Bring me some water – the importance of humidity in a quilting studio

Note:  I talk mainly about long arm quilting in this post and how humidity affects it because it’s so much more quickly noticed with the speed of the machines but this post is relevant to anyone with a crafting space that uses thread and other fibers that can change for the worse with humidity changes.

Living on the prairies in Central Alberta, we seem to get a lot of weather extremes.  Normally, this doesn’t affect the inside of the house or my studio much – thankfully now that the roof thing has been taken care of! – but there’s one particular situation that I do have to manage – humidity.  With plummeting temperatures and the liberal use of a forced air furnace, the air becomes extremely dry down here.   I ignored it for the first winter that I had Lucey – not really recognizing it as a problem.

Last year – around this time – I started having major problems with thread breakage on Lucey.  No amount of pleading or bargaining or whining helped.  Neither did servicing her or doing any of the other “tricks” of the trade – turning the needle a little, loosening the quilt sandwich, changing the thread path, checking for burrs, etc. Finally, one of us might have flounced off in a huff.

During our brief separation, I remembered something I’d read in an old Elna Supermatic  sewing machine manual.


In case, it’s hard to read, here’s the text:

When thread is too dry it becomes brittle; it regains its strength, if it is placed near an open window overnight.

Well, obviously Elna has never been to Alberta in the winter.  I am not going to leave a window open overnight!  So I thought about what was really happening here.   The thread was drying out because the air was stealing moisture from anything it could.  Leaving the thread in an open window took advantage of the condensation in the air overnight.  Solution?  Moisten the air.  That should equalize out the moisture for the thread and other things in the room.

I went out and bought a humidistat to keep track of the moisture levels in the studio – and to see if my theory was right – and noticed that it would get down below 20% at times.  When that happened, thread started breaking and Lucey would sometimes misbehave in weird ways.  Once I brought the humidity back up over 30% – with an aim toward 40% – everything would go back to normal.

Now I’ve heard lots of people say to treat the thread – silicone or various other products.  To me, that’s a stop gap – it has to be done to every spool you use and it’s only addressing one part of the problem.

See, when the humidity drops – a few things happen:

  1. Things like thread and fabric dry out and behave poorly.
  2. Static becomes an issue for electronic equipment – including “computers” in our sewing machines. (Even the hand guided Long Arms often have computer components for stitch regulation, etc.)
  3. Our bodies don’t like to have the moisture leeched out of them either. We become dehydrated and suffer some of the effects of it.
  4. Vintage machines don’t care a lot about humidity but the cases sure do.  This goes back to “if you’re comfortable in the room, your machine will be too”.  I have a lot of sewing machine cabinets and cases in my studio and moisture is leached from here as well which will prematurely age the wood and potentially can aid in failure of the load bearing capabilities of the case.

Some of the signs of dehydration are:

  • Dry, sticky mouth.
  • Sore throat
  • Sleepiness or tiredness
  • Thirst
  • Dry skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

At the same time when the humidity would drop, I would start to notice that I was wanting more water, and feeling “dried out”.  My concentration would slip and I’d start having trouble with accuracy –  ruler work or backtracking would become more challenging and so would maintaining a consistent 1/4″ seam. So that can be a bit of an indicator if you don’t want to get a humidistat.

A humidistat though should be under $10 and will show you if what you’re doing is working.  It took 2 humidifiers and a water fountain to raise my humidity in here to an acceptable level.  Each humidifier was only good for about 10%.  That may be because of the size of the room – half the basement – or because it was so very dry.  We also tried using the humidifier on the furnace but found that in order to get it humid enough in the studio, the windows were dripping wet upstairs.  So, just like with heating, we found that it was better to moisten the area that needed to be dealt with than try to manage the whole house with one solution.

The only problem with one of the humidifiers is apparently it sounds like the microwave to my subconscious and I slip into “don’t start anything big, food’s a-comin'” mode. 😉

How about you?  What sort of unconventional solutions have you found to make your sewing room easier to live in?


Today’s post title brought to you by Melissa Etheridge’s – Bring Me Some Water  This is probably the first song I ever heard of hers and it turned me into a fan.   She’s got to be one of my favorite song writers of all time.

8 thoughts on “Bring me some water – the importance of humidity in a quilting studio”

  1. I’m right on the coast, in the Gulf Islands and I can’t even imagine getting winter humidity levels below 50%. We bought a dehumidifier to bring it under 60%, and that’s finally stopped the permanent condensation & mold problems.

    A word on hydrometers – they are often way off but easy to test. Put it in a sealed bag with a teaspoon of table salt that you’ve wetted with a drop of two of water (no more). Wait 24 hours. The humidity inside the bag is 75%, and you’ll be able to see how close your hygrometer is. My $3 was only 5% off, while the $15 was off by 20% and went back to the store.

    1. Oh, I wish I had your humidity issues! Well, sort of. 🙂 This week already, I’ve put about 20L of water into the air in the studio just so I can function and quilt down there and no condensation on walls or windows yet. It also functions to lower the temperature down there too though which means I’m colder than usual and have heaters on so I can work. Cold and Arid, that’s Central Alberta in the winter.

      I totally believe many hygrometers are inaccurate. That said as long as you establish a baseline and work from it, it should be a reasonable tool even if it’s inaccurate. It should be relatively consistently inaccurate.

  2. You are about the humidity. Your blog brings back a long forgotten memory. Over 50 years ago I was mechanics helper in the local cotton mill ( Wabasso, Welland Ontario). They processed trainloads of raw cotton to finished denim and supplied all of Canada. The ceiling of the weaving room had many many air-water misters going constantly and two huge fans circulated air through water sprays. The noise from 500 looms was deafening and walking into the weaving room you broke into a sweat immediately. There was thread on wire guides everywhere. Once a co-worker fell through the ceiling right into the threads when we were working overhead, he wasn’t hurt too much but it looked he was attacked by a giant spider. It took them hours to rethread. I saw one woman’s hands and her fingernails had deep groves from years of guiding the threads. I don’t remember much else except the blue people that worked in the dye room.

    1. Oh the images you built in my mind! 🙂 Did the co-worker going through the ceiling have anything to do with the moisture in the room below weakening anything or was he just “lucky”? That’s my concern with humidifying is that too much in a given area could potentially be bad for some of the fabrics, etc. I had to moisturize my studio today. I was going to quilt. I was parked in front of Lucey, hands on her handles and then I looked over, saw the 20% humidity and decided to wait until tomorrow. There’s not a lot of point when it’s that low – I’ll just end up frustrated and having to bury tons of threads. I’m using a bigger humidifier these days though, and now that it’s filled – it took about 30mins to bring the humidity up in the room.

  3. I use an air cleaner in my sewing room. I found that I was sneezing and had itchy eyes when sewing. This has really helped. I also need to use a humidifier for my supplies and my poor ? dry skin.

    1. I completely agree on the air cleaner! There’s so much stuff our fabric comes in contact with before it gets to us, it’s a wonder more people don’t suffer allergies from it! The humidifier made a huge difference in my comfort level in the studio. I think you’ll like it. 🙂

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