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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Londa’s Couching Hints for Wearable Art

Keys for Successful Couching with Monofilament Thread

One of THE most fun things I do to embellish my clothing is to couch threads.  Read on for some super hints to couch without tears! The 3 brands of Monofilament Thread I like and recommend are :

  1. YLI – Wonder Invisible Thread (nylon on a cross wound small cone:  $4.20 for 1500 yards)

  2. Superior Threads – Mono-Poly Thread (polyester on a parallel wound spool:  $8.50 for 2400 yards)

  3. Mettler – Trans-Fil  (nylon on a parallel wound spool:  $7.99 for 1094 yards)

I’ve done the math for you…Wonder Invisible Thread is the least expensive of all three at .0028/yard (Mono-Poly is .003541 and Transfil is .00730/yard).

However, I have had several spools of this thread that were totally un-useable because of cut threads or slippage – not many, but a few.  Find the end under the sticker on the bottom of the spool by the way! However – again:  if you can ONLY ride the needle thread in the horizontal position, you should NOT use parallel won pools like Mono-Poly or Transf-Fil, as these parallel wound spools placed horizontally will deliver an extra twist and that causes problems…..  All of these brands come in Smoke, which is best for dark colors and Clear, which is best for lighter colors.  Be sure to make that color selection when ordering at my website.

These are both far superior to the invisible thread of years ago – when it first came out.  They are MUCH finer than that thread when it first debuted on the sewing scene in the early 80’s, (which I will never forget, as I’d stitched up matching swim suits for my daughter and I and the first time we wore them was the last as that thread poked us mercilessly!)

I use these threads extensively in the needle with regular sewing thread in the bobbin for couching yarns, cords, etc. onto garments for embellishment.  TEST – as I find that I MUST LOWER my UPPER THREAD TENSION so that I don’t have specks of the bottom thread peaking to the top.  It does NOT matter what ‘number on the dial’ to which you lower the upper thread tension – just move it until you don’t see bobbin thread colored specks on the top.

tension effects with monofilament thread

Upper row: balanced tension – NOT invisible. Lower row: upper tension LOWER, so bobbin thread does NOT show.

Monofilament threads can ‘aggravate’ automatic needle threaders!  I find that the more ‘automatic’ the threader system, the more sensitive they are to monofilament thread.  Hence, with my 2 machines:  a Pfaff 7550 and a Brother Quattro, I use my Pfaff (where I run the threading mechanism) to be my machine of choice when using monofilament.With regards to a presser foot:  Though there are many ‘couching feet’ available, I honestly have to say – that as long as I’m not doing curves or dramatic ‘points’ freely – I just use the presser foot used for decorative stitching – with a large ‘groove’ on the bottom side.  This is the foot on the left below.

Presser Feet bottomsides

Embroidery Decorative Stitch Foot on the left with groove.

The Braiding Foot – which DOES, as I said above, vastly make couching easier when doing free-motion curves as on this top from my Up-Cycle Memento T’s Talking Pattern.

Braiding Foot shown couching.

Braiding Foot is helpful for curves, sharp angles.

My favorite length for couching is 3.0.  For width, use a width just wide enough to ‘get over’ the yarn(s) I’m couching down. The blue boucle yarn you see int he 2nd photo below is one of my FAVORITES for couching:  one that is kind of thick with ‘personality’.  A yarn like this is perfect to use to cover up raw edges on my jackets as you see me doing in that photograph on the mandarin collar view of my Refined Too Talking Pattern™.

Here are a few photos with explanations from my Embellishments program I offer as I travel, but it is also thoroughly covered in my Refined Embellishments for Creative Sewing DVD.

Multi-Cord Sole to create braid

Multi-Cord Sole to create braid

Besides the Braiding Foot as shared above, I also like to use the 7 hole Multi-Cord Sole to create ‘braid’ occasionally as I couch.  Obviously, yarns with bumps won’t work through these holes, and one must use a needle threader to get started, but if you use a 3 step zig zag with a longer length, and as wide as necessary with monofilament, you can create wonderful ‘braid’ because the threads you load in just MUST stay in the proper placement as you’ve determined.   VERY RARELY, you may find you’ll want this thread in the bobbin – but be careful when doing this!  If you have a metal bobbin option – as I do on my Pfaff 7550, ALWAYS select the metal bobbin for monofilament.  Take great care that you wind the bobbin slowly, and NOT full – as especially with a plastic bobbin, you might not be able to get the bobbin off the spindle!

Also be sure that your bobbin has the right tension on it – you must NOT be able to stick your fingernail easily into the thread on a bobbin – if you can, it is too loose in its tension – and will never sew properly.  I find sewing with monofilament in the top and the bobbin is quite a challenge – and rarely do so.  Just my experience…..

Regarding Yarns to couch…I’m always ‘on the hunt’ for the perfect yarns for couching.

Londa does NOT like 'splotchy' yarns for couching

Londa does NOT like ‘splotchy’ yarns for couching

The yarns above are NOT ideal, in my humble opinion. I don’t like them because they are ‘spotty’ or TOO variegated in splotches. Those characteristics don’t achieve the ‘connecting factor’ that I look for couching to achieve in my art-to-wear.

PERFECT yarns for couching

PERFECT yarns for couching

Multi-ply serger threads

Multi-ply serger threads for couching work great

Hand-dyed variegated Oliver Twist yarns

Oliver Twist yarns are great for couching

On the other hand, the yarns shown above are SUPER for what I want to achieve in my couching.  They have consistent ‘personality’ and are thick enough to cover up raw edges, especially in my jackets. I also love to couch decorative multi-ply serger threads as those pictured above at right.  The Oliver Twist yarn groupings I offer are beyond fun and perfect for all of my couching – and contain PLENTY of several coordinated hand-dyed yarns as each strand is 10meters long.

Furry Thread is mores when couched against the grain.

Furry Thread is mores when couched against the grain.

You’ll either love ‘hairy yarn’ or hate it…but if you WANT that effect, realize that it has a nap.  If I worked from the right to the left as I laid these down, the top one would be petting ‘with the nap’, and would not look as ‘furry’ as the  lower one where I went against the nap.  Picture the head of the kitty at the right, tail at the left for the top row…and the tail of the kitty at the right for the bottom row.  For a hairier look, you want to go AGAINST the grain.

Always play with twisting several yarns together as you couch as well – just remember which way you are twisting them to be consistent.

Effects of stitch used to couch

Effects of stitch used to couch

Even ‘boring’ ‘bulky plain yarns’ can be interesting.  Note how the look changed in the photo above, bottom row, with the grey ‘worsted’ yarn.  It has a curved look when zigzag couched, and a middy braid look when straight stitched down the center……..

Sew……there you have it, my hints on successfully couching yarns with monofilament threads.

Quilters also use this invisible thread and a hint I was given written by Sue Nickels for Machine Quilting suggests the following to manage the thread coming off the spool… “Place the thread behind the machine and bring it up through an auxiliary guide.  This guide could be a safety pin taped upside down to the back of the machine or an empty bobbin placed on the spool pin.  Pull the thread through the hole of the auxiliary device.  When using fine invisible thread, you may need to loosen the top tension and make adjustments through the tension bars.”  When asked about the longevity of invisible thread in quilts, Sue says that some of hers are 15 years old and seem just fine.  She adds that quilt museum curators are documenting quilts made with invisible thread, and, over time, will be able to tell us what happens.  She adds, though, that if making an heirloom quilt destined to be handed down over generations, that you might want to steer clear of this thread that might outlast the cotton fibers of a quilt.       

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