Open Line Friday–On Pins, Thread Fibers, Stiff Quilts

Quilting Pins, Free Motion Quilting

Good Morning, Quilters!  It’s Friday–Open Line Friday here at The Inbox Jaunt.

We have three questions from readers this week.

The first two questions are from Rebecca at The Cheeky Cognoscenti. (Be sure to check out the gorgeous Pineapple Log Cabin on her design wall!)


Does heavy quilting with heavy thread make the quilt stiff?

My experience (and I quilt heavily with 28 weight thread at times)  is the quilt may feel stiff at first, but softens readily as soon as it gets wrapped around someone.

The softening effect could be mechanical–the fibers relax a little when they are manipulated-just from normal use.

Or… it could be body oils?

I do not have any quilts that feel stiff once they are used, and certainly don’t feel stiff once they are washed.

Batting also comes into play here…I use wool or cotton batting.

This is just my experience- We’d love to hear from the group…

What is YOUR experience with quilts/thread/stiffness?



Rebecca’s second question:

What about the old school claim that synthetic fibers (rayon and polyester) should not be used in a quilt because these fibers are stronger than the cotton fabric and the thread will cut into the fabric and damage the quilt over time.

This is a claim I have read as well, but I believe it has been debunked by the experts.  Bob Purcell at Superior Threads has a great article:

Will Polyester Really Tear the Fabric?

In the article, Bob explains that thread rarely tears fabric and if it does it’s because it won “the strength battle”–Cotton thread can do this as well…

He claims that the reason people use cotton thread is mostly tradition.

What do YOU think about thread fiber and heirloom quilts?  Do YOU restrict yourself to cotton and silk or do you use rayon, poly or nylon in YOUR quilts?

NOTE-I just ordered Superior Threads FREE DVD-Thread Therapy with Dr. Bob.  I haven’t seen this video yet, but one of our readers recommended it and I know his other educational programs are spot-on!  As soon as you go to the Superior website the FREE DVD offer pops up.



The third question is from my two sisters, Teri and Pat.  They would like to know if anyone could recommend safety pins for basting.   Pat prefers brass pins–she has found they leave smaller holes, but she can only find them in multi-size packs – with some pins too large and some too small.

Can anyone recommend a finer safety pin and/or a source for brass safety pins in a single size?


If you’re making any fall quilts…

Braided Wheat-One of my favorites

The Oak Leaf and Acorn

The Perfect Pumpkin

Happy Stitching!


PS…All tutorials, information and images are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin and tweet with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at  Thanks!

36 thoughts on “Open Line Friday–On Pins, Thread Fibers, Stiff Quilts

  1. POLY THREAD: I have heard from multiple sources now (all professional long arm quilters) that the thought “poly will tear quilting cotton” is not only a myth, but was perpetuated by the cotton industry when poly thread came out.

    Two instructors even suggested to look at antique quilts to look at them and see where the wear was. So I did and was surprised! The wear on the quilt was where the quilting wasn’t. The quilting makes the quilt stronger, and where there wasn’t quilting the top layer of the quilt wore away.

    Jamie Wallen even said that some of the larger Quilt museums are asking him to pass the word that polly is BETTER for your quilting. The quilt museums have seen where cotton thread used for quilting is attracting moisture when quilts are stored in basements or attics. Then the moisture rots the thread and then the quilt itself.

  2. Hrm… I sorted out all my safety pins and put all the brass ones aside. Let me go dig them up.

    (I had pins from my mom and grandmother all jumbled up and it drove me nuts when basting.)

  3. Great topics/questions!!! I use any and all threads that give me the finish I desire and have not had any problems with damage to the fabric (old or new!). I have read much that has “debunked” this tale. I use cotton/poly (Hobbs) and love it. Usage and washing/drying take care of any stiffness that may immediately be felt. I use basting pins (not brass) exclusively and have found that the various brands have them in “fine” weight(?). They’re not carried everywhere but the card does specify “fine” on it. These will even pin through batiks easily so it’s worth the hunt for them…..or just request that you LQS order them in. I’m sure other quilters will really appreciate this being done, also.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation on the DVD. I just ordered it. Regarding pins – I am a huge fan of Bohin 1.5″ curved safety pins for pin basting. They are more expensive than other brands, but I strongly believe this is a case of you get what you pay for. They go through fabric like butter. Joanne’s on line sells them so you can use your coupons. I haven’t seen them in my local Joanne’s but I get them from my local quilt shop. Gotta support our LQS!! Have fun.

