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!


Are you friends with your sewing machine?

Life is much more creative if you have made friends with your sewing machine!


Every so often we receive a call for help from a quilter who is struggling with her project because the thread is breaking as she is stitching, so I thought that this was a topic worth talking about here.

Even good quality thread will break if it subjected to too much friction as a quilt is being stitched.

Quilting involves “pushing & pulling” a quilt sandwich around under the presser foot, forcing the sewing machine to do more than simply stitch two layers of fabric together, so the sewing machine set up can contribute to the friction on the thread.

The friction caused by the sewing machine can be from:

  • A needle that is too small for the thickness of the thread
  • A needle that is too big for the thickness of the thread
  • Machine tension out of balance
    • Top tension too tight
    • Top tension too loose
    • Bobbin tension too tight
    • Bobbin tension too loose
  • A burr on the needle
  • Dust in the bobbin race causing the bobbin to rotate at the wrong speed
  • Machine needs to be oiled
  • The machine timing not in balance

This list looks frustrating but, apart from the last point, where you might want to take the machine to a technician, you can teach yourself to recognise, and solve, all these issue by getting out your sewing machine manual.

You’ve already learnt how to make a quilt, so add to your skill set by learning how to “drive” your sewing machine.


Choose a needle that is appropriate for the thread, a finer needle for thin threads and a heavier, bigger needle as the threads get thicker.


  • You need to be able to thread the eye of the needle
  • The needle must make a hole big enough for the thread to travel through the quilt sandwich.
  • Get into the habit of changing the needle regularly so that it always has a good point free of burrs
  • Choose a needle dedicated to a particular task. eg: Quilting needles are designed to stitch through the three layers of a quilt with ease.


Machine Tension:


Be brave, read the machine manual & learn how to adjust the tension.

  • Before you start, record the pre-set tensions with a photograph and now play.
  • Start with one adjustment at a time, and stitch a sample.
  • Change to another setting, stitch another sample & record the setting for future reference
  • Build up a stitched record of what happens as the tension is changed.

The ideal result is a stitch that makes a good lock in the middle of the seam or quilt sandwich and a line of stitching that looks relaxed without being too tight or loose on both sides of the fabric.

PS:  Always use two layers of fabric when stitch testing the tension:


You can read more about adjusting the machine tension in this post I wrote in 2011

Clean the machine regularly:

It will reward you with good stitches

  • If you can, remove the needle plate and bobbin and brush out the dust & fluff that has accumulated in the bobbin race from the fabric, batting & thread
  • Add a drop of oil to the bobbin race & run the machine to spread it into the bobbin race and spin out any dust.
  • If your machine handbook advises that the machine does not require oiling, add a drop of oil to a cotton bud and swirl it around the bobbin race to pick up the last traces of dust.

You can read our hints about cleaning your sewing machine in this earlier post.

Non mechanical causes of friction can be:


  • Lumpy, bumpy seams on the patchwork top
    • Press the seam allowances flat, and  to one side of the seam line
  • Batting that has a harsh feel
    • Use good quality batting
    • Avoid coarse polyester “craft” batting
    • Pre-wash cotton batting when ever possible to soften the handle

Lastly, choose the right thread for the job:


A really fine thread eg: Cotton Mako’ 50 will give a good result for show quilts that are stitched  with heavily detailed feathers and close background fills but it is not necessarily the thread to use to quilt a utility quilt with an open quilting pattern.

Cotton Mako’ 40 is more suitable for day to day quilting. The ditch stitching will stay tucked in the ditch and the thread will produce great quilting texture and shadows.

Quilting with Cotton Mako’ 28 will be more visible and a slightly larger needle may be required than the needle that is used for Cotton Mako’ 40 & 50.

See Judysewforth’s Zentangle project using Cotton Mako’ 28

Use Cotton Mako’ 12 to stitch decorative designs that are very visible. This thread is thick, so the machine needle and tension settings will definitely have to be adjusted.

I match the same thread in the bobbin for all thread weights EXCEPT Cotton Mako’ 12. For this thread I use Cotton Mako’ 28 to give a well balanced stitch without having to modify the bobbin tension.

Now, start making friends with that sewing machine today!

More reading to get you enthused:



Your Question Answered: Which stitch to use to piece a quilt backing?

Yesterday, at Always Quilting, we were preparing the backing for a patchwork top that  we will quilt this week so I introduced Judysewforth to my favourite “magic” stitch for this job.

My sewing machine set up ready to join fabric to make a quilt backing.

My sewing machine set up ready to join fabric to make a quilt backing.

Instead of using the usual straight machine stitch, I always join backing pieces together with a narrow zig zag stitch.

The seam stitched with a narrow zig zag stitch

The seam stitched with a narrow zig zag stitch

Quilt backings are large and, when they are made of several pieces of fabric, the seam line can be a point of tension.

  • The stitching line can be much tighter than the weave of the fabric
  • The fabric, itself, is often slightly off the straight grain so it stretches in different directions at varying tension

Using a zig zag stitch introduces a little flexibility into the seam line and allows the fabric to ease into place to make a flat backing.

The right side of the seam has been stretched to show the the stitch length

The right side of the seam has been stretched deliberately to show the stitch length

On my sewing machine I choose a standard zigzag stitch with both the width & length set at 1.5.

You will need to experiment on your own machine to find the best setting.

Once the seam is stitched I press it flat, and to one side, to prevent any batting migrating through the stitching

The seam  pressed into place, with the stitches relaxed, looks just like the usual straight stitched seam

The seam pressed into place, with the stitches relaxed, looks just like the usual straight stitched seam

From the right side of the backing it is very difficult to tell that the seam has been treated differently, that a zig zag rather than a standard straight stitch has been used.

