Linda Schmidt

Textile Artist, Quilter, Designer 

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Filament Fantasy & Threads at Play Workshops

(Filament Fantasy29" x 34")

Thread. Twisted, tormenting, turbulent, terriffic thread. Fantastic, frustrating, festive filaments. We all have them, don't we? Or, if we do not have them, we want them but are afraid to buy them because we don't know how to use them. Threads entice us to buy them, cry out to be taken home, and when we do, what happens?
We tear our hair out and invent some new curse words trying to use them because they get tangled in the bobbin, they shred and they break, always right in the middle of a difficult patch. They wind themselves around the spoolpin and cause us untold grief, and we still cannot resist them because we know they will make our work more beautiful, and that is what we are all about.  I have just added a section at the bottom of this article called "Dealing with Difficult Threads," which will give you some of the hints I will share in class about using these dangerous darlings.

I just finished reading Earlene Fowler’s book Mariner’s Compass.  In it, she quotes a woodcarver, who said:

 “The more you learn about your subject, the more truthful your work. Remember, there are no rules, and in the end, there are no shortcuts. Take your time. Don’t let your goal keep you from relishing the journey.”

Let’s see what we can do to relish the journey, what we can do to make the sewing with beautiful threads a more enjoyable experience. Along the way, let’s make something that will last, a thing of beauty, a small, but very interesting, threadwork sampler, like this, if you have a mind to.

First, we'll set up your own machine so that it sews properly with normal thread, then experiment with rayon and metallic thread, sliver and fine braids, blending filament and FS#20, and figure out which threads can be sewn with two threads through the eye of the same needle, which have to be sewn in the bobbin only, which can only be couched over or used to make new fabric using Solvy water soluble plastic. We'll paint Steam a Seam II Lite and use foils, quilt it, create a sleeve of thread, fuse and sew it together, then finish it up with binding and bead. By the end of the class, you will have several finished squares, know how to put it together, and have several more squares done all except the quilting. You will know much, much more about your own and your machine's capabilities.

This workshop is a two-day workshop, because I found that when I tried to teach the whole quilt in one day, the students' brains started to explode. To solve this problem, I created the workshop below.

Threads at Play (One Day)

This workshop is like the above workshop, using some of the same heart blocks as examples, but you will NOT come out of the one day class with a quilt well on its way to completion, but you will have the tools and techniques to do so. We use the same heart examples and receive the same handout, but concentrate on the more interesting blocks, the ones using techniques that are more likely to be new to the average quilter, such as using painted, fused webbing and foil, couching, appliqué and reverse appliqué techniques, free motion embroidery on Solvy and cutwork, and a basic grounding in how to use difficult threads in your machine.

Kit fee: Both of these classes have a kit fee, because it is hard to get some of the supplies locally, and saves a lot of time during the class if everything is cut to size and painted beforehand. I will also have some of the supplies available in class for purchase.

Dealing With Difficult Threads by Linda S. Schmidt 

Keep in mind that if you cannot get the thread to sew properly in the needle, you can almost always use it in the bobbin, instead, and work upside down, instead.  That being said, what can you do if you really want to sew with specialty threads in the needle?

 First of all, buy good metallics or specialty threads.  Good, easy-to-use metallic do exist, my current favorites are Yenmet, YLI, Superior and Madeira FS#20.  The first three are fine metallics in beautiful colors that are coated with a fine resin and do not shred in your needle.  The last is a black core thread with a metallic wound around it that sews just like cotton – you don’t need any special needles or goop at all.  If you want a good sliver metallic (flat, tinsel-like thread), buy Superior Glitter thread

Next, pay attention to the way your thread is wound on the spool.  If your thread is wound about your spool horizontally, so you see even bands of thread (Talon, Coats & Clark, most sliver and Glitter threads), the thread must come off of the SIDE of the spool (not one of the ends), whether the spool is sitting vertically or horizontally.  Try it with some sliver thread – try pulling it off the side and it will stay nice and flat; try pulling it off over one of the ends and it will spin itself into a tizzy.  The same happens – to a lesser or greater degree – with all horizontally, or “stacked” threads.  If your thread is wound about the spool in a figure 8 fashion, it is meant to come off the top of the spool.  Some crosswound threads (Halo, Yenmet, etc.) have big spools with larger “bottom” for the cone to sit on, and it is easy to tell the top and the bottom. 

If you have a Guterman or Sulky crosswound thread, though, you usually cannot tell the top and the bottom (don’t go by the printing, it tells you nothing) until you test it.  With these skinny spools, hold the thread spool horizontally and pull some thread off of one of the ends, and hold that thread up by the spool itself (about 1/2” away) and see if the threads twist themselves around one another.  Let the thread drop.  Test the other end.  Whichever end twists the LEAST is the end you want the thread to come off of.  If you only have one sort of spoolpin, figure out some way to get the thread to come off properly, no matter what kind of spool it is. Get creative and figure out where you can position your thread so that it comes off the spool correctly before it goes to your thread guides, or get a ThreadPro gadget.  It sits beside your sewing machine and has horizontal and vertical spool pins on it.  The thread is taken off the spool horizontally, goes up to a smoothing foam pad, then is sent to your machine in the normal fashion.