    • Squeal! I didn’t know Bohin made curved safety pins for quilt basting! I am head over heels in love with their hand applique needles. I also use their tiny applique pins, although I was flustered and irked by a quality control issue in the last package I bought. At least a dozen pins were mixed in that did not have points — they must have been cut to length by one machine and somehow bypassed the next machine that was supposed to sharpen the tip. Could not figure out why I couldn’t get the pin through the fabric until I put my glasses on… 🙂

  5. I just read in a quilt magazine that there is a new pin without a coil. I’d like to give those a try.
    As to holes from pins: give them a little spritz with a water spray bottle and as they dry the holes will close up. WARNING: be sure the fabric color won’t bleed or run.

  6. Good morning. When I started long-arming I spent countless hours fiddling with the tension on my Gammill when I tried using threads other than cotton (Signature). Many times that fiddling turned into frustration and time loss trying to find that perfect setting. Over the years I’ve learned that I have to change the tension when the weather changes. I live near the ocean and humidity, and lack of it, affects it.

    When So Fine came out, my machining group tried it and many switched to using it instead of cotton. There’s a big difference in look and texture between the two. I tried using it on and off over the years, but I still have tension problems. The setting is almost completely opposite of what it is when using cotton thread. Because of thread breakage, skipped stitches, and loops on the back, I strictly use cotton threads on quilts for my clients. If it’s my own work, I’ll invest the time to mess with the tension if I want to use any other threads.

    The heavy quilting thing: I love quilts that have consistent coverage. I too quilt heavily on my own work. I’ve learned that putting a good wool product in my quilts helps with the stiffness problem. Wool is much more supple than cotton and cotton blends. That said, I have wall quilts that I’ve heavily quilted,that hang straight and flat.

    In going to shows, seeing the plethra of designs and quilting, is a huge step to deciding what YOU like for your quilts. I’m constantly looking at quilting designs people do for inspiration. It’s amaazing and I’m thankful to have these experiences and the love of other piecer’s, machiner’s, and admirer’s to share them with.

  7. In my experience, stiffness in quilts is more directly related to the type of batting used than how heavily the project is quilted.

    If I had to use pins to baste quilts, I would have to quit quilting, due to carpal tunnel. I have used the Microtach fastener for years to baste my quilts – including queen-sized quilts. It has very small nylon fasteners that leave smaller holes than the curved basting pins I have.
    One big advantage to me is that they make quilting a large quilt on a home sewing machine much lighter and easier to handle than one loaded with safety pins.
    I also like the fact that I don’t have to maneuver around pins, or stop and remove pins as I quilt. If I accidently sew over the little nylon fasteners, it is ok. I did break one needle when it hit the end of the fastener wrong, but that was only one needle broken in about 10 years of quilting with them.

    I’ve heard pros and cons for years regarding polyester vs. cotton thread for heirloom quilts. Only time will tell.

    • Judith: thank you for the tip about the Microtach fasteners! I am looking for an alternative to pins, because I also have problems with my hands. I see there are several kinds of the Microtach fasteners–which one do you use?

  8. Thank you for today’s entries and the two links. I mostly use cotton fabric and thread for both machine and hand piecing/quilting. I started with these, and rarely feel the need for something else. I do use polyester and rayon thread for the top thread at times, and have liked the results. My quilts get lots of use. The cotton fabric and thread hold up excellently and remain soft.

  9. Those small, curved safety pins served me well for years, but it is a longer and more tedious process than I currently use. Now I use the long flower tipped pins that I bend in the middle. They slip right through all layers, and I secure them with self-healing Pinmoor anchors that I push over the sharp tip of the pins. For me, this is faster than the small, curved safety pins, and was very much worth the change.

