What Needle Do I Use?

Posted by on September 18, 2017

I was sewing for literally decades before I knew that there is a groove running down the front of every machine needle!  What is the groove for?  It is where the thread “hides” when the needle is moving in and out of the fabric.  The groove protects the thread from friction, which is a big culprit of breaking thread.  Often, we say that a thread is weak when it actually is experiencing too much heat from friction.  Each size and style needle have different size grooves.  For instance, when using a top stitch needle, it is assumed that you will be using a heavier thread.  Both the eye and groove of the top stitch needle are larger to accommodate the thread size.  The larger the number on the needle size such as 70 or 80, means the larger the needle diameter and groove.

If the groove is too small for the thread, the thread will experience friction and break.  It the groove is too large for the thread, the thread will wiggle around and out of the groove and also break from friction.  If the groove is the correct size for the thread it will glide along and stay cool in the groove.




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What Causes a Skipped Stitch?

Posted by on September 12, 2017


A skipped stitch looks like a long stitch when compared to the other stitches.  There are two main causes of skipped stitches.  One is a problem with your encoders.  Encoders are little wheels that roll left to right and back and forth to tell the machine how fast you are quilting.  These are used when you are using the regulated stitch that will run the needle at a pace to achieve the desired stitch length.   The encoders require a smooth, clean surface to roll consistently.  If they roll over any debris on the rail it will hesitate and assume you have paused, resulting in a longer stitch.  If the encoder has hesitated there will not be a needle hole punched in the fabric because the needle has hesitated as well.  Other reasons an encoder may hesitate is oil on the rail, the spring action has become loose or the electronics need repair.

Another reason for skipped stitches is a timing problem.  Timing refers to the synchronization between the hook and the needle.  The hook picks up the thread from the needle, pulls it around the bobbin and picks up the bobbin thread to create a stitch.  If the hooks is not coming around at the correct time to pick up the thread, no stitch will be formed.  The needle will still move and create a needle punch in the fabric where no stitch was formed.

There are several reasons why the timing may be off.

  1. There has been an event where the needle hit a foreign object and broke.  This may cause the needle bar to be in a different position in relationship to the hook.
  2. There has been a thread jam where you had to force the handwheel to get the thread out.  This may also cause the needle bar to be in a different position.  These two examples will require your machine to be put back in time.  Other reasons include:
  3. The needle has flexed away from the hook and it did not pick up a stitch.  Make sure you are using the appropriate needle for the weight of fabric you are using.  If you are stitching over a heavy seam, sew slower to help the needle to penetrate the fabric rather than flex away from it.
  4. The needle is bent and the hook is unable to pick up the stitch.  Change the needle.
  5. The needle is in backwards or not all of the way up in place.  Check the needle installation.
  6. The take up rail is too high. This makes it difficult for the hook to hold on to the thread.  Often the rail is raised up for a previous quilt and left in that position for a new quilt.
  7. The quilt is too tighton the rails.  Loosen the quilt slightly so the hook will not have the thread pulled away by the trampoline-effect of a quilt loaded too tightly.

The more information you have the better you will be able to trouble shoot.  Happy quilting!


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Thread Weight or TEX?

Posted by on September 6, 2017

When using different threads in the needle and bobbin we stand by the rule of using the same or lighter weight thread in the bobbin as is being used in the needle.  Following this rule helps the quilter achieve the best tension.  Since a 40-weight cotton thread has more drag because of the exposed fibers than a 40-weight poly thread I like to refer to the drag a thread has rather than just the weight.  So, a 40-weight cotton thread in the bobbin combined with a 40-weight poly thread in the needle would make good tension more difficult.  It is good to be aware of the fibers in the thread being used as well as the thread weight.

The most common weight of thread is determined by how much thread it takes to weigh a gram.  So, the finer the thread, the larger the number since it will take more fine thread to weigh a gram than a heavier thread.    The thread weight will be noted on the label with a # or wt. followed by its weight, such as #40 or 40 wt.