No, they are not paying me a commission; it really does make using specialty threads much easier.  They have a website at (, and you usually see them do demonstrations at the major sewing conferences.   They are also available at a lot of quilting stores and at  

Lower your top tension by at least one or two numbers, however much you can lessen it and still get a good stitch.  Keep in mind that if you have a mechanical tension dial, you MUST have your presser foot UP to thread your needle and DOWN to change the tension.  You can twiddle the dial all you want, but it won’t take effect unless you have the presser foot DOWN. 

It may be sufficient just to use the same thread in the top as you do in the bobbin, but you may need to put a fine thread in your bobbin such as a fine machine embroidery thread, or “bobbin” thread in your bobbin to keep the stitches locking evenly.  When I quilt a two-sided quilt, I will often use a very fine (.oo4 mm) invisible thread in the bobbin, so that even though I lessen the top tension considerably, I never see the thread coming to the top.  If you do this, be sure to wind your invisible threads more slowly than you usually do, and only fill the bobbin halfway. 

Put a topstitching needle in your sewing machine, preferably a Schmetz System 130N, size 100 or 110.  These needles are as big as a horse’s leg, but do you really care how big a hole you make as long as thread does not break?  They are somewhat hard to find, but you can usually find them at a store that specializes in selling sewing machines.  I get them from my local Bernina/Pfaff/Elna/White/whatever sewing machine store.  (He also carries Yenmet, Superior & YLI thread, so I figure I have it made.)  Truly, a topstitching needle makes all of the difference in the world.  Get them directly from Schmetz, if you need to, at   

Next, determine whether or not your sewing machine has a computer-regulated tension disc, and lubricate your thread accordingly.  If your machine is old, like mine, you can use Sewer’s Aide or Sewer’s Ease, which you can get at any fabric store.  All of these are thread lubricants that you squirt directly on your thread.  Just squirt a bead or two or three of this lubricant down your spool, and put a little drop on your thread guide.  In addition, you can stick a little square of felt or moleskin to your machine just above where the thread goes to the needle, and squirt a little bit of lubricant on that patch so the thread is lubricated as it passes over the moleskin.  Some people even use a specially lubricated piece of fabric to sew through every now and then, but I cannot be bothered to keep doing that.  With Sewer’s Aide, you only have to do it every 1/2 hour or so, or whenever the thread starts to break.  If there is nowhere to put the moleskin, and your thread is giving you fits, just squirt a little Sewers’ Aide on the back of your needle every half hour or so. 

Another problem that some threads (especially the 1000 yard stacked thread spools, li1ke Superior rayon, other metallics, and slippery threads) have, is that they tend to hop off of the spool and twine themselves around the bottom of the spool pin get caught and the next thing you know, you break the needle.  If you are lucky enough to have two vertical spool pins, put your thread on the spool pin farthest away from the needle, with the thread coming off the back of the spool.  Put a plastic drinking straw over the other spool pin.  Thread your thread through a large sewing machine needle, and stick it through the drinking straw, above the level of the thread spool.  Take the thread out of the needle and continue threading the machine normally.  With the thread going through the drinking straw above the level of the top of the spool, the thread cannot get caught around the bottom of the spool pin, anymore.   

If you have a Janome 6500P that has two vertical spool pins and a metal thingy that you're supposed to thread the thread through before it goes to the needle, you need to take another action.  This machine is only made for stacked threads (where the threads come off the top).  I have tried putting one of the doohickeys that you're supposed to put on top of the thread, under the thread instead, and have the thread come off the side of the spool, but it will often slip down and make the needle break. Instead, hang two equally sized rubber bands from the metallic arm that is above the spoolpins, then slide a thin crochet hook or similar rigid stick through the first rubber band, slide your thread spool onto the crochet hook, then let it rest on the other rubber band.  Your thread will spin nicely on the crochet hook and not get tangled up any more.

Some people buy little stretchy things and slip them over the spool from the bottom, or tie a piece of yarn around the spool in the middle, forcing the thread to come off the spool from the top.  This also works, if you do not have a second spool pin. 

Some machines have a hooky thing as their first thread guide, and you can actually watch your thread being shredded as it goes through this guide (Berninas, especially).  Tape a little safety pin to the top the machine just by this guide, and thread the thread through it instead of the thread guide.  It will really help.

 If you are having trouble with free motion stitching and you have a Brother electronic machine, set the stitch length on “4.”  This will override the magical thing inside that breaks your stitches.

Hope this helps!






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Home Page ******Filament Fantasy**Elements Workshop*   Miniatures*

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Trunk Shows & Workshops*Silk Painting & Essay of the Month **Calendar***Gallery*** E-mail