Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thready Thoughts..

I logged in this morning to find a very thought provoking email. I really had to think about my reply as I typed it, and it occurred to me that it was maybe a good topic to bring up.

The email was from R.E. who is a previous machine quilting client, and now has her own Tin Lizzy and is enjoying working with it. She wanted to pick my brain :c) She writes:

Hey, Bonnie! I was just admiring the quilting on your Cathedral Stars quilt and it is truly awesome! I love how the texture shows without showing a heavy thread. You quilted a wedding quilt for me and I thought it seemed like a different thread, although it's really hard to tell from just the pic of Cathedral Stars. I've been using King Tut exclusively (with MasterPiece in the bobbin), since my Tin Lizzie seemed to like it and I was afraid to take a chance with something else (although the Lizzie web site says she will sew with LOTS of threads). I'm also scared to touch the tension, but that might be a personal problem, LOL!

Anyway, I was wondering what type(s) of thread you use and which you have had the least problems (such as breakage) with. I think I remember seeing a picture (from your old house) that you had a variety of threads. I'm really only interested in 100% cotton threads...no metallics or polyesters, since I'm not a 'glitz'-type person.

And I know I've seen on your web site which type of batting you use to get that wonderful texture, but I can't seem to find the info on there right this second. (I've been using Quilter's Dream, the flattest type - maybe Select. I like a thin batting for wallhangings, but might like to experiment with other 100% cotton battings for larger quilts.) You buy yours by the roll, right? Can you recommend a good (cheap) source?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I know how busy you are! Your schedule is a whirlwind!! And your quilting is inspirational!!!

And before I give you my reply....Remember, opinions are that...only opinions. Sometimes we hear other people's opinions and take them as Gospel without trying them out ourselves. Just because someone has been quilting longer than you and says "It can't be done, you can't do that"...doesn't mean it is SO! I let all things like this challenge me into testing the boundaries.

My reply:

If you are "only" a 100% cotton person, you can find yourself quilted into a box you can't get out of. Because some of the results you are looking for don't come with heavier 100% cotton threads combined with the thinnest weight of 100% cotton batting.

When I am quilting with cotton, I like signature threads. I use bottom line in the bobbin. If I am doing a lot of detail filler work and don't want it to look thready, I also use bottom line in the top. It's 100% polyester.

I also will be found using other polys or cotton wrapped polys in the top depending on the effect I want. The more stitching there is, the less I want heavy thread.

Threads with poly are less likely to break when sewing at high speeds.

The thread I'm using on the Cathedral Stars is Tye Dye Punch..by maxilock. Yes. Maxilock.

Bottom Line is 100% poly, so is Maxilock. There is no difference in the "ingredients" just because Bottom Line is packaged for machine quilters...poly is poly. The only difference is in the weight, not the fiber or the performance. Bottom line is less linty, Maxilock is spun to give the appearance of cotton. I don't worry about Maxilock being touted as a "serger" thread. Try it. Give it the tug test....it has about the same breakage point as a 40 wt cotton. Just as strong, yet just as breakable, with a much less thready appearance in my quilting.

I've tried being a stickler to "100% cotton only" and it doesn't work for me. I have better tension, better appearance with the poly's and poly blends. And I don't quilt for "glitz" so what I use is not shiny or metallic. I just want the TEXTURE of the quilting to show, not the thread.

I've been machine quilting for nearly 20 years now, 14 of those years on a Longarm machine. These threads have never cut my fabric, and my quilts are used heavily. I have had vintage machine quilted quilts show where 100% cotton thread has just disintegrated and showed lots of evidence of popped stitches from wear and tear. Which do I want? Let's face it..no matter what we use in our quilting, quilts are most likely to be used and loved and eventually fall apart no matter WHAT you quilt them with!

To show the texture of the stitching, I use Hobbs 80/20 batting in my machine quilting. It has enough loft that the quilting has something to sink into. Yes, it's 80% cotton, and 20% poly.

The lightest weight of Quilter's Dream just does NOT have enough loft for machine quilting to give the look and feel I want.

I do use the Quilter's Dream for hand quilting, it hand quilts beautifully, but that is a one thread process not two, like machine quilting is.

