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Which Machine Quilting Thread

I am a new long arm quilter. I have just started my first quilt and the big mistake I made was not using the best thread. Luckily I noticed on the first cross.

I am still learning to adjust the machine's tension. You suggestions were very helpful. I would like to know about how much thread it would take to quilt a twin size quilt? Am I better off spending extra for a 2000 yd spool over a 500 yd spool?


I am a self-confessed, thread-aholic, so there is bound to be some bias in my answer.

When size matters...

YES!!! If you think you are going to like quilting, then by all means, buy the larger cones! You'll have the thread you need on hand and save some money in the process.

You have purchased a long arm machine. That's telling me you are serious about the machine quilting part of creating a quilt. You'll use the thread. More and more, as you get into the quilting.

I'd recommend starting with cones of nice quality 100% cotton thread. Both Aurifil and Superior's 'Masterpiece' work nicely for both piecing and machine quilting. Use these threads in the bobbin, too, to minimize tension adjustments.

I'm a fan of monofilament (YLI and SewArt are my favorite brands), though I must admit to preferring the nylon versions over the polyester ones. Don't hesitate to try different brands and types of thread as your tastes will differ from mine.

YLI's 100 wt silk thread is one of my favorites for machine quilting (on my domestic sewing machine), but for long arm quilters I've been concerned about the larger needle size needed for your machines.

At a recent quilt show, a gal stopped by the booth who is a longarm quilter and loved the Generations' machine quilting patterns that will soon be available on this website.

We got into a discussion about using the fine silk thread on the long arm. She, thankfully, educated me by saying that a long arm quilter CAN use a smaller needle to accommodate the silk thread. However, because you are using the smaller/finer needle, the machine's timing will need to be adjusted. I will be talking to her more to see if we can get together for an article for this website about how to confidently use the 100wt silk thread on your long arm machine. Articles are automatically posted to this website's RSS feed (the button is found under the NavBar at the left). I'll also add a link from this page, once such an article is published.

How much quilting thread will it take..

It all depends...on you.

Basic meandering, really a large stippling pattern, takes about the least amount of thread. Grid quilting is roughly equivalent unless the spaces are particularly close.

As you increase the density of your machine quilting patterns, you'll increase the amount of thread required to complete your quilt AND the time it takes to quilt it. Pantograph designs, repeated, interlocking lines of quilting are the next step up in the amount of thread and time it takes to quilt.

Heirloom quilting, characterized by small background fill patterns, and flowing, detailed feathered designs usually takes the most thread and time. Both for the quilting and the crucial step of designing the quilting.

The heirloom quilting on this quilt took over 1,600 yards of thread

The quilt pictured above, 'Rogaland Rosemaling', used over 800 yards of 100wt silk in the needle, alone. More than 1,600 yards total when the Bottom Line thread used in the bobbin is added.

And it's only about 27 inches square! That's a lot of thread for such a small quilt. Wonder what knucklehead did that?...Oops! That was me!

As you progress in your long arm quilting, keep a journal to record all the quilts you quilt. Put that digital camera to good use and snap photos of the whole quilt and close-ups of your quilting. Record what thread, how much, type of pattern, stitching density, tension and timing adjustments, how much time it took to quilt...all this information will help you to estimate what it'll take to do your next quilt. And you'll get better with experience.

I hope this has helped a bit. Thread is just another part of the quilting process, and a fun one at that.

Enjoy the dazzling array available to you. Try and test those that appeal. Keep the ones that work. Scrap the ones that don't, because there's always some new quilting thread just waiting to be discovered!


Julie Baird

Comments for Which Machine Quilting Thread

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Tin Lizzie thread
by: Linda

I have found that Lizzie and I both work better with King Tut.

From the Editor: It always surprises me that machines can actually 'like' or be 'allergic' to different kinds of threads. But I've experienced it myself, first hand, and have seen it with my students in class, too.

It's baffling. (It must be hard to be a thread manufacturer some days...)

I'm glad you found a good match that works for you. Quilt on!


