goal is to not see any bobbin thread on the top. Don’t be deceived by machines claiming to make “automatic” tension adjustments—it might sometimes feel like your machine is smarter than you, but I assure you it’s not! The auto tension can’t tell that you’re using funky, nonstandard thread.

“I’m your tension dial, and I’m made to be adjusted!”

Monofilament makes appliqué easy and fast if know these secrets to making the thread behave. And that behavior is all about cooperation: your thread, your machine, your fabrics, and you yourself should be working together, and with all those variables, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Just be willing to experiment, and make a note when you find the settings and supplies that work best.

For more appliqué tips and a detailed lesson in how to sew invisible prepared-edge appliqué using monofilament thread, enroll in my Craftsy class, now with $10 off for blog readers!

Friday, September 04, 2015

Giveaway: my new Craftsy class!

If you follow my Facebook page or have stopped by my freshly redesigned website, you may have already heard the exciting news: I’ve shot a class with Craftsy, and it’s coming out soon!

In the class, I walk you through preparing and sewing appliqué in several different ways, by hand and machine, and I share lots of tips for making appliqué easy and fun. For each technique, we’ll sew a pear quilt block I designed specifically to include all the things you’ll run into when appliquéing, like curves, corners, and overlapping pieces.

One of the great things about Craftsy classes is that you can ask the instructor questions, so if you run into any trouble spots, I’ll be there to help you out, and so will your fellow students. And then you can post photos of your work so we can all ooo and ahh over them!

The class launches in a couple weeks. Until then, enter here for a chance to win the class for free! And stay tuned for more details.
Congratulations to Craftsy member gtcoursey, winner of the free class! Thanks to everyone who entered. Click here to enroll in the class for 25% off!

Monday, June 08, 2015

50 Fat Quarter Makes Blog Hop

Today it's my turn on the 50 Fat Quarter Makes Blog Hop! I'm posting late in the day because I'm busy (and having a blast!) teaching appliqué with Sandra Mollon at a week-long quilt retreat on Lake Tahoe. So I thought I'd share some of the beautiful scenery along with my projects from the book, which is filled with projects made from 1 to 10 fat quarters.

Quirky Pencil Case (2 fat quarters)

The diagonal zip gives this simple pencil case a bit of a twist. The second fat quarter makes the lining; the two fat quarters give you enough to make three pouches.

Striking Pocket Organizer (4 fat quarters)

Fussy-cutting symmetrical designs from the fat quarters makes the fabric the star in these simple wall pockets.

Retro Ring Placemats (6 fat quarters)

The freeform, interwoven bias rings are a version of the technique I'm demoing for the retreaters tomorrow morning! Designing the pair of placemats was kind of a puzzle to squeeze out two placemat tops, two backs, binding, and the bias strips from the six fat quarters while keeping a variety of fabrics in each mat.

Check out the book for another 47 fun projects, and keep following along with the contributor blog hop!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mid-Century Monday: Verner Panton waves

I just noticed my Op Art Runner pattern in the Sew Daily store, so I thought I’d share a bit of work by Verner Panton, which inspired the shapes and colors of the runner. Lots of Panton’s pattern design leds itself to patchwork—in this case, I built the curves out of Drunkard’s Path units.

textile design by Verner Panton, c. 1971 (via Quintessentia)
curtains, furniture, lighting, and rug by Verner Panton (via Panton World)
textile design by Verner Panton, c. 1969 (via Architonic)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Modern Appliqué Illusions blog tour (and giveaway!)

Modern Appliqué Illusions by Casey York (cover)

Welcome to everyone here for the Modern Appliqué Illusions Blog Tour! I enjoyed getting to know author Casey York over lunch at Quilting LIVE in Atlanta, right before the book debuted, and I’m pleased (but not surprised) to report that her book is equally enjoyable.

The illusions Casey explores in Modern Appliqué Illusions are those that lend a sense of perspective to the flat surface of a quilt. She explores the concept through lots of different techniques and approaches, which makes for plenty of inspiration.

Casey is absolutely the right person to present these ideas—her solid grounding in art history enriches and contextualizes the technique discussions. She interprets classic methods of perspective from Western art in fabric and thread rather than paint or ink, and I really enjoyed learning about the theoretical background while seeing the ideas put to use in quilts.

Tunnel Vision

I was also struck that, though this is first and foremost a book about appliqué, Casey goes into detail about how she also uses quilting to enhance the appliquéd perspective effects. So often quilting instructions stop at “quilt as desired,” but Casey, for example, gives precise dimensions for how to plan the radiating quilting for Tunnel Vision (shown above) while explaining the underlying concepts so you can adapt them to your own designs.

River Bend

The perspective-quilting techniques are easily achieved on a domestic machine, as Casey shows by quilting many of the book’s projects herself, which I always appreciate from quilt-book authors. In a quilt like River Bend, I love that the appliqué, fabric choices, and quilting all contribute to the overall composition as well as the sense of perspective, turning a relatively simple quilt into much more.


The general rule of thumb is that quilting shouldn’t cross over appliqués, but Casey’s quilt Ripples is a great example of why rules of thumb aren’t set in stone: she quilted concentric circles to suggest ripples on the surface of the water above the koi, which is a fantastic way to reinforce the sense of depth introduced by the appliquéd shadows.

That only scratches the surface of Casey’s ideas for bringing perspective into your appliqué, so make sure to check out the book for more! (You can get signed copies from Casey’s shop.) Or leave a comment below for a chance to win a free copy—just tell me what interests you most about appliqué, perspective, or both before the end of Monday, 11/17/2014, Pacific Time, and I’ll draw a winner at random. (The printed book giveaway is open to US addresses only, but non-US residents are welcome to enter for a chance to win an e-book copy.) Entries are closed. Congratulations to commenter number 3, Janie, the winner! I’ll be in touch by e-mail shortly.

Stop by Casey’s blog (she’s talking about her Grove quilt today, which has more interesting quilting to suggest rounded tree trunks) as well as the rest of the blogs on the tour—GenQ is up tomorrow!