Wednesday 28 January 2015

Free Motion Quilting Tension

Well my happy clappy, the world is alright with me mood, from my post on Monday, didn't last through the week.  For the last few days I've been battling tension problems!  I'm finishing a quilt for a Fat Quarter shop blog hop next month and decided now would be the perfect time to learn how to do posh swirly flowers (as opposed to the cute loopy ones!)

So I doodled while watching Wolf Hall with G and the dogs all curled up on the sofa and played with scale and added in loops to travel.  I did manage to get stuck a few times with dead space but practicing first on paper helped immensely.  Then I made some practice pieces, to quilt on my big Husqvarna Viking.  All looks lovely on the front but got this on the back:

The usual eyelashes when going around in a circle I expected, (I've been told its hand movement out of synch with foot pedal speed), but not the bobbin thread lying on the back of the quilt in the straighter areas.  All looks like its just resting there to me.  So I did the usual, clean the machine, oil it, re- thread everything, changed needle and no luck.  Increased the top tension - still no luck.

So, then I hit the search engines and read lots of advice, some of which is to try it in straight stitch mode and if that works ok, then its not the tension but the speed of my hands.

Try quilting with the feed dogs up.  My Husqvarna Viking doesn't allow a 0 length so I tried it on 0.5.  A little better but not much.

Change from fixed embroidery foot to hopping foot.  I tried the purple big foot and that was worse!  I went through 4 more practice sandwiches and was still not too happy with it.

A bit perplexed, I decided to try a practice piece on my small Pfaff which I've used to quilt smaller items.  I love this machine.  It's my take everywhere and I use it for almost all my piecing.  (I can get a better scant 1/4" with the HV though for some reason!) 

So off I went to practice sandwich number 6 on the Pfaff.  Much, much better.  Still need to get better control of my hand speed but at least there were proper stitches on the back!

So thinking its not just me, (though I'm not great at going slowly), I contemplated for a bit trying to wrangle a throw or bed sized quilt through the 5 1/2" space on my Pfaff.  Then I came to my senses.  I have an 8 1/2" machine I bought for bigger projects - make it work!

I eventually did what I probably should have done first and read the manual!  Turns out my machine automatically sets tension for the stitch type.  (It has an embroidery function too and the tension is set when you plug the embroidery bed in.)  You can override it with buttons on the front but your presser foot has to be in the down position for this to work.  Thinking I had an aha moment I increased tension with the foot down and then the thread broke!  Twice.  Grrrr.  This machine just does not like to be messed with.

Even though the manual says don't touch the bobbin tension I gave in and borrowed a tiny screwdriver from G.  I've read to turn it a 1/4 at a time and test.  Eventually after 1 complete turn to the left I got better results front and back.  This is what I'm sticking with for now!  Of course when I want to make some labels and use the embroidery function I'll have to change it back.  Wonder how much a bobbin case costs, might need to buy another.  Anyone do that , have a spare on hand? 

So I'm finally motoring along now and have plenty of practice at swirly flowers before even touching the quilt!  I've gotten more confidence and am increasing the scale of the flowers (otherwise I'll be all year quilting it!).  I am loving these titanium needles I got on a massdrop offer and as always using Aurifil 50wt thread (my favourite light pink colour 2410).

The fabrics are Amy Butler which I've not used before.  These pretty fabrics are a bit fussy for my normal taste but I love the oriental feel to them.  This one reminds me of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  4 of us went to China on a 22 day holiday a good number of years back and this quilt is destined for one of them - can't say who as they might be reading! 

Gratefully linking up to
Sew Fresh QuiltsWIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced


  1. hi I'm visiting back from your trip to my blog...not afraid of color
    I can relate to all you wrote in this post! The eyelashes indeed come from going around a curve faster than the straight areas. That's a natural human way to behave and we have to consciously be aware of speed going around curvy areas. Either make yourself slow down, or hit the gas.

    Your flowers look totally great tho.

    I need a new machine, and am looking (dreaming) at one with a bigger harp (throat area) for ease of quilting. I don't want a midarm because they are costly and only do free motion. I go from walking foot to free motion to decorative stitches in each quilting episode. Machines are so much money!

    I'm going to look around your blog now... thanks
    LeeAnna Paylor

  2. oh, and I am currently in love with the Superior titanium needles for use with metallics, and everything else. I am a thread hog, and the right needle is very important! Are you loving these superiors?

  3. I am glad you found a solution that will work for the quilt, Ruth. Little things like that can be really frustrating until you figure out your machine's quirks / secrets. Your swirly flowers are looking great with all the practice, too! :)

  4. As I was reading your post I kept thinking try adjusting your bobbin tension. I'm glad you tried it and that it helped. And yes, I do have an extra bobbin case for my Pfaff and my Tiara. It can help so much!

  5. I'm glad you found a solution and were able to get on with your swirly flowers. They are looking good by the last pictures.

