Tidy those thread tails

A few weeks ago I received the following email from Chris S

“I love to stitch and sew  with Aurifil threads I do have a good collection I do have a concern or maybe an annoyance that is the fact that is unravels when not in use”

This made me realise that it is sometime since I wrote about the clever way that Aurifil has for keeping the spool thread tails tidy.

The small spools have a slot at top & bottom where the threads can be wrapped several times to be anchored into place.


The large spools only have one removable end / base.

When using the large spool it is helpful to move this base to release the thread to run smoothly.


Once you have finished stitching, wind the thread back around the spindle & push the base back into place


Hope this helps keep your thread collection tidy!

Tuesday Treats: A clever way to carry your Aurifil threads

I love a clever idea … especially when it is to do with thread.

When Lois came into the store to add to her thread collection last week she pulled a “necklet” of spools out of her bag to help with the selection of new colours.

Lois had strung her spools of Aurifil together on a ribbon

Lois had strung her spools of Aurifil together on a ribbon

She said she had linked the threads together like this

  • firstly,  so that she had a quick reference for the colours that she already had in her stash
    (maybe she is like me …I’ve been known to buy a book twice because it took my fancy)
  • and secondly so that we would know what colours already belonged to her

Well it took less than five seconds for us to see the possibilities of this idea, and I have already created one necklet of threads to carry around with my latest stitching project.

I've not got much further with the stitching but at least my threads will now stay together until the applique is finished.

I’ve not got much further with the stitching but at least my threads will now stay together until the applique is finished.

Don’t you agree, it is the perfect way to keep spools of thread tidy, and together, for each project that you have under way in your sewing room.

No more lost threads as they roll under a chair, or get left on a table when you pack up the current “carry around” project.

How do you carry the threads for your current project?

Leave a comment to share your clever ideas.

Tuesday Treats: a walk down memory lane

Recently, when I went browsing through an antique shop in Tasmania I came across a treasure trove of old threads.

It is amazing to see what can be found in an antique shop

It is amazing to see what can be found in an antique shop

It got me thinking about the sewing tools that were used by women in days gone by and reminded me of the beautiful sewing box that I had been shown by a friend.

This delightfully, carved, ivory sewing box was given to a family member in the early 1900’s so it is, or is close to, 100 years old.

This ivory sewing box was carved in the early 1900s

This ivory sewing box was carved in the early 1900s

The carvings were personalised so that each side of the box depicts a story of the recipient’s life.

One end of the ivory sewing box. Each image is a "story" about the recipient's life.

One end of the ivory sewing box. Each image is a “story” about the recipient’s life.

The tools that are stored inside the box are also amazing, an illustrated needle case & bodkin closure,

This needle case is kept inside the sewing box

This needle case is kept inside the sewing box

and a little container to keep the embroidery thread organised.

This is a clever container to keep the embroidery thread organised.

This is a clever container to keep the embroidery thread organised.

Another story about a beautiful sewing tool was shared recently by Deborah of Studio Dragonfly

If, for no other reason, it is worth reading Deborah’s blog to see the beautiful decals that decorate her old treadle.

Modern sewing machines do not have such decorative trims, although you can always add a skin to your modern machine to give it a little jazz up.

See the links for some ideas, or ask at your favourite sewing machine shop.

 Skins for Bernina Machines

Skins for brother machines

Today our tools are beautifully practical, but do not necessarily have the same decorative beauty, or personal significance.

Unless, of course you make them yourself.

Here are some great ideas from Tipnut to make a sewing machine cover to brighten your sewing room.

Tuesday Treats: Playing with Colour

This post is a day late but I’ve been playing with colour.

What am I going to do with fabrics in these colour combinations?

Following on from my last post, I really did have a great quilty day on Saturday as I went fabric shopping on the way home from the friendship meeting.

If I wanted to pass the blame for the spend up, it would be to the two friends who had arrived late after having been shopping on the way to the meeting. Their purchases were just so tempting … well I am sure that you know the rest of the story.

I  told myself I would just go to “have a look” as I really didn’t need any more fabric at the moment.  Well as often happens, I fell in love with this big bold flower print. I know it has been around for a while but I still love it.

I love this big bold print “Sakura” for Red Rooster

Then of course, I had to buy some coordinating colours.

The coordinating colours that I chose are mish mash of styles & print sizes

I just picked out lights, mediums & darks in colour families from the print, but I know that people often use the colour dots along the selvedge as a guide.

The information along the selvedge can be a handy tool for picking coordinating colours

This is a handy hint if you want extra fabrics to coordinate with something purchased earlier … you only need to carry a small strip to the shop rather than the meterage.

