One of the secrets that I’ve learned over the years is that my frustration level in sewing and construction aspect of my work is directly related to the pins, needles and other sharp objects used.
Sounds obvious, right?
Take the piece below (48″x 36″, or thereabouts). I basted it this morning in preparation for quilting. Because I’m impatient, I prefer to use safety pins. I have a fairly massive safety pin collection comprised of pins of all sizes and shapes. The best, by far, are the curved ones made for basting, but that matters not a whit if they aren’t sharp. Yeah, pins get dull. The tips get bent a teensy bit sometimes, too. They even get gunk on them or corrode slightly over time. Take my advice and pitch out the bent, broken or gooey pins. Keep an old coffee can in your studio with a little hole in the top and drop them in as they wear out. The snags and difficulty of use created by dull, bent, sticky pins just ain’t worth it. Some folks sharpen them, but I’ve not got the patience.
While we’re on the subject of sharp pointies, do yourself a huge favour and buy decent sewing machine needles. I use Schmetz Universal 90/14 and Schmetz Microtex Sharp 80/12 needles for quilting and have found them to be resilient and easy on thread. The cheaper needles that you can buy at Walmart or elsewhere just don’t cut it for quilting, although they will stand up okay to straight-stitching ordinary fabrics.
Quilting, though, puts a lot of stress on the needle. When you free-motion quilt, as I do for the majority of my work, the stress on the needle is a combination of the speed at which the needle goes up and down, the speed at which you move the fabric, the tension of your bobbin and pressure plates, the type of needle, the type of fabrics and the type of thread. The faster you move, the more things heat up and tug. A crappy needle is far more likely to bend in the wrong way and hit the metal plate, tear or shred your thread or, at worst, chew up your work. Be kind to your nerves and spent the extra few cents on decent sewing machine needles.
Incidentally, straight pins aren’t all created equally either. Make sure you have rust-free (meaning that they won’t), good-quality pins with nice solid heads on them. Also check to see if they can be retrieved with a magnet before you buy them. Not all can. Additionally, if you live in a humid area, don’t store a partially-complete piece with pins still in it for a long period of time. Pins that rust in fabric are tricky to get out and leave stains.
Appliqué needles should be clean, sharp and terribly thin. Not so thin as to snap, mind you, but still thin. Pushing something thin and sharp through fabric is much easier than pushing something thick and blunt. Thick and blunt runs you the risk of pushing the wrong end of the needle into your finger. The wrong end of a needle isn’t meant to pierce flesh and therefore will hurt like blazes. Ask me how I know…..
Anyway, to sum up, keep your needles sharp. Use good ones. Watch out for barbs or bluntness. Pitch out the rusties.