The TEX system of thread weight askes the question, “How much does 1000 meters of thread weigh?”  So, the heavier the thread, the higher the number.  This is the exact opposite of the weight measurement.  This will be noted on the label as TEX 30, or whatever the TEX measurement happens to be.  TEX 30 and 40 wt. are nearly the same.  TEX measurement is most often used on industrial thread labels.  Some companies note both measurements.

For best tension, consider the drag and the weight of the thread being used in the needle and bobbin.  Happy Quilting!


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A Discussion on Tension

Posted by on September 2, 2015

shutterstock_151206683 Here is what I understand about tension.  First of all, it is a tug of war.  If you remember as a child playing tug of war the goal was to pull harder than the other team to get the center flag onto your side of the field.  In achieving good tension on the sewing machine we want the tensions to be equal and that “flag” to stay in the center.  There is no magical number for the tensions, but keeping the tensions equal is the goal.  For this reason I always teach adjusting the bobbin tension first, then adjusting the needle tension to match that.  I like my bobbin tension fairly loose.  By that I mean when laying the bobbin case in the palm of your hand you are able to lift the bobbin case up onto its side holding the thread that is placed in the tension strap, but not in the “piggy tail.” (The piggy tail is the little spiral shaped wire on the front of the bobbin case.  I place the thread in the piggy tail when I have finished adjusting the bobbin tension.)   As you pull your hand away from the bobbin case it should gently fall with your hand.  There should be tension felt, but it should drop gently, not like a rock.  If the bobbin case does not move or has to be shaken down it is much more difficult to achieve a balanced tension.  If the bobbin case does not drop, turn the tension adjustment screw (the large screw) left 3 to 5 minutes as on a clock.  If is drops like a rock, turn the tension adjustment screw right 3 to 5 minutes and try the test again. Test the tension by sewing a figure 8.  Examine the result.  Has the stitch locked inside your project?  Yay!  You got it.  Can you see the bobbin thread peeking out on top?  If so, then loosen the needle tension by turning the adjustment knob counter clockwise.  The needle tension is MUCH less sensitive than the bobbin tension strap.  Turn the tension adjustment knob AT LEAST one full turn when making adjustments.  Can you see the needle thread peeking out underneath the project?  If so, then tighten the needle tension by turning the adjustment knob clockwise at least a full turn.  Pay no attention to the numbers on the knob.  Use them to know if your turned a full or half turn. ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT THE NEEDLE THREAD IS FLOSSED INTO THE TENSION DISCS.  The thread may appear to be in the discs when in reality it is only resting on the edge of them.  Please note that the thread may be hampered by lint from moving smoothly.  Take a business card and slip it under the tension strap to clear any possible culprits from under it.  Use a brush to clean inside the tension discs that the needle thread runs through. There are many elements that effect tensions.