  10. This is info I have gleaned in various classes. From Sue Patten, who does dense long-arm FMQ – as long as it is not thread painting and as long as it is not polyester batting, her quilts are soft and flexible. She brought several to classes to show us, and they had micro-quilting in places but were still soft. From Jamie Wallen, also long-arm FMQ, don’t worry about polyester thread – its manufacturing process is vastly different from the original process and no longer a problem on cotton fabrics, as far as he is concerned. From Leah Day re pins – she takes Clover pins and bends them with pliers into a gentle “C” – then she has a box of foam caps – she pokes the pin into the quilt, and its curve brings it right back up, at which point she pops on a foam cap. I haven’t tried her pin technique but in her videos, it looks fast and effective. Hope this is helpful –

  11. An 80-yr. old in my group confessed that she “pin bastes” and she does beautiful work. I figured if it worked for her, it would work for me. And it does! There is nothing about quilting that I don’t like – except basting! As for a source for the pins, patronize your local quilt shop. Those pins without a coil (I have one and it always seems to be the one I grab and throw back) frustrate me no end. They disappear into the quilt and then the fabric goes into the clasp and then I have to ease it out before it makes a hole. Not worth my time. I guess the next time that ornery pin ends up in my hand, it should go in the trash.

  12. To me, a quilt that’s “quilted to death” is stiff and won’t ever be as “soft” as one that’s quilted less.

    I FMQ with Metro machine embroidery thread, I absolutely love everything about it, how it looks after quilting, the price and the great customer service.

    I ABSOLUTELY hate basting with pins, of any kind. I’ll either spray baste, which I prefer, but because of cost I don’t use as often as I would like, or I’ll thread baste.

      • I use firm hairspray on my lap quilts, on warm & natural batting and it holds together very nicely. I use basting pins on the outside but not too many as they get in the way when FMQing. The hairspray is usually all gone by the time I finish quilting or it washes out and leaves the fabric soft again.

  13. I too disliked the large holes from safety pins. I switched to flower straight pins and PinMoors to cap the points, following a hint from Leah Day. For the most part they stay together. If I must do a lot of manipulating (I quilt on a domestic machine) the caps occasionally pop off.

  14. I agree that the stiffness issue is due more to the batting than the density of the quilting. As an older quilter, making the transition to the current practice of not prewashing fabric, one thing that makes a huge difference for me is tossing the quilt into the washing machine when it’s done. Some quilts I dry completely flat; others I may toss into the dryer for a bit to get some of the moisture out before laying them out flat to finish drying. My favorite batting is wool, followed by cotton. I try to avoid any batting that has a coating or a scrim to hold it together. That adds to stiffness. Also, the fluffier the batting is before you quilt, the softer the finished quilt will be, as it will maintain its loft between your quilting lines, no matter how close. I’m not a fan of needle punched battings that approach the feeling of felt!

    I’ve never had a problem with washing a quilt. It gets rid of any sizing/starch remaining in the fabric/batting, and if the quilt is well constructed and evenly quilted, it will come through just fine, with the advantage of feeling more like a “quilt” than the stiffer product we usually have right after finishing the last of the binding. Don’t worry about your smaller wall quilts, either. As long as you finish the drying by lying them flat, they will hang perfectly on your walls. Possibly better than before washing — we don’t always realize how much our stitching and quilting and pulling and manipulating introduce little pockets of distortion. Washing lets everything relax back to its original shape/position. (And it will make any pinholes left from pin basting just disappear, as well, as the fabric threads relax again.)

  15. With budding arthritis in one thumb joint, pinning is a problem. I began hand basting my quilts using the method demonstrated on Youtube by Sharon Schamber (first of the three videos). It is a great method particularly if you are not going to quilt right away…cotton thread does not rust or leave holes in your quilt! I like the control you have and how the tension is just right. I also like spray basting but that is hard to do with really large quilts. Thankyou Judith for recommending the microtach (sp?). I will try that too!

  16. Thanks for the pins and microtach suggestions. I will try some of those ideas.
    Related to some of the basting comments from last week and having the table space, my local quilt shop has a large room for classes. They let people use it for basting, can push two tables together, when there is no class. Might want to check with your local shop.

  17. I use pin basting first and then baste with dissolvable thread so I can remove the pins and then can just free motion quilt without having to stop and remove pins. This takes more time, but it works well for me. When done, my quilts get washed and the basting goes away leaving a wonderfully cuddly quilt. As far as thread choice goes, it depends on my quilts. I am a fan of Aurifil threads, so that gets used, but the Superior King Tut poly thread is variegated and lovely too. I use mostly warm and natural batting, but occasionally use the 80/20. I used bamboo on one quilt and it is so cuddly soft! I purchased more for my next quilt! I have samples of cotton/wool and am going to give those a try too.