I don’t remember who introduced me to this technique, but I know I have been using it for a long time and it has taken the stress out of making quilt backings for both me, and the fabric!

PS: And of course I always use my favourite piecing thread …. Aurifil Cotton Mako’ 40

For more ideas about making quilt backings:

A simple way to join meterage to make a quilt backing

Or you can simply purchase extra wide fabric that will not need to be joined together to make a quilt backing.

How easy is that!

Your Questions Answered about Chain Piecing

Chain piecing is a simple way to use the stitching to keep pieces, and blocks, in order as you work from single units to blocks and eventually to the quilt top.

If you haven't chain pieced a block before test the method by making a nine patch block

If you haven’t chain pieced a block before a nine patch block is good way to test the method.

Simply set out the parts of a block, or quilt, in the placement order in which they need to appear in the finished work.

start by setting the parts of the block out in the correct position.

First set the parts of the block out in the correct position.

Stack the units up in the order of stitching and place the piles on a ruler, or small cutting board, so that they can be moved around with out displacing the order.


Stack the units, in order, in piles so that the bottom row is at the bottom of each pile and the units in the top row end up at the top of the pile

Start by picking up two adjacent pieces from the top row of columns one & two.

Place them right sides together, with the piece from column two on top, so that the seam that will join them together is along the right hand edge.

Stitch the seam

Without stopping to cut the threads pick up the two pieces immediately below, and in line with the first set, and stitch these together.

The middle units are stitched to a partner unit that was sitting to the left

The middle units are stitched to a partner unit that was sitting to the left

Continue stitching until all the pieces that were in the first column have been stitched to the adjacent piece in the second column.

Ready to attache the units from the third pile

Ready to attach the units from the third pile

Press the seams to one side, in alternating directions, before joining the units from the third pile to their partners.

All the units are joined by a thread chain.  Press the seams in alternating directions so that they lock together as the two vertical seams are stitched

All the units are joined by a thread chain. Press the seams in alternating directions so that they lock together as the two vertical seams are stitched

Now that the units are all attached to each other in the correct order, sew the remaining seams to complete the block.

Sounds easy doesn’t it … but …. there are some tricks to successful chain piecing.

Sewing machines are designed to stitch two pieces of fabric together, not to stitch a chain of threads, so the chains can break if you are not careful.

  • Keep the chains between each set of units short

  • If you have a clever machine that cuts the bobbin thread make sure that it is set correctly so that it does not automatically activate as soon as you stitch off the fabric

  • Match needle size to the thread being used to avoid an over large needle breaking the chain

    • I prefer to piece with Cotton Mako’ 40 so my all purpose piecing needle is a size 80.

    • However I know that many other people use Cotton Mako’ 50 as their “go to” thread for piecing. This fine thread should be matched with a finer size 70 Microtex needle when chain piecing.


This same method can be used to join the blocks in a quilt.

However, it can become unwieldy if you try to piece the entire quilt in one go so break it down into smaller groups of blocks.

Always Quilting answers your questions about: Quilt Backings

At Always Quilting, along with always talking about Aurifil thread we also quilt for other people …. you know ….  we have a machine quilting service where we turn other people’s patchwork tops into finished quilts. Gammill ……… and sometimes we even find time to turn our own patchwork tops into finished quilts.

We occasionally finish our own quilts

We occasionally finish our own quilts

This means that we have seen a lot of quilt tops and their backings over the years! When talking about quilting, a frequently asked question after, how big should the quilt backing be, is what to do when the fabric chosen for the quilt backing is a smidge too small. Now, I know that there are plenty of specialist wide backing fabrics available today, in fact we have some great backing fabrics in stock in the shop.

Some of the backing fabrics in the shop

Some of the backing fabrics in the shop

However, sometimes the perfect fabric for the back of the quilt is a standard width that will need to be pieced together to make it big enough for the quilt. When this happens, ideally you would buy 2 widths of fabric and join them to suit the size of the quilt. Visit Always Machine Quilting for clear instructions showing how to join fabric to make a quilt backing. But when the last piece of that “perfect” fabric is just a smidge too small it is time to get creative…… Do NOT add borders to the outer edges of the backing fabric,  instead

  • Do cut the fabric to add a second fabric in the middle of the fabric
  • Do make that cut off centre
  • Do add in a wildly different fabric
  • Do cut in both directions if necessary
  • Do cut on the diagonal to add in the new fabric to be even more creative
  • Do use up spare blocks to make up the measurement
Gail added a diagonal panel to increase the length & the width of the backing fabric.

Gail added a diagonal panel to increase the length & the width of the backing for her quilt.

The aim is to make an “ART BACK”, a backing where you deliberately set out to make something interesting,  not one where it was obvious that you ran out of fabric and had to use another fabric to extend the backing. Get instructions for making an Art Backing for your next quilt or see more examples of Art Backs here If you have been following our “Welcome Quilt”  block of the month this year you will have an opportunity to make a small Art Backing for yourself.  Read the instructions judysew4th gave last month for piecing the backing for the Welcome Quilt.

The backing for my Welcome quilt is pieced with the left over background fabric and charm squares

The backing for my Welcome Quilt is pieced with the left over background fabric and charm squares

The idea is to use up the remaining pieces of the half metre solid fabric and charm squares to make the backing. The instructions for making your own Welcome Quilt are still available for Free download.