Julie Baird

Tension basics
by: Sierra

Hi everyone! I haven't read through everyone's comments so forgive me if this is already mentioned. I've read that some say that batiks cause them problems or that you shouldn't adjust the tension on the top, but the bottom line of long arm quilting is that your tension almost always needs adjusted, whether it be a minor change like a different brand of batting or weight of thread. I have found that even different brands of cotton can mess with my tension. Here is a really basic way to start off learning your tension balance.

1. Before putting the bobbin into your machine, check the tension. Pull the string from your bobbin in your right hand while your bobbin case is sitting in your left hand. If the bobbin case comes out of your hand, the bobbin is too tight. If the string comes out extremely easy, it's too loose. Your bobbin case should not leave your hand, but should stand up a little when the thread is pulled. If you're having trouble with this visual, google "bobbin tension."

2. After you thread your machine through the tension discs, make sure that there's a little resistance when you pull on the string. You don't want to have to fight the string to have it pull through, but you also don't want it to glide through like there's nothing holding it back. This is more of a learned feeling when you get to know your machine better.

3. ALWAYS HAVE A TEST PIECE HANDY, and test the tension that you just set. As long as the bobbin has been set like mentioned above, you should only have to mess with the top tension to accommodate the fabrics that you are using.

If the thread breaks, it could be a needle or thread issue, but if those seem to be normal, your top tension is probably too tight.

If you can see your bobbin color on the top of your quilt, your top tension is too tight.

If you are seeing loops under your test piece (hopefully you've tested it and this isn't happening on your quilt), the top tension is too loose and you will need to tighten it.

I hope this helps someone down the line! Happy quilting!

From the Editor: Awesome share, Sierra. Thank you!

~ Julie Baird

by: Kitt J. Vincent

I also have a Tin Lizzie and am having lots of problems with tension. Just a word of warning. If you loosen the top tension and everything seems to be going fine, you may find that you have loops of thread on the back. I have changed batting. Batiks cause problems too. Sometimes I just have to walk away and come back another day.

When it works, it is great but when it doesn't...

...well that is another story.

by: Zanna

Hope this message will be added to our conversation as I am not so familiar with a blog.

Thank you for your advise I really appreciate it so much.

We (mainly hubby) solved the problem by starting the top and bottom tension on zero and worked it up from there. At this point I can use any thread without tension problems. Love the machine and LOVE long arm quilting. I am hooked now as I do not have any thread or tension problems. I have ordered King Tut from the US and it should be here by March 22!

Thanks again for your input, it is appreciated!

From the Editor You are welcome! I'm doing the 'happy dance' for you here, Zanna! Not being able to get your brand new machine working right away is SO frustrating. But you persevered. YOU DID IT!!!!

Happy Quilting!


Thread keeps breaking
by: Zanna

I just received my first long arm (18" Tin Lizzie) and I am trying for 3 days now to do some quilting, the thread keep on breaking. I am a blank because of all the trouble shooting I have done. I am using Gutermann's 100% cotton and have also tried DMC 100% cotton - all that is available in Saudi Arabia where we live.

I have replaced my needles several times - as I have read on one blog that 30% of the needles are faulty.

Any suggestions PLEASE??

From the Editor: Because you've tried different types of threads with the same result, you've ruled out the thread as the culprit and have re-threaded the machine a couple of times.

You've changed needles, in case one was defective, but have you tried moving to the next larger size needle? If the hole the needle makes in the quilt sandwich isn't large enough, the added friction on the thread can cause the thread to shred and break. Test to see if this helps.

Is your thread flowing smoothly off the spool or cone? If it's jerking, try another spool pin. Thread on spools that are wound so that the thread is 'stacked'--it looks like straight, horizontal lines--should pull straight off the side of the spool. Threads that are cross-wound onto the spool are designed to come off the top of the spool or cone. Test after changing spool holders.

I am not a Tin Lizzie owner, but since you've already changed needles, try loosening the needle tension a bit and test.

If that doesn't work, try loosening your bobbin tension a bit. Again, test to see if that's solved your problem. Remember to change only one tension setting at a time so that you know which one--needle or bobbin--is making the difference.

I wish I could be of more help.


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