Friday, May 29, 2009

A Thready Question...

Every once in a while a question comes into my inbox that needs a public answer :c) I know this one is something we all think about.....

Andi writes:

I know you've addressed the thread question before, but I've recently made several scrappy tops and I'm wondering what color to use for the quilting? I'm about to try invisible thread for the first time, but maybe a cream or light blue would work too. Please share your thoughts!

So here are my thoughts!

One thing to remember is there are no hard and fast rules, and many rules can be reversed depending on my mood, or the fabric, or the patchwork pattern, or the effect I'm trying to achieve.

First off..it depends if I am hand quilting, or machine quilting. With hand quilting, I tend to like higher contrast between the thread I use and the fabric I am quilting. I WANT the thread to show. My main reason for this, is that hand quilting is only half way visible as it is. As the needle and thread weave in and out of the fabric (it's a one thread process) all you really see are dimples..the thread disappears as it goes through to the backing, where it leaves an opposite little stitch, and then up to the front again.

I'm greatly inspired by antique quilts, and I love the utility style antiques of the late 1800s that were quilted with BLACK THREAD all over everything. To me, this becomes part of the surface design. I have used every color of the rainbow in my hand quilting and will continue to do so. Red, Brown, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Black, Pink...just to name a few off the top of my head on quilts I can think of. You don't have to just quilt with white/cream/beige/tan.

When it comes to machine quilting I'm a bit more concerned with thread contrast. Machine quilting is a "two thread" process....and instead of dimple stitches as in hand quilting, you get stitching that interlocks the two threads between the layers of the quilt, and on each side of the quilt the quilting appears as a complete LINE of thread. You can use this to your advantage where you WANT contrast, but seldom am I wanting that much contrast in my machine quilting.

I tend to want the quilting to enhance the patchwork, add surface texture, but not come too far front and forward. I want the batting to puff a bit, the stitching to sink in, and have the design add to the patchwork, not up-stage it.

So as to what color would I use? It depends! Yesterday's quilt used a "tan beige". I wanted something that would not be too dark against the lights, and not too light against the darks...so I will grab several spools of what I think MIGHT work..be it blue...grey....beige...gold...and lay the threads across the quilt top and LOOK to see which one blends the best.

If you still aren't sure...walk away from the quilt. :c) Go do something and then come back and look again.

If I have a quilt with high contrast, it sometimes means I will need to change thread colors depending on the area. It might mean I have to change thread colors A LOT depending on the look I am wanting in a quilt.

For instance, I really REALLY do not like one color of thread on an Amish style quilt with all solids when machine quilting. It's too MUCH contraset...yet with hand quilting one color is perfect, because of the dimple effect, vs the machine quilting line-of-thread effect. It can be a pain to change thread colors all over an Amish style quilt, so I mostly choose to hand quilt those..besides..the solids are the best places to SHOW hand quilting.

You might want to do some intricate quilting in a wide open area such as an alternate block or a border and you WANT the thread to show...again, lay your thread out against the fabric. Sometimes you need to go for a color that is not even IN the quilt. I have found a grey/green that is the most amazing blender. I often use something like an antique tan or gold if the quilt doesn't have a lot of white background. Very seldom am I ever quilting a scrap quilt with white, cream or beige. It's just too stark against the darker fabrics.

Experiment. You can even sew a few straight lines on a scrap of the fabric on your regular sewing machine before you put any stitches into the whole quilt. Make a scrap quilt sandwich and try some different threads on it. PLAY!!

Andi, I hope this helps answer your questions. I also don't use invisble thread hardly ever, unless I have something that HAS to be stitched in the ditch (which I tend to avoid at all costs...because it's a lot of bother for something that doesn't show :c) )


  1. Thank you for your thoughts on thread color...
    I always wonder what to use, and have to audition several. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience with all of us.
    quilt hugs

  2. I was given a quilt that has bright solids and then alot of black (think Amish but modern) and it was machine quilted in a bright variegated thread. The piecing is all rectangles and squares, and the quilting is spirals. The quilting is truly an artistic feature of the quilt. I've bought myself some variegated thread to start playing with.

  3. My favourite for machine quilting is variegated thread - and I try to pick one that has colours of the quilt top. Depending on the backing - I may use a solid neutral, or variegated as well - typically the same colour range as the top. On the other hand - my quilting tends to be very simple - stippling or serpentine stitch - so the thread adds the interest that the pattern lacks.

  4. Recently, I loaded a quilt, auditioned the threads and made the choice. Everything was ready to go for the next day.
    Went to bed and before I could drift off to sleep, the thought suddenly came to me..."I don't like that thread."
    Next morning I went to the frame...and sure enough..."What was I thinking!" I ended up using a previously rejected thread.
    All of this to say...yes, walk away from the quilt and thread. Don't be in a hurry to choose. Let the artistic juices flow for a bit.

  5. That's a quilt lesson just by itself! Thanks for sharing Bonnie.

  6. A great Thread lesson. Thanks - once again, Bonnie, for sharing your expertise. The next step is to be confident enough to experiment with the threads.

  7. Thanks for sharing the process. My scrappy quilts have bright stars on pale backgrounds, so I will need to start auditioning. I'd really like to use one color of thread and a pantograph design!

  8. This is a really useful post, Bonnie. I learned a lot.


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