The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #18

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Question Thursday #18

It's Thursday and time to answer your questions for the week.  There seems to be a lot of specific machine questions, which are always fun, so let's start with a question from Marelize from Stitch by Stitch:

Why did bobbin washers make my machine run worse?

Full Question:  I use a Bernina 180 Artista, and up to now I have had little problems free motion quilting, but after I put in the bobbin washers I broke two new needles minutes after replacing them.  Am I using it wrong?  What I did was, removed the little silver thingy that was in the bobbin, and replaced it with the bobbin washer and started quilting.  Should I have put that silver thingy back after I had put in the bobbin washer?

Excellent question, Marelize!  Personally I've heard two conflicting reports with using little genie magic bobbin washers when you have a spring bobbin.

1. From a Bernina dealer, I once heard to NEVER use bobbin washers in a spring bobbin.  She didn't give a reason why, didn't clarify her opinion, and seemed to think it was heretical to even suggest using another tool in a machine.  I'm still not sure what her reasoning was, if she had one.

2. Personal experience - I used bobbin washers in the bobbin case of the Juki TL 98QE, which also had a spring.  I left the spring inside, placed the bobbin washer on top, wound the bobbin on top of that like normal, and this was the only way I managed to create halfway decent looking stitches on that machine (it was a finicky monster).

Is this wrong?  No, I don't think so, but it is my opinion based on my experience with the Juki. The best thing to do is to try it both ways on your machine - both spring in and spring out, both washer in and washer out, and see what looks the best.  Think of it like a scientific experiment!  Test and try it and make your own conclusion!

Yes, I honestly love little genie magic bobbin washers, and yes, I sell them in the quilt shop.  Many people might think that I'm biased in their favor because I make money from selling them.

But here's something I've learned from being a quilter, knitter, crocheter, spinner, wood turner, and beadworker: no single tool works for EVERYONE.  

This is why we have so many tools!  If one single set of metal knitting needles can get the job done, why do we have knitting needles made of exotic woods, acrylic, in short sizes and long sizes, and in every color of the rainbow?  Because we're all different people who like different things.

Bobbin washers have so far worked wonders for me in 5 machines, but I have no doubt I will find a machine one day that they wreck havoc with.  I accept this because I know there are no absolutes in any craft.

As to that Bernina dealer, she also started hemming and hawing about "voiding warranty" if washers were used with spring bobbins.  Just in case I get some nasty threatening a lawsuit, let me finish this up with a disclaimer:

Read your manual.  If it says using bobbin washers in the bobbin will void your warranty, then it will void your warranty, and you'll need to factor that into your decision to try them or not.  I'm not responsible for your machine being destroyed because of a single piece of thin Teflon!

With that rant out of the way, let's check out another machine question from Pat at Color me Quilty:

Why doesn't this foot work as well?

Full question: So my question for Leah today has to do with feet and pressure: On this little machine, I have a typical generic FMQ foot.  When I FMQ with my machine, the fabric doesn't glide under the foot, (I am using a supreme slider). The foot seems to hold the fabric down for a second, making my quilting choppy. It seems to me, I remember reading about how you did something with the spring and/or little bar at the top of the foot. Would fixing the foot help with this problem or is it a pressure setting on my machine?

This is an excellent question Pat!  I've actually been meaning to share an article on this topic because it's so important for free motion quilting.

Here's the deal: your quilting foot will make or break your ability to make pretty stitches in free motion.

This is a sad truth because about 99% of all FMQ feet are terribly designed.  In the case of Pat's generic foot above, that foot in particular is a monster on the machine.

Here's all the things that are wrong with this foot:

1. Height - Maybe the designer who first created this foot had had too much to drink with lunch when he (or she) sat down to sketch out this spring loaded monstrosity.  Or maybe they just didn't care to actually do math.

Regardless, they never bothered to actually measure and find the correct height the foot should rest at when free motion quilting.  True, the proper height of the foot can change depending on how thick your quilt is (high loft verses low loft batting and layers of applique can make for a thick quilt), but they could have at least made an attempt to find the right resting height.

Instead that designer, let's call him Lazy Bob, decided to make the foot rest very low.  Worse than that, he decided to back up the low height with a spring which forces the foot down with pressure.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Can anything fit under this foot without getting squished?!
2. Needle Bar Hitter - Bob might have been lazy, but he at least knew enough that if the foot rested too low all the time, a quilter would never be able to move the quilt at all, thereby making the foot useless.

