Free Motion Troubleshooting Skipped Stitches

Frustration City! Skipped stitches can really make free motion not fun. And it really should be fun. I can’t recommend enough to always test your exact materials and design elements on a test sandwich first before you start on your quilt. Also, fresh needles can solve many problems

Skipped Stitches are caused by a lot of things. But usually the culprit is misthreading or a damaged or dull needle. You might have just put a new needle in the machine and that needle could still have a micro sized burr in a bad spot somewhere. Or maybe you are like me and think you can eke out the whole darn quilt including patchwork and quilting with one needle. Well, that needle is probably the problem. There is a reason that sewing machine makers make the needle so easy to replace.

The needle is easy to replace because we are supposed to do it pretty often.

  1. Are you sewing with your presser foot down? Often new free motion quilters will forget. If the presser foot isn’t down, then the tension discs can’t help form a stitch.
  2. Replace the Needle – needles are the cheapest part of your sewing expenses. Try just changing it out. You don’t have to use them, but I like titanium coated needles. I explain why in this post.
  3. Is your needle the correct size? You choose fabric and thread first, then match the needle to it. Here is more info on Thread Weights and Needle Sizes for Free Motion
  4. Take the thread out of your machine and clean your machine. Be sure to take the bobbin out for good measure too. Clean it, clean the bobbin area, if you can remove and clean the bobbin casing then do it. Take the presser foot plate off and clean under it. Clean lint off the needle holding metal bar thingy (very technical term there). Clean it all.
  5. Rethread the machine properly.
  6. Is your presser foot up before you thread? If you don’t bring up the presser foot, the thread can not get in-between the tension disks. This is a problem as stitches can’t form..
  7. Is your bobbin oriented the correct way (does it spin the right way once it is inserted in the machine)? If there aren’t arrows stamped in your machine, are you sure you’ve seen the manual to know. One friend actually sewed for years with the bobbin going the wrong way. It was okay for straight stitch, but when she finally wanted to learn free motion quilting, it didn’t work well at all and caused skipped stitches.
  8. You can look through my troubleshooting posts on this blog and hunt online for answer. These are collated from personal experience, other free-motion quilters, Superior Thread Company, Schmetz Needle Company, and a lot of other sources. This is all common knowledge stuff, no rocket science here or proprietary info. But I hope it helps you. I use my blog as a resource all the time. I love comments too. Please help if you know something else that should be added, or another solution.

I do have a chart in the works that I promise to post in the near future.

An Easier Way To Join Binding Ends

Oh Snarky Quilter! Thank you for posting the link to the McCall’s video. She explains it so concisely and well demonstrates it. Why recreate something that’s so well done.. unless you want to wear nail polish or something. But when I put that stuff on, it just looks clumpy and totally bad on my man hands. (I’m not a man, just have man hands)

The Snarky Quilter

Try this ridiculously easy trick—just kidding—but I did find an easier way to get the ends of my quilt bindings sewn together. Back in the day, quilters were advised to tuck the tail into the binding start that had the edge turned under. This left you with an unsightly bulge.

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Then, other methods were put forth to join the two ends at a 45 degree angle. In fact, there’s even a gadget sold to help you do this.

binding-tool

I’ve been using my own version of Sharon Shaumber’s method, which works but is a bit awkward. Then, I found a new method on one of my Pinterest feeds. It advertised ease and success, so I saved it and tried it out for my recent binding marathon (3 quilts in 2 weeks.)

This method comes from McCall’s Quilting, of all places, and you can watch a video on how to use it.

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Yet Another Instruction Guide on Tube Cut Bias Binding

I was in a class last week and we were supposed to do tube cut bias binding. I find this the best way to make bias in the entire world. But I had a major brain fart! It was, to say the least, a bit embarrassing. At that moment, I couldn’t have even told you what make my car is. Luckily we planned for overflow time the following Tuesday evening.

I made some notes and turned the unfinished keynote address into a Quicktime video. I will probably come back and add a voice over at some point. But the keynote slide show is what I’ll be actually using as a classroom aid. It will play better live in person.

Here it is for those of you who want an early peek.

