Things That Can Influence Your Quilting

Posted by on July 24, 2017

Huh?  What?  Are you saying there are more things to think about than what thread I use and what design I quilt?????


There are so many things that come into play when we’re quilting.  The basics are the fabric, needle, thread and batting, and there are sooooo many considerations just with these basics, but then you go into other things like paint on the surface, embellishments, etc.

So, let’s start with these basics.  Thread I won’t go into in great detail, since last week’s blog article was an in-depth article on threads and which needles to use and how to adjust tension for different types of threads.

Needles: The composition and sculpture of the needle is paramount.  At TinLizzie18, we use the Groez-Beckert titanium needles.  They have a scarf that is a bump and a very long groove.  The bump spreads the fibers of the fabric and the batting, paving the way for the thread to pass through with less friction (thus less tension).  The groove protects the thread, also from tension and friction as it passes through the fibers because the thread can nestle in the groove. Less friction means less tension AND less heat.  These needles go up and down through the quilt sandwich thousands of times and they can get hot.  The titanium helps keep the needle cool too.  You should change your needle every 8 hours of quilting time, or sooner if you start hearing it “pop” through the fabric.  That is the sound of a dull needle. Dull needles can cause skipped stitches, poorly formed stitches, fraying or breaking thread and they can even create a “run” in your fabric by pulling a fiber rather than penetrating it.

Batting: Polyester is fluffy and makes it easier to form a stitch within the batting.  It generates less heat, so it is good for metallic and rayon and trilobal poly threads.  100% cotton is thinner and harder.  It is much more challenging to get good tension with cotton because there is less “forgiveness” than with poly.  Remember that tension is a tug of war between the top and bottom threads and ideally, they meet in the middle of the batting, with neither thread showing on the other side of the quilt. Blended battings (cotton and poly, cotton and wool, silk, bamboo, recycled bottles, etc.) are common blends.  They are usually 80/20, 70/30, 60/40, etc.  meaning they are perhaps 80% cotton, 20% poly, or whatever their label says.  It is easiest to get good tension with a 60% cotton/40% poly batting, or a 100% bonded poly that is NOT high loft (a whole other set of problems with that).

Fabric:   The influence of the thread count in the fabric is huge!  Count pertains to the threads per inch in the fabric weave.  Most common is 60 threads x 60 threads woven in each direction.  Batiks are usually 200 x 200 threads, so your needle doesn’t last as long and they cause more drag on your thread, so tension may need to be a little higher.  Also, you’d think a #18 needle to spread those tight fibers and keep the thread cool, but a # 18 on Batik leaves very large holes that are harder to close up unless you wash the quilt.  I typically use a #16 needle, but everyone has their own preferences.  So, the higher the thread count, the tighter the weave, the higher your tension and the faster your tension will get dull….oh my, is it worth it to use batiks???  (YESSSSSSSS, Yes it is!)

Paint: The influence of paint on the surface of your quilt is that it causes the thread to pull harder, so more tension is needed to create the stitch within the batting.  Remember that a larger needle will pave the way for your thread, but it will also leave large holes, so you must pick your battle.

Thread:  Okay, I said you should read the post on thread from last week, but I’ll do a quick summary here:

  • 100% cotton is fluffier, less tension
  • Poly threads are usually lighter, so more tension
  • Slippery threads require more tension
  • Metallic tread on top, loosen top tension and use a smoother thread in the bobbin (poly, but not trilobal)
  • Slippery top thread should have a rougher bobbin thread to hold the stitch
  • Slippery top and bottom threads, consider tying and burying your threads because they will work loose.
  • Always use equal or lighter thread in the bobbin than top thread.  EG King Tut on top & So Fine in the bobbin are a perfect combo, So Fine on top and King Tut in the bobbin, presents a tension challenge.  Doable, but a challenge.
  • Thread should come off the cone according to how it’s wound.  Cross wound comes off the top while stacked should come off the side.

Bobbins: TinLizzies have an M size bobbin.  Aluminum runs smoothly, and is light so it causes less tension and stays cooler.  The backlash spring in the bobbin case is there to stop the bobbin from coasting in any direction, so it prevents backlash, thus it’s name (backlash spring).  USE THE PIGTAIL in the bobbin case!!!  Using the pigtail causes the thread to come off the bobbin in the same direction consistently, regardless of which direction the machine is moving, and you don’t get that wonky stitch when you change direction.  Remember, equal weight thread or lighter weight in the bobbin than on top for the most successful results.

I hope these tips help you along your quilting journey.  Thanks for joining me here at TinLizzie18, where we’re committed to helping quilters of all levels realize their quilting dreams!