So he also designed the most annoying feature in the entire world: the needle bar hitter.  This little jutting piece of metal is designed to rest over your needle bar.  Every time your needle comes up, the needle bar rises and hits this piece, and lifts the foot up.

The foot is lifted because the needle is in the highest position.
The idea sounds pretty good on paper: the foot will rest very low when the needle is down.  You can't move the quilt when the needles is down (unless you're breaking needles), so it doesn't matter if the foot squishes your quilt during this time.  The the needle lifts, which causes the foot to lift, so your quilt isn't being squished, so you can move it a bit, until the needle drops again.

Yes, this sounds okay on paper.  Unfortunately it is a total disaster in reality.

The main issue is just how low the foot rests when the needle is down.  It is literally squishing the snot out of your quilt.  Because of the spring, this is heavier pressure than just a plastic foot resting on your quilt - it's actively exerting downward force.

When the needle bar rises, it unfortunately rises too high. Suddenly you've gone from a squished quilt to 0 control whatsoever.  It's very easy, especially at low speed, to take massive stitches because you have virtually no control over how much you can move the quilt.

What also stinks about this foot is the location of the Needle Bar Hitter - if it was lower it might actually work better.  As it is right now, the needle has to lift into the absolute highest position for the foot to lift.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The needle is out of the quilt, but the foot is still squishing downwards
This creates a condition I call the Hop-Squish Syndrome.  The foot lifts and allows you a hop of movement, then drops back down to squish the quilt.

The only possible way to make this foot work realistically is to stitch VERY VERY VERY fast.  Only at high speed will it produce decent looking stitches, but if you're a beginner or you're not comfortable with the design you're quilting, how in the world are you going to quilt that fast?!

Fortunately, this foot is fixable.  While Lazy Bob might have been a bozo when it comes to designing a generic darning foot, at least his work can be improved on and made to work properly.

So here's the steps to fixing that generic darning foot:

1. Kill the needle bar hitter - Tired of the Hop-Squish Syndrome?  Wishing you could quilt without the accompanying jackhammer of the needle bar connecting with your foot?  It's time to bend that sucker backwards and show him where to go.

Using a pair of needle nose pliers, pull that bar backwards to form a U shape. You do still need this bar in place because it holds the foot together, but if you bend it back, it will still do that job, but retire from the needle bar hitting career.

2. Lift to the right height - With the needle bar bent back, you've just ruined your foot.  It will be all spring loaded squish all the time, and I doubt even the thinnest quilt would be able to move under it.

So fix the squish!  Press on the base of the foot and you'll see the little area between the plastic and the now-defunct needle bar hitter.  This is the magic space where the height of your foot is determined.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Bend that pesky bar back, then wrap a rubber band in the magic space between the bar and the plastic
 Wind a small rubber band into this area to fill in the space and lift the foot.

I always start with 4 loops around, then wind up the rest of the rubber band on top to get it out of the way.  Place it on your machine, put a quilt sandwich below it, then see how things feel.

You want to be able to move the quilt under the foot smoothly.  No squishing allowed!

However, you also don't want the foot lifted so high that things feel out of control.  If the foot is lifted too high, your thread will have a tendency to break because the quilt is jiggling around on the surface of the machine.

If your foot feels too high, adjust the rubber band so there are fewer loops filling in the magic space.

If you foot feels too low, add a few loops to the magic space.

Yes, this works!  It might seem crazy, but it really can make an enormous difference for free motion quilting.

What's really good about this rubber band adjustment is it works on all machines - no matter if you have a pressure adjustment knob or not.  Personally I don't like adjusting the presser foot pressure on my machine because I don't like the idea of forgetting about it and needing to readjust whenever I switch to piecing.

Yes, this is a bit of a finicky personal thing, but also keep in mind that most affordable sewing machines (under $1000) don't usually have pressure adjustment knobs standard.

Oh yeah, one more thing about this generic foot: if you really want to make it 100% awesome - take a pair of clippers and clip open the base of the foot so you have a nice open toe.  Ah!  Now you can actually see the needle and know where you're stitching!

If all this makes no sense when looking at photos, check out a video on breaking your foot right here.