Free Motion References

Sites

Free Motion Quilting Project – This is probably the best site for learning free motion quilting that I can think of. Leah Day clearly explains what she is doing, how to do it yourself and she has Craftsy classes too. She has done tons of online examples. She recently started publishing her designs in books, so if you are a person who prefers to browse books for ideas, she is there for you too.

You also might want to follow along with Leah’s Building Blocks Quilt Along. You can find it on Facebook and her website that I linked to above.

Books

Free Motion Quilting by Kent Mick Book
You can get it on Amazon here Free Motion Quilting by Kent Mick Book
The book the store did not have in stock because they sold out. I highly recommend this for a beginner or never ever free motioned before person. It is a short book at only 32 pages. Don’t be fooled though. It gives you exactly what you need and nothing more. No silly same old filler pages like so many other quilting books have now days.

Free Motion Quilting On Your Home Sewing Machine by Kent Mick. You can get it on Amazon or at almost any large quilt shop. It should be $12.95 or under.

Books I passed around class:

Link to Amazon Free Motion Quilting From Feathers to Flames by Leah Day
Free Motion Quilting From Feathers to Flames by Leah Day
Free Motion Quilting From Feathers to Flames by Leah Day is available on kindle and as a regular book.. She has a DVD and other books available too. I call this Leah’s red book. It is a great portable spiral bound smaller sized book full of examples. Wonderful textures of feather and flame designs. I use this for inspiration often. She includes over 50 designs and instructions. She also shows how to transform a simple design into something more complicated looking by just changing it up a bit. I love this book.

Buy Diane's book on Amazon here.
Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski’s Machine Quilting Guidebook by Diane Gaudynsky
Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski’s Machine Quilting Guidebook by Diane Gaudynski has great examples photos. It is in a vertical format so easy to carry around to retreats or keep by your machine. This book as great trouble shooting tips. Want to know why you have little wads of thread at your points? She tells you. I think this book is very wordy if you think it’s just a reference guide. It isn’t. She gives lots of advice on many aspects to machine quilting (aka free motion).

Titanium needles are not too expensive

Titanium coated needles are sharper, lasts longer and end up being cheaper in terms of how many needles I need to use to quilt the same number of miles of thread.

As a quilter, 90% of my free motion to date has been on cotton fabric, I delve into silks on occasion. I like top stitch needles for most of my sewing. Top stitch needles have a longer eye and deeper groove which protects the thread from rubbing and wear as it passes through the fabric and into the bobbin mechanism. I also spend just a little more on the titanium needles. I’ve been told by some of my friends that I’m crazy for doing so. I don’t think I am at all. Here’s why.

Being called titanium needles is really a misnomer. They actually are titanium-coated needles. The titanium doesn’t make the needle stronger in terms of not breaking, But it does make it wear longer against rubbing. And thread is abrasive, so is fabric. A regular needle lasts maybe 8 hours of sewing and needs to be swapped out. Thread will wear in the eye of the needle and fabric will wear the tip of the needle.

I’ve found a titanium coated needle stays sharper and lasts 2-3 times longer. It’s true that the titanium needles are more expensive if you compare needle to needle. But you can’t. Due to the life of the needle a titanium needle will last 3x the life of the regular needle. And they do not cost 3x the price. So I believe titanium needles are actually cheaper in terms of how many needles I need to use to quilt the same number of miles of thread.

And for metallic threads.. which I like to use a lot when free motion quilting… titanium is the way to go. Metallic and Top Stitch needles are identical. Same eye size, same groove, same tip shape.. So I use my better wearing titanium top stitch needle for metallic thread. Often shredding of metallic thread is caused by incorrect needle size or by a worn eye on the needle. A titanium needle lets me sew longer. I use a 90/14 for most metallic threads I own.

Do I use regular needles? Yes, I do. I can’t alway find titanium needles and I am going to sew anyway.

Thread Weights and Needle Sizes for Free Motion

You may hear a lot of things about what is the best or the only weight thread to use for free motion or longarm quilting. Personally I don’t think there are any rules. As long as you choose your thread, evaluate your fabric and then choose the appropriate needle for thread-fabric combo AND are willing to tweak your tension settings, you can free motion with almost any thread. Your machine just has to accept it. Some machines can be finicky about weights of threads or even material the thread is made of. Often you can tweak or adjust your method to help use it.

