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Quick Tips


We have many "Quick Tips" for you to help in your quilting experience. There is a list at the top of this page (below) that you can click on for the topics of interest to you!

General Tips
Quilt Shop Fabric vs. Chain Store Fabric
Basic Paper Piecing Tips
Tips for preparing your Quilt Top
Estimating Thread for your quilt top
The Science of Cotton Thread
Sewing Machine Needles - Which to use?
Which to Use - Betweens or Sharps?

General Tips
Clean Bobbin Area
Is your machine noisier than it used to be? How long has it been since you've cleaned your bobbin area? Clean it often to prevent many problems. Clean after each project, or more often if you're sewing on fabric that produces a lot of lint.

When stitching a straight edge to a bias edge, stitch with the bias next to the feed dogs so it won't stretch out of shape.
When hemming by hand or machine, use a small needle to make invisible stitches.

Machine Embroidery
 When stitching small letters, slow your embroidery machine as much as you can.
It’s OK to mix rayon and polyester embroidery threads in a machine embroidery design.

Avoid nylon thread. Nylon thread should not exist in your sewing supplies unless you want the thread to melt. Nylon threads, whether they are woollie-type threads or invisible monofilament threads, have a very low melting temperature, discolor or "yellow" over time, and go brittle. In contrast, polyester thread has a high heat tolerance and will not discolor or go yellow. Polyester threads exist in both the woollie-type and the invisible monofilament.

One more thing to check: If your monofilament thread is labeled "polyamide," that is not polyester, but the chemical name for nylon. Don't be fooled.
    ~ Reprinted with permission from Bob Purcell, Superior Threads
The Difference Between Chain Store Fabrics and Quilters’ Grade Fabrics
by Jim Salinas
I’m often asked, “Is there really any difference between the printed cottons found in chain stores for $2.99 to $5.99 per yard and those found in quilt shops and the best mail order catalogs for $7.99 to $9.99?” You bet there is! Premium brands start with high quality greige (gray) goods. Premium greige goods have a thread count of at least 60 by 60 threads, and most have thread counts higher than “60 square.” Higher thread counts produce a silkier hand, less bearding when quilted, longer fabric life and better printing definition.

Most chain store cotton prints are made from less expensive greige goods that have 60 square construction or less. In chain stores, 60 square construction is considered to be the benchmark of high quality. In addition to thread count, fabric quality is also determined by the diameter of the yarns used, the size of the cotton filaments and the length of the cotton staple. Although premium raw materials are more expensive and add to the final price you pay, you get a far superior finished product.

Premium brands typically make use of a higher number of screens (the number of colors used in the print) and more complex and sophisticated engravings. High screen counts and complex engravings require using slower and more exacting flat bed presses than the high speed rotary presses used by domestic printers for most chain store fabrics.

Once the greige goods are printed, they have to be “finished.” The printed fabric is placed in a chemical bath that sets the dye into the cotton fibers. Unfinished or poorly-finished goods bleed badly and have a very coarse, “boardy” hand. Premium brands are finished using more time-consuming and expensive processes that create the silken hand of quilters’ grade fabric in addition to superior colorfastness.

It is, of course, an over-simplification to divide the cotton print industry into chain store brands and quilt shop/mail order catalog brands. Indeed, chain stores often carry a limited range of premium brands. But, generally speaking, chain store offerings are price driven. They cannot easily sell the higher priced fabrics to their clientele. As a result, chain stores tend to carry the lower priced (and therefore lower quality) cotton fabrics.

Consider also the element of design. Premier designers tend to design for premium fabric companies. The technical aspects of the use of premium greige goods, printing many screens with fine definition, creating a silken hand through more sophisticated finishing processes – all these elements enhance a designer’s efforts. World-class design brings a unique dimension to premium quality fabric. It comes with a price, but it adds immeasurably to the special nature of quilters’ grade fabric.

There is one more point that should be addressed. That is the issue of service and expertise.  Most quilt shops and mail order quilting catalogs, the prime sources of premium fabrics, are well staffed with knowledgeable, friendly, quilting experts. Most shops provide classes and expertise unmatched by the chains. Quilt shops and mail order catalogs generally do not sell jobber goods. They offer only first quality, premium brands at fair prices. These firms deserve your support.

