Quilting the Quilt: Add a Special Glow to Your Quilts – Fons & Porter

When the summertime sun warms our faces, a picnic is a perfect way to spend the day. And when the sun sets low and the stars shine bright, catching fireflies on a cool summer night is a splendid way to end it! Wouldn’t it be great to have a quilt that could double as a picnic tablecloth and a stargazing blanket? Combine a simple pattern like this patriotic throw with some special glow-in-the-dark thread on your longarm quilting machine, and you’ve got both!

By quilting some of the elements in a simple quilt with glow-in-the-dark thread, it can easily transition from day to night. Glow-in-the-dark thread comes in several shades that produce different colors after about 30-60 seconds of exposure to natural or artificial light. The length of “glow time” varies for each product with an average time of about five hours. It can add sparkle to a baby quilt or make a spooky impact in a Halloween quilt, too.

Quilting the Quilt - Thread Natural Light
Quilting the Quilt - Glow-in-the-Dark Thread

Specialty threads can present unique challenges to sewers and quilters. They can sometimes be fragile, fussy, stretchy, rough, and even sticky. Finishes such as UV protection, water repellency, or treatments to make the thread glow can affect tension and increase the risk of thread fraying and breaking. To use them successfully, try to reduce as many friction points as possible along the thread path, which may mean figuring out how to bypass intermittent tensioners or extra guides if your machine has them. This may also require changing the routine thread path through the thread guides to reduce twist.

For example, the thread path on my APQS longarm quilting machine is simple, using a single disk thread tensioner to apply pressure to the thread as it passes through, which makes it easy to loosen the tension and reduce friction. By contrast, with rotary-style tensioners the thread rubs against itself as it forces a tension wheel to rotate which increases friction. That can also increase fraying and tension issues.

Quilting the Quilt - Tension Control

A thread guide directly above my tensioner ensures that the thread stays between the discs while also straightening out the thread’s twist as it leaves the cone or spool. Depending on how the thread is wrapped around the cone, I can change the thread path for better thread performance. For example, when a spool is “stack-wound,” the thread wraps around the spool in continuous spirals. These will typically work better if the spool is mounted horizontally so that it can rotate as you sew, and if the thread passes through the guides as straight as possible.

Quilting the Quilt - Thread Weave

But if the thread crisscrosses the spool, then the thread should feed off the end of the spool. That introduces additional twist to the thread, which can cause knotting and looping problems if it must travel through several guides before reaching the tensioner. For this thread type, spiraling it through the thread guide helps straighten it as it enters the tensioner. Glow-in-the-dark thread is available in both spool types; adjust your thread path accordingly.

Quilting the Quilt - Thread Wrapping

There are other longarm quilting supplies that affect your thread tension, as well. Choose a needle size that allows the thread to pass easily through the eye. If the needle eye is too small then it will fray the thread. I used a 60-wt bobbin thread so that I could reduce the top thread tension and decrease the stress on the specialty thread. If you use thicker thread (or glow-in-the-dark thread) in the bobbin, then you may need to slow down to reduce heat buildup and friction on the needle, which also leads to breakage.

Quilting the Quilt - Star Natural Light
Quilting the Quilt - Glow Star

For my patriotic quilt, I used matching polyester thread on the blue and red fabrics, and 100% polyester glow-in-the-dark thread to stitch the striped fabric and around the stars. Glow-in-the-dark thread is very subtle with only one line of stitching, so if you want it to really pop out, stitch over the area more than once. So that my stars in my patriotic quilt could shine brighter, I hand guided the machine to make a decorative “blanket stitch” using the Quilt Glide feature on my APQS longarm. Since a longarm quilting machine is a straight-stitch machine, to achieve the blanket stitch I simply moved the machine along the outer edge of the star and then stitched on and off the piece at regular intervals using tiny stitches.

The photos of the stars above show how the stars look in regular light and how the stars glow once the lights go out. Would you like to make this quilt pattern yourself? Download the free Patriotic Picnic quilt pattern and the Star Diagram to get started! Enjoy your picnic and let the fireworks begin!

Please visit the APQS site for additional longarm quilting instructional articles and videos.

Dawn Cavanaugh, National Director of Education for APQS


Happy Quilting!



Teaching others how to machine quilt has been a passion of Dawn’s since 1996. She currently works as the National Education Director and Customer Service Manager for American Professional Quilting Systems (APQS), where she shares her knowledge daily with quilters across the globe.

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