Sunday, February 05, 2017

Thread Tension....

~ Greetings and Warm Welcome ~
to all my stitching friends

I have a topic from the "Ask Vonna" forum...
It is from my friend and reader Corinna. 
Corinna asks...

"Long story short: how do I prevent pushing up one leg of an already completed stitch with my needle? At first I thought I wasn't stitching tight enough, but if I pull too tight, then I create a gap in linen and evenweave fabrics. I railroad with every stitch and am careful not to split thread. I have read the tip about avoiding stitching in "already occupied" it just me or are MOST stitches next to each other in most patterns?? I am not able to figure out what I'm misunderstanding about that tip lol.

A bit of background for context (the long story):  I started out stitching on Aida and loved it, didn't know any of the rules and didn't even know that all your Xs are supposed to be in the same direction. Then I discovered Chatelaines and Flosstube and started learning new techniques and trying out different non-Aida fabrics. After using 25-count lugana  and working on a couple different projects on evenweaves and 32-count linen, I discovered that working on evenweave feels like I'm stitching on rubber bands. So I figured I'd be a linen-only stitcher going forward. 
Then today I started a new project on Aida and realized...I LOVE stitching on aida!! I didn't know how much I would miss it! And it made me realize some of my "amateur" early projects on aida look tidier than my most recent, 100% railroaded, 100% consistent finishes on linen! 
I like the the ease of counting but the main attribute I like is how tight I can pull the floss without distorting the fabric and how tidy my stitches are. On lugana, Brittney and Belfast, if I pulled too tight it created a gap in the fabric...but then so many of my stitches got smooshed up once I had to pass my needle through the same hole. 
So, back to my original question: Is it OK to stitch "too" tightly because the gap will be filled by other threads? Is it because I'm not getting tight enough tension on my Rolaframes and Q-snaps? I have ordered cashel for a couple future projects so I am committed to using those and would like them to turn out tidy...but I'm seriously considering going back to Aida for good! :D "

Well Corinna, you are not alone...
If you have been a blog follower of mine for any amount of time you will know that I too struggle with thread tension and that I have been called on it excessively at the fair on my judged pieces. SO... I have extensively tried to learn more and research about thread tension and how to get it perfect (or let's face it - who is perfect? I'm just shooting for good). Let's get started!

1. Pulling the thread...
this is defined by pulling it up through the fabric after piercing the fabric from behind. When you pull it you should pay very close attention to how tightly you are pulling. You don't want to yank it through, rather a gently pull and a sort of "laying" it on the back with the pinky finger as the guide. I have had it explained to me this way, the pinky finger is the least strong of the fingers. If you use your pinky finger to be the "tension" finger you will have perfect tension. So when I stitch when I am pulling my thread, the pinky is the finger that I use to guide the thread into place. Once it is through the fabric, I am done pulling. Just a little resistance means it is in place and stop the upward motion of the pull.

2.) Needle size...
size matters. I used to think I could use a size 24 needle on everything. I was wrong. The smaller the gauge needle the smaller the "hole" made in the linen. Use a needle that fits your needs, the one that you are comfortable with and in the smallest size that passes through the linen without making noticeably larger "holes". Also a smaller needle is less likely to move an already laid thread leg or distort a stitch. 

3.) Sewing Method vs. Stab method...
Let's define both methods first before we discuss.

the stitcher will:
go down through fabric - pull - up through the fabric - pull 

the stitcher will: 
go down through the fabric with the point of the needle and in one motion up through the diagonal side with the point of the needle and pull essentially all in one movement.

The sewing method, in some judges/expert determination, makes for uneven stitches and poor tension. (although I have seen example of people who use the sewing method and it looks pretty much even to me...but then again, I am not an "expert") I, myself, have used a "modified" sewing method for a number of years and believe that some of my tension issues on my judged pieces were because of my modified sewing method. I have discontinued use of it almost altogether in recent months, but specifically on pieces that I am wanting to enter in the fair. If you are looking at correcting tension issues and the sewing method is your way of stitching perhaps this is something you should look at stopping to see if your tension is better using the stab method. I am in no way saying that sewing method is inferior to stabbing method or vice versa, all I'm trying to say is: if you are worried about tension in your stitching, you need to try something else to see if it is corrected with a new technique.

4.) Thread Heaven....
I firmly believe laying threads are BETTER when I use Thread Heaven. If you put it on like I discuss HERE  I believe Thread Heaven (I know it in my case) helps repel the threads and they lay like a railroaded stitch without actually having to railroad. Try it! for the cost of about $5 you can try it and perhaps make all the difference in your stitching. 