In conclusion, there is most definitely a difference in fabrics. You get what you pay for. Premium brands offer a vast quality advantage over cheaper alternatives for just a modest increase in cost, especially when you consider the effort, skill and love that will go into your use of the fabric.   -Jim Salinas
Basic Paper Piecing Tips

     Please read all the instructions before beginning your paper piecing project.

          -- Adjust your sewing machine stitch length to 1.5, or 20 stitches to the inch.

          -- Use a #14 sewing machine needle to create larger holes which allow easier paper removal.

          -- Cut apart the pattern units, being sure to leave a little paper around the outside of the dotted lines.

          -- Begin each unit of the block by cutting the fabric piece for the #1 section a little larger on all sides than the printed area.

          -- Pin the wrong side of the fabric to the wrong side of the paper.

          -- Build the block by adding each piece in numerical sequence, right sides together, and stitching on the lines.

          -- Be sure to trim away your excess seam allowance after adding each piece, and press well before moving to the next number in the sequence.

          -- Watch out for tricky angles and test each new addition by holding the pieces up to the light to make sure the piece you’ve cut will cover the space.

          -- It’s a good idea to roughly cut fabric for the largest sections of the block first, to make sure you've allowed plenty of fabric for them when you
             come to them in the sequence.

          -- Remember that you’re working with a kit (which has limited fabric) but don’t make things too hard on yourself by cutting tiny pieces that may not
             fit. The kit has plenty of fabric if you’re reasonably careful.

          -- Trim really well on the dotted lines before joining the units into the completed block. The better you trim, the better your block will fit together.

          -- Remember that paper piecing patterns are mirrored – what you see on the printed side will be opposite of what you will see on the fabric side
             of the block.

          -- We recommend that you make a copy of the paper pieced pattern included in your kit so that you can save the pattern for future use.

 Preparing Your Quilt Top

          Whether you quilt your top yourself or employ the services of a long-arm quilter, following these simple tips will make the results more successful.

          Press Your Quilt.    Press all seams so that they lay flat. You may press them all to one side or press them open which ever will result in the least
          bulk at seam intersections. Pressing as you go will result in a better quilt.

          Measure Your Borders.      The most common problem when machine quilting is a top with a wavy border. This happens when you don't
          measure your border before adding it to your quilt top.  Before adding a border, measure the width across the middle, top, and bottom of the
          quilt top; average those three numbers and cut your border length to that measurement.

          Mark the center and each quarter of the quilt top; do the same for the border. Match up all marks and pin the border to the quilt top. Sew the border,
          being careful to not stretch or distort the seam a walking foot can help prevent seam distortion.

          Press seam toward the border.

          Repeat for each border.

         Backing.      Press the fabric for your quilt backing and remove the fabric selvages.

          Piece backing (if necessary), being careful to not stretch or distort the seam a walking foot can help prevent seam distortion.

          Press seams.

          Backing should measure at least 6 inches wider and 6 inches longer than your quilt top.

Untangling the Thread: Estimating Thread for Quilting
        Bob Purcell at Superior Threads often gets asked the question "how much thread does it take to quilt a quilt?"  Estimates vary widely depending on
        the size of the quilt and how tightly your quilting will be. But Bob spent many hours tangled up while figuring out the amount of thread it will take
        for the average quilt.  

       Everyone's technique is different so the following are only averages.  Of course it is possible to use much more or much less thread.  The numbers
       are for the top thread only.  Double them if you plan to use the same thread for the bobbin.  The three sets of numbers following the size represent
       Light Quilting/ Medium Quilting/ Heavy Quilting.

Laptop/Crib quilt- 200 yds./400 yds./600 yds.
Twin quilt- 400 yds./800 yds./1,200 yds.
Queen quilt-600 yds./1,000 yds./1,600 yds.
King quilt-700 yds./1,500 yds./2,000 yds.

       This great tip was found in the School of Threadology manual.  The book and accompanying DVD lay to rest many of the myths we have heard
       for years, as well as great 'hands-on' tips to make your sewing smooth sailing.  For more great thread tips check out the complete set available
       through Superior Threads.

