Saturday, February 16, 2008

More appliqué questions

When I designed and stitched “Heart’s Desire” I actually used hand quilting thread for the needleturn appliqué. I've learned a lot since then! Now, I either use silk thread or a fine cotton embroidery thread, and my stitches are barely visible. (“Heart’s Desire” was offered through Keepsake Quilting’s catalog about a year ago; patterns are available on my website now.)

A student in one of my needleturn appliqué classes wrote me a few days ago with a bunch of questions. After writing her back, I figured they were worth sharing.

Q. Do you have any suggestions on keeping some of my pieces from being wonky after sewing them down? Mainly it’s on the smaller pieces. I thought about trying some basting glue like Roxanne’s. I also have areas of flat where it should look more round. I don’t seem to notice until after I’m finished with the piece for some reason.

A. I didn't notice any wonkyness when I saw your work ... are you using enough pins? You might try that, or you could try basting the pieces down with thread before you sew them down for real. Some people swear by that. (To me, it takes too much time.)

About the areas that are straight when they should be round: Only take a few stitches, then use your needle to push the fabric under or sweep it under, then take a few more stitches. I don't think I ever take more than two or three stitches without adjusting the fabric. And keep a close eye on the pencil line, making sure that it is turned under so it doesn't show.

Q. Have you heard anything on the Aurifil thread for hand appliqué? I’ve been looking into it … The Aurifl is that Egyptian long staple 2 ply cotton from Italy and I’ve seen many good comments about it on the internet. It’s also supposed to be very good for regular machine piecework so you don’t have to worry about doing a scant ¼” seam. Very thin but wonderful quality.

A. I have used Aurifil Wool threads for wool appliqué (Sue Spargo recommends it and sells their wool threads on her website,, but not their cotton ones. After your question, I did a little research, and it made me want to try it for needleturn. Their U.S. headquarters is in Chicago, and there are several online sources (just do a Google search for Aurifil). I always try to buy from local quilt shops first (we have to keep them in business so we can feed our fabric addictions, don't we?), but if they don't carry a product I need, I go online.

The things I have read on other quilters' blogs have all been good. I think the "Aurifil 50 Mako' Cotton" is what you'd want for needleturn applique. The 50 in the name is the weight. One supplier (Red Rock Threads) describes it as "ideal for machine quilting, detailed machine embroidery, red work, serging and lace design."

There is a 200 MT minispool and a 1.300 MT spool, and a 5.900 MT long-arm size; all come on orange spool holders. On, their 1422-yard spool size (I think this is what Aurifil calls the 1.300 MT spool) costs $8.95 and the cone (probably what Aurifil calls the long-arm size) costs $32.95. So it is pricey. But it sounds like it goes a long way (more fits on a bobbin than with other threads).

Q. I’d like to keep using a 100% cotton thread but I’m not real happy with the Mettler embroidery [thread]. Seems to fray easy. I have used silk thread in the past but now I’m concerned about it cutting through the cotton fibers according to the New Applique Sampler book. They don’t recommend silk or polyester because they are so much stronger than cotton. We take such a tiny bite into the appliqué pieces and now it’s got me wondering about using it anymore.

A. You've had problems with Mettler embroidery thread fraying? How long of a piece of thread are you cutting? The only time this has happened to me is when I cut a very long thread (like about three feet!). Most books recommend no more than 12-18 inches. If it is too long, then it may shred, because so much stress is put on it from each time you pull it through the fabric.

Also, have you tried Thread Heaven? This is a tiny blue box of clearish stuff (a synthetic chemical compound) that is a fantastic thread conditioner. It makes your thread less knotty and more slippery, so it glides through the fabric more easily. I find that it also makes it easier to thread through a small eye of a needle.

To address your concerns about using silk thread: I have heard some quilters say that silk or polyester "cuts through" the weaker cotton threads in fabric. But there are many, many more quilters who use silk thread (and have used it for a long time), and who swear by it. I have not been able to find any studies or research to support the claim that silk thread will cut through the applique. Have you?

YLI’s website states, “Our silk threads are the choice of some of the most accomplished designers throughout the world, and our thread and colors are specified in many books and instructions.”

Award-winning quilter Diane Gaudynski actually uses YLI #100 silk as a machine quilting thread. Pat Campbell and Elly Sienkiewicz, world-famous needleturn appliquers, use silk thread for hand needleturn. All three have YLI silk thread collections they endorse.

So I don’t worry about using silk thread. I love the way it sinks into the cotton fibers and almost disappears. I also find it to be very strong, and easy to use once treated with Thread Heaven. Without this product, it does tend to twist and kink up. It seems expensive, but once you realize how many yards are on a spool, it is not much more than cotton. I find that three or four shades of gray work on most fabrics, so I don't have to buy all the colors.