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  1. Sherry Smith says:

    Just read a note from Lynn Bell regarding thread.
    “Cross wound comes off the top while stacked should come off the side”
    What do they look like – “cross wound” and “stacked?”

    • Myrl Breinholt says:

      All cone threads are “cross wound.” Spools may be cross wound or straight (stacked) wound. Each were manufactured with either a right twist or left twist depending on the way it would be wound onto the spool. Looking at the a cross wound spool or cone you will notice an “X” type pattern in the way the thread was wound onto the cone or spool. With the straight or stacked wound spool you will notice that the thread has no “X” pattern, but is stacked in straight rows. Hope this helps.

  2. Ann says:

    I have a Tin Lizzie 18, it seems like everytime I go to use it I have trouble getting it to work. Now I can’t get it to pick up the bobbin thread other time I can’t get the tension right on top or bottom. How do I adjust both? Thanks

    • Myrl Breinholt says:

      I am here to help. Make sure the needle is installed correctly. Is the scarf in the back? That is the indented part near the eye of the needle. Is the needle all of the way up in the needle bar cuff? Make sure the take up bar is just high enough to have your fingertips slip between it and the machine bed. Having it too high causes skipped stitches. Is your needle a 134 or 135? That is the length. If it is too short it will not pick up the stitch either. Have you had an event where the needle hit something or did you have a thread jam? If so, you may need to have your machine timed. See our video on the website on how to do that.
      Here is what I understand about tension. First of all, it is a tug of war. If you remember as a child playing tug of war the goal was to pull harder than the other team to get the center flag onto your side of the field. In achieving good tension on the sewing machine we want the tensions to be equal and that “flag” to stay in the center. There is no magical number for the tensions, but keeping the tensions equal is the goal. For this reason I always teach adjusting the bobbin tension first, then adjusting the needle tension to match that. I like my bobbin tension fairly loose. By that I mean when laying the bobbin case in the palm of your hand you are able to lift the bobbin case up onto its side holding the thread that is placed in the tension strap, but not in the “piggy tail.” (The piggy tail is the little spiral shaped wire on the front of the bobbin case. I place the thread in the piggy tail when I have finished adjusting the bobbin tension.) As you pull your hand away from the bobbin case it should gently fall with your hand. There should be tension felt, but it should drop gently, not like a rock. If the bobbin case does not move or has to be shaken down it is much more difficult to achieve a balanced tension. If the bobbin case does not drop, turn the tension adjustment screw (the large screw) left 3 to 5 minutes as on a clock. If is drops like a rock, turn the tension adjustment screw right 3 to 5 minutes and try the test again.

      Test the tension by sewing a figure 8. Examine the result. Has the stitch locked inside your project? Yay! You got it. Can you see the bobbin thread peeking out on top? If so, then loosen the needle tension by turning the adjustment knob counter clockwise. The needle tension is MUCH less sensitive than the bobbin tension strap. Turn the tension adjustment knob AT LEAST one full turn when making adjustments. Can you see the needle thread peeking out underneath the project? If so, then tighten the needle tension by turning the adjustment knob clockwise at least a full turn. Pay no attention to the numbers on the knob. Use them to know if your turned a full or half turn.

      ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT THE NEEDLE THREAD IS FLOSSED INTO THE TENSION DISCS. The thread may appear to be in the discs when in reality it is only resting on the edge of them.

      Please note that the thread may be hampered by lint from moving smoothly. Take a business card and slip it under the tension strap to clear any possible culprits from under it. Use a brush to clean inside the tension discs that the needle thread runs through.

  3. laurie vilbrandt says:

    Hello. I was given a TinLizzie 18 from a woman who has decided all she wants to do is knit! Lucky me!!! BUT…. she can find NO paperwork for it so I have worn out my fingers searching on line for info. Another friend wants to give me some needles that she can not use on her machine. They are Groz-Beckert 716742 10 Nm 100/16. Can you tell me if these needles will work on my TinLizzie 18 and also can you tell me how I can get a manual for my machine? I appreciate any direction…. even if it is to tell me who might have these answers.

    • Myrl Breinholt says:

      Good morning, Laurie. I will be glad to email you a copy of the owner’s manual. I just need to know the model of the machine you own. Groz-Beckert needles are the needles we endorse. They manufacture many types of needles. You want to have 134 MR (Which is the length and style) You also need SAN 11 which means special application needles. The product number is different depending on the point type etc. We carry slightly rounded needles with the code FFG/SES or R. Hope this helps. You may purchase from

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