  18. Of all my quits I have the only one I considered as stiff, or at least stiffer than I would prefer. I used cotton batting and Aurifil threads, but density of quilting along the edges was very high (McTavishing). It also consumed a lot of thread.
    Here it is:
    When I used a wool batting the quilt was not stiff even in heavy quilted areas.

  19. Thanks for inviting everyone to answer my questions, Lori! Now I have so many great new ideas to investigate! Washing making the quilts softer is an epiphany for me. I was experimenting with a lot of different threads, battings, and FMQ patterns last year and created a stack of samples, some of which are stiffer than I like, but of course I didn’t wash any of them since they are just FQ sandwich samples. Now that I’m thinking about it, all of my “real” quilts done with cotton thread softened up in the wash, and I’m sure those with other quilting threads would soften up as well.

  20. Lori, not sure if you are aware
    but your emails are coming to my inbox as If I click the link it does take me to theinbox jaunt. Just wanted to let you know.

  21. American Quilter had an ad in it for a product called Mistyfuse. It says “Scatter bits of Mistyfuse over your batting. Add quilt top. Iron.” No fumes, no messy spray, no stiffness, perfectly fused sandwich, etc.
    I intend to order it ASAP. And a lot of it.
    I would try anything to not pin baste. Even taking the quilt to a long arm quilter, when I’d rather try FMQ myself.
    Right Lori?

  22. I’ve tried straight pins, curved and straight safety pins and basting but the method I like best is spray basting with a product lie “Web Bond” by Mettler or “505” spray.

    Lay out the backing, wrong side up and lay the batting on top of it. Smooth out the batting and backing, then fold back the batting half way and spray the backing fabric lightly with the basting spray. I usually do a section about 12″ – 14″. Smooth the batting over the sprayed fabric. Continue to spray baste the batting to the backing in small sections until completed. Then lay the Top of the quilt onto the batting and repeat the process. You can reposition the fabric for a while If you find a wrinkle. then off to the sewing machine without any pins in your way. This worked extremely well to hold some “Minky” fabric into place on a twin size quilt. Make sure you use in a ventilated area and cover your area so the spray doesn’t get on furniture or floor.

    Totally removed the stress I felt when I got to this point on completing my quilt.
    Talk to your LQS they’ll be happy to explain the process to you.

    • This I is exactly how I baste my quilts!! (except I tape my backing down) My son helped me baste a 60×70 throw the other day, and it went ridiculously fast 🙂

  23. I use polyester thread for quilting all the time: embroidery aurifil thread called Auripoly and polyneon by Madeira. I prefer the latter as it is less fluffy when cut. Love the sheen!
    I am experimenting with metallic threads, not super happy with the results at the moment.

  24. I use extra-long staple cotton thread and polyester thread on my quilts – all from Superior Threads 🙂 I don’t use rayon even when I do embroidery – love the sheen but it fades and isn’t always color-fast when washed – had a thread bleed once and that’s all it took. Adore Superior Threads metallic threads – no problem at all with the thread breaking – I do use a larger needle so there is less friction on the metallic thread. If you are going to spray baste – put your backing on several tables (or the floor) and tape down securely and smoothly; fold your batting in half and lay it on the backing; spray the side that is up with spray baste and carefully lay it down on the backing – smooth it with your hand. Fold the batting back in half (the half you didn’t spray, lay it on the half you sprayed), spray it and lay it on the backing…smooth. Fold your top into quarters and lay it in place on the batting – spray the quarter of the batting that will take out the first fold of the quilt top and fold the top over it, smooth; fold the top back into a quarter and spray the batting, fold the top back over the now-sprayed batting, smooth. Now you have half of the top secured with spray baste and half not – eyeball and spray about 1/2 of the exposed batting – go from one edge of where the quilt top will be to the other – unfold the top completely and smooth where the spray baste is. Fold up the final part of the quilt top to be spray basted – go gently and you will feel the tug of where you have basted already – spray the batting then finish smoothing the top to the batting.

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