Ask Jo: On Thread and the Long Arm Quilting Profession

Every so often I get questions and comments from readers and believe that others might like to hear the questions and answers as well so I answer the questions here on the blog.  Today is one of those days.

The other day I got a very nice note from Charisma from Charisma’s Corner after she read this blog post-She writes, “I have been thinking about your post last week with the quilting industry & how to make a living. I loved your insight and the blog posts ( articles you shared) about fabric designing etc. I read several blogs and I like to hear others thoughts and experiences. So many people try to burst onto the scene and work their way in and honestly I thought you and Kelli totally had everything ahead of you….to accomplish all of that. To see that you really don’t make much money for all of that work and deadlines is eye opening. Once I read your post it made sense to me as to why all of my favorite designers are actually involved in many different industries… is really difficult to make a decent living on designing alone. Anyway getting to the point of why I am writing…..Have you thought about long arm quilting? ”

In the post I mentioned that I am going to go back to doing childcare and going back to quilting as a hobby….I’ll be honest…not for one single second have I ever in a zillion years ever ever thought of machine quilting as a business.

I am not that girl.

One time while at a party there was a lady there who had made a baby quilt for a niece.  She took it to the machine quilter and it was quilted.  The lady hated the quilting and took it back to the person that did the quilting.  I know the person and they do quality quilting.  The quilter apologized that she didn’t like the design but there was really nothing the quilter could do about it.  The lady who made the baby quilt was furious and went home and ripped out all the quilting.  I couldn’t deal with that.

I am not a perfectionist.  Good for me is good.  I am not a gal who frets over an eighth of an inch.  I am not a girl who when I am machine quilting that I get my seam ripper out if the quilting is not perfect and I moved the machine to the left when I should have swirled to the right.  I simply shrug my shoulders and move on.  No one would want me as their machine quilter and I am fine with that.  Becoming a perfectionist would be the death of me and I hate customer relations…I simply am a poor candidate to be a long arm quilter.

Case in point…here are my units for clue #2.  See…they aren’t all perfect and I don’t care!  If you read Bonnie’s instructions for making the quilt she tells everyone to draw a line and sew a needle’s width from the drawn line….I don’t do that either…I wing it.  I don’t draw a line.  I plop the square on the rectangle and eye ball it.  Not every unit comes out perfect and I don’t care.  I am a flawed and imperfect person and I don’t care if it shows in my quilting.  I quilt for fun.

For me worrying about the eighth of an inch is not my cup of tea.  If that worries you..that’s okay…you have to know yourself and what is acceptable to you.  So in light of all of that you can see, I am not a candidate to be a machine quilter.  Charisma-I am extremely flattered that you even thought that was a possibility though.

I got a note from Shelia asking about my blog post about my Black Friday shopping and Maxi Lock thread.  You can read the post if you missed it by following this link.


Shelia asked that I write a little more about Maxi Lock thread and how I feel about using it with my APQS Millennium long arm machine.  Here goes…

I started out only using Superior and King Tut threads.  Then one day I went into the LQS  where I bought my Pfaff Grand Quilter.  I was looking for a thread and they suggested the Maxi Lock thread so I could get the color I wanted.  I said I didn’t know it could be used for long arm quilting and that Maxi Lock thread was simply a serger thread.  They said that occasionally to get the right color they use Maxi Lock thread.  I took the thread and got up to the counter and WOW!!  It was 1/3 the price.  That opened my eyes.  I used it on that quilt with no problem.

After that I sheepishly would use it on a quilt or two thinking I was “not doing what was correct” but not minding the results.  Then one day I saw a blog post that Judy over at Patchwork Times uses the thread for machine quilting sometimes.  That got me thinking…I have used the thread.  Others use the thread…maybe I should just “not do what was correct” and use the thread.  That’s when I started using it the majority of the time.

I am not a “name brand” girl.  I believe that I can easily wear a pair of jeans that aren’t “top of the line” and be comfortable in them and they cover my body.  But I am way okay with not wearing “Rock Revival Jeans” or whatever the current hot name brand is.

I am sure that this thread is likely a little more linty.  I am sure it will not work for everyone….but for me, I would rather pay $2 for on sale thread that works good and have to clean the machine a little more often than top of the line thread that is $20 a spool that is a little less linty.  It’s an easy trade off for me.  For others it’s not.

Everyone has their own price point and preference.  Hubby and I both have low paying jobs but jobs that we love…buying $2 a spool thread is one of the many things we do that lets us keep the jobs and life style that we love.  I would much rather have $2 thread and thrift shop clothing with a job I love verses a job I hate name brand named thread and brand named jeans.  I don’t feel cheated by using the thread or my lifestyle for a moment.  I feel empowered that I am not letting name brands rule me and that blessed I can still afford my hobby.

If you’re one of the lucky people who love their high paying job and love having name brand things..I’m happy for you.  Enjoy not having to clean out the lint!

I encourage everyone to go out and buy a spool of Maxi Lock thread.  Give it a try…if you hate it, you just did a cheap $2 ( or $4 when it’s not on sale) experiment.  If you love just found yourself a deal.  Life is a series of checks and balances…we all need to find what works best for us….

