Sew Many Variables, Sew Little Time

As part of Use-Up-Your-Scraps month*, I decided to focus on the different types of stabilizers, needles, and thread that are stuffed in drawers in the studio.  I got all of these notions in one fell swoop when Mom decided to pass them on to me – I think it’s been seven years now!  She took classes and knows how to use them all, but I don’t.  To find the best choices for free motion quilting and for satin stitch, I had to just sit and sample.

notions to sample

I spent today practicing with:

  • 2 types of batting – a midloft polyester and Warm & Natural
  • 2 stabilizers – Sulky lightweight tear-away, and Sulky permanent non-woven nylon
  • 2 different bobbin threads – Mettler polyester and Gutermann cotton
  • 7 top threads – Sulky rayon and metallic, YLI cotton, Gutermann cotton, Gutermann polyester, Coats and Clark rayon, and Mettler cotton.
  • 7 types of needles – different sizes of quilting, embroidery, microtex, and topstitch needles
  • 2 different feet – darning foot and satin stitch foot

I did about 50 different samples, and documented them.

Some things just didn’t work for me.  For example, this is a Sulky metallic sliver – it’s very pretty, and I think it would make a great trim of little Christmas lights, but even though I used a special needle for metallics, the thread broke continually.  I’m not willing to spend the time to perfect a stitch with it, so I will just save the thread for another application.

metallic stitches

All of these next samples were to find the best combination of top thread and bobbin thread for free motion quilting.  The colors are much better in real life.

sample stitches

The blue ones are polyester: all the rest are cotton, from three different manufacturers, with four different needles.  Do you see a huge difference?  Me neither.

Some of them created a thicker line that seemed to float on the top of the cloth and call attention to itself, and some created a much more delicate line, that allowed the layers of the quilt to puff up.  They seemed to emphasize the pattern of the quilting instead of themselves. Today, I think I like the thinner thread better – but on another day, or with another fabric, I might decide the thicker thread will provide the right touch.

I concluded that I prefer polyester for the bobbin thread.  As far as which needle to use, they all seemed to work fine.  I can’t tell a difference between one and the next.  That’s reassuring – I can use up all the needles I have;  I don’t have to leave a bunch in the drawer while I go out to purchase a certain kind.

For the satin stitch, I was using some tips from Kathy York, from the first issue of InStitches, an e-magazine put out by Interweave Press.  (They are up to the 9th issue, and I am just now trying techniques from the first issue.  Sigh.)  I used two layers of stabilizer, set the thread tension to 2, and tried different threads.  The rayon is shiny and gorgeous, but I was more successful at filling in the line evenly with the YLI cotton thread.  Still, I have scads of rayon, and scads of really nondescript, boring cloth – putting the two together will give me some designs cute enough to live with.

satin stitch samples

The red is Coats & Clark rayon thread, the turquoise is Sulky rayon, and the green is YLI cotton.

satin stitch

This is a YLI pastel multi-colored cotton.


The reverse shows how much the top thread goes to the back when you have a loose thread tension. I like the line of black bobbin thread in the middle of the design. I could do something cute with this idea.

The only thing I actually used up today was one spool of thread, but I think the time I spent getting familiar with lots of different materials will be valuable as I continue quilting.  One whole day of disciplined practice isn’t bad every seven years!

Next on my list of things to practice – how to use the settings on my phone!

* I heard about Use-Up-Your-Scraps month from Lucie the Happy Quilter.  I jumped on board and am very happy with how organized I am getting!