This is Barbara M's first quilt. My friend, Sue, for whom I have quilted many QOV's, browbeat her friend, Barbara, into sending me her quilt to "bring to life." So I used special care. I thoroughly cleaned my studio, which I affectionately call my lurkim, wiped down the long arm table with alcohol, cleaned the Edgerider wheels, and the driving wheels on the IntelliQuilter, scrupulously cleaned out the brackets into which the wheels roll, oiled my wonderful Nolting 24 Pro after cleaning out any lint, etc., and I was ready to go.
The center of the quilt was four large blocks in which I used one of my favorite feathered square wreaths.
Here you can see a variety of treatments: continuous curve for the four patches that alternate with smaller yellow blocks in which I put the same square feathered wreath as I had in the larger center blocks; egg and dart line dancing in the small inner border, and a formal feathered rectangle in the pansy rectangle. But check out the dark blue rectangle. I used two of the formal feathered rectangles, mirror image, in that. Little did I know that that was my downfall.
Here's the back of the quilt. Looks pretty good, right? Well, to the naked and adoring eye, yes. But up close and personal it was another matter.
If you look closelly, you will see an occasional navy blue dot. Was I using navy blue thread on the top that had poked through? No. Was my batting some crazy dark or black color? No. Were there loose thread bits that had been shed from the quilt top getting sewn into the backing as I quilted? No.
What you see here is the result of one of two things, but they both boil down to the same dynamic: the needle was entering the navy blue fabric and pulling the threads from that fabric down to the backing. This could happen if 1) your needle was dull, or 2) if you were unfortunate enough to have purchased the titanium longarm quilting needles, which are NOT sharp but have a rounded point. I had purchased some of these, thinking that these were the up and coming thing, but they're not, and I urge you to abandon them in favor of the standard sharp pointed long arm needles if you're using them.
If you have any of these, here are some caveats: titanium is strong, but it is flexible, so your needle may flex away from the scarf if you are quilting on the fly like a banshee, causing skipped stitches. And titanium needles have a rounded point, which might be wonderful for knit fabrics, but does not pierce cotton well and therefore can pull the threads into the batting and even out the back of the quilt, as happened with this quilt.
Unfortunately, I did not see this until I had finished two borders and the third row of the quilt, but I salvaged the situation by changing to a standard SHARP long arm needle for the rest of the quilt.
This quilt was also a challenge because the pale yellow Masterpiece thread I was using broke up to five times per pattern sewn! There are several reasons for thread to break:
1) the quilt sandwich is too tight
2) the machine is moving too fast for the thread to recover between stitches
3) the thread tension is too tight
4) there is a burr on the needle or the plate, catching the thread and tearing it
5) the combination of batting and thread is contributing. For instance, polyester batting combined with long staple cotton thread may break the thread if there is alot of slub in the thread, which then catches on the polyester and pulls and breaks
6) the weight/strength of the thread is inadequate for the high speed revolutions of the long arm quilting machine. In my case, the Masterpiece thread weight was 50/2, and obviously not a good match for this quilt, even though all the fabrics had been prewashed. I did not have another pale yellow thread that I could use, so I had to tough it out with the Masterpiece, which is now relegated to my sewing studio upstairs, to be used only on my home sewing machine henceforth. I was also using poly batting. Masterpiece IS professional grade quilting thread, unlike some standard personal-use threads; however, I will never use it on a quilt done with my size (24") longarm again. I have heard that smaller quilting machines, like the midarms (16 - 18" arms) or the home quilting machines (9" arms), or those with fewer rpms, do well with it.
So that's your lesson for the day -- and mine, as well, I might add.