Free Motion Quilting = Problem Solving

One of the challenges of quilting in free motion (as with many things, quilty or not) is facing the challenges that come in the form of multiple variables. Maybe that's why I find it such an adventure. There's always something to adjust, fine tune, or fix. On the other hand, that's why many people find it so frustrating. It can be an exercise in problem solving.
Free motion quilting word picture

There are so many variables involved! Many of them are in the graphic above, but there are many more.

I think that it's important to understand that there are always going to be little issues to address as you free motion quilt, even once you've gotten good at it and have plenty of experience. I use my seam ripper regularly and if I use a different combination of threads, fabric, etc. than I usually do, I still have some problems to adjust and figure out. I've even heard professional long arm quilters find after a prolonged problem-solving session chalking it up to getting a bad spool of thread now and then.

How willing are you to play super-sleuth when it comes to your machine and FMQ? I think that directly relates to how successful you will be at machine quilting, especially if you vary your materials, threads, etc. I have heard folks say, "My machine can't use __________." Usually a type of thread. It can become a No-Go Quilty Zone. I think it's more like, "This________ requires more adjustment than I am willing to make." I have this issue too. Certain threads I just don't like as much because I do have to fiddle with them or thinner battings that require me to use my Straight Stitch Needle Plate to keep them from going down into the bobbin case. (I admit it, I hate changing stitch plates back and forth. Plus the straight stitch plate for my Janome 6600 doesn't have a true single hole.)

The most important thing is to figure out what works for you!

That thought deserves a line of it's own. What works for you most of the time, anyway. Then develop a system for problem solving when you have an issue. My usual process is: tension, threading, thread, needle, and foot height. That little list takes care of most of my issues.

One of my troubles, especially with thicker threads, is having the hook somehow split the top thread as a stitch is being formed. This makes a small birds' nest and causes the thread to split, with only part of it making a proper stitch, followed by thread breakage. I have yet to solve this annoying, but intermittent issue with anything other than the seam ripper. I've had my machine checked out and nothing has become apparent, so I just fix when needed and use a thinner thread most of the time to avoid the issue. Though, honestly, it's nearly made me say "I can't use this thread" but I hate to admit defeat.

I'm afraid that some folks that are new to free motion quilting may encounter some of these issues and decide "I just can't do it" or "I need a newer/bigger/better machine" and lose the desire to pursue their FMQ skills. Be encouraged and encourage others. It's an art, not an exact science.

In other news, the winner of the Bernina buttons is: Ann! I have sent Ann an email and will pop those buttons in the mail as soon as possible.

Don't forget to check your settings occasionally to make sure you are not a no-reply blogger. It's a lovely glitch that happens now and then to make your email hidden when you comment. It happens more often if you've linked your Blogger and Google+ accounts. Google "fix no-reply blogger" for a few solutions.

Also, I want to point out that Accuquilt is having a free shipping promotion right now. If you've ever used these fabric cutting dies or their cutter, you know they are heavy! You can get to Accuquilt's site through the ad on the right sidebar.

Have you found yourself ready to give up on something that's giving you trouble instead of problem solving to fix it? Do you have any No-Go Quilty zones?


  1. On my Janome 6500, the needle thread kept getting hooked on the feed dogs. Sounds a lot like what you are describing. I solved ths by FMQ with the feed dogs up. It was a night and day difference. Have you tried that?

    1. A janome's rep once told me to FMQ with feed dogs up. I cover my plate with a thin cardbox and masking tape (actually, it's taped on my Supreme slider), leaving just a tiny hole in it. Works great.

  2. It sounds as if your thicker thread issue may be timing related. The factory or maintenance man's default may not accomodate the large needle and thicker thread without adjustment. While I would not hesitatie to change timing on my longarm when I was in the business, I have not tried changing timing on my Pfaff. I would recommend instead that you use the smallest needle that will accomodate that thick thread without shredding it and see if that gives you better clearance on the hook.

  3. I too use a Janome 6600 and was so relieved to see someone else having the same problem! In my case it's a thin thread, Bottom Line, which I want to use both top and bottom to fmq stitch in the ditch. I have tried different size needles, loosened the top tension as much as possible without getting loopy stitches, bypassed the bottom hook next to the needle, feed dogs up and feed dogs down - and still the thread was shredding just as you described. The only thing that helped for a bit was loosening the bottom tension but it's just done it again and I've given up for today.

  4. Hi Amy ,
    I hope I am no longer a no- reply blogger ! After much ado , I think I fixed it. It actually had to be corrected on my google plus account. Plz let me know if I am still techno- impaired :) Happy quilting

    1. Yes! I can personally reply to you because you are NOT a no-reply blogger!

  5. Amy I occasionally have the same issue of thread splitting or shredding for some unknown reason. Usually it doesn't happen more than once or twice on whatever I'm doing but it sure is annoying. blessings, marlene