When machine quilting I need the batting to have enough loft that the thread sinks in and doesn't just lay on top, and the batting has enough sponginess (for lack of a better word) to puff and show the texture of the quilting, but not just the THREAD.

I'm neither a purist, nor a thread snob...I quilt with what gives me the detail that I like to see in my quilting. :c)

Hope this helps!


  1. Hi Bonnie,

    I have been wondering the same thing about what thread to use on my frame (since it is finally completed!! whoohoo!!, check my blog about it). But isn't Maxilock serger thread?? I had some in my hand at Joanns the day before yesterday and ended up putting it back for the fear of it not being good enough thread to use on the frame.

  2. Thank you for the post. I have lots of thread, but afraid to use them, I guess if a donation quilt and the quality is good, why not try other threads? have a safe and fun trip.

  3. Thank you so much! This post was very informative. I am taking my first machine quilting class in a few weeks and was wondering why she is having us bring bottom line thread along with cottons and poly threads. You just answered my question.

  4. Hey, that's a LOT of thready food for thought! Thanks, I'm digesting all this valuable information.

  5. Thanks for the info Bonnie. You and I have very similar thoughts on thread & batting. I'm not a purist when it comes to machine quilting either, I use what I believe will work best for the project. I too love MaxiLock varigated thread in the LA! Thanks again for sharing :)

  6. Great write up Bonnie. I too use all the Maxilock I can get my hands on. Consew has a sale on it for 1.99 for the solid colors. Hancock's also has a wide variety of colors. Joann's has a limited color assortment but I buy 2 of each when they have their sales.

  7. Thanks for the great post. I have only used poly and love the results.

  8. Great reply, Bonnie! I am new to frame machine quilting. My machine is 'old' and we've been round and round with breaking thread/skipping stitches. I find that cotton threads don't hold up well in my machine, so I have been using Maxilock almost exclusively. I love it! It doesn't break, it looks great, it comes in lots of fun colors and blends AND!!! It's cheap and readily available. It's the only thread I can run down to the Hancock's or Joann's and buy.

    I started out looking for 'the' 100% cotton thread to work with, but found them expensive, hard to get, not as strong and very linty. It occurred to me that I rarely use 100% cotton when I piece, why was it such a big deal to use cotton to quilt?

    Quilting should be fun. If what you are doing isn't working, it's not fun. If you can't afford it, it's not fun. I love your attitude of experiment and find what you can make work!

    Love the new cathedral stars! Thanks for all you do and especially for sharing it with all of us.


  9. Thanks for sharing your opinions and experiences. Your down-to-earth advice is so refreshing!Would you ever consider coming to Australia???

  10. thank you so much for your detailed post---I thought I had read somewhere that you should only use cotton thread. I tried at first, but poly's have so many great colors. Anyway, I am quilting a quilt now (with my Gammill Premier) and using poly. It is really looking nice!!!! It appears that my machine loves it as much as it does cotton. I have a lot of serger thread from my garmet days that I am going to use---in the bobbin at least. It isn't old, so should be okay!

    I love your blog---I always get so much valuable information!!!

  11. Hi Bonnie - loved to read your post - very thoughtful and practical. I totally agree with your comments about giving things a try - that's half the fun! As you say, just because the received "wisdom" says a particular thing - "it ain't necessarily so"!! Kate in Capalaba Queensland Australia

  12. Great post, lots of information in it!

  13. Anonymous9:55 PM EDT

    Thanks for the great info. I also use lot of Maxilock thread. I just love the Swirls! I do a lot of charity quilts, and that thread sometimes adds just the zing the the quilt is crying out for! I also use Hobbs 80-20 for MY quilts, but use either a 100% poly or W & W or W & N in the charity quilts. Love your blog and am always waiting for your next post.

  14. I use Maxilock often and love it. It doesn't seem like I have tension problems when I use it. Give it a try.

  15. Thanks for another "class in a blog post". I so appreciate all the teaching you do. I have a few vintage machines that I love dearly. They have all been rebuilt/ serviced by the same wonderful mechanic. When I asked her which thread would keep my machine the happiest, I fully expected to run out and have to buy something expensive. I was startled to hear that she sews with just about everything and anything! She says the tug test is the gold standard, and that if it looks like you want, it's the right thread. I have felt very sneaky quilting with whatever I want, and I'm glad to hear that you endorse this as well!

