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Hand Quilting with Invisible Thread

A reader asks...

Is it possible to hand quilt using invisible thread?

I have a baby panel which has many animals and is really a cute scene. I do not want to take away from the picture by quilting using a neutral thread. I would like the animals shapes to appear on the back of the quilt though.

Any help or suggestions are appreciated.

Julie replies...

While I'm not a hand quilter (only one small, hand quilted wall hanging to my name) I do LOVE to use invisible thread for machine quilting.

That said, while it might be possible to hand-quilt with it, I would not attempt to use invisible thread for hand quilting for the following reasons:
  1. The thread is too fine

    Good quality monofilament thread is extremely fine, so much so, that I use a 60/8 Microtex Sharp needle when I machine quilt with it. That needle is about as big as a staple—now that's really fine!

    The other quality of this thread is that it will break. The whole idea being that the thread should break before the fibers in the quilt. You can repair a seam that's come undone. It's much hard to repair a quilt where the fibers in the fabric have split or broken.

    I fear that the act of pulling the single strand of monofilament through the quilt would actually break it periodically. That would get frustrating.

    So why's it okay for machine quilting?

    It's paired with a bobbin thread, usually a cotton. Those two thread make a stronger seam than just one thread because there's twice as much thread holding the seams together.
  2. Tangling

    Because the thread holds some of the shape from the cone or spool it was wound on, I suspect that there'd be a likelihood of the thread twisting on itself during hand quilting. Again, something else that would make the hand quilting process much less pleasurable.
  3. Knotting

    Because the thread is so fine and slippery, I'm not convinced that the quilter's knot to secure the starts and stops would hold. A baby quilt is going to be used and washed. That means those tie-offs are going to be stressed.

    For my machine quilted quilts, I've tied off using micro-stitches—those are stitches that about approximately 25-30 stitches per inch. I have not had a problem with them pulling out during the life of the quilt.

What to Do?

Without having the benefit of seeing the panel, itself, I suggest using opaque, quality 100% cotton threads to hand quilt with. If you don't want your stitches to show, then match the colors of the thread to the colors of the animals.

If the animals are outlined, then use the color of the outline for everything. The viewer's eye would blend the stitches and the outlines together.

If you are determined to use monofilament, then my suggestion is to hand quilt a small sample with it (say 12" square), bind it and then abuse it.

Throw it around, tug on it and wash it several times.

That way you'll have a good feeling for how it is to quilt with and how it stands up to use that is specific to you, without having a huge amount of time invested in the project.

A word of caution...

Many, many quilters insist that if monofilament thread seams come undone, that the thread can wind its way around baby's fingers or toes and cut off circulation.

My experience with my own quilts quilted with invisible thread is that the seams have not broken, nor the threads come undone.

Even so, I won't give a baby quilt to someone else quilted with monofilament thread, simply because I do not want to take the risk.

I know how I wash and care for my quilts. I also inspected the quilts for this when my kids were little. I don't know how someone else is going to take care of the quilt, nor if they'll be equally as vigilant as I was.

So if the finished quilt is intended for a family other than your immediate one, I wouldn't take the risk. The choice is obviously your's to make, but I thought I'd share my thoughts on that subject.

Readers, your opinions and experiences are valuable. What would you recommend in this situation? Have you successfully hand quilted with invisible thread? Please share your thoughts using the 'Comments' link below.

Thank you for your question. I hope this has helped you make the best decision for you!


Julie Baird

Comments for Hand Quilting with Invisible Thread

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Invisible quilting
by: Patty

I make art quilts and incorporate my drawings on cloth into my quilts. The art work is complex and machine or normal hand stitching would certainly detract from the work. But the layers must be quilted to be stable so I do hand quilt around the drawings, picking one or at most three miniscule stitches at a time in very neutral cotton thread. The color is usually a tannish grey.

I try to keep my stitching in areas of the drawing that would naturally be shadowed to utilize the shadow the stitch 'dimple' creates. This way, figures in the quilt appear more dimensional and the overall effect is enhanced.

Hope this helps!

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