Quick Guide to Thread/Needle Size
Thread Wt Needle
40 wt 90/14
50 wt 80/12
60 wt 70/10
100 wt 70/10
12-30wt 100/16
MonoPoly
(Invisible monofilament)
70/10

Normally I go to a 50 weight cotton or polyester trilobal thread. I really like threads by Superior Threads, though I am not married to their products. Using a 80/12 Topstitch needle works great with their King Tut, Manifico and Fantastico lines. I have found that as long as I use the same thread in top and bobbin of my machine, I do not have to adjust tension at all.

Note: Superior Threads note on their spools and cones which tell you which size needle is recommended for that particular thread.

If I want a thicker line of thread to show, I will use a 40 weight thread. There are free motion people out there who do not like this thread. But I believe that if the look you want requires a 40 weight go ahead and use it. A 90/14 needle works great.

Thick threads have smaller weight numbers, while bigger needles have bigger numbers. Thread and needle sizes run in opposite directions.

You can even free motion with a 30 weight thread if you want, however, put it in your bobbin of your machine. Thick threads do not work in the top of a domestic sewing machine and will shred or mess up your top tension discs. So in the bobbin it must go. This is often called “bobbin work”. The process is the same, you will just have to work from the back side of your quilt so the heavy thread in the bobbin shows up on the front. If you think your machine could handle a 30 weight thread,  you would probably use a 100/16 needle.

Thinner threads than 50 can look really neat. Using silk 100 weight thread for example can have a really nice look. Some of the top free motion people who win shows use silk almost exclusively. I would try a 70/10 needle for this.

Monofilament is also an interesting choice. Typically it is almost colorless. It will really “disappear” into the quilt so the texture is really evident and the thread is almost unnoticeable. There are two types, nylon and polyester. In years past, monofilament, which was made from nylon, got a bad rap because in the early days when it was invented it was very stretchy. So it was difficult to use. You would have to go very slow and have very low tension settings. Nylon also melts at lower temperatures than other fibers. Lower temperatures mean more stringent rules for care of the quilt, you can’t iron it, must wash on low, etc. Newer polyester fiber is in several brands of monofilament. My experience has been with Superior’s Monopoly. It requires a couple more ‘numbers’ lower on the top tension and I do tend to go slower with it. But it really has a nice look, washes on medium heat, and can be ironed. It’s great for trapunto too. Monopoly is slightly matte and that helps it disappear too. It comes in a light/clear and smokey clear for using on darker fabrics. I don’t hesitate to use the light monopoly on dark fabrics if I do not have the smoke available. It really is fun to use.

Complementary Improv Quilt named Earth, Wind, and Fire

My goal was to do a complementary colored quilt as an exercise in my exploration of the CMYK color wheel. I also challenged myself to pick the ugliest fabric I owned as a starting point.

I chose a ombre brown that looked like mud. I bought this on sale a couple of years ago and it never inspired me. I realized that I had a matching ombre blue that worked for a complementary color scheme. Initially I made about 30 blocks that were improvisational created by stacking two squares to five and cutting a curve through all them. I didn’t worry if the fabric shifted, I just used a rotary cutter to slice through all of it. Then I randomly shuffled the pieces and sewed them back together. It did not take long to realize how sleepy this soft brown and blue color scheme made me. It really needed something more. I pulled out Joen Wolfrom‘s color poster and realized that I had an orange that was actually the same color as the brown, just a different value. Wolfram is really changing how I think about color. It’s all about value. Thinking in value really simplifies things.

Bright orange is a very powerful color and in the case of this muted soft blue and brown scheme, it became very powerful indeed. Small doses were in order. I stacked up a few of the blue/brown blocks that had larger areas of contiguous fabric section and layered in an orange square and did my same improvisational curve cutting and piecing. I also sorted through my blocks and found several that were not large enough to allow me to easily square up all the blocks to maximize the sizes I could make. So I tacked some orange onto the edges of these smaller blocks to grow them. I am actually really pleased with these blocks. The fabric that I did not like, now looks like suede and the bits of orange really shape the path the eye travels over the quilt top. It reminds me of a kayaking trip with water, mud and flames.

