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Picking the RIGHT Thread Weight for a Custom Top

Does a quilt top talk to you? How do you decide how to quilt a quilt? How do you decide what the vision is for quilting a quilt top?

Hi Everyone,

How long do you end up staring at a quilt top trying to decide how to quilt the thing? I hear people say “Let the quilt talk to you” – well, I’m just glad it doesn’t talk back!

In all seriousness, deciding on the quilting is a big deal and can really make or break how a quilt looks and feels. I absolutely love this part of the process because you truly get to see a quilt top come alive through quilting.

Before you start quilting take a before picture, and once completed don’t skip taking the after photo. It truly can be amazing the difference quilting can make.

So, how to decide what to quilt and what the heck does it mean to “let the quilt talk to you”?

Let’s walk through the steps I took deciding on the quilting for this little quilt.

Letting a quilt talk to you…. Basically, in Julie World this means what do you see and feel when you look at a quilt? No two (2) quilts will be quilted alike because when each of us looks at a quilt we feel and see it differently.

When I look at this little butterfly quilt I:

See: I do acknowledge the obvious (this may sound silly but it helps me process all the components) - the beautiful colorful butterflies and stars on a white background. The quilt is small in scale with limited negative space. Outdoor theme. Look at designs in the fabrics, it could help guide your quilting designs.

Feel: The quilt is light, airy and fun. It makes me feel happy. I feel I want the stars and butterflies to continue to be the feature, to continue being the first thing you see even after it’s quilted.

This is definitely a simplification of the process, and a good starting point. I will be explaining more of my process over time.

This little quilt has a lot of firsts in it:

first time picture piecing

first time foundation piecing

first time creating my own pattern

I thought it fitting to continue the ‘first time’ theme and being out of my comfort zone with the quilting design. When I first started longarm quilting while playing around I started playing with an all over vine design with flowers and leaves. I have not played with that design again until now.

I started to play with designs on the plane with turbulence so the first few are very jumpy. Keep those sketches that aren’t your favorite or those that look squirrely. You never know when you might get ideas from them. There have been several times that I have tossed them and regret doing so. Anyway, I kept drawing and playing after I got back and sure am glad I did. This flower vine meander design will be perfect for this quilt. It checks all the boxes of what I see and feel when looking at the quilt top plus factoring in the quilt's background - being a quilt of firsts’ – this flower meander design is fitting for this quilt of firsts. I just thought – maybe that should be its name – A Quilt of Firsts. This quilt is really a quilt of firsts, so it seems fitting to continue that theme in using this design in a quilt for the first time. The design scale is adjustable and will fit any space so that is a bonus.

The quilting needs to play quietly with the feature designs – the butterflies and stars. If it doesn’t, then the stars and butterflies will not continue to shine through. Your eye will not know where to land. I want no doubt that your eye will land on the butterflies and stars first.

This means the quilting needs to blend somewhat into the background. This can be done in several ways. I could color match my background thread and fabric so all you would see is texture. This is where I’m most comfortable quilting. Or, I could choose a finer thread. Sometimes I think thread weight is often overlooked, and it can make a huge difference.

The picture above shows thread weights - starting from the top down - 100, 60, 50 and 40 weight threads.

The quilting design being flowers I really wanted some color but feel a 60 or 100 weight (prefer 100 wt.) fine thread would create a soft glow of color. That sounds dreamy to me. However, the majority of variegated thread on the market is 40-weight. I very rarely use a 40-weight thread – my go to thread is 60 or 100 weight. The reason is thread build up. Thread buildup creates weight or heaviness to quilting. I want light and airy… So, I searched for a lighter weight variegated thread. I found a 50-weight variegated but the colorways were not exactly what I was looking for. I found a perfect variegated colorway in a 40-weight thread. Nothing variegated in a lighter weight thread unfortunately.

Now, decision time.

Thread buildup is more important to me so I compromised on the colorway. I chose Tiara, a 50-weight silk thread from Superior Threads. The colorway I chose has some of the teal in it which I thought was important for overall balance in the look of the quilt.

50-weight is definitely not as fine or thin as I would have liked, so I may need to limit designs to those with minimal backtracking and keep the design a little looser to prevent the quilting from getting too heavy.

One thing I do want to mention is that if I color matched my thread to the background fabric, I could get away with a little heavier weight thread if needed. The thread build-up would not be as noticeable because the color blends. My first choice in thread weight when free motion quilting dense fill work is 100 weight thread.

All this information – what I see and feel when looking at the quilt and its history – pulls together and creates my vision. I envision the background quilting to be a soft color glow of flowers and leaves on a meandering vine on the white background fabric. This sounds so beautiful and elegant.

There have definitely been some obstacles along the way to achieve that dreamy soft glow. But, I have worked through them made decisions and kept moving forward. Progress not perfection!

Let's get quilting and watch this quilt come alive!

As the time to came closer to me actually free motion quilting the design, I was nervous. Nervous not only because the design was new but was nervous the variegated thread would over-power the butterflies and stars, which I want to remain the focal point. The night before - during my sleep - the idea to create a cross in the quilt using the variegated thread came to me. Still nervous, I bounced the idea off my husband. He is wonderful about listening and providing his opinion. He liked it.

So, I took a deep, deep breath and moved forward. Oh man was I out of my comfort zone! Not only with the variegated thread but also the flower meander pattern. Even after I began quilting the design in the variegated thread, I was not 100% sure. It was hard to tell while the quilt was still loaded on the frame.

About a minute into quilting with the variegated thread, I cut my thread intending to take out stitches. The perfectionist was trying to take control. I told myself - No! Perfectionism in the past has held me back and definitely slowed me down. So, I restarted and kept going. No picking out stitches! It felt good to manage it and not let it manage and control me.

The remaining area I color matched my thread to my background fabric. The cross was quilted first then the remaining area. I should have reversed that, quilting the area outside the cross first. This would have given me some practice time with the new design. I would have been more relaxed and comfortable with the new design and the quilting in the variegated thread which shows everything would have been more smooth flowing as a result.

To qualify - after I loaded the quilt, it was basted then I stitched-in-the-ditch around the stars and butterflies stabilizing the quilt. Then I began my fill design.

There are so many ways that this quilt could have been quilted. None are right or wrong. I could have easily stayed in my comfort zone quilting and this quilt would have been elegant and beautiful. However, I'm glad that I didn't. I like how this turned out. Totally not my original vision. The end result is striking though – the secondary quilting design is subtle enough that it doesn’t take away from the stars and butterflies. This would have been too much over the entire background. This is a design idea that I will definitely explore more.

You can see in my quilting some areas are tentative; they are not smooth and flowing. That is due to nerves. I was very nervous! I can't stress enough, the key to smooth flowing free motion quilting is to relax! You can definitely see the spots where I'm relaxed.

This also was the first time using variegated thread in this manner. I'm a color matcher even with variegated thread. I love the secondary cross pattern made with the use of the variegated thread. I will definitely be exploring this type of quilting more.

Embrace obstacles! Obstacles can lead to discovery of new techniques, ideas, and learning opportunities while pushing you out of your comfort zone.

This little quilt was truly a quilt of firsts through and through!

Thank you for joining me! I hope this inspires you to not only finish an UFO but to try something new, get out of your comfort zone, and grow!

You can watch the YouTube Video here:

Happy quilting!


1 Comment

Nov 27, 2022

Thank you for a great explanation of your quilting decisions. I've had a long arm for a couple of years and still struggle with choosing thread and designs so it's very helpful to listen to your decision processes. Your quilting on this is really beautiful and gives me inspiration and confidence to also try. I'm so happy to have found your site!

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