Monday, 17 February 2014

Threads for EPP


Recently I've been experimenting with what thread I use when I'm hand-sewing, specifically English paper piecing. The thread I'd been using for the last few years had been snapping easily, perhaps because I like to give a tiny tug after each stitch, and I was looking for a change. Some of the lovelies over on Instagram suggested I try Superior Thread's The Bottom Line. This thread was originally developed as a bobbin thread for machinists as it's incredibly thin, virtually invisible and unbelievably strong. Cotton purists will dislike it because it's a poly thread, but I personally don't have a problem with this myself.

Anyway, this thread is amazing - it allows you to create hand-stitches that are virtually invisible and I've been sewing with it for several weeks now and I haven't had a single strand snap, which is refreshing after the frequent thread changes I was getting up to with my old thread. I thought you might like to see the difference in finish it can give. In the two images below, I used Superior's Bottom Line thread in a very pale silver (colour no. 623). The only sign of the stitches is the little pull in the fabric, where I've pulled it taut, rather than the actual stitch. It's a 60 weight thread, lint-free and feels like silk when it glides through the fabric.



In the photos below, I've used a regular thread that's widely used for hand piecing.



This morning, I took these photos of old projects I've worked on, for the purpose of illustrating this post. It's an odd thing, because while I love the option of being able to sew with less visibly intrusive stitches (and I really, really love being able to sew with a thread that doesn't snap repeatedly), I realised as I took these photos that I also still embrace the sign of a human hand having been there and I'm not entirely sure that I want to rid my hand-sewing of that. That's a really curious realisation for someone whose aspirations normally hover around the Made by Robots level.


This is a close up photo of the Liberty print quilt that I made for my daughter a while ago (it also shows some of my first ever hand-quilting stitches, as well as the English paper piecing stitches). The quilt has now been washed a few times and so the cottons have shrunk, straining the stitches a little, as well as warping the once clean lines of the piecing. The quilt now looks more like something akin to those fragile pieces from the V&A Quilts 1700 - 2010 exhibition, where the visible stitches in the antique quilts made my heart ache slightly. One of the things on my 'Life's To-Do List' (as opposed to the weekly, or even annual list) was the give my daughter a hand-made quilt; if the stitches weren't visible I'm not sure I would have actually created a quilt that served the purpose I wanted (that being to leave a visible sign of care and comfort in a medium that feels like a second voice: hand quilt-making).


This no longer looks as neat as it did when I first sewed it together, but I love what it's becoming. Here's a photo of when it was a work in progress a few summers ago. 


Either way, I can see a place for both types of thread. I think there are some projects where you might want your sewing to feel personal and very much an extension of yourself, and others where you want your work to have a finish that's more crisp and precise. The two photos at the top of the post show snippets of an English paper pieced cushion I'm making for a magazine, where I'm happy for the finish to be less personal. I also think it would be the thread I'd use if I was working on a framed EPP project for the wall, so I thought I'd share the different thread options and the finishes they give in case you have times when you too aspire for less visible stitches and don't already know about The Bottom Line thread. 

I'm going to look into whether Superior make a thread for times when I want my stitches to be a little more visible, but without the dreaded thread-snapping problem (I use their King Tut thread for hand-quilting and it's excellent, so they seem to be becoming my go-to thread brand). I'd love to hear about what finish you aspire to with your own sewing: whether you feel attempting to sew too perfectly irons out the soul of a hand-made piece; or whether you view perfectionism as a sign of skill that makes you love your work - or that of others - even more; when you  EPP do you see your visible stitches as part of the intrinsic appeal and 'tactileness' of the piece; or do you attempt to sew, elf-like, enjoying the challenge of attempting to leave only the slightest sign of your handiwork? 

Florence x

25 comments:

  1. The difference with that thread is amazing! I do know what you mean about being able to see the stitches adding a very handmade feel to a quilt though too.

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    1. I know - it's incredible isn't it - the pale grey is a colour that I think would go with most things if you're tempted to try it out and don't want to invest in lots of colours.

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  2. I love things to look handmade but the handmadeness has to be in the right places! Or perhaps what I mean is the difference between the inevitable little wonkinesses in something made with care, and just signs of carelessness. Of course you'll never be guilty of the latter - everything you sew is incomprehensibly neat, Florence, even when your stitches show! (Or even especially then?) I adore what's happening to your Liberty quilt, it's really got that heirloom look already. x

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    1. The Liberty quilt was a real surprised - I hadn't really realised what it looked like until I photographed it this morning!

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  3. I very much like the Aurifil threads, have you tried those?

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    1. It's actually Aurifil that I've had a problem with - I know so many people who love it though that I wonder if I just like to pull on my thread quite hard! Either way, unfortunately it just doesn't seem to work so well for me.

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    2. That's interesting as I've also had problems with Aurifil, and I'd come to the conclusion my machine hates it. I'd not really enjoyed hand sewing with it either and had gone back to Gutermann. I'm going to try out some of the Superior threads, thank you for posting this.