27 thoughts on “Ask Jo: On Thread and the Long Arm Quilting Profession”

  1. I completely agree – if you can get more thread for less money and it works, then go for it! I like the colors available from Tod-i-lok, so I have those (often times bought on sale) and use them for quilting.

  2. Jo I always love your logic. I have been reading your blog for a few years now and learned allot. I bought a HQ Sixteen in 2007 with the intent that I might become a professional long armer. I have not. Somewhat because first I was working full time at a job tnen because of some back and health issues. But bottom line I knew that my hobby of quilt making would become a chore instead of a joy. I too am not a perfectionist and allot of my quilting is good enough not perfect. All these years later, since 1998, I still love quilting. Thanks for sharing so much on your blog. Cindy Nielsen

  3. Thanks for sharing a great post this morning! You have your head screwed on right and I applaude you! You know what you you want and go for it. That is what makes your blog such a pleasure to read.

  4. Jo:
    Your comment on thread is correct, at least for those of us who longarm on an APQS machine. Our machines can use just about any thread out there with an easy tweek on the tension dial. Some other brands might have a little more difficulty in doing so but with patience and tension adjustments they will likely get most threads to work also. Because I have a sewing machine that also does embroidery, I have lots of thread colors for that. I have found that my embroidery threads work great too!! They are smaller spools of thread so if I am working on a large project I just have to make sure that I have enough on the spool or know that I can run to the local quilt shop to get more if I run out. (Most of my embroidery thread is Isacord) Some specialty threads (invisible threads, metallic etc,) require a little more fussing with tension and slowing down while stitching, but it is so worth the effort. I know quite a few longarmers who use Aurifil with great success and also piece with it. Dark colored thread, such as black, can be more susceptible to breakage due to the fact that they are saturated with dye, making them a bit weaker. I love playing with different thread types!!

  5. Hi Jo. Responding to the first question, I’m just like you! Good enough is good enough. In my piecing and long-arming (only do it for myself and the quilts I gift and sell). I make every good effort to be “perfect” but don’t stress if I’m off a bit – or swing right when I should have swung left with the quilting machine – just like you. I am definitely going to give Maxi-Lock a try on my longarm! When I first got it, I bought a whole bunch of embroidery thread, not knowing you “shouldn’t” use it for quilting. It worked just fine and has tons of colors and was really cheap! As long as a thread doesn’t give me lots of breakage, I’ll use it!

  6. I am in full agreement with your thread logic. I, too, like to quilt without paying the name-brand prices. I have often felt like I was doing something wrong by using thread that was not quite up to par according to the professionals, but since much of my quilting is done with recycled fabrics and scraps, I can’t justify paying the prices for top of the line threads. I often surf EBay and buy large cones of partially used thread. I have no idea about the thread quality, but if I can get it cheap, I buy it. Since I hand baste my quilts before quilting them on my DSM, I use the threads that are not good for piecing or quilting when I baste.
    Our quilting ancestors used whatever was available to them and many of their quilts have lasted through the ages. If I am able to enjoy my craft without spending too much, I am. Happy quilter.
    Thanks Jo for boldly declaring that it’s OK to use the less expensive serger threads for quilting. It’s always nice to know that I’m not alone in my use of such threads, too.

  7. AMEN! I agree completely! I used ML on a quilt when I could not find a better color match. It worked just fine. My favorite brand of long arm thread is Glide. It is not as inexpensive as maxilock but it works well and is way less than most. I love thrift shops too!

  8. Thank you for this post! I follow several blogs by people who custom long arm quilt and amazed at their skill but also feeling that MY quilting was not adequate. I do quilt for a few friends once in a while but nothing ‘fancy’. Most of it is edge-to-edge or stippling, which looks nice, but is not fancy or custom. After much thought I finally decided that for ME I don’t need or want to do the fancy custom quilting. I like less quilting on my quilts. I still think those that are doing custom quilting are very talented and their quilting is lovely, just not what I want.
    I have thought about the Maxi-lock thread, too. I haven’t tried it for quilting. I was worried it wouldn’t hold up to use and washing. After reading about your experience I will give it a try!
    I read your blog every day. I enjoy all your posts, whether about quilting, farm life or your experience with your new house. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

  9. Yes, Jo! This is why I follow your blog. Because we agree on so many things.
    I am not a perfect quilter. That helps me enjoy.
    I have been long arming for nearly 20 years and I didn’t have a lot of thread choices at first so I used MaxiLoc. Then other professionals came along and said No you should not use that. It’s only for serging. I tried some of the others that are now available and they’re nice but as you said they are expensive which means I would have to raise my prices. I quilt mostly for the grandma who needs a gift quilt etc. I don’t do art or show quilts.
    My motto has become “finished is better than perfect”. That’s my goal.
    Keep doing what you love,Jo, that’s why I relate to you. You’re a farm girl who is real!

