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Stitch in the Ditch with Water Soluble Thread

by Sandra
(Norwich, England)

I am in the planning stages of making a 9ft square wedding quilt for my son and his fiance.

This is quite a feat for me as a newbie to machine quilting and I wanted to know if using monofilament as suggested in your beginners guide is advisable in this case. The quilt will be used daily and I thought that monofilament would not be long-lasting enough for everyday use.

I'm also not sure if I want to do ditch quilting as I'm concerned it might detract from the free motion quilting I'm hoping to stitch over the blocks. What should I do to anchor stitch a quilt if I don't want the blocks to be 'outlined' with quilting?


Holy Guacamole! That's a big quilt!

Let's start with the stitch in the ditch quilting first...

Yes! You can stitch anchor quilting to stabilize your quilt for all the free motion work you plan. But there's a secret weapon...

Water Soluble Thread...

Here in the States there are two prominent brands: Superior Threads' "Vanish" in both a lite and heavy weight, and YLI's Wash-A-Way.

Thread your sewing machine with this type of thread in both the needle and bobbin. Install an 80/12 needle. Ditch quilt just as you would normally to stabilize a quilt.

There are a couple of things to pay special attention to:

  • It will take water to remove the thread. You will want to at least pre-test for bleeding fabric before you begin construction on this quilt.

  • Wash-A-Way can be removed with steam. Steam is heat and if you intend to use a blue washout marker to mark any part of your machine quilting design, this heat can cause your marks to re-appear later as brownish lines.

  • If you are washing out the thread instead of steaming, follow the directions on the thread package itself. Again, if you are using a blue washout marker DO NOT use any heat.

Make a practice quilt sandwich from the materials used in the final quilt. Mark it with what you plan to use, do some anchor quilting with the water soluble, and then remove both the markings and thread as directed by the manufacturer.

Testing is so important. Though it is an extra step, it saves time in the long run and can prevent problems before they happen.

One final bit of advice is make sure to remove this thread from both needle AND bobbin before you start the rest of the quilting!

As for stitching with monofilament thread on a quilt that will be used daily...

I rely on the grande dame of machine quilting, Harriet Hargrave.

Harriet has almost single-handedly pioneered the use of monofilament thread in machine quilting to achieve the "look" of a hand-quilted quilt. In her book, "Heirloom Machine Quilting" (4th edition, 2004, pg. 45) she states she has used monofilament thread for more than 27 years and has had no problems with thread breakage. Her quilts are washed many times each year and travel frequently, meaning they are exposed to all sorts of temperature, light and humidity variations. SewArt is her preferred brand, and is the ONLY invisible thread that she sells on her website as of today (4-11-10).

The oldest quilt I have stitched with monofilament thread is a flannel kitty baby quilt with machine embroidery I made for my daughter in 2000. It is a well used quilt and I can find no thread breakage on it. (I do wash it in the washing machine, cool water and Orvus and lay it flat to dry.)

It's so important to use quality thread. SewArt and YLI are the brands I use exclusively. Both are made of nylon. Superior, Madeira and Sulky all make polyester versions of monofilament.

Again, make a practice quilt sandwich from the materials used in your quilt and test different brands. I personally like the nylon thread better. I have quilting bee friends who use nothing but the polyester. Determine which is best for you, BUT do use a quality thread.

Finally, be sure to put enough quilting into your quilt. (It sounds like this is your plan.) A quilt with quilting lines 8 inches apart has a much shorter life than one with quilting 1 inch apart. There is more stress put on each stitch when there is less quilting.

In the meantime, practice, practice practice!

Learning to free motion quilt is a skill that is earned by practice, just like learning to play a piano. Start small and work your way up to the big project. For your son and his fiance, may I suggest several sets of placements and matching table runners, themed for the different seasons or holidays?

They are the perfect size to practice, but practice "for real" so that you get used to looking at your own work. And since they will be seen, you put more effort into the quilting.

I'm sure the quilt will be spectacular! Please do show us when it is finished!


Julie Baird

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