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  4. Hi! I have been following your blog for a while now. I quilt but despise piecing preferring foundation piecing. I decided to try my hand at EPP so I was surfing about looking for information and it took me to your site. I think I will order some of this thread because I don't like changing threads to match the colors of whatever I am using. Since this is almost invisible, I think that would solve my problem. BTW -- your site is very helpful and good fun to read. I visit often.

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    1. That's so funny - I'm the other way around. I adore the precision that foundation piecing allows, but don't find it enjoyable to do at all, so avoid it. I think the pale grey thread would blend well with most things - I hope you like it and thank you for your lovely comments.

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  5. I read this post with interest as someone who loves EPP and has just attempted her first hand-quilting. I agree with you about the appeal of the handmade but also worry about things looking too handmade if I make them for someone else.
    Like Boyett-Brinkley I have been looking for a more invisible thread for more multicoloured projects, so will most likely give this thread a try - thanks for the heads up :-)

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    1. You're welcome - do let me know what you think!

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  6. The thread you've discovered sounds great, I get annoyed by the snapping too (I do almost all of my sewing by hand). I don't think I'd be bothered if my stitches were invisible.

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    1. It's really odd - invisible stitches have been my holy grail for the last few years, so it was funny how much of a different take on things I was given just as I took the photos this morning. Ultimately, I think I'm probably very much on the invisible stitches side of the fence, when not swayed by sentimentality!

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  7. Hi

    Thanks for your review of this thread. I have been looking for something like this for awhile. Have found a stockist in New Zealand and have just placed my first order. Cant wait to try it out. Sue

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    1. Please do let me know what you think - I really love the way it sews - it has a lovely silky feel to it.

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  8. I love the look of the stitches where you can see them. I can see what tiny gorgeous little stitches they are and I really like that very much. With the new thread I can't see how tiny your stitches are as I simply can't see them, so I am strangely less impressed than by the smaller ones which I can see and find really beautiful. It's a funny thing.

    For me too, sometimes there is an optimum size stitch, too big and well it looks ugly and ungainly, too small and it just looks mean and pinched and tight (I feel the same way with tiny tiny writing). I like small and even stitches or even tiny ones - just not teeny tiny!

    I am however in the market for new thread. I was shocked to find Gutermann thread less than the excellent I was expecting as it usually is well recommended. I find it splitty and not that strong. This is for hand stitching. I was going to try Coats again but my local stockist doesn't sell it, as that was the brand I used to use. I have also heard Mettler mentioned as very good but I had not heard of it previously.

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  9. I'm new to EPP and am working on smallish scale hexies (6mm and 10mm) for doll quilts. I was frustrated by my stitches showing because they looked out of scale in the context of the 1/8th scale doll room. After hunting around for recommended threads, I could only find bottom line thread in bright white and on a ginormous roll so passed it up. I found a sampler pack of Invisifil which is 100wt but strong and I'm really enjoying it. I will try bottom line if I can ever find it locally

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  10. I have heard good reports of Bottom Line for hand piecing as well as EPP. A word of caution about using polyester thread in general - I used to use it for piecing until one day I discovered that it had worn through the fabric on one of my quilts. The thread was stronger than the fabric and had worn through it (it was a much used quilt.) I'm sure thread has improved since then but it's worth considering whether you want the strongest part of your quilt to be the thread. I'd rather repair a seam than replace a piece of fabric. I haven't had any problems with Aurifil but I think sometimes the needles cause the problems and I am using a good set of needles at the moment!

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  11. I like the visibility -as you say, it's handmade, and that's the beauty of it. I don't find snapping a problem as I don't tug. But I do sew in front of the TV, with wine, in the semi-dark. I think our standards are very different!!

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  12. Hiya Florence, I've recently discovered superior threads and I use bottom line top, and bottom for stitching in the ditch and just in the bobbin for free motion with So fine on the top and it produces a lovely stitch. Your EPP is exquisite and as a new convert to quilting have only hand pieced a few hexagons so far and still need plenty of practise. X

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  13. Oh very interesting, thank you! I personally prefer to not be able to see my own stitches so much, so tend to use ladder stitch on small projects. I haven't made an EPP quilt yet, mainly because I would really prefer to whip stitch for something getting more washing and wear and wasn't sure how to approach the stitch visibility issue without a million different thread colours! Will have to have a look for some of this :)

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  14. I purchased a spool of this and look forward to trying it out!

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  15. Thank you for comparing these threads. I'm part way through two epp projects and have used Gutermann polyester thread to date (never had it break on me). I have just ordered some Bottom Line threads (thanks for the link) to try.

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  16. when I started my EPP project a year or so ago I got two spools of aurifil as it was the "recommended" thread but it kept breaking so I gave up and started using The Bottom Line (and on checking my basket I'm using colour 623!) and I haven't looked back - I also use a thread conditioner which didn't help with the aurifil but I do love to use aurifil in my machine !

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  17. Hi Florence,
    I too use the bottom line thread & have been using it for a couple of years now. I find it much better than standard cotton thread as like you said the stitches become virtually invisible, which is particularly good for me as I mostly do miniature paper piecing & work with 1/4" hexagons a lot!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x