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Before sharing my 5 secrets to machine quilting with 12 wt. thread – travel with me back in time to a few weeks ago (cue dreamy music)…
It was a rainy day in May and I was teaching a Sew Mojo Mini workshop (watch the video class here and get the patterns here) in Grand Rapids, Michigan (heeeeyo to my GR ladies!) My teaching style is, how to say this...mostly me giving loose instructions and then hopping around oooohing and ahhhhing over the splendid things everyone is making. I sprinkle in lots of jokes and dance moves – it’s a party!
Anyway, in my afternoon sesh, while frolicking from table to table, I stopped abruptly in front of a shining and glorious mini quilt. It was magnificent for many reasons, but what caught my eye was the beautiful chunky quilting. It was like a high-tech embroidery machine got together with some traditional hand quilting and created a magical hybrid stitch full of texture and depth!
“What weight is your thread?? I must know!” I breathily asked. I was in a trance. A love trance.
“I’m machine quilting with 12 wt. thread. Kinda cool, right?” Amanda, the maker of this glorious and magnificent mini quilt, casually replied.
Well, there was nothing casual about my new infatuation with this chunk-o-licious stitch. I was smitten right then and there and vowed to use thick, lustrous 12 wt. thread on my next quilt. But, before diving into a full quilt, which I now have (more on that in a later post), I needed to run some tests. Veeery scientific tests.
Test Results for Machine Quilting with 12 wt. Thread
After many tests and much research, I discovered 5 secrets to machine quilting with 12 wt. thread which I would now like to pass along to you, my gentle reader. Ready for the magic?
- The Needle. Typically I recommend piecing and machine quilting with an 80/12 Universal needle. That's assuming you're using quilt-weight cotton and standard batting. When quilting with a thicker thread, like 12 wt., you're going to want to up that needle to be more heavy duty – like a 90/14. This will prevent your thread from breaking.
- The Bobbin. Even though you are using 12 wt. thread as your top thread, use your regular quilting weight thread in your bobbin. For me that's 40 or 50 wt. After checking out a couple different color combinations, I decided that what looks best is if I matched the top and bobbin threads. I don't always do that when machine quilting, but since I could see the bobbin thread ever so slighting in between top stitches, no matter how I adjusted my tension settings, I landed on simply matching the threads.
- The Tension. I was running my tests on a BERNINA 770 QE and did not need to adjust any tension settings. However, if you have a different kind of machine with completely manual tension, you may need to loosen your top thread tension. The key here is to TEST. Make a mini quilt and test your settings. If the thread is breaking – your tension is too tight. Try adjusting your top thread tension before tweaking with the bobbin thread tension. Chances are you won’t need to adjust your bobbin tension.
- The Stitch. You don't neeeeed to change your stitch length from what you normally use when piecing or quilting, but you might want to based on the aesthetic you're trying to achieve. My normal stitch length is 2.5. I actually use that for both piecing and machine quilting. You can see in the example below what stitch lengths of 2.5, 3.0, and 4.0 look like.
- The Speed. It's slow. Just like I recommend "walking" with your walking foot, sew slowly when working with a thread this thick. According to most sewing machines, 12 wt. thread is the thickest thread you can safely use in a sewing machine. That means that you are pushing your BFF to the limit. So? Slow and steady.
Supplies for Machine Quilting with 12 wt. Thread
Now you know how to stitch with 12 wt. thread, so let's grab your tools and get to work! What am I carrying in my fancy, glammed-out toolbox? Here's the list:
- Sulky 12 wt. cotton thread – I actually got a huge pack of this thread a few years ago because I loved how soft and easy it was to work with.
- Cotton + Steel 50 wt. cotton thread – beautifully made and beautifully packaged. This thread is a joy to work with. I highlighted it in my two-part series on thread. There's even a cool video on how it's made! Check out Sewing Thread Part I: How Is Thread Made? and Sewing Thread Part I: The Best Quality Sewing Thread
- 90/14 Universal Needle – Read more about universal needles here!
- Quilters Dream Wool Batting – Want your chunky stitches to stand out even more? Use a batting that's got some fluff. Quilters Dream Wool Batting is what I use when I'm treating myself...and I treat myself a lot. Read more about choosing the right batting here!
- Solid Kona cotton
And that's all there is to it! Let me know your results and if you have a favorite type of 12 wt. thread. Be sure to leave a comment! xo