Thursday, June 20, 2013

Another edition of a few of my favorite things - Thread edition

I have been testing different types of thread to find what works best in my machines (yes, it actually does make a difference) for a couple of months, and I think it is time to share some of the results.  I was not provided with any thread for these tests by any store or manufacturer.  These tests are not 100% exhaustive and occurred over the course of normal use.  As with everything else on my blog, these are my impressions from using the different products.

For cottons, I stick to a 50wt for most of my non-garment sewing (much like my preference for glass head pins, I like to be able to iron without worrying about melting stuff into my fabric).  It is a great weight for piecing and quilting if you want the thread to really blend into the fabric. I had been using Mettler Silk Finish almost exclusively (it is high quality and available at several local fabric stores as well as online) with no real issues, but it doesn't hurt to see what is out there. I ordered some Masterpiece from Superior Threads and some Aurifil 50wt Mako.  I do use other cotton threads, such as Sulky Blendables and Superior's King Tut, but they are heavier weight thus not really ideal for my purposes.

  • Mettler Silk Finish
    • The good:  Fairly low lint, easy to find locally, pretty good color selection, good price, every machine I have owned or used has performed well with it
    • The bad:  Many of the colors I use most are not available in the larger (500m) spools, more linty than some of the other brands that I tested (but far, far less linty than the G├╝termann I used in a class)
  • Superior Threads - MasterPiece by Alex Anderson
    • The good:  Less lint than Silk Finish, good color selection, comes in a 600yd spool but also available in 2,500yd cones, my Pfaff performed well when tested but I haven't tested the other machines (I assume it will be fine)
    • The bad:  Not stocked by a lot of stores in my area, straight wound spools (I prefer cross-wound spools because they can be used on my horizontal spool pin or on a thread stand), hard to tell the exact color online (I ordered their thread card which uses actual thread instead of trying to guess on a computer screen)
  • Aurifil Mako
    • The good:  The least linty of the bunch, comes in good size 1,420yd spools (can get the 150yd spools too), good color selection, didn't have any thread breaks when free motion quilting a gift for a friend.
    • The bad:  Not stocked by my usual haunts but I know which shops carry it locally, the most expensive of the three brands I tested, the tall spools don't work as well on my Singer 221 (Featherweight) because of the short spool pin so I use a special spool holder when using this thread (the thread performs flawlessly on the 221 other than the spool size)
So, what is my go-to cotton thread?

Aurifil.  I love their light gray (color 2600) for most of my sewing because the color blends well into many fabrics (for quilt piecing). If I needed something ASAP and couldn't wait to visit a speciality shop or order online, I would pick Mettler Silk Finish.

Polyester (All Purpose)

Polyester thread is everywhere.  You will find it in garments and quilts alike due to its durability and colorfastness.  It is also less expensive than cotton thread and available in more colors than cotton.  My disclaimer for my polyester testing is that I used the color black for most of it.  Black tends to have significantly more lint than other colors, but I use a lot of it.  My hunt for the least linty black thread is actually what started this whole thread buying extravaganza.

  • Mettler Metrosene
    • The good:  Lots and LOTS of colors, pretty low lint, stocked at the fabric stores and sewing machine shops closest to my home, seems to be strong and supple enough to resist breaking, the brand has been around for decades with a consistently good reputation, love the snap end spools (the thread just wraps around the end instead of having to get it into a little notch)
    • The bad:    Some of the colors I use frequently aren't available in the larger 500m spools (usually you see huge Metrosene displays featuring the small 150m spools)
  • Superior Threads - So Fine #50
    • The good:  Lots of colors, seems to be a little less linty than Metrosene, large 550yd spools
    • The bad:  As with the MasterPiece, I don't like straight wind spools as much as cross wound, haven't found a good local source for the thread
  • G├╝termann Sew-all
    • The good:  Lots of colors, it has an umlaut (the dots over the letter u) in the name, it is easy to find, if you into recycling there is a rPET version made from recycled plastic bottles (I bought a spool to try but I have yet to do so), snap end spools are very handy to use
    • The bad:  Without a doubt, the most lint of the 3 different polyester threads
So, what is my go-to all-purpose polyester thread?
Mettler Metrosene.  I like the reduction in lint from the So Fine, but the lack of local availability is an issue.  At this point in my sewing career, I am not the best gauge of how much thread I will need for a certain project.  With Metrosene, it is pretty easy to pop over to a local store to pick up another spool.