I have no particular plans for this purchase, but I do have some ideas playing in my head. The prints are a bit of a mish mash … bold floral, little flower prints & modern geometrics all mixed together but I’ve always enjoyed mixing it up by colour value.

Which brings me to the link that I want to share today:

Sorting your stash is a very helpful post on the Martingale blog. It includes a great workshop lesson from the “Color for the Terrified Quilter” by the authors  Sharon Pederson and Ionne McCauley.

Please join in the fun and leave a comment to share your best hint for sorting fabrics by colour.

Tuesday Treats: Are you safe in your sewing room?

Well not really a “treat” this week, as I am concentrating on health and safety after reading an article recently that set me thinking about how we work in our sewing rooms.

We all pay attention to Health & Safety practices in the workplace, and on the road, but have you thought about how you “work” in your sewing room /corner?

Good health and safety work practices are expected, and accepted as the norm in Australia

Good health and safety work practices are expected, and accepted as the norm, in Australia

Patchwork, quilting and sewing in general can be quite injurious to our health so it is something that we should all consider.

If you have small children I bet you are already conscious of the sharp objects that we use, and work to keep them out of reach of small hands

  • pins
  • scissors
  • rotary cutters

One hint I read that really appealed to me was, when sewing with small children, instead of putting them in a play pen put the “fencing” around the sewing machine, so that you work in a space that the children can’t reach, and they can move around more freely.

You will both be happy, and if a stray pin drops on the floor it will not matter.

What about safety around electrical appliances?

  • sewing machine
  • iron

If you take these to workshops that are held in hired venues, with public liability insurance obligations, you are now required to have them “tagged” as being electrically safe to use.

So at the very least, for working at home, it is good practice to learn how to look after your machine and plan to have it serviced regularly.

Play safe, have your sewing machine serviced regularly

Also get into the habit of visually checking the power cord on the iron to make sure that it has not frayed, or developed a kink that could damage the wiring.

The cost of replacing an iron is minimal when compared to the damage that could occur if it has faulty wiring.

If you work with dyes and paints I am sure that you are aware of the basic safety procedures for storing and working with chemicals:

  • use gloves & masks
  • working in open spaces
  • not using utensils that will be put back into use in the kitchen
  • storing the paints & dyes in a secure spot away from inquisitive children

Safety gloves should be worn when working with dyes & paints

But back to the story that got me started on this safety post.

Like me, I am sure you have been told to NEVER put pins in your mouth in case you swallow one.

I think it was the first thing my mother ever taught me about sewing, but I still did it every so often as it meant that the pins were easy to grab when I needed them. (well I did this until I started making wrist pin cushions)

Well after reading Annie’s story, pins in the mouth will forever be a thing of the past.

She didn’t swallow the pin, she accidentally inhaled it, which resulted in surgery to remove a portion of her lung.

The best thing about being part of the patchwork, quilting and embroidery world is that everyone shares a love of textiles, so feel free to comment, to add your thoughts and hints about working safely in the sewing room to keep us all healthy.

Tuesday Treats: Do you want to make a pretty wrist pin cushion?

I was wondering what to share with you this week when I found a link to a tutorial for a pretty wrist pincushion.

A pretty wrist pincushion, designed by Michael Ann. Scroll down the page to find the link the tutorial on her blog.

As I looked at Michael Ann’s pin cushion, and then at the tatty one that I am using, I realised that it was time to retire my poor, hard-working wrist pin cushion.

My raggedy old wrist pin cushion was made with four small half-square triangle blocks

Since it was made four years (or more) ago,  my pin cushion has had a hard life, working with me, as I’ve loaded quilts on & off a longarm machine.

  • it has been worn nearly every day,
  • has been stuck with 2″ safety pins rather than neat little dressmaking pins
  • has saved my hand & wrist from injury many times when I’ve overloaded it with pins

As my Mother would say, it certainly doesn’t owe me anything and, as soon as I saw that pretty pin cushion on the Michael Ann Made blog, I knew that it was time to let it go.

I like Michael Ann’s idea of elastic to hold cushion in place. I had used velcro on mine and it was okay but I think elastic will be better.

She has used a piece of cardboard as the base of her pin cushion, however, I use much thicker, heavy-duty pins, so  I think that I will use a plastic base again, just to be sure that the pins do not stick straight through the cushion into my wrist.

Last time I cut a square from some templastic but I rather fancy a round pin cushion this time, and found just the right size piece of plastic sitting in the kitchen (left over from lunch).

