The Free Motion Quilting Project: Why is My Thread Suddenly Skipping?!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why is My Thread Suddenly Skipping?!

Since January I've been teaching Dad how to free motion quilt so he can help me prep quilts for filming, or finish quilts that I don't have time for after the video is complete. He's been doing really well and I'm loving the finished quilts that have both of our stitches together.

Dad is also helping me identify common beginner issues with machine quilting. As he stumbles onto a problem, we discuss the issue and I help him find a solution, then we talk about ways to make learning machine quilting easier.

One thing Dad discovered this week was really interesting so I've shot a quick tip video to share our experience:


When Dad was quilting the Polka Dot Parade, he didn't run into any issues with direction changes because the machine was only quilting in any particular direction for 3-5 stitches or so.

When he switched to the long wiggly lines, he was quilting in a particular direction for several INCHES. This might not seem like a big deal, but it was enough to make Dad think he'd broken my machine! The machine didn't like stitching in one of the directions he was using, and reacted with skipping stitches and shredding thread.

Free Motion Quilting is a Beast

This is why you may sit down to quilt one day and feel like your machine is suddenly broken. Why does it keep breaking thread or skipping stitches? It quilted that other design just fine for days and days?!

This is one of the most complicated and challenging things to explain about free motion quilting. It's simply not FAIR. Theoretically we should be able to strap on a darning foot, plop a quilt on the machine, and free motion quilt in all directions. Theoretically.

Unfortunately in reality our machines can be far more picky, still preferring particular directions like straight forward rather than quilting in reverse.

So if you suddenly wake up one morning and your machine suddenly wants to eat your thread, this is most likely the culprit. Try a different direction by shifting the quilt slightly within the machine. Also spend some time identifying the directions your machine doesn't like.

Yes, this can be really frustrating. When I explained the issue to Dad, he looked at me like I'd grown two heads. He couldn't believe that there wasn't something broken in the machine because it was acting so different when he began quilting the wiggly design.

But as soon as he started rotating the quilt around instead of quilting backwards, the issue cleared right up and the thread stopped skipping and shredding.

Have you ever experienced anything like this? Do you find certain threads skip and break more than others? Share your experience in the comments below!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

20 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, I'm fairly new to quilting and thought it was something that I was doing wrong. Now I'll try and figure what direction my little girl isn't fond of.

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  2. I find that my machine doesn't like to go in the direction of ten o'clock . If I can figure out a way to avoid going in this direction it makes my life a lot easier. Websterquilt.blogspot.com

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  3. It also helps if you use a thicker needle, it works for me. I as told that the machine skips stitches because the needle is pulled away from the hook when it comes down whilst quilting with the quilt moving towards you.

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    1. Your answer makes so much sense!! I'm going to keep this in mind!

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  4. Its a well known fact that machines have feeling! Surely your dad realises this - it's why you can get a run of electrical appliances breaking down in sympathy with each other!?

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  5. It's also a good idea to check for tiny burrs either on the needle or faceplate. A burr, or sharp spot, on the faceplate can be the problem when the issue only shows up in on direction. Change the needle if that's the issue and gently buff out any burrs on the faceplate with a emery board. Slowing down for the problem direction also helps.

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  6. Thank you, Leah. I've experienced this issue, too, and apparently have been compensating in just the way you suggest here (the slight shift in direction) to correct/help the situation, without even realizing that that's what I was doing. Intuitive, yes, but not very conscious of me. Thanks so much for summarizing it sensibly and succinctly so that I can be more deliberate and efficient about this.

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  7. Leah, what wonderful keepsakes you must be creating with your quilts that have a bit of you, your dad and Josh all in one.

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  8. My machines don't like the 12 to 3 zone, although any direction is OK for an inch or so and slowly.

    Shirley's right about the bigger needle. And skipped stitches or thread breaks can be such a complex equation of thread and needle and what's being sewn. Settings that worked fine can become problematic. Is it temperature and humidity at play?

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  9. I keep getting a couple blocks done, and then my thread starts shredding or breaking. It's very frustrating. If it would do it from the start, I would do something different. So one quilt, I turned the whole thing around because it wouldn't stitch in a certain direction.

    A weird thing was when only one color of a box of threads would work for more than a couple inches! Same sandwich, I think same pattern...everything the same but the color! I just decided that my machine doesn't like that thread...again, frustrating.

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  10. My vertical bobbin machine does not have a bad direction thank goodness!

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  11. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your videos. I love too that you are working with your Dad! Your videos are VERY HELPFUL to me as a new machine quilter. Keep up the good work!

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  12. Oh yes, I recently experienced this on TWO of my Bernina machines. When the first one started doing this (shredding, skipping, really messing up thread on the underside of the fabric), I played with it until I was just frustrated. Then I tried my second machine, which worked for awhile, doing the same kind of free motion quilting, and it also went bonkers! Needless to say, I could not fix the problem and even ended up getting both machines checked out at the Bernina dealer. The first one needed something done, and a cleaning. The second one is a machine I bought used on ebay. Turns out the spring part in the bobbin was actually on backwards (yep, it came that way - someone must have messed with it) - and with the problem corrected, it is okay. So that all cost me 2 trips to the dealer store (2 hours round trip) and almost $200. LOL! Happy you wrote about this issue. I will not give up so easily the next time. I hope there are more folks out there with some tips for this type of problem. Thanks so much!

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  13. My machine does not like to go backwards at a 45 degree angle for more than 3-4 stitches.

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  14. Just want to say I have learned so much from your videos and Craftsy classes. Thank you! I was having problems with breaking and shredding no matter what thread I used on my Janome 7700. I thought it might be my needle plate so I purchased a new one. That seemed to help but I was still having problems. I had noticed previously that my thread would sometimes "jump" out of the spring thread guide but I would rethread and didn't think too much about it. I took my machine in and the repair man adjusted the thread spring guide because he said it was bent, allowing the thread to pop out and break. Once he adjusted that I have had no problems, no matter what thread I use or what direction I go.

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  15. Love your videos and have learned so much from you. What a blessing to not only be in business with your hubby aka best friend but to be teaching your Dad to MQ. Awesome!

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  16. I have found a single hole stitch plate made a big difference. I also use a 90 topstitch needle.

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  17. I am having that same problem with my Janome 6600P and it has never happened before in 6 years of this machine and 7 years previously on my first 6600P. I am going to try what you suggest, but I am thinking I may have to have a complete tune up at the dealer. One question: I usually use feed dogs down with the blue dot bobbin case. Would it make a difference to try feed dogs UP stitch length zero?

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    1. Yes, that might make a significant difference. I would pull out a note book and start taking notes. Every time you change something on the machine, write down what you change and what happens. Keep changing one thing at a time until you figure out what the problem really is.

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  18. I have this issue with my janome 6600p. It shreads the thread if I'm quilting in long wavy lines to the left. It mostly occurs if I'm quilting a pattern I'm not familiar with. Once I've built up my muscle memory the problem usually disappearships or reduces tremendously.

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