Last night I received a really good question by email:
My name is C. and I am having trouble with the stitches in free motion quilting.
I have been trying to do the free motion for quite awhile now and I can start it off great but sometimes I will have a "missed stitch". Just a couple here and there.
When I put my regular presser foot for general sewing I will not have that problem, only during free motion. I was wanting to know if you knew how I could fix this, what I am doing wrong etc. Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated.
I decided to share this email and my response with everyone because this is such a common problem.
In fact, back in the spring 2009 I was ready to chuck my Juki out the window because it continually skipped stitches and was about to drive me crazy!
It took me 3 months to figure out the problem, but I've never forgotten how annoying or frustrating this problems can be. Skipped stitches look bad, they're noticeable, and oftentimes the thread will build up so much it will break.
So to figure out why my machine was skipping, I started testing many different possible culprits against one another until I figured out what was going wrong.
Eventually I realized that there are 3 reasons you could be skipping stitches:
1. Bad needle
2. Bad thread
3. Tension Issues
Let's go through these and I'll explain how you can tell if they're causing the problem or not.
Bad needle - If you haven't changed your needle out in awhile, try that first.
When I was a kid I don't think the needle in our singer was changed once in 7 years! Now I change needles about once a week, depending on how much quilting I'm doing.
I quilt with a Universal 80/12 needle. A lot of quilters swear by embroidery needles or microtex needles in smaller sizes like 70/12.
When I use these needles I get skipped stitches, so I guess it really just depends on your machine! Buy several different types of needles and play with them to see which your machine likes to free motion with the best.
Bad thread - Certain thread seem to skip far more than others. I've had to give away 3 spools of Mettler Silk finish because my machine hates that thread! Try changing thread colors and see if it's the thread spool itself. Yes, thread can go bad!
Next, try changing brands. I love Isacord polyester thread because it never, and I mean never, skips on me.
Tension Issues - Now if neither changing the needle or changing the thread works, then it may be a tension issue with your machine.
Since most quilters only get the skipped stitches when free motion quilting, I assume that the only thing that's changing when you free motion is your feed dogs position.
Manufacturer's concentrate on making machines very balanced with even tension while the feed dogs are engaged, but when the feed dogs are off this balance can go out the wazoo.
You may need to play with your tension quite a bit. Yes, those dials were made for a reason, and they can be turned when needed!
Pin up a chart to the wall and write down your tension for regular sewing, walking foot quilting, and then free motion quilting so you'll feel comfortable adjusting your tension as needed.
Next, look at your bobbin casing. If you have a Bernina, you will have an extra hole you can thread to increase the tension on your bobbin.
If you don't have the extra hole, try using Little Genie Magic Bobbin washers. These really helped my bobbins feed much more smoothly.
If nothing seems to work, stop lowering your feed dogs.
Yep, I did just say that. Stop lowering your feed dogs and instead just cover them with either an index card or a Supreme Slider.
I often free motion quilt with the feed dogs up and really it's no problem so long as your tables are flush and you're not fighting your quilt.
There's a very rooted idea in the quilting world that you can only free motion with the feed dogs down. In truth, it really doesn't matter.
So long as you have a good grip on your quilt, you're not even going to feel those little moving teeth under your quilt. In fact, I often forget to turn my feed dogs off until I'm halfway through a quilt!
The only time having your feed dogs up will matter is if you're using a foot that squishes your quilt onto the machine bed, but most darning feet don't do that.
So long as your darning foot is just hovering over the top of your quilt, you should be able to free motion to your hearts content with raised feed dogs. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
Let's go quilt!