I will also use wool batting off cuts to stuff the cushion as I found that the batting held its shape, and stood up to the use well, in the old cushion.

Choose flexible plastic for the base of a wrist pin cushion.

I’ve even found some fabric that will be perfect. I love the bright, modern print in this square from the “Simply Colour” Moda charm pack.

This is one of the 5″ squares from the Simply Colour Moda charm pack

Now all I have to do is, chop up some wool batting to make the filling for the pin cushion, and  go back to read Michael Ann’s Wrist Pincushion tutorial to see how she made that pretty frill.

Until next Tuesday,  I hope you have fun making your own pretty pin cushions!

Adjusting the sewing machine tension

Last month I started writing about sewing machine maintenance so this month I thought I would continue the theme by talking about adjusting the thread tension.

It is a timely topic as Lana Wool thread, our Calendar Girl thread for March, is great  fun to play with in the sewing machine, but you do need to loosen the top tension for this thicker Ne 12 thread to get best results.

A Pfaff programmed embroidery design, stitched with Lana wool thread.

Apart from the times when you might wish to play with unusual threads, having  the ability to adjust the thread tension in both the needle and the bobbin will help keep your sewing machine in good working order.  

Good thread tension means that the machine can make a well balanced stitch with the top and bottom thread locking together in the centre of the stitch. If the stitches are forming properly it helps to prevent thread breaks which can cause small pieces of thread to catch in the bobbin race.  

People often tell me that they find the thought of adjusting the tension on their machine too scary to consider, but it doesn’t have to be something to fear. I did an internet search and found this great printable reference with drawings of good & poor stitch tension and simple clear instructions about tension adjustments.

There are only two options for changing the thread tension, either the top thread or the bobbin thread, and it is generally easier to start by adjusting the tension on the thread which runs through the eye of the needle. By tightening, or loosening, the tension on the top thread it is possible to allow the locking point between the top & bobbin thread to move back into a balanced position.

On this exposed tension control on my industrial machine you can easily see the disks and spring that control the pressure on the top thread

The tension dial for the top thread has two disks between which the thread travels, and the gap between the disks is controlled by a spring. Usually the only part that is visible on a domestic sewing machine  is the dial that controls the spring.  As you move the dial, to open (loosen) or close (tighten) the tension on the thread, keep a record of the positions that work for different threads or types of stitches. 

On some machines the tension dial is hidden inside the machine case.

Before you start making any changes clean & re-thread your machine and make a stitch sampler & record the current settings. Most machines will have numbers on the dial, but if  the dial on your machine is blank use a permanent marker to add your own numbers or simply draw yourself a clock face record.

A clearly marked top tension guide. Rotate the dial to the right to tighten the thread tension or to the left to loosen the tension.

Depending upon your sewing machine, the bobbin either goes directly into the bobbin race in the machine, or it is put into a separate bobbin case  before that is inserted into the bobbin race.   Most machine handbooks will have some clear photos to show you how to thread & set the bobbin into the machine.

A removable bobbin case, showing the tension spring and screw fitting

In both cases the tension on the thread is controlled by turning a small screw that will open (loosen) or close (tighten) a  “spring” .  

Some machines are designed to have the bobbin dropped directly into the bobbin race

When adjusting the bobbin tension the secret is to make miniscule turns on the screw as a small adjustment can make a big difference to the ease with which the thread can travel. I have a tiny screw driver in my sewing kit that came out of the repair kit for my spectacles. (These little  “handbag” repair kits are usually available from an optometrists)

HINT 1: “Righty Tighty, Left Loosey” is the adjusting meme/mantra that helps me remember which way to turn the top tension dial and bobbin set screw.

HINT 2:  If the machine tension is badly out of balance thread the bobbin & needle with two different thread colours, of the same thread type, so that it is easy to identify which thread is pulling tighter than the other.

HINT 3: If your machine has a separate bobbin holder you can always purchase a second holder and keep it permanently adjusted for the slippery or fancy threads.

Now it is time to have some fun machine stitching.  Don’t forget to tell us about your latest project.

The Sewing Room Summer Maintenance

Now that the summer holidays are over, and the children have gone back to school, it feels as if people have turned their attention back to their sewing projects. 

Our online store has had a “run” on quilt hanger, quilt label & thread orders in the past two weeks and we kicked off our “Calendar Girl” thread of the month program with Cotton mako’ Ne 40 thread.

Cotton Mako' Ne 40 is perfect for quilting echo background designs.

So with everyone back sewing, I thought that this would be a good time to talk about getting your sewing machine ready for a new year of stitching.  I think that my machines are trusty work horses, one is more than 20 years old and the others are at least 10 years old, and all are still stitching well.

