Friday, July 17, 2015

Thread Matters!

Two or three years ago I found a vintage quilt top on eBay that needed rescuing.  Loved the sweet embroidered pansy blocks -
the setting and border fabrics not so much -
The top was queen size, with twelve 18-inch blocks, one of which was inexplicably not of the same pansy pattern, and not even embroidered(!), but was set right into the center top row nonetheless.

But that wasn't all.  Oh no.  Though the eleven remaining pansy blocks are beautifully and skillfully embroidered, the machine sewn sashings and borders were rippled and pulled by an uneven thread tension, or so I thought.  Clearly, pressing was not going to resolve these seams and the puckers were not going to quilt out.   And there was that unmatching block to deal with.  Unfortunately(?) I apparently never took a photo of the entire top, but you get the idea.

Not many choices other than take the entire top apart.  So, this spring, during episodes of NCIS and Person of Interest, my trusty seam ripper and I slowly began disassembling the top.  And we found the reason for the unintended rippling of the seams.  Unmatched threads.  Yep, the bobbin thread was apparently an all polyester thread while the upper thread a heavier weight, more evenly spun cotton. The thread differences while clearly visible to the naked eye, show up even more spectacularly under the microscope:
The differences are dramatic, no?  Amazing how that larger more evenly spun cotton thread remained smooth while the much smaller diameter poly thread is all kinked - these photos were taken shortly after the threads were removed from the fabrics. Here's a closer view:
This vintage top did not appear to have ever been washed, and I have no idea when it might have been constructed, but can only imagine how any future shrinkage of the cotton thread from washing the completed quilt might have made the seams even worse than they already were.  I've always been leery of using mismatched threads for machine work, and this is a great example of why it pays to match your threads, or at least use threads that have been tested and proven to play well together.

Anyway, the longer I toiled over unstitching this tarnished gem, the more I came to the realization that putting it back together with those dull, unimaginative fabrics used originally was not going to happen in my lifetime.  At the very least, that solid purple needed to be replaced, it is a thin slippery polyester while the embroidered blocks and the calicoes are all cotton.  That, plus these pansies are just crying out to be framed with a bit more spirit, with some brighter fabrics that will help bring out the embroidery colors, not let the whole thing fade into a monotonous nothingness, while still retaining some of the vintage spirit of the original maker's top.  After a few hours reacquainting myself with the contents of the long-packed stash bins, and some of the scrap piles, we have a first run at some possible additions for sashing, borders. maybe even a swagged outer border should ambition/inspiration strike (thanks to an older 2010 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting).

Anything seems possible right now, though I'll still need to find a few suitable small medium pink scraps (currently scarce in this girl's stash) and maybe a tiny bit of deep yellow to highlight the yellow in the pansy embroideries to add to the auditioning pile.  Right now this stack is going back to the the bin to mellow for awhile and see if these fabrics really want to play nice together.  Though I will say at this point, this top went from 'never gonna get done' to 'wow, maybe I can do this' as soon as those old border fabrics disappeared into the bottom of the bin.  This could be fun.  Or angst - only time will tell ...


  1. These embroidered blocks are beautiful.....I am so glad they found you to rescue them. I love your new plan of resetting them using some loved stash. yellow and purple and some soft greens....all sound beautiful. And thanks for the good lesson of unbalanced threads.

  2. Those embroidered blocks were meant to be rescued. Maybe the beautiful blocks were made by one person and the terrible sew job was done by another. And when it didn't go together well they just stuffed it away. Interesting look at the thread. You're right, thread does make a difference. It will be fun for you to come up with a plan.

  3. Interesting post. The only time I use polyester thread is when I'm doing machine applique. Otherwise, it's all cotton all the time. Your fabric choices for resetting those blocks are looking good. The deep purple will do the pansies justice. You have to wonder what the original quiltmaker was thinking with that blank block.

  4. Interesting about the threads.
    Those are lovely blocks and I can see that they will come alive with your new selection of fabrics!

  5. Love those embroidered blocks and am so glad that you're going to rescue them.

  6. The pansy block is gorgeous and I can't wait to see how you rescue this quilt. I'm sure the embroiderer would be very happy that someone is going to finish it.

  7. This is a project that is going to be fun to watch! I dearly love pansies and you've got some great stash to join in the game.


Some of my best quilty friends are those I met through comments left here. Words of encouragement and advice are music to my ears and always appreciated. If you are a no-reply blogger and have a question, please include your email address and I will reply to the email address provided. Thanks!.