I've been working on my little sawtooth star quilt this week and got a big reminder of an important detail of free motion quilting - sensitivity.
While this might not sound like a big deal, being able to look, listen, and feel both your quilt and your machine while free motion quilting is extremely important.
This is an ability to:
Look - Know what your machine and especially the area around your needle LOOKS like when it's working properly. If you see thread tugging in a weird way, stop and check what's going on.
Listen - All machines make noise when they run, and usually make MORE noise when there's something wrong. What is that weird chugging noise? It sounds like the thread is caught on something. Oops! It is caught on the back of the quilt.
Feel - You're hands are right on top of the quilt, responsible for moving it, but they can also be mini radar detectors for any issues going on with the machine. Tugging or resistance from the quilt are two sure signs that something is very wrong.
The quilt should always be easy to push around when the needle is up - if it's not, stop stitching and check. This sensitivity to changes in your quilt or machine can save you a lot of time and headaches if you work on developing it, and if you listen to what your intuition is telling you.
Here's a little case in point:
While quilting the stars of this quilt with stippling, I noticed that on about every other star I'd experience a weird tugging / pulling feeling coming from the machine.
The quilt was still moving smoothly as ever and I didn't see it hooked to anything, and the resistance was slight, but still present in the movement of the quilt under the needle.
This feeling wasn't very noticeable when stitching simple curves, but as soon as I began moving the quilt more quickly, I felt a constant tug and resistance against the quilt.
Rather than continue to stitch this way, I stopped and took the quilt off the machine and flipped it over. Lo and behold, my stitches were looking pretty bad on the back, almost as though I had a major tension issue going on with the machine.
But here's another plus for developing a sensitivity to free motion quilting - you'll be much more likely to diagnose the right problem and fix it easily.
Logically if your tension worked fine on that setting yesterday, chances are unless you changed thread it shouldn't be wildly different today.
So I took a look at the bobbin area instead. It's always a good idea to check your bobbin thread first when dealing with a funny running machine because a lot of thread issues stem from this area.
A simple tug on the thread told me loads about what was going on - the thread was literally STICKING as I pulled it from the machine.
Bobbins are designed to do one thing - spin and unwind thread.
I use little genie magic bobbin washers in my bobbin cases to make the spinning of the bobbin smoother and more even, which reduces bobbin issues and thread breaks so an issue in this area is pretty noticeable.
If I tug on the bobbin thread coming out of my machine, I expect it to smoothly spool out.
I know there's a problem when I tug on this thread and the thread comes out in fits and spurts, feeling as though it's sticking as it unwinds from the bobbin.
So I pulled the bobbin out and checked that I had wound it properly, then I checked the bobbin area - is it full of lint or stray threads? Time to brush it out!
After replacing the bobbin and bringing the thread up to the top of the machine, I gave the thread another tug - smooth sailing once again.
While it may seem a crazy simple fix, all my machine needed was a quick brushing out.
As you quilt this week, keep an eye and ear open for the way your machine sounds and feels when it's stitching nicely. Try to develop a feeling for the good stitches so when things go weird, you know what to do, or at least what is the most likely culprit.
Time to shut up and go finish this quilt!