Think Like a Scientist!


Things do not always go smoothly when you’re a quilter. The color in a favorite piece of fabric can bleed onto another fabric. Fabric can shrink when you don’t want it to. Batting can fight you if you’re a hand quilter who has chosen the wrong batting. Your thread can break, fray, or knot not just once, but over and over and over. What is a quilter to do?!

Unfortunately, for many of us, we forget that once upon a time we took these classes in school that were called SCIENCE. We watched the teacher do experiments. We were forced to do our own experiments and write reports about them. And, somewhere along the way, we forgot there was a process to science, a pattern we should follow no matter what the experiment was for. Does this sound at all familiar?

Here are some science words you might remember from way back:

  • Systems, order, and organization.
  • Evidence, models, and explanation.
  • Change, constancy, and measurement.
  • Form and function.

Let’s take a look at two areas of hand quilting from a scientific point of view.

ONE. Which marker will work best to draw my quilting design on my quilt top?

hoopThis is easy! Get out a small quilt hoop (10-12 inch). Now, we’re going to make a little sample quilt to play with. Take a piece of the same fabric as you are using in the quilt top (if it is going to be a whole cloth quilt) or several strips of fabric that you used in your quilt top and sew them together. Make sure your sample top is larger than your quilt hoop! Grab a piece of the same batting that you plan to use in your project and cut it larger than the quilt hoop. Take a piece of the same fabric that you will use as your quilt backing, cut it to match size of the top and batting. Layer the three pieces together as a quilt sandwich. Don’t eat it.sandwich

Using several different markers that you might want to use, draw a simple shape with each one on the sample top.

Put your little sample quilt sandwich into your hoop.

Get out your needle and the same thread you plan on using on your quilt. Quilt each shape. Which marker was easiest to follow? Make a note of that. (Example: Liked the blue washout line, hated the chalk, it smudged, etc.)

Take your quilt sandwich out of your hoop, toss it into a bath of cold water in your kitchen sink and let it sit there for about a half hour. Squeeze the water out of it, and flatten it out on your kitchen counter. What do you see? Are there markings that totally vanished? Which ones disappeared? Which markings stayed visible? Now toss your sample into the washing machine with regular laundry detergent and let it run for a full cycle. (It’s ok if you put it in with your laundry…) Take it out of the wash when finished, put it back on your kitchen counter, and give it another look. What do you notice?

Which marker did the best job for you? All markers were used in the same manner. They were all rinsed in plain water, and all put through a regular wash cycle. Everything is consistent EXCEPT the markers.

TWO. Why does my hand quilting thread fray/break/knot/twist? How do I fix that?

If you have ever had a problem with your thread when hand quilting, you know the frustration. Let’s do some experimenting and see what might be causing the problem.

First, make yourself a small quilt sandwich just like we did in the first experiment. Don’t worry about drawing stitching lines on your sandwich. You can just quilt randomly without markings. Grab your thread, the needle you’re using, and your thimble. (You DO use a thimble, right?) Start quilting. Just relax and stitch in a grid or crosshatching fashion. Does your thread twist? Fray? Does your needle grab the fabric? Listen to your needle as you put it into the quilt top. Does it make a little POP sound? If so, perhaps the top of your needle has a burr on it.

If anything happens as you quilt to cause your thread to fray/break/knot or twist, stop. Get out a different kind of thread (note: a different brand of hand quilting thread). Thread the SAME needle and thimble that you have been using, and start stitching. Watch what happens. Be very aware of what is happening, listen to the needle go in and out, watch the thread, let your hand experience what happens. If the thread starts to fray/break/knot or twist, stop again.

This time, get out a new needle from the SAME pack. Keep using the same thread and same thimble. Start stitching, listening, feeling and watching. See what happens. If you STILL have a problem with the thread, time to try a different brand of needles.

Now keep the thread the same, use the same thimble, but a different brand of needle. Try it again.

One more thing you might want to try is adjusting the tightness of your quilt hoop. If the quilt sandwich is pulled too tightly, that could cause your problems.

Does this seem monotonous to you? It might. But if all of a sudden you change your thread, needle AND thimble at the same time, you won’t know what is causing your problem… and you won’t know how to correct it.

Remember, when experimenting you want to keep a constant variable (control). In science, a constant variable is a factor that does not change during the course of the particular experiment. The independent variable is the one that is changed by the scientist. To insure a fair test, a good experiment has only one independent variable. As the scientist changes the independent variable, he or she observes what happens. In our first experiment, the marker was the independent variable. In our second experiment with the thread, we actually had several little experiments. The words above in red show the independent variable each time.

Oh my goodness. Did we just do SCIENCE? Cool! And it didn’t even hurt!


JJ12011  Want to try a different brand of needle289

          How about trying a new thread


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