Note: All the photos shot for this post were demonstrated on the Janome HD 1000 which accepts universal low shank feet.

The Janome Horizon 7700 is NOT a standard high shank however (generic feet won't work), but this machine comes with the awesome QBH foot which doesn't need any adjustment, other than removing the bar that makes the foot hop.

Also while Bernina machines do have adapters that allow them to be compatible with universal low shank feet, it's far better to look for the Open Toe Darning foot.  This Bernina foot is also awesomely designed and requires no adjustment.

Now with this dissertation on darning feet out of the way, let's talk about quilting Circuit Board!

The next question is from Malini's Quilting Journey:

Is it okay if my quilting isn't evenly spaced?

Full question: In my variation of circuit board, I tried to be mindful about the pictures/images on the fabric and my quilting ended up not being equally spaced. Is this okay? I kind of know you're answer....I bet you're going to say if I like it then its okay. Any way wanted to hear your suggestions.

How dare you assume what my answer would be!  No!  All your lines must be EXACTLY 1/2 inch apart ALL THE TIME.  Don't even THINK of stitching it any other way!

Lol.  I just got my impulse to be a screaming dictator out of my system for the week.

Dude, it's your quilt!  If you're worried about quilting over the cute bunnies on the fabric, you can either sittch around them, or a much better idea is to draw some shape around them (circle, square, triangle, ameoba) and stitch around that shape.  That way the gaps in your quilting make sense.

But again, it's your quilt!  Take a look at it and decide how you want it to go.  Another idea would be to quilt UP to the image on the fabric, quilt around it (outline quilting), then fill around it with the design.  This would also be a great practice idea for stitching on a line and filling around a complex shape.

Let's see if I can stop shouting at Malini for her second question:

Do some people find it easier to do the curvy designs over the boxy ones? Or is it just me?

No, it's not just you ;-)

I think it's something about the way we're wired, but I agree that curvy designs are easier.  Not all quilters will find this however, and even if it does feel difficult, it's still a good idea to play with both types.

When I first started quilting, I struggled with straight line designs and found them literally jarring.  I zone out while quilting (it's more or less my meditation time), but straight line designs were always distracting.  It took about 2 years of quilting a lot before I finally started to like them.

The nice thing about this is you now have two choices when quilting: When you're needing a comfortable, cozy zone-out session behind the machine pick designs that make you comfortable.

When you're needing a challenge, to push your edge, pick designs that feel a bit like pulling teeth.  Eventually they won't feel so hard, but there will always be designs you like better than others. 

Finally one last question from Danielle Hudson:

Is there any reason you don't spray baste your quilts? 

Full Question: I have just started using the spray baste on the last quilt I did and have been using it on my practice quilt sandwiches with great sucess. Is there anything bad about this product we should know? My biggest concern is if it is harmful to my machine. There are the obvious health and environmental issues, but my biggest concern is my machine. It's my pride and joy;)

I don't spray baste mostly because it's smelly, sticky, and flammable. Josh is asthmatic and I'm super sensitive to smell too, so it was never a good fit for my family.

I also don't do it because the 2 times I tried it, my quilt shifted horribly.  I didn't have a good experience and, yes, it has colored my opinion on spray basting ever since.

Lastly, will never learn how to spray baste properly after reading this study of the long term effects of spray basting chemicals on cotton fabric.

So personally I think spray baste has 3 strikes against it: it stinks to use it, it doesn't do the job properly, and it may destroy my quilt in 50 years.

Granted, there are many, many professional quilters that use spray baste and swear by it.  Just like with the bobbin washers - we don't all have to agree.  Use what you want and what works for you!

Now I think I've ranted more than enough today.  Take what you can from my strong opinions and weird humor and let's go quilt something pretty!



  1. Thanks for your no-nonsense answers, Leah. I always know you will tell it straight.
    You have shared a wealth of information here. You are a very giving individual with a lot of common sense. I don't often comment on your posts, but I always read them.

  2. Thanks Leah for commenting and giving your insight to my question. I will try it again using the different methods and will definitely let you know. Thanks again!

  3. So glad that Malini provided that "rant" opportunity for you! LOL! Interesting how hard we find it to break free of the implied, or otherwise, "shoulds" that came from some ancient dark era!!!!!