5.) My stitching technique...
This technique HERE has elicited very strong reactions in a number of stitchers - from very positive to very negative. It has been discussed widely on many Group Discussions in social media - again with very positive comments to very negative comments. Let's again remember here, friends, that I'm not an expert, but I AM a widely versed and very seasoned stitcher. I stitch this way EVERY DAY and have for going on close to 20 years now. I came up with it on my own, but have heard from a number of people that they were taught this way by grandparents/mothers/aunts...I taught myself, but this is the way I stitch. I don't have to use a laying tool, I don't have to railroad. I stitch like this and my stitches lie perfectly. I have been told by a number of judges that my stitches lie nicely.

6.) Fabric textures...
I believe, as Corinna states above, that the type of fabric you stitch on will affect the way your stitches lay and their tension. Aida is a very stiff or firm texture fabric. It is very even and thus stitching on it, is easy and most stitchers paying attention to stitching will get even, neat, uniform stitches with little effort. Linen and Evenweaves are not like that. Thus why the old Aida vs. Linen dispute and which is the best, and what is the most difficult - argument goes round and round. To me, stitch on what you love. If you love aida, stitch on aida. If you love linen stitch on linen, what matters most is: STITCHING. 
But with that said...if you are having problems with tension/stitches laying well, etc on linen or evenweave there are some things that you can pay attention to:

a.) stiffness and/or softness of the fabric you are using: I prefer to work on linen that has a stiff sort of working base. (Corinna this may help you!)  Wichelt linens, R&R reproductions, "raw" or "natural" linens often have the "stiffness" that I like. There are many stitchers that do not like how they feel in their hands, but for me, they give me even tension, perfect stitches every time as long as:  I am paying attention. Fabrics that are softer, jobelan, brittany, Weeks Dye Works linens... all of these linens are soft, looser in weave and thus can be an issue for people already struggling with tension issues. Should you not use these fabrics? Absolutely not! You should use what you love, if you love jobelan, use jobelan, however if you also struggle with tension issues, you will have to be even more aware of how you are pulling the thread when using these fabrics. Mid-weight (to me) sort of company linens/evenweaves are Lakeside, Zweigart, etc. they make for lovely stitching as well, they aren't stiff, they are what I would call "midweight" and not loose of weave, thus a bit easier to stitch on in comparison to softer/looser weave fabrics. Bottom line: the stitcher just needs to be aware of their stitching, paying attention to their stitches and use what they love best and feel is easiest for them.

b.) slubs...
linen has slubs. Slubs can be defined as those threads that are random that may run throughout a piece of linen that is thin...then all of a sudden gets very fat and in some times almost like a large worm. This of course will distort stitches, making uneven stitches. When stitching on linen and a slub is directly on the area that you will have to stitch on, it is best to try to "tweeze" it down by using your needle and pulling the fibers out. Sometimes I have cut the sub out completely and "re-thread" the linen by taking a strand of the linen from the edge and re-weaving it on the piece. This makes me nervous to cut a large slub out and I typically just try to tweeze the slub out. Note: I have gotten slapped on the hand by judges about slubs in my judged stitching piece in particular the judge lowered me two ribbon colors because she said that I had stitched over three threads in a portion of the design. I had not but I HAD stitched over a slub. THUS is when I began to tweeze my slubs and why my gadget bag has a tweezer in there at all times!

7.) Hoops, Frames, Q-snaps, Stretcher Bars...
Many things that I have read, including my own experience, that starting to stitch using a hoop, frame, a basis of having your fabric taut and even to start out with, thus it is easier to lay consistent stitches. Does that mean that you shouldn't stitch in hand? Absolutely not! I know personally and I have seen personally beautifully, wondrously wrought pieces from "in hand" stitchers. Again, use your own experience...struggling with tension and you stitch in hand...then try a hoop, q-snap, etc. See if that changes anything. 

8.) Magnifying Lamp...
the one thing that I started to use in the last year was: 
A magnifying lamp. 

