It's time to demystify the sizing systems of needles and thread and learn some key basics for successful free motion quilting.
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One of the most common topics my students want to know more about is needles and thread, especially for free motion quilting. FMQ is different than piecing— we’re moving our fabric in all directions, there are more layers, and the needle is often clipping along at quite a pace for all that moving around. So, just what needles and threads should we use for such a task?
How are needles and threads sized?
Needles are intuitive-- the bigger the number, the thicker the needles. Thread is opposite-- the bigger the number the thinner the thread because thread is measured by weight and thicker thread is heavier.
What kind of thread is your favorite?
I LOVE Aurifil thread. Their 50 wt is my go-to piecing and quilting thread (2600 is THE most perfect gray for absolutely everything), and I'll use 40 wt when I want my stitches to stand out
Do you ever use other kinds of thread?
When I used to make make tshirt quilts, I use ye old faithful Coats & Clark All Purpose because ain't nothing gonna break those stitches and tshirt quilts get washed a LOT and the stretch of the knit fabrics requires strong stitches. This thread is a poly blend, so it has some stretch that withstands more movement, wear, and tear.
Cotton Vs Poly?
My love of Aurifil probably already gave this away, but I'm a cotton girl. Here's why: 1) natural material 2) I love to quilt densely, and quilting fabric is also made of cotton, so the quilting thread just melts into the fabric and doesn't leave you with that "quilted to cardboard" feeling. Quilts stay soft, even when they have a lot of stitching. At one time, there were concerns that poly thread would actually cut the cotton fabric over time and affect the integrity of your project. I don't believe this is still an issue because of improved manufacturing, so Cotton vs Poly is mostly a matter of personal preference, though I always, always recommend cotton for all things quilty.
What about needle size?
My go-to needle is a size 11 or 12 for piecing and a size 14 Universal for quilting. I like that bit of extra needle strength for FMQ— I’d rather a slightly larger hole as I stitch than having to dig a broken needle point out of my batting. If I'm quilting something with bulky seams (aka a Bonnie Hunter quilt), I might even go up to a size 16, and if I'm making a tshirt quilt, I use a size 16 ballpoint needle
How often do you change your needle?
With every project and between piecing and quilting if it's a big or densely pieced quilt. Change your needle more often with paper piecing (paper dulls the needle more). If I'm bouncing around between projects with no clear "beginning" or "end" point, I'll change my needle every week or two, usually when I clean my bobbin casing. Needles are SO MUCH CHEAPER than a damaged machine (or eyeball) caused by a broken tip, so be proactive with your needle changing
Speaking of your bobbin casing, how often to you clean your machine?
I clean out my machine AT LEAST once a week, but as often as daily if I'm doing a lot of piecing or quilting or every bobbin if I'm doing a tshirt quilt or working with flannel or minky. ALWAYS brush lint OUT of your machine, never blow it in.
Finally, understanding needles and threads is just the beginning of a wonderful free motion quilting adventure. I'd like to help you with the next steps, too, with my Top Three Tips for Successful Free Motion Quilting. To get these tips directly to your inbox, click here!
PS Don’t forget to pin this post so you can find it later!