Always Quilting answers your questions about: Bobbin Freckles

I received an interesting question this week about how to solve the spotty effect that happens when the bobbin thread pulls up to the top, or the top thread pulls through to the back, when you are quilting.

The black bobbin thread is popping through to the top in this quilting line

The black bobbin thread is popping through to the top in this quilting line

I know some people like to make this happen deliberately when they are thread painting as it can add an extra highlight colour but, for other people, it can be very frustrating when quilting.

The black thread popping to the top didn't look too bad in the photo above but look what happens when the light portion of the variegated thread pops to the back of the quilt.

The black thread popping to the top didn’t look too bad in the photo above but look what happens when the light portion of the variegated thread pops to the back of the quilt.

Kim Asked:

Hi Jenny,
I’ve been trolling the Internet and just thought I would ask you as I can’t find the answer that I need. I am using Aurifil 50w thread for quilting an all cotton quilt, batting as well. I am using a red thread on top and a white on the back. No matter how much I adjust the tension in both the top and bobbin I’m either getting a red dot of fabric thru the back or a white dot of fabric thru to the front. I’ve changed to the finest needle I have which is a 60/8, thinking that by creating a smaller hole this might help. Can I ask please, what needle size you would normally recommend with this thread weight?  Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks and regards,  Kim

Our advise was:

Dear Kim

Longarm Quilters call the phenomena that you are talking about “Freckling”.

It happens because two very strong contrasting colours are used. When quilting, the machine is being forced to work in manner that does not allow the needle to penetrate the fabric to pull up the bobbin thread before the machine (or in this case the quilt) has been moved.

Ideally the needle & bobbin thread should form a lock in the middle, between the layers being stitched, but because of the way we move the machine head (or quilt top) this does not always happen perfectly when quilting.

If the machine was stationery, and the feed dogs were moving the fabric under the foot in a controlled manner, as happens for general sewing, there would be less freckling but there is still no guarantee if 2 very strongly contrasting threads are used.

A different needle will not make a difference. The only way to reduce the freckling is to compromise with the thread colour to reduce the contrast between the colour of the thread in the needle & bobbin. Try a softer red & a creamier “white’ to reduce the contrast.

Regards, Jenny

And the happy result was:

Jenny thanks so much for your email. It is the strong contrast that’s doing it! Strong red and plain white!

I’ll experiment with some other colours and see if I can’t find a compromise. I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer my email. I was completely frustrated and knew it wasn’t the thread or machine.

Now I get to go and buy some more Aurifil lol.

Have a great day, Kim

The solution to my “freckle” quilting above would have been to use a solid coloured thread in the bobbin that was in the same colour family as the variegated thread.

I know that If I can twist the needle & bobbin threads together, and they blend rather than shout out, any freckling in the stitching will be less obvious and the colour more consistent over the entire quilt.

I always match a solid thread colour with a variegated thread to minimise the effect of freckles.

I always match a solid thread colour with a variegated thread to minimise the effect of freckles.

This twisting trick works for highly contrasting solid thread colours as well. If you must use a different colour in needle and bobbin then find  a compromise with the threads that allows them to meld together to form a new colour that will sit well on the quilt.

Of course it is sometimes also necessary to adjust the needle or bobbin tension to loosen, or tighten, one of the threads but that is answer for another time.

We plan to make “the answer your question” post a regular feature so do send us a question and we will see if we can help.

No guarantees but we will do our best.

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6 Responses

  1. […] yourself in half to look under the back of the frame but it’s worth doing or you might get ‘freckles’ on the wrong […]

  2. […] Always Quilting answers your questions about: Bobbin Freckles (alwaysquilting.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Another suggestion: I change the direction of the spool. If I’m quilting and getting freckles, I change the spool to vertical rather than my normal horizontal. When the Aurifil pulls, it creates a little more tension, just enough to stop the freckles. I also wind bobbins with the thread on the vertical pin, and it makes a tighter bobbin. I have a Viking Sapphire, so the pin flips. I never change the tension in the bobbin case, and have tried adjusting the tension on the top, but often, it’s the spool pin that makes it perfect!

    • Great suggestion Maryellen. All the Aurifil threads have a “cross-wind”, rather than a ‘stacked” configuration so the thread should feed from the top of a vertical spool rather than the middle of a horizontal spool.

  4. Thanks for that advice. I never thought about how the variagated thread would let the eye mingle and not notice the differences so much.

    • Hi Audrey, The single colour variegated threads are particularly good for this, as they create a light/dark shading of one colour across the quilt so that the stitching looks consistent regardless of the colour of the fabric it is crossing.

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