Loops, Eyelashes and Birdsnests

Issues with Tension

A common problem when learning free motion quilting are stitches that look like eyelashes and birds nests on the back of the quilt, thread breaking and even needle breakage. The factory tension settings are set at 4 or 5 for most machines. Some machines also have an automatically adjusting tension that in theory does not need adjusting by hand. This is not always the case. Diagnosing tension issues can be frustrating.


Check the Tension


1.   Reset your machine for straight stitching and sew several lines of stitching on a test sandwich. Adjust the upper tension until these test stitches are even and the top and bottom stitches interlock together in the middle of the sandwich or between two or more layers of fabric.


2.   Drop the feed dogs and insert the darning or free motion quilting foot. Sew a small test, at least six inches, on the sandwich then check the stitches on the top and bottom. Sew at the same speed you sew when stitching patchwork. The top and bottom stitches should be in a straight, flat line.


3.   If the bottom stitches are loose, eyelashes or birds nests, lower the upper tension one number and sew another test. Look at the back of the sandwich, are the stitches even and smooth? If not, lower the upper tension one more number and test again. Continue lowering the upper tension one number and testing until you reach the bottom number on your machine. Write the tension number of each test, on the back of the sandwich with a pen or permanent marker. Keep this sample for future references.


4.   If the bottom stitches are still not correct, raise the upper tension one number instead of lowering. For example, if the normal tension setting is “4”, change the number to “5” and test. Continue raising the upper tension one number and testing until you reach the top number on your machine. Don’t forget to write the tension number on the back of sandwich for each test.


Other Areas to Check


1.   Rethread your machine, including the bobbin thread. You may need to rewind the bobbin thread. Check the bobbin area or the race, for loose threads and dust. Sewing creates dust in this area.


2.   Check the thread, use the same good quality cotton thread on the top and in the bobbin. Use thread made from one continuous piece, rather than many smaller pieces joined together. This type of thread may have small knots, wider or thinner areas.


3.   Insert a new needle 80 or 90 quilting or topstitch needle.


4.   Check your sewing speed. Run the machine slower to give the machine enough time to complete the stitch.


5.   Move the fabric slower and find the rhythm between the speed of the needle moving up and down and your moving the fabric with your hands.


6.   Set up the quilting area to support the quilt on all sides of the machine. The quilting table should have about 12 inches between you and the machine, 2 to 4 feet or more to support the quilt on the left and the other side of the needle. Heavy quilts cause a pulling or drag on the needle that distorts stitches.


7.   Check the batting instructions. Lower loft batting is easier to sew for beginners since it is thinner and easier to see where the needle is going. High loft batting is puffier making the sewing area harder to see.


8.   Try a bobbin washer. This small Teflon washer sits inside the bobbin case, moving the bobbin smoothly.


 See the “Pages” section for “Recommended Products for Free Motion Quilting”

Posted Mar 04 2011, 12:00 PM by Sharon
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