Thursday, August 21, 2014

Test Time and Zippered Leaders

No, this is not some new funky modern quilt. I decided to put my muslin aside and buy some 'real' fabric for tension testing. I had to change my tensioner, so I wanted to take some time to retest the tension on the threads I use before I started quilting. I don't know about you, but there is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out the best tension to use while you have a huge king sized quilt loaded on the machine and 3 inches of backing and batting to work with on the side.

I went to Sewingly Yours and headed to the back and bought some sale fabric for $6/yd. It was almost a shame to use it, sniff, sniff. I loaded it up and started with my most troublesome thread. It is all color coded. Green for Omni, dark green leaves for So Fine, Yellow for Madeira, Red for Signature.

This Madeira variegated thread works great. I got it at Sewingly Yours and it is technically embroidery thread. I had heard great reviews from longarmers and it did live up to its standards.

I quilted each tension setting in grids, using the same design so I could compare the tension. I wrote the TOWA gauge reading for the bobbin with a ball point pen and then the top tension setting. My knob has a notch drawn on it so I can adjust it more easily. If you are a new longarmer and you haven't done this, I highly recommend it.

I had heard horrible things about Signature thread in longarms, but it worked really well for me. I just had to reduce my bobbin tension way back. Somewhere around 100, instead of the usual 160-170 that my other threads like. I'd like to get a bigger cone of this and test it out on a baby quilt to see how it holds up. I wasn't gentle on this sample, but no breakages so far.

I even tested out different batting. Each little green square had a different batting and I wrote underneath what it was. I used Warm & White, Joann's cotton, Dream Cotton Select, Dream Poly Select, Pellon cotton, and Dream Wool. My plan is to stick the whole piece in the washer and dryer and see how it all looks after washing. So far I'm liking both Dream Selects and the wool the best. The Warm & White is a bit stiff. Great for wall hangings, not as nice for a comfy lap or bed quilt.

The next thing I did was install my new zippers. Everywhere I go, everyone says that zippered leaders are the bomb. Get them ASAP! They are very useful for getting quilts on and off the frame quickly. You've quilted to the bottom of the quilt and you realize there isn't enough backing? Got to wait several days for the quilter to get some more? Unzip that baby and zip a new one on, easy peasy. No fussing with pinning and unpinning. These little difficulties always happen on large quilts, don't they? So I finally took the plunge and picked some up from Kingsmen Quilting Supply.

I managed to get the main ones sewn onto the canvas. I sent a pic to my friend Gina B. She was horrified that it was just zippers that came, no canvas. See hers came already sewn onto her leaders when she got her new machine. And the side of the zipper that isn't sewn onto the canvas attached to the frame has a strip of canvas sewn onto it. It is way easier to pin to. Zippers are not very wide and are very fiddly. And it helps keep the zippers from distorting over time.

Well it just so happened that I had 5 yards of canvas that has been sitting in a chest for years. It was supposed to be for a chair cover until I realized it doesn't wash well. But it is perfect for this.

I cut a 6" strip and sewed it onto one side of the zipper, then I made a 1" pocket at the other end. This is the end that you pin your quilt to. The pocket is also useful if you buy Renae's Red Snappers. In case you are wondering why the two pieces aren't the same length, the zippers were longer than my leaders, but I cut the canvas strip the same length as the zipper.

I ordered a complete machine set, and an extra set. So that lets you have two quilts on the go. But it turns out if you don't use the quilt top zipper (like if you are floating quilts), you have another set! So now I can swap out three quilts if I wanted. Maybe I'll work on a project of my own in between clients' quilts. Zip on, zip off Mister Miyagi!


  1. Great idea Laura, thank you for posting. What did you think about the Omni? I am having trouble with tension and shredding with it. Just started using Signature and like it better than what I was using. I like using Fantastico for variegated and So Fine. Glide is nice for a little sparkle, especially the metal colors like the golds, looks like metallic but much easier to use.

    I had zippered leaders with my last longarm and miss them! Now using Renae's Red Snappers and like them. Glad to see you are liking your APQS. It's a great machine!

  2. You're very smart ... this post is LOADED with great information, thanks for sharing!

  3. well, are you smart. that zipper thing sounds pretty cool.