BOY, did I not see what I was missing until my stitching became strikingly clear under the LED natural magnification of my new floor lamp last March. Any poorly laid stitch, any random floppy leg, any uneven stitches are perfectly illuminated and honestly stick out like a sore thumb now. I can't stitch without it. See how your stitches really lay by using it while you stitch. I never was so illuminated to the quality of my stitching until I started using one. 
Easily available at Amazon. This is the exact one I bought and use:

9.) Smart stitches...
Try to do all of your stitching smart...for example: I do not make a row of stitches and come back and cross them. I'm not against that...and I know many people, many beginning instructions will tell you to do these long rows of stitches and come back and cross them. I do not. I make my X and move on to the next. Why? Because I feel that making my X and finishing it before I move to the next creates the X fully and I don't go back and have the chance of pulling a leg, distorting a leg, or having uneven stitches. Play around on a scrap of fabric and try a running stitch length and then try finishing the X and compare. You will be amazed. This is what I did to prove to myself that doing a running length of / / / / / 
and coming back to do the 
\ \ \ \ \
was not for me and my stitches were of poorer quality than if I finished it all at once and moved to the next. 
Another thing I do is stitch horizontally. I do not stitch up and down or mix the two going horizontally and then going vertically. Why? Because I noticed that my stitches when stitching vertically looked differently than when I stitched horizontally. Again, don't take my word for it. Get a piece of fabric stitch horizontally and then stitch a number going vertically and see for yourself. You will be amazed. 

Another thing I never do is: isolate stitches and leave them for stitching later - meaning, I never leave one stitch in the middle of a field of stitches (typically a different color) to do later, I will stop and do that colored stitch and then continue on. 

10.) the number of threads in linen holes....
Blitstitch has a wonderful video explaining his technique of stitching horizontally. Now this is something that is done on a full coverage piece typically and would not replicate to a piece with a large amount of negative space BUT he refers to a number of locations and gives/provides links to them. Lots of his advice that he gives in his video is the way I think when I am stitching. Thank you to Brian for creating this video and putting it out there for us to better ourselves. It may be accessed HERE

I think that about does it. I have exhausted the topic. I think the best advice I can give is this: 

Find a way that makes you happy.
Practice makes perfect.
Use what you love.
Never be content, we all can become better stitchers.
Take advice, implement what works, toss what doesn't.
Do what your heart tells you to do.
Find joy in YOUR journey.
Stitching soothes the soul.

Hugs in stitches, 
Vonna xxxx


  1. Very interesting discussion Vonna. You're right that each person needs to work out what works for them. But you've given a number of helpful tips here. Thank you.

  2. Vonna, plenty of food for thought here. I use some of the same stitching practices as you and others I have yet to try. I find the more I stitch the more I become aware of the imperfections in my stitching. However I don't stress about it as I stitch for the love of stitching.

  3. This is so helpful and informative. I am still trying to improve my stitching... it can be frustrating sometimes but the effort is worth it.

  4. What a great post! Thank you, Vonna, for giving us so many variables to think about instead of just one thing to possibly "fix". I'm sure you've made many of us think a bit differently about our stitching.

  5. Thanks are such a good teacher...I'm looking forward to learning a lot with you!

  6. Great hints and tips, Vonna! Hope you are having an enjoyable Sunday!

  7. Vonna, thank you for taking the time for us. YOU are appreciated!♥

  8. Thanks so much Vonna, you give the best advice!!!!!

  9. Thank you for taking the time to explain all this. I am looking forward to going to some of the links you put in to explore the topic further.

  10. Thanks for sharing your tips. I really can't believe anyone would criticise your stitching!

  11. Thanks for sharing! Great info!!

  12. Very instructive information! I, too, have been struggling with this issue. I found that I turn my needle on the first leg, and if I pull toward my left shoulder (I am left-handed), then pull toward my right shoulder on the top leg, it lays much much nicer. Weird, but true.

  13. Very good post! One thing I know is stitching is mindful that is why it's calming. So, I try to enjoy the journey and pay attention to my stitches and don't think of anything else except is it time to start dinner? Everyone seems to be in such a hurry to finish a project. I just try to enjoy . Parking does not give me joy LOL. Thank you again

  14. Very interesting! I adopted the sewing method of stitching back when and I do think my stitches might not be as nice as they were back when I stab stitched. But I don't enter my stitching into competitions so whatever. What an attitude, huh? lol!

  15. Such a good review for all stitchers whether new or long-time stitcher's. Thank you so much for all you give to the stitching community!

  16. Thank you again so much Vonna, this has been immensely helpful! Changing to a size 28 needle has made the biggest difference. I also started alternating between a project on Aida and a project on a firmer raw linen. The pure relaxation of working on aida helps make the work on linen more enjoyable.


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The Twisted Stitcher