Thursday, April 14, 2011

FMQ Tips and Tricks from an Expert

As I have been whining about mentioned, I'm having issues with free motion quilting.  I have fought the good fight, but I needed help.

Monday I went on a field trip to Discover Sewing.  I bought my machine at their Sandy Springs location and have gotten some great help there; however, the teachers there are definitely more comfortable and familiar with machine embroidery and beautiful heirloom sewing than they are with quilting.  Sometimes when I go in there for help I feel like I know more about FMQing than they do.

I decided to try the location in Duluth.  Obviously no one can be an expert at everything, and with a small shop it's hard to have an employee/expert for every technique.   I called and made an appointment with Jeri.  Jeri, when I asked if she does a lot of quilting, says, "I do a lot of everything!"  So maybe I have found my expert.

Jeri gave me some great tips.  She sat down at my machine, started from scratch, and walked me through threading and the whole nine yards.  Sometimes when you've been sewing for a lifetime and quilting for 16 years, you don't think you need to revisit the basics.  That is not the case with me.  I think a lot of us who learned from a grandmother, mother, friend, etc. may have been shown the basics, but never really officially taught the "correct" or official way to do something.  Some of us *ahem* may also believe that we do not need to read the owner's manual or other instructions. 

For example, I have read a lot about the needle or presser foot being up or down when threading the needle.  Jeri told me that the presser foot has to be UP while you are threading the needle so that the tension discs are open.  Otherwise the thread might go off to the side.

She showed me how, after it is all threaded except for the eye of the needle, she puts the presser foot down and gives the thread a little tug.  If it is taut, then you know that the thread is between those discs.  If it pulls easily with the foot down, the thread didn't get seated in there quite right.  (With the foot up it will pull smoothly.) She explained that those awful nests on the underside of the quilt are almost always due to the thread being out of the tension discs or mis-threaded somewhere else.

I asked about the thread position.  She showed me how some spools have these little ridges (why?  WHY?) that the thread can catch on.  Make sure the thread comes off the other end if you have it horizontal.  But she said there aren't hard and fast rules anymore about horizontal v. vertical positioning because the thread manufacturers are using so many different types of equipment to wind thread.  You just have to experiment and see which way works best.

Jeri showed me how a cap that is bigger than the spool can cause the thread to get caught.  Use a cap that is the same size or smaller than your spool.  She also showed me how the thread sometimes gets twisted around the pin.  Her trick for avoiding that is to slide the spool almost to the tip of the pin.  Clever!

Another thing she showed me was how to use the needle threader on my machine.   In my new owner classes and having it in for service, no one told me this tip.  I have even had a teacher say that mine must not be working and needed adjusting.  Apparently it's not in the literature or website either.  The needle must be all the way up, in the highest possible position, for the needle threader to work.  (at least on the Pfaffs...but maybe on all machines.  I have no clue.)  The needle threader that I haven't been using for almost 2 years because I thought it needed adjusting worked perfectly every time today.

I've been round and round about my tension.  It turns out that, for whatever reason, my machine is defaulting to a 5.2.  But the same machine in the store is set on 4.6.  We got my machine sewing well at 5.2, but even better when we turned it down.  I will have to ask next time it is serviced if I can change the default setting, because that was one thing Jeri didn't know.  Jeri also told me that most of the tension issues with FMQing are with the user - either going too fast or too jerky or, most often, too slow.  She told me she tries to get a tune in her head while she's working to keep a steady rhythm going. 

We discussed needles and thread.  While this is so much about personal preference, Jeri says she uses cotton machine quilting thread with a size 90 quilting needle.  Just FYI.  She also mentioned that any shredding of the thread is usually a clue to change needles.  Usually it is a nick or break in the needle that you might not even be able to see.

I cannot even begin to thank Jeri enough.  When you're looking for a new machine and wondering if it's worth it to go to a dealer or just get the best price you can on eBay or the big box store, this is where it makes a difference.  They spent an hour with me and wouldn't let me pay them a dime - said they just wanted to make sure I was happy with my machine!

Now I'm off to see if I can finish the second Twin Engine quilt.  I hope to have awesome news to report back tomorrow - preferably that I'm DONE!

Wish me luck,


  1. You just inspired me to finally call and make my "new owner appointment" at my sewing center!

    So glad they were helpful for you and I can't wait to see the results. What great tips they shared!

  2. I find your share on sewing tips helpful, thanks! I've sewn since I was 6 on a sewing machine, and was surprised at how much I learned at my new owner class.

  3. Good for you for not giving up! I've been free motioning since the mid 80's, but not at all in the last 5 years or so, so went to my dealer for a class in FMQ.

    Arrugh. I'd made an appointment several days before and said specifically why I was coming. When I got there she scrounged around in some trash bins and found a dirty piece of fabric about 10X10 and a torn piece of batt...I knew I was in trouble...
    After about 5 minutes of showing how to set each of the three FMQ feet on my Horizon she was finished. That was months ago and I still haven't tried it myself, not on a quilt anyway..
    hugs, Sharyn

  4. Hi Jen,
    Thanks for the "cap smaller than the spool tip". I used that suggestion today!


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