  1. Thread weight and drag.  Weight is indicated by # and a number or WT and a number.  #40 to #60 (40 WT to 60 WT) are common weights used in quilting.  The higher the number, the finer the thread.  To add to the confusion there is another measurement of thread called TEX.  This measurement is the opposite.  You will see it on the label as TEX and a number like TEX 30.  The higher the number, the heavier is the thread.  TEX 30 is close to #40. This method of measurement is less common.  I prefer using a three ply thread.  Stay away from the serger threads because they aren’t as strong as they need to be for quilting.
    1. You should be using equal or less weight and drag in your bobbin than is in the needle.
    2. Drag is caused from thickness of thread or loose fibers.  When cotton thread is created fibers are twisted together leaving small ends.  That is why people sing the praises of Long Egyptian cotton because the fibers are longer and leave fewer ends.  These ends drag on the tension disc and strap and increase the tension.  There is nothing wrong with this, but you need to be aware of what is happening and that you need to loosen the tension.
    3. Polyester thread is one continuous fiber, often twisted over a core of polyester.  It has less drag because of the lack of loose ends.  A wonderful combination is Cotton like King Tut in the needle and a nice polyester like PeraCore in the bobbin.  Having less drag in the bobbin makes it easier to get better tension.
    4. There are other threads that are REALLY slippery.  An example are the trilobal threads that are polyester, but the fibers have been forced through something like a sieve to create three sides.  Three fibers are twisted together to make these threads shine.  They are very slippery and have very little drag.  You need to tighten the tensions on these.
  2. Another element influencing tension is batting.  The thicker the batting, the easier it is to get the stitch to lock inside the project.  If the project is thicker there is more wiggle room for the stitch to lock.
    1. 100% cotton batting is among the thinnest battings and requires a little more adjustments to get great tensions.
    2. High loft polyester is among the thickest and easiest to achieve perfect tension.
    3. I love the 60/40 blends.  That is 60% cotton and 40% polyester.  It has the finished look of cotton, but is easier to get the adjustments on tension because it is a bit thicker.
  3. Fabric density also effects tensions.
    1. Think of the difference of Home Spun or flannel type fabric as opposed to 800 count sheets.  The fibers are more densely woven in the sheets making is harder for the needle to pull the thread through the fabric.  Try to match your quilt top and quit backing to be the same type of fabric so you aren’t battling the loose weave/tight weave battle.
    2. Painted fabric also requires the needle thread to pull harder to get the threads to lock.  An example of painted fabric is batik.
    3. None of these are “bad” fabrics.  It is just important to know what adjustments need to be made to be successful.

There are some mechanical items to notice to make sure all is in proper order with your machine.  There is a check spring attached to your tension unit where the needle thread runs through.  It is important that the thread is in this check spring.  Its job is to lock the stitch by pulling on the thread.  Notice that when you pull on the needle thread near the needle the check spring will move.  If it is not moving, check to make sure the tread is running through the check spring.  Also check to make sure that the check spring is positioned at about 11 o’clock.  If it is not in the correct position, you will be able to adjust it slightly by using a screw driver in the center screw of the tension unit and turning it in the direction that is needs to move.

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Quilting with Metallic Threads

Posted by on May 7, 2014

Because quilts should have a little “Bling!”


Metallic thread comes in all colors, many different strengths, smooth and rough textures and soft and wire like properties. To find a metallic thread that will run well on a long arm…

  • Break the thread with your hands to see if it’s tough.
  • Run it between your fingers to see if it’s smooth or if you can feel the windings on the thread. Smooth is better.
  • If you can find a softer, less wire-like metallic it will behave better when going through the thread guides.

The next few educational tips should help you use metallic threads on your long arm machine.

  1. Choose a less dense batting so you won’t build heat in the needle. (Metallics are usually heat sensitive threads.) I use poly, even for my competition quilts.
  2. Choose a high speed needle that is slim lined so it won’t build heat stitching. Some machine companies offer a needle especially for metallic threads and it has to do with the sculpture of the needle.
  3. Always use netting on the spool or cone so the thread will feed smoothly.
  4. Metallics run best if the bobbin thread is a normal soft thread.
  5. Sew your quilt together with normal threads but decorate with the metallics, as the longevity of a normal sewing thread is much longer.
  6. Loosen up on your top tensions so that you do not stretch the metallic thread and cause a stretched thin area, as it will cause breakage when quilting.
  7. When pulling your thread out, as you would when you stop and start, caution on stretching—try to help the thread come down and through the needle by grabbing the thread right after the take up lever and working the thread down toward the needle slowly and carefully.
  8. Use about a 10 stitch per inch selection as the stitch is a little larger and reflects light a bit more, making your work a little sparklier!
  9. Test the thread, sewing every direction before you commit to an entire quilting project so that you are sure it has no issues concerning directional sewing.
  10. If you are building heat in your needle, stop every so often and let the needle cool.

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