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Breaking top thread when machine quiltin

sewpat | Posted in Quilting and Home Decor on

Any machine quilters out there who have any answer to my problem earn their wings today!   I’m in the process of free form quilting a child’s flannel quilt.  Flannel top and bottom with cotton batting (from the roll).  I’ve tried a couple of different types of thread but the the top thread wrinkles up on itself and I’ve had to re-thread and start the quilting process at least five times.  What am I doing wrong here?  


  1. meg | | #1

    Check the tension on your thread, both at the bobbin and the upper tension disks.  Also, are you trying to move the fabric too fast under the needle?  Have you tried a new needle?  Perhaps a new quilting needle might help.

    1. sewpat | | #2

      I haven't changed the tension  'cos the stitch seems ok, my machine is not as young as it used to be,  and I'm leery about changing the bottom tension and then putting it back to normal working condition after this quilt. 

       I'll check your other suggestion first as I maybe moving the fabric too fast.  (In the back of my mind I'm saying to myself "put your foot down hard and move the fabric like mad!")

      1. MaryinColorado | | #3

        I love free motion work!  Maybe you are moving your hands too quickly, I agree with the high machine speed.  The feed dogs are down, right?  Is the presser foot down?  It needs to be for the tensions to work properly.

        I never change the settings on the regular bobbin tension.  But with my Viking sewing machine I was able to buy a seperate bobbin case that I do adjust for bobbinwork with large decorative threads, it even came in a different color so I don't ever mix them up! 

        Hope this helps!  Mary

        1. sewpat | | #4

          I hope one day to say I, too, love free motion quilting.  Your enthusiasm for this medium certainly comes through your message, and I thank you for your suggestions.   Right now, the design in my head does not come through to the fabric. 

          I've changed the needle, feed dogs are down, all systems look 'go' - then a couple of inches later the thread breaks.  BUT I'M WORKING ON IT!!!


          1. MaryinColorado | | #5

            Atta Girl! Don't give up!!!  You can do it!!!  I went to a class and my Designer 1 acted that way, the instructor thought my technique was the problem.  Lo and behold, she tried it and another employee did too, the machine went to the shop for repair and was ready for pick up within 24 hours at no charge, yahoo!  What a relief!

             But by the time we figured it out I was so frazzled I went home early, sniffling all the way thinking my "baby" was broken.   Mary

          2. sewpat | | #6

            Thanks to both Meg and Mary for their helpful suggestions on improving my free motion quilting.   All their pointers are well-taken.   As the situation stands right now I think I can justify buying a new sewing machine. 

             Now, which   o n e  s h a l l  i t  be e e  .............?

  2. midnitesewer | | #7

    What weight of thread are you using? Is it a thick decorative thread? Even if you are using 40wt machine quilting thread, you are trying to pierce and pull it through two layers of flannel and a layer of cotton batting. The flannel and the batting tend to hang on to the thread creating more drag/tension on the thread. If the thread is being pulled by the quilt in one direction and you are trying to pull it in another, it will break. I suggest trying a larger needle with a sharp point - perhaps a topstitching needle or a metallic needle. You will have a bigger eye and a bigger hole in the layers - reducing some of the stress on the thread. Adjust your tension to accordingly. Slow down, relax, and gently guide the needle.  Pretend that you  are doodling on a piece of paper. Good luck.

    1. sewpat | | #8

      Dear Midnite:  The thread I'm using is Coates & Clarke plus.  I'll check into the machine quilting thread when next in town.   I do have some large needles in my box.  Wht size do you recommend out of what I have here: 16 or 18.  Or would it be a better idea to get things right and  put a topstitching needle on my shopping list?

      Now that doodling idea is just up my street - I usually doodle while on the phone!  But on a much smaller scale.

      Thanks for your suggestions./p

      1. MaryinColorado | | #9

        Just my two cents worth, I am currently quilting with a topstitching needle size 80/12, but it is a litghtweight cotton with warm and natural batting lightweight also.  The topstitching needles have larger eyes.  I don't thing I would go larger than a 90/14 on that fabric for sure, the holes would be huge. 

        Is that thread for hand quilting rather than machine quilting thread?  That would create this problem.  What weight is the thread?  I don't have any Coats and Clark to compare it to. 

  3. mawsev | | #10

    In addition to getting a new needle (I would use a 16 quilter), you may wish to ensure that all parts of the machine are clean and free. Since you are moving the stuff around, it make the thread go through the threading spaces faster and at different angles. A q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol works great on many parts. Sometimes thread lint can build up in areas of the thread 'path', especially between tension plates and areas. The small amount of drag created can be enough to break the thread.

    Also, buy another spool of thread. Sometimes a spool of thread can just be weak. Eliminate the cheapest things before you get more expensive (unless you need to justify the new machine to yourself!).

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