The Science of Cotton Threads

      An excellently pieced seam requires skill as well as good components. One of the major components of a good seam is the thread. Most quilters prefer
      cotton thread for piecing because cotton has a high heat tolerance and is therefore iron-safe. Cotton is also softer and more pliable than  most other
      fibers.  Here is what to look for in a quality cotton piecing thread:

Twist.  The twist should be consistently smooth and quite tight. Hold the thread up to the light.  If you see bumps in the thread or inconsistent twisting, it is not high quality. These bumps, or slubs, will get caught in the tension disc and in the needle which will result in lint buildup and a weakened thread as they are snagged. They will also add unwanted bulk to the pieced portions, resulting in not-so-flat seams.

Fuzz factor.  If you hold the thread up to the light and see no fuzz at all, that’s bad. Either the thread isn’t cotton or it is a glazed cotton. Glazed threads are for hand quilting, not machine piecing or quilting because the glaze rubs off in the tension disc and other areas and gums up the machine. If you see a lot of fuzz and uneven amounts of fuzz along the strand, it is not a quality thread. If you see a very small amount of fuzz and the thread is consistently smooth, that’s a good one.

Thread thickness.  Cotton thread is almost always either a 2-ply or 3-ply thread. A high quality 2-ply thread can be stronger than a lower quality 3-ply thread due to the fibers and the processing. A thin, smooth thread will make the best seam because it lies flat in the fabric. Therefore, assuming the quality is the same, a 50 wt. cotton thread will make a better seam than a heavier 40 wt. cotton thread. When pressed, the finer thread will make a better seam and the  points will match up better.

Strength.  A non-glazed, fine cotton thread will not win any strength contests by itself.  However, because the average stitch length for piecing is 12 stitches per inch, the strength is in the stitching. A high quality 50 wt. 2-ply cotton is the perfect piecing thread.

Piecing with matching colors.  I saw a beautiful quilt that had what looked like pencil marks next to all the seams. I wondered why the quilter didn’t erase them. Upon closer examination, what I was seeing was a gray thread showing through a yellow fabric. Had the quilter pieced with a matching yellow thread, it would have not been noticeable. Although many think that white, cream, and gray threads are the only necessary colors for piecing, matching the piecing thread color to the fabric really does make a big difference.
~ Reprinted with permission from Bob Purcell, Superior Threads
Sewing Machine Needles

Q.  How do I know what needle to use for quilting, sewing, embroidering, and piecing?

A.  We listen to the professionals -- those who do and those who teach.  The majority tell us they use the Topstitch style needle for nearly all applications including piecing (#80/12 needle), embroidery (#90/14), quilting (needle size depends on the thread size), general sewing construction/crafting (usually #80/12).  The only exception is when sewing on knit fabrics and they use a ball point needle.

Top secret revealed: The bestselling brand of home machine needles puts the exact same needle in the Topstitch and Metallic needle package.  It's the same needle.  One needle, two packages = double the sales.  Save your money.  You do not need to buy both.

Hand Sewing and Quilting Needles - Betweens or Sharps?

       If you sew at all, you probably already have “sharps” in your sewing kit. If you’re hand piecing cotton fabrics, use a sharp. Experiment with the sizes
       in your “sharps” needle pack to see which works best for you. A lot of hand piecers prefer the #10 size needle.

       To hand quilt your project, you will need to use a needle from the “between” pack.

       You may want to experiment with needles of different companies to find one that suits you. Some are stronger than others and will not bend as easily.

       Needles labeled "inbetweens" or "Betweens" are designed for hand quilting. They are shorter and thicker than Sharps.

       Why use one kind for sewing and one kind for quilting?

       “Sharps” are, well, sharp. A sharp point penetrates fabric like cotton without doing much damage. If you used a blunt tip needle for your piece work,
       you would likely leave large holes in the fabric with each stitch. Sharps pass through the fabric easily.

       Their thin, sharp tip is just the right size to separate the fabric fibers enough to pull thread through without leaving large holes.

       The “Betweens” are used for quilting because their tip works through several layers of fabric better. Betweens are perfect for working through a
       batting with a condensed or thick loft. And their short length allows the "rocking" motion needed to create even and short stitches.
~From the website by Penny Halgren