Machine Embroidery

I admit to not being very adventurous with embroidery on my sewing machine.  I have made most of my thread selections (brand and type) based on opinions of other sewists.  When working on a recent project, I needed to go with a polyester instead of my usual rayon because polyester is colorfast and holds up very well to repeated washings.  So, for a label on a baby quilt, polyester was the way to go.  Is it fair to compare rayon to polyester?  I think so.  There are some poly options out there that have great sheen like rayon with the colorfast properties of polyester.        I know that Floriani is a popular brand of polyester that has had its share of quality issues in the past, but I haven't used it much due to some negative feedback that I have received from people with far more embroidery experience than I.

  • Madeira Rayon #40
    • The good:  Lots of colors, shiny finish gives you a great appearance, many of the popular embroidery designers seem to use this as their default color which means you don't have to try to convert the color to a different brand, great deals to be had with sampler sets to try different colors, works great in my Pfaff at home and on a Baby Lock that I used in a class
    • The bad:  Small spools (200m) run out quickly, seems to be more fragile than some of the other types/brands that I've used
  • Robison-Anton #122 SSR (Super Strength Rayon)
    • The good:  Lots of colors, shiny finish (though not as much as Madeira), mini king spools (1,100yds) have plenty of thread to keep you stitching, seems a little less fragile than the Madeira, works great in my Pfaff (this is the brand that provides sample spools with the embroidery unit)
    • The bad:  I have had a harder time matching colors than with the Madeira, RA isn't as easy for me to find locally as Madeira, the shape of the mini-king spool is more difficult for me to store because of the extra space (bigger spools = fewer threads will fit in each drawer)
  • Isacord Polyester
    • The good:  Lots of colors, snap end spools keep thread from winding off of the spool, giant 1,000m mini cones keep you sewing for extended periods of time, works great in my Pfaff and on a Bernina that I used in a class
    • The bad:  Not stocked at as many of my local shops (but color selection is usually awesome where it is stocked), even taller than the RA mini-king spools
So, what is my go-to embroidery thread?
Isacord.  I am going to work on changing over from rayon to be almost exclusively poly as I pick up thread for various projects.  Sure, it isn't as shiny and I can't store as many, but the reduction in thread breaks, the larger spools, the colorfastness, and the dazzling array of available colors are worth it to me.  As a second choice, I'd pick either of the other two.  They are both really good thread.

If you just want to know more about thread, go to Superior Threads education section.  There is a ton of information that is thoughtfully organized.  While you're there, I'd recommend picking up the Thread Therapy with Dr Bob DVD.  It is insightful as well as humorous.  I had the opportunity to see Bob Purcell of Superior Threads speak at Sew Expo 2013.  It was worth the time, and the DVD has even more information than his class at Expo.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Finding the right sewing machine fit, Part II

Yes, a second part.  I suppose it is more of an update.

I was fortunate to have a lovely friend that is a collector of Singer 221 (Featherweight) machines.  She was able to steer me in the right direction for acquiring one of the little darlings.  My plan went slight awry when I found myself with a pair of them instead of just one!

I LOVE this little sewing dynamo.  It is lightweight yet feels very sturdy, and it is simply adorable.  Sure, it doesn't have the capabilities of the modern machines, but what it does, it does beautifully.  I used it to put together most of the top of a baby quilt for a friend of mine that is due in July.  It was just a joy to use.

Now, here are some of the downsides to vintage - vintage finds can smell.  Thankfully, my dear friend is as smell averse as I am, so she did an amazing job de-stinking the case.  It can also be a test of your nerves to get the machine adjusted to perfection (bobbin case tension, top tension, belts, etc).  Did I get very frustrated getting both machines adjusted perfectly?  I certainly did, but I did not give up.  The time and effort was worth it.  It is also handy beyond belief to be married to a guy that is very mechanically inclined.  He likes to take stuff apart and tinker with it.  Could I work on this machine myself?  Yes, I know it could because there are some great references out there, but my hubby has been enjoying tinkering with it.  He tweaks it, then I test it to see how it sews.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  (As a side note for anybody attempting this, please look into buying Dave McCallum's book - The Featherweight 221 and I.  I bought the book and DVD set.  It has been a wonderful lifeline when working on these machines.)

Do I see myself collecting more vintage machines?  Eh, maybe.  I would like a Featherweight in less than perfect condition so that I can get it all fixed up myself.

With all of that said, will I have times when I grab the vintage machine instead of my fancy highly computerized machine?  Yes, I already have!  Something bigger, newer, and more expensive is not always better.  I've said it before, but pick what works for YOU and what you are going to sew.

Piecing the inner section of a baby quilt using my 1961 Singer 221 (Featherweight)