I do occasionally have them serviced by an experienced mechanic, usually only when they have an obvious problem, but I am scrupulous about cleaning the bobbin race and oiling regularly.

The needle plate & bobbin case removed so that dust & lint can be brushed out from around the bobbin race.

Take the needle/presser plate off the machine to brush out the built up lint & fluff. Modern domestic machines often come with an instruction that says that they do not require oiling.  However a cotton tip/bud dipped in some good quality sewing machine oil is the perfect tool for brushing around the bobbin race to pick up the last  little bits of lint. The thin film of oil that this leaves behind helps to keep everything running smoothly.

Most machines will have a lever or switch to allow the feed dogs to be dropped.

If it is possible to “drop” the feed dogs on the machine, then do this and clean around the bobbin race once again. Don’t forget to re-set the feed dogs once finished otherwise the fabric will not be pulled through under the foot when you start sewing.

The other maintenance item that I check regularly is the needle.  The accepted practice is that a needle should only be used for 8 hours of stitching. This is a good starting point but sometimes you will need to change the needle more frequently. Listen to the action as you stitch, if the needle is making a lot of noise it may have become blunt. Some fabrics such as batiks, battings such as cotton and projects with lots of thick seams can wear the needle point at a faster rate.

Specialist machine needles are available for quilting, embroidery & fine fabrics

In the scheme of things the cost of a new needle, or a specialist needle for a particular job, is nothing when compared to the cost of your precious sewing machine.

A little bit of preventative maintenance is always better than costly repairs.

How do you find time for patchwork?

I am the world’s best procrastinator, always moaning that I don’t have time to stitch,  so I just had to find out how Judy found time to make the “Animal”  print quilt on such short notice. 

I knew she used a system  to give herself  “permission”  to spend time on her patchwork hobby everyday but had never thought a great deal about it until today, when I asked her to explain how it worked.

Judy said:  “I call it the “Cleaning-Sewing Combo“.  I divide my time into two parts – one half hour for sewing and the next half hour for housework, or any other chore that needs to be done. The sewing half hour is always from 1/4 to the hour until 1/4 past the hour and the household half hour is from 1/4 past the hour to 1/4 to the hour”

I asked why she had chosen to split the hour in this way and she replied:

” I am usually working in the one place when I am sewing so I can listen to the news on the radio, on the hour. It helps to keep me informed and up to date with world events.”

We agreed that a half hour spent sewing did not sound like very much time but Judy went on to say:

“This works if you have your projects organised. I sort everthing I need to make the quilt (jumper or embroidery) into it’s own bag and I mean everything … scissors, pin cushion, needles, quick unpick as well as the pattern and fabrics.”

Judy's collection of fabrics & tools sorted into a "fat quarter" bag, ready and waiting for her to start work

I asked how many projects she had sorted in this way:

“Well, I work on 7 projects each week, one for each day. At the start of the day I pull out the project bag for that day and do what ever needs to be done to progress the work … cut pieces, stitch pieces together, press seams, trim blocks etc. It is amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have to waste time searching for tools”

Not every project is machine piecing. Even the hand quilting ones have their own storage container

I was curious as to whether she spent the whole day in this routine:

“Only until the housework tasks that were allocated to that day are complete. As soon as the chores are dealt with the rest of the day is mine for stitching. It simply imposes a routine that means that everything gets dealt with over the week. I sort the household cleaning utensils into a portable basket, in the same way as my patchwork tools.  I don’t want to waste time looking for the the cleaners and cloths, the faster I finish the household chores the more time I have to sew!”

Wow! So how many quilts have you finished since you started using this system?

Judy responded: “An untold number, it can take me several years to finish one quilt but at the same time I may have made, and given away, a whole lot of other quilts. In 1988 I started keeping a record of the projects, just the start & finish dates, and it is interesting to look back through the book at my sewing history

When I had small children,  I would get to the end of the day and feel as if I had done nothing all day even though I knew I had been busy. The record book was a way for me to visually see that I was getting my sewing projects finished.”

A page from Judy's record book. Still a few projects waiting to be finished from 2006 but lots of quilt stamp rewards for the finished projects

Judy finished our interview with this comment:

“Half an hour may not seem like very much time, but even if you only get one block pieced, or one leaf appliqued, you are one step closer to finishing your quilt than you were 30 minutes before”

Now she has got me thinking about how I can organise my sewing projects and I am wondering if other people have a well tested method for getting their projects finished.

I would love to hear how you find time for patchwork.