  6. I am so impressed with the hard work you put into practicing that FMQ. I always think that I should be doing just what you did with sandwiches but getting it done always seems to take priority and I fall back on my go-to meandering stipple. The end result after all your practice is absolutely gorgeous and I hope one day my skills might be up to yours!

  7. Hurray! Glad you were able to figure it out and find a good setting. The quilting looks great, what a fun motif.

  8. Yep I had same problem with my old machine and changed tension on the bobbin case all the time. A lot of people say have second bobbin case for free motion. And keeping the speed of stitching up to top was very difficult with that machine! I love your motif and you have done beautifully :)

  9. Oh and have you heard about wearing safety goggles when using titanium needle?

  10. Oh I can understand your frustration completely Ruth. Good for you - for sticking with it and trying so many different things. An extra bobbin case would be a brilliant idea if they don't cost too much.

  11. I'm glad you tried the bobbin tension in the end as well! I had the same problem recently and adjusted my bobbin tension (and still do from time to time). I don't understand why sites/people are so against it and warn you to not touch it -- some of them make it sound like the world will implode if you do. I don't find information like that helpful at all because it's what makes you scared to try and touch anything, and perpetuates that *YOU* are the problem. Honestly, it rubs me the wrong way sometimes when you have issues and you're told it's xyz and abc and 123 -- all things *you* need to do personally, and no one ever points their finger at the machine. Sure, there could be things you're not doing correctly in sewing, but that doesn't mean every single problem is your fault and sometimes it really is the machine! Machines aren't perfect and they can malfunction! Isn't that why we take them in for servicing to begin with (or.. should lol).

    When I changed my bobbin tension, my eyelashes also reduced on the back, so that's not always a speed issue either (I found the bobbin tension pulled the bottom thread back into place which made it stop pulling the top thread through for the eyelashes).

    There's a huge difference between a slight turn of that tiny screw and taking the whole thing out so what's the harm in trying it. We need more helpful and insightful posts for fixes out there than scary ones :)

  12. The Husqvarna is shocking at FMQ- ask me how I know ;) I had to have it reset at the dealers to get it anywhere near usable. I tried the bobbin tension and everything. I would recommend the darning foot, ignore the crappy plastic free motion foot completely and don't use hoppy mode as it's so awful, keep it on floating. You may find it copes better if you leave the feed dogs up too which seems counter intuitive but it's worth a try.

    1. Sorry, can't let that go without a comment! I have a Husqvarna Ruby and it is the best little darned free motion quilter on the planet IMHO. Okay, I'm a lucky girl but I don't think I'm the only one with a HV machine for whom FMQ holds no fears. Ruth - I do think that a spare bobbin case is a very handy thing to have. That way you can fiddle with the tension without being afraid of messing up your machine for "normal" use. Speed-wise, I don't go flat out although a lot of FMQ tutorials will say you need to go fast. I set my Ruby at half speed, then press the pedal all the way down or use the Start/Stop button. But to get down to the nitty-gritty - put your bobbin case under a magnifying glass and make sure there is not a piece of fluff under the tension spring. You can open up the tension spring (which is actually a flat piece of metal, not like a spring at all) by putting a pin in as a lever to move the spring, opening up the space. Blow into the area, and any fluff in there will fly away (that's the theory anyway). I had similar problems once - very frustrating since I don't usually have tension issues - and found a "teeny tiny" piece of fluff under the tension spring. Used pointy-nosed tweezers to remove it only to find it was a considerably larger piece of fluff than it looked at first - an iceberg - lots more underneath than you could see on top. Fixed the problem. Penny's suggestion of the darning foot is good - the open toe spring foot is my favourite but you need to use the "hoppy mode", not hover. BTW I've done a whole queen size quilt in that sort of flower pattern - it is an awesome design! (Check out the Sunday Morning quilt in the book "Sunday Morning Quilts" - swoon-a-rama!)

  13. Well done for persevering is all I can say - how frustrating and tedious. But the finished result looks beautiful :)

  14. Arghhh! tension issues... Good on you for trying to find a solution. those flowers are great.

  15. Great post! Very interesting, I hate reading instructions so I would have done the same. Love your final result with the Amy Butler fabrics. The FMQ flowers look oriental too!

  16. I was almost going to suggest a second bobbin casing ... then I read further lol! I've seen lots of peeps do that and they mark it with something too so they don't get them muddled up. Lovely swirly flowers! I always get myself in a muddle when I try those :)

  17. You don't give up easily, do you, Ruth!? Well done. Those posh flowers look fabulous on your testing piece. I love those titanium needles. They are the BEST! And I won't quilt without them. Thanks so much for sharing all your trials and errors!

  18. I have a spare bobbin case - one I am allowed to fiddle with - and the default one that I do not let myself touch. They have different coloured dots so I can tell them apart. Sometimes tension problems can be as simple as a change in thread. Tension has always been my weak point too.
    Good luck!

  19. Darn it....I hate tension issues too. I have ixed my buy also just changing the thread...

  20. Darn it....I hate tension issues too. I have ixed my buy also just changing the thread...


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