  4. I just did the modification of my quilting foot ,your a genius it works perfectly ,thank you . Think most of my problem was the noise of the needle bar hitting , it really distracted me .You could teach these designers a thing or two.

  5. Leah, you convinced me to "break" my foot and I love it! I had already cut the toe (I thought that's what the red lines were for!) but stopping the hopping fixed all my problems. Thanks! Lastly, I have found one machine that is affordable that has a pressure adjuster and it's my baby! Brother PC420. I swear by that thing and it was only 250. Anyways, just pointing that out :D Thanks again!

  6. Dear Leah - YOUR NEW BOOK CAME TODAY!!! Oh my, I am an ole great-granny and cannot believe that your youth and energy produced such a delicious, beautiful, filled-to-the-gills book of your quilting designs! I do my own quilting on a DSM, and LOVE to include a variety of designs -- I won't have trouble any more, thinking of "what shall I quilt." I am so very appreciative of your 365 project.

  7. Hi Leah,
    Thank you for answering all my questions. Its always fun to read your response ;)....

    Same as Marelize bobbin washers didn't work for my machines either. I have a Borther and one computerized Singer machine. As soon as I put the bobbin washers, my thread started jamming and broke a few needles. I don't use them any more.

    Even cheater needle, I broke the first one. But then I started using the strongest of them and it doesn't break anymore. And hiding threads has been a breeze now :-). Thanks for the tip and product Leah.

    I'm so glad to be back on Quilt Alongs.

  8. Ha ha! Can I tell how you many of the "needle bar hitter" feet I've killed? THREE! I've got mad skill skillz! I use a non-springy open toe foot and honestly, I am WAY better with it. I got it on the morning of a FMQ class I signed up for cuz I pulled it out and found it almost broken the night before. I rocked that so hard in class, like it was what I always used.

  9. For the question about the bobbin, she needs to leave the little silver disc in the bobbin case.

    I have a Bernina, too and I don't even know what it does, but my machine won't stitch well without it.

    In fact, mine got damaged once and I had to buy a whole new bobbin case, just because of that little spring or whatever it is!!

    I just put the bobbin washer on top of the disc and it worked fine :-)

  10. A thousand thank you's!!!! This afternoon I took a deep breath and modified my quilting foot that came with my machine. It's so much better, it feels like I've gotten a new machine! You've truly revolutionized and instantly improved my FMQ!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!

  11. Thank you so much for this! I've just started following along with you, and have that foot, and I was having to zoom along at breakneck speed without any idea of where I was going! I've surgerized my foot now, so I hope to get started soon! And for the record, I have a Singer Fashion Mate 237 (manufactured around 1965) - a beautiful all metal machine I bought for $80 that works like a dream! I hope it works as well FMQ as it does for everything else I do.

  12. Wow! I love your explanations! Im bookmarking this blog! Thank you so much! Im off to fix my darning foot!

  13. Yes! Thank you for showing me that yes it is ok to mess with my darning foot! I knew some of the problems I was having was due to the darning foot bouncing about BUT... Just a quick expansion on the alteration of the foot, mine was supplied with my machine (Basic non digital Janome) it is a general darning foot but if I remember right it is specific to the Janome brand, so the needle bar extension is actually 'U'd already, I ended up having to clip off the excess part of the bar so it wouldn't interfere with the motion of the machine, then the rubber band trick didn't work for me, I tried various types and thickness of rubber bands and I couldn't get a decent height setting on the foot part, or if I did the band slipped and I thought I had ruined my foot.
    Undaunted I tried different alternatives and came up with: Thin jewelers or craft wire! Wrap it around the post about 7 times (for my particular foot) and if it needs to be adjusted I can simply unwrap or wrap more. I found the flexible copper wire to be the best for this, really malleable. Best part is I found it at a dollar store for a buck ages ago, a small spool is only a dollar ;)

  14. I just talked to a rep for Juki sewing machines and he said that he never heard of magic bobbin washers but also said that the Juki does not need washers for free motion quilting. I think I saw you use a Juki sewing machine, but am not sure. What is your input on this? I was just getting ready to order the washers, but now am not sure, after reading the reviews.

    1. I found the bobbin washers essential for my Juki TL. I really struggled to get good stitch quality on that machine and to stop it from breaking thread constantly. The only thing I found that worked was bobbin washers and Isacord thread, but that's just my experience!


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