Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't sell yourself short

When I first started quilting I knew nothing about stitch length and what was proper to use. I also knew nothing about tension and WHY it was important, much less how to balance it. I didn't know when to lock my stitches and why this was a good idea. Luckily as time has gone by I've learned a few things.

Stitch Length. How do you know what to use and when? Let's start off with some basics...if someone says how many stitches per inch, do you know what to set your machine to? On a computerized machine if you set your machine to 2.0 that equals about 13 stitches per inch. How do I figure? 1 inch = 25.4 millimeters. 25.4/2.0=12.7 stitches per inch. Just round that up and 13 stitches per inch. Here's a table for your reference (Click the link for a printable version):

Now, how do you know what to use? Depending what you read it's going to vary. The bottom line is YOU need to figure out what is best for YOU and what is best for the quilt YOU are piecing and also what is best depending on the method of quilting YOU are going to use.

First things first. Make sure your sewing with a proper tension. Check to see that your stitches are equally balanced from both the top and the bottom. If they're not balanced, work on that first. It's important to realize that your tension IS going to need to be changed depending on the fabrics AND the thread that you're sewing with.

I did a few Google searches. It's recommended for piecing to use between 8-15 stitches per inch. 8 stitches per inch is just foolish in my opinion; it's too few. Gosh, that's what I use when I stitch in the ditch!! Depending on which straight stitch I choose on my machine I believe I usually piece with 12 stitches per inch. Lately I've been knocking that down to 13 stitches per inch (2.0). Spend the time, try it a few different ways. Give your fabric a tug and see if your stitches are visible afterwards. If it is, double check your tension and once you know that's right knock your stitch length down a little further until you can give it a tug and NOT see your stitches.

Now, for paper piecing it's recommended to use between 18-25 stitches per inch. I was using 14 stitches per wonder you can see my stitches from the front on some of my projects. You've got to remember with paper piecing you're putting a lot of stress on your thread when you go to rip the paper away. The amount of stitches you use is also going to depend on the type of paper you're piecing with. If your using a Tissue Paper foundation you'll need less stitches per inch than you will if you use copy paper.

Sounds like a lot to think about doesn't it? It is but it's EXTREMELY important.

Locking your stitches. It's not really necessary to lock your stitches when you're piecing a block because you are going to be sewing sashing, other blocks or borders to it which will secure them. But, you're going to want to lock the stitches on anything that connects to an outer edge of the quilt....BORDERS. Your borders are going to take on a lot of stress so lock them. You might even want to increase your amount of stitches per inch when you sew your borders on.

Why does all this matter? Now that I've started quilting some of my quilt tops and a few from my Mom, Jean & Sherry on my quilting frame, I get to see WHY this matters. When rolling quilts onto the frame, I'm noticing that the first 1/4 inch or so on my outermost border is coming open as I tighten the quilt. While I am putting an extra pin on those points, I wouldn't have to if they were secured to begin with. If the stitch length isn't short enough, you SEE those stitches. While there are some great neutral thread colors (white, cream, grey) they may not be what's best for the particular quilt you're piecing.

I know, it's a lot to think about but taking these few steps now is going to save a lot of heartache later. Don't sell yourself short. We put a lot of time, money, blood, sweat and tears into these quilts. You don't want to give them the opportunity to self destruct!!


jillquilts said...

This is some great info! I hadn't thought abuot all of it before now, but when I work on my next top, you can bet it will be in the back of my mind!

aim said...

u r so cool !!!

what a wonder woman !!

Carla said...

Wow! You should write for a quilting magazine! This was very informative and easy to understand. Great job, Jen!

BitnByAQuiltingBug said...

I noticed the same thing when I loaded a quilt on my frame. The end stitches want to spread apart. The last one I loaded up, I went all the ray around the quilt top with a scant quarter inch seam before I pinned it to the leaders. It worked out really well and the binding hid the stitching anyway. Just an idea....

quiltin cntrygrl said...

I had no intentions of calling you the quilt police in my post I'm sorry if it came out that way. I love all the tips and look forward to them everyday! You really should write for a magazine or maybe start your own newsletter or something.. smiles

Hazel said...

Thanks for the great information .

Moneik said...

Great tips and writing. I pretty much know and use all those things. I have my machine set to 5.4/2.0 so I can have the perfect quarter inch when I first start. I love our machine for that feature. When I paper piece I used a 1.4 length.

Suzan said...

Jen - great advice! When we loaded my sister's last quilt on the longarm, we discovered seams that were pulling apart at the edges. I don't have that problem but I guess it is because I always use between 13 & 15 stitches per inch when I piece. I have to tell her to "tighten up"!