    Shirts are sewn with poly thread, and I have never seen a cotton shirt cut by its thread. And they are washed a lot!

    FWIW, I have really liked the textures in the quits that I have used the new bamboo batting.

  16. Hobbs 80/20 is my favorite too just for the reasons you state. I use a lot of Permacore but haven't tried Maxilock. I tend to use Bottom Line in my bobbin when I'm using a variegated cotton and I've bought some So Fine but haven't tried it yet. Lots of good choices out there and like you say, they're not all 100% cotton.

  17. Thanks so much Bonnie! I've been worried about using poly thread as it is so easy to work with.

    As you say, do what works best for you!

    Thanks again.


  18. Thank you, Bonnie, for the taking the time to write that great response! It appears that your answer was helpful to many people besides me!! :-) The customer quilt I have coming up will be a great place to try some of your suggestions on the Lizzie...

  19. I have been having my kids quilts quilted using Quilters Dream Wool batting. It is sooo soft, spongy, shows the stitching well, is washable, isn't "heavy" and not to mention - warm! I know we all have our favorites, but I thought I would pass it on that I think this batting is worth a try!
    Cheers! Evelyn

  20. Thanks for this post.

    I was at a quilt show recently in NJ and I was made dizzy by the thread choices and which one was the "right" one to use.

    I come to quilting from clothing sewing so I am most accustomed to using a blended thread and was told that for quilting it was a "no-no". ~ksp

  21. I love your reply. It was concise and to the point and I learned a lot. I am not a long arm quilter, but I do some free motion. I think I'll try some poly thread...sounds like something I would like.


  22. I have been using Maxilock for many years for quilting on my sewing machine. I love the color arrangements in the variegated threads and have found that they quilt beautifully.

    I also use the Hobbs batting, but I use the fusible version. I love being able to baste a queen size quilt in less than an hour and it holds so well that it makes my machine quilting even easier.

    Thanks for being willing to share so many wonderful tips.

  23. Thanks for the good info! I'd been trying to go the all cotton route, since that is what so many teach, but it wasn't working for me either. I should have known the quilt police wouldn't get me! I've been quite happy with the 80/20 batting also. I'm glad to know that the poly thread has worn well in your older quilts too.

  24. Anonymous4:33 PM EDT

    An excellent review Bonnie. Thank you! I'll pass on your thoughts to my quilting friend who has been doing my quilts for me. We were both of the opinion that cotton was best, but it does look heavy on some of the quilts.

  25. I've tried MaxiLock with my Gammill and it just didn't work. I can use it in the bobbin, but not on top.
    Maybe I'm doing something wrong? I love the colors in the Swirls and I'd like to save some money-it gets expensive to be a threadaholic!!!

  26. Interesting post, Bonnie. All I can say is that I didn't know that I didn't know! When constructing the quilt top do you also use these threads or do you use 100% cotton? I certainly lack your vast experience and rely on what I learn in local quilt shops. I've been told 100% cotton and was a believer. What is bottom line? A brand? A kind of thread? Just want to get this straight. We are definitely life long learners, aren't we.

  27. Thank you for your thoughts, it was a good thing for me. I use polyester thread wrapped with cotton, and it works very well for me. Even some poly (gasp) fabrics at times!

  28. Thanks from me too, Bonnie. I bought several spools of Maxilock and then because of what I read, haven't even tried using them on my quilting machine. I will use them now!

  29. Oh I loved this post! Thank you!
    I love maxilock- it's one of my favs.
    Im off King tut right now, its just too thick.

  30. I've been using Maxilock exclusively for my fleece backed quilts (which are by far the most requested from family and friends). I have 1 quilt lined up with a cotton back and will try Maxilock on that as well simply b/c it was inexpensive to purchase and was the exact varigated shades I wanted for DDs quilt. I'm hoping it works just as smoothly. I find my speed in movement, speed of stitch and a sharp needle matter more than the thread brand for the utility quilts I'm working these days. Beck

  31. I know this is an old post, but I refer people to it all the time! I use and like Maxi-Lock thread--and I'm not ashamed to say so. :) Thanks for the backup.


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