  10. This is the most common sense post I have ever read on a blog. It is refreshing to know that not everyone tries to ”keep up with the Jones’s”. Enjoy your blog, hope you and your family have a Wonderful Christmas.

  11. I have had my APQS machine for almost 17 yrs and have used MaxiLoc thread from the beginning. I tried some more expensive threads and had trouble with breakage so no longer use them. We relate, as I love quilting, thrift stores and am an Iowa farm girl, altho I was raised on a farm in northern MN. Enjoy your posts and progress on your house.

  12. I like your comments on your piecing/quilting style. I call myself a casual quilter and I do it for fun. If you get too serious about the process, it’s not longer fun.

  13. Great post! I have never quilted on anyone else’s quilt top even though I bought my machine with that intention. It’s just too intimidating when I, like you, am not a perfectionist in my quilting. Mrs.Singer can only do general meandering stitch, not even a pantograph because her rollers do not roll smooth enough (it’s really not her fault). I do, however, make custom quilts for customers from start to finish, quilting and all, and this isn’t scary to me.

    When I bought my Singer 31-15, patented 1896, mounted on a 12-foot quilting frame, the seller recommended Maxi-Lock thread and gave me a few spools so I’d know what to buy. I now use Connecting Threads polyester thread cone because it is cheap and easy to get with free shipping. Also seeing lots of blogging quilters using Aurifil, I tried that a few months ago when I was in a pinch for gray thread and had to buy locally. The lint that thread created in Mrs.Singer was horrific! I had to clean out the bobbin area after every pass over the quilt, which I usually do only when beginning a quilt. She refused to stitch if I didn’t continually clean her out every pass. I was glad for the confirmation that more expensive doesn’t always mean better, and much cheaper can even be the best!

  14. My sweet sixteen does better with maxi-lock than anything I have tried. There was a good blog entry from Bonnie Hunter a few years ago about how she uses maxi-lock, that encouraged me to give it a try. I have less lint with ML than coats and Clark large cotton spools. Thanks Jo for being real.

  15. Well said, Jo! But I think you’re mystery quilt units look great! To comment on the long-arm quilting, there are a lot of customers out there who want their quilts quilted quickly and “lightly”. I do machine quilting on my Bernina of table runners, baby quilts and lap-size quilts. I free-hand quilt (without marking) and I do not rip anything out. I have returning customers who know and like my style for what it is.

  16. Amen, girl! We drive a 15 yr old truck, but its dependable and reliable and it works for us. If it was about the money, we wouldn’t be ranching, but there isn’t a better life for us and we feel incredibly blessed to get to live this lifestyle. You’re my kind of levelheaded. :)

  17. I love your honesty. I, too, wing my pieces and have no plans on marking all my blocks, other than for the bonus triangles so that I don’t have to trim.

  18. Jo–What a great article and down to earth blog you wrote. You really hit the nail on its head. Be your self and the rest falls into place. Thanks for sharing your quilting, family, and just cannot wait to see the finish home you and hubby will be sharing soon. So many ideas and encouragement you have given to your readers. Thank you Joyce

  19. I do quilt for others, so I do try to be as perfect as possible, but there is a huge difference in how “perfect” is looked at – a bed quilt that is going to be used and loved has a different level of “perfect” then does a quilt I know is for entering in shows. My piecing, well, I try for perfect, but rarely attain it! On thread…I do use Superior Threads because I hate to have to clean out my bobbin area with every pass…I balance my time against the higher cost of my thread. I would rather be quilting then cleaning!! Quilters need to do what works for them – there are so many options out there that everyone can find their favorite and be happy with the results! Now you need to have the batting talk and see all the differing opinions!

  20. I love reading your blog and the project you and your daughers come up with. I’d like to ask or hear any feedback of using the maxi lock for piecing? and not just machine quilting?

  21. I have used MaxiLock thread many times on my long arm and had good results. However, I am currently using Glide, which I love – a slight sheen, very very little lint, and it’s $6.40 for a 5000m spool in white. Colors are slightly more, but there are a LOT of colors to choose from. It’s very easy to sew with, much less breakage, and I love the way it looks in the quilting. You can order it here: I highly recommend it!!

  22. Good enough is good enough. I’m so with you on this. Enjoying the process is so much more important than perfectionism.

    And as for spending a fortune on thread, it’s thread. That’s all it is. Thread. Nice thread, OK, but it’s still thread. Do my kids even know that I’m not using gourmet thread? Nope. I can’t tell, and neither can they.

  23. Hi Jo, I have been using Maxi-lock for years and I think it does a good job. I have run into two spools where the thread has been cut but this was noticeable when the spool was unwrapped. I also had a problem with a knot in the middle of the cone, but I had that happen on one of the more expensive brands too. It does have a little more lint than the Superior but not a lot so I will keep on using Maxi-lock if I have the color I need and Superior if I have the color I need in that brand.

  24. I totally agree about using brand name things and I really dislike it when people are snobbish towards others who choose different. Thanks for this great post,. It is nice to know that someone who quilts as much as you do does not think she has to use top of the line everything and really uses what works for her and what is affordable.

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