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:
- Things like thread and fabric dry out and behave poorly.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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
- Dry skin
- 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.