I really need to put up a large design wall to layout all these blocks. It will have to wait for a retreat or something. I also have not decided if I will sash them like in the three row image or if I will just sew them edge to edge. I’m sure it will come to me at some point.

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Beginning Free Motion Class Supplies List November 25, 2014

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For those of you who are taking my class. Here is a link to the pdf which contains the list of supplies and pre-work that you will need to do in order to be ready for the class.

If you have several feet that might work (see pdf) and don’t know which one is best, bring them all. we can talk about them in class.

Download Supply List by Clicking Here

Fall is Here and a Pumpkin Class

2014PumpkinClassWhat a week! Fall is here! It was 97 F yesterday and 80 F today with rain most of it. I almost got naked and did a thank you rain dance. I’m sure my neighbors were thankful because I rescued them from the ghastly vision of my interesting bits by deciding to go shop hopping instead. It was much more important grab two more shops on the Quilts Across Texas Shop Hop than it was to frighten the rain gods into dumping more water on me in an effort to make put my clothes back on. We got plenty of water today.

This past week my friend Jamie reposted a photo of a class sample that I did back in June. She showed off the quilt as you go watermelon table runner. Jamie got a big response from her Facebook peeps and they asked me to teach it again. I will in the spring. I offered to do something “Fall or Christmas” instead. We talked and decided a pumpkin would be very apropos for the next two months at least. So a pumpkin it is.

There are some vintage looking quilt as you go pumpkins made of strip piecing. At first I though we’d do that. It would be made just like the watermelon table runner but a pumpkin. Sounds easy. I decided to actually make a sample this time.

But as things go in my world I decided to change the plan just a bit to make things prettier.

There is absolutely nothing on a pumpkin that is a straight line. So, I decided that instead of strips, we’d do curves instead, easy-peasy no-pin mild gentle curves that would suggest the 3D shape of the pumpkin. Great! I drew out a pattern and it is beautiful! Oh no! I realized we can’t do the stitch a strip and flip it over technique as easily now. We got those curves to deal with. This is intended to be a beginner level class… so what am I to do?

I have said all year that I would teach a Fast Piece Applique class à la Rose Hughes style. It’s fun, it’s fast, it gets fabulous results in a short time. Her books are great and I tell my peeps to, “buy them, buy all of them. Rose’s books will inspire you and teach you stuff, she’s great!” I decided that this is my chance to spread the news about the greatness of Rose. However, Jamie and I did put the news out that this is a quilt as you go kind of beginner class. So what to do?

I decided we will do Rose’s technique and mangle it into a quilt as you go kind of thing and shorten the process just a bit. I put it together tonight, and because of the big pieces of pumpkin, it will work just fine. I think this is gonna excite my class! I’m excited to share it.

I was really surprised how the process fell together and how it sped up making the whole darn pumpkin centerpiece. And, best of all, it was fun and not that complicated.

I’m not going to show how I did it yet… I want to find any interesting foibles by making another sample tomorrow. For now… Here is a pic of what I did in just under an hour and 30 minutes.

Modified Fast Piece Applique Quilted Pumpkin
Modified Fast Piece Applique Quilted Pumpkin

Pet Post Cards

SAMQG is doing pet post cards as a charity outreach project and the cards will be available at the Houston Quilt Show 2014. I was inspired to make these by a memory of my bad cat who tormented my fish. Actually, I always thought the fish were tormenting the cat. He never managed to catch a fish. Though he did get wet.

My Bad Cat Pet Post Cards
My Bad Cat Pet Post Cards

We made post cards that used all kinds of techniques. My Bad Cats are raw edge appliqué and have a rat tail cord art quilt edging method to finish them off.

The rat tail cord edging is actually pretty easy. First use a narrow long zig zag to seal off the edges of your quilt sandwich. Then widen your stitch just a teeny bit, lay a rat tail cord right next to and touching the edge and zig zag it on the quilt. THEN, widen your stitch just a bit more and change the length so it is not quite a satin stitch. Since you stitched around twice already, there is enough thread already laid down that a true satin stitch won’t be necessary for a neat and pretty finish.

I’ll show in some future post how to make the ends of your rat tail edge meet up nicely.