Tensions

Make sure your bobbins are wound tight and even if you wind your own. You should not be able to press your thumbnail between the threads.

If you are getting eyelashes on the backing side as you go around curves, then you do not have the top tension set tight enough, or the bobbin tension is too tight. If you loosen the bobbin tension and tighten the top tension you will be controlling the thread more so that it makes its loop in the batting area. The reverse apllies for eyelashing on the top.

If your thread is just laying on the back of the quilt, then your top tension is too loose, or the thread is not riding in the disks of the top tension assembly (although this usually results in birdnesting on the back). Hang onto the thread just below the 3 hole thread guide, while pulling up on the same thread after it comes out of the top tension, snugging the threads into the disks.

If the top thread keeps slipping out of the disks try rethreading the 3-hole guide NOT as shown in the manual but rather in "spiral fashion" - ie - pass th eend of the thread down into the first hole then bring it around the side of the guide and pass it down through the second hole the around the side again and down through the third hole. This will increase the drag on the thread before it goes between the tension disks and help keep it in place. NB - check your tensions with this increased drag in play.

To practice getting your tensions right use contrasting coloured threads in the top and bobbin. Work to pretty much eliminate seeing the top thread on the backing. This takes time to play with, but well worth the effort. Once you have eliminated eyelashes on top and bottom you are looking for pokies – dots of colour coming through from the other side. Bear in mind that you are looking into a HOLE and of course there is something at the bottom of the hole. You will be able to see a contrasting thread but you’re trying to get it in the bottom half of the hole most of the time.

You will also notice a difference in tensions depending on whether you are moving to the left or the right. Expect to see more pokies when sewing with the hook (ie moving from left to right on when standing on the freehand side) than when sewing against the hook.

If you have used metallic threads or invisible thread a lot, then those threads can groove the disks, take-up spring, pigtails, gooseneck, or threadguides. Pull a thread gently through each piece of equipment feeling for uneven movement or snagging – the sign of a burr. A very fine emery cloth, or crocus cloth will clean this problem up. If you allow yourself time to play with the same thread, fabric and batting that is in the quilt, before you ever start quilting that quilt, then you can work out the problems ahead of time. One minutes sewing equals fifteen minutes unpicking.

It is a good idea to start with the loosest tension you can and then tighten it to get a good stitch. Set the bobbin into the case with the tail coming off in the form of a “b” (for bobbin) and pass the thread under the external spring. The Nolting guide mentions the drop test: if you pick up case and bobbin by the tail of thread, it should rise from your palm but fall back part way when given the slightest jerk. We find that is fine with the thread that comes from the factory but when we replace the bobbin with one wound in our standard Coats Polyfil 120 - not adjusting anything - the drop test works the way WE advise which is: the case with bobbin should just barely leave your palm as you lift them by the tail of thread and fall back as you stop lifting. We therefore opine that much the same bobbincase setting should work for a variety of threads. The behaviour in the drop test depends on which thread you use.

Top tension should be much stronger than bobbin tension. You can learn the heft of top and bottom threads if you get into the habit of giving them each a light tug whenever you bring the bobbin thread up to start sewing. Knowing the heft will give you a ballpark idea of where to start looking for a good balance of tensions. It can also tell you when the bobbin case is not sitting right or there is fluff getting in the way.

If you lay the bobbin case on its side on the table, solid side down, hold the case so it doesn’t move when you pull the tail (bobbin case threaded thru the pigtail if using a big bobbin) and you just feel a very slight resistance then it is about as loose as it should be. Dan Novak tells us we should set the top tension as tight as we can get away with to give us a good stitch.

I have a couple of bobbins that show they’re giving intermittent tension when I try them in my TOWA tension gauge. When I mentioned this to Dan Novak, telling him my bobbin case must be "out of round", he told me the problem isn’t the bobbin case (which has been manufactured to a high spec), but with the bobbin (which has just been stamped out of a piece of metal and might be nice and round...or it might not). I’ve put those bobbins aside, but I found averaging the tension I got from them was probably good enough for a solid coloured top thread. Variegated is much harder to get even tension with owing, it is said, to the different dyes used.

When I get intermittent loops on the back of a quilt, it’s most often caused by the top thread coming off the spool in an excitable fashion. Too much thread comes off and reduces the tension on the top for a while. I can even see the cone flicking out of the corner of my eye now. When this happens instead of running the thread under the piece of cotton batting in the shepherds hook, I place it inside the batting to damp down the excitability as much as I can. I don’t want my thread having TOO much fun...

Similarly if your cone stand thread guide is not positioned over the centre of the cone you will get varying tensions as the thread is dragged off the back and spools off the front of the cone - assuming the thread guide is too far forward.

Do you have your thread going through a rolled up piece of batting as it goes through the first thread guide after the cone? If not, just roll a small piece of batting around the thread and squish in into the big loop of the first silver thread guide so the thread can travel through it. That helps to keep the thread tension even as the thread feeds unevenly off the cone. It also cleans off some of the lint as it feeds through and forms a good pad to hold silicone spray if you need to use it. 

With a small fine brush - cosmetic, pastry, or paint - make sure you swipe above the hook area, Between there and the bottom side of the throat plate area, a lot of lint will gather. If not cleaned, it will eventually be in the threads on the back side of the quilt.

Lint in the hook area IS enough to jam the machine. Either use canned air or have a tank of compressed air to clean out this area. It does fill up. A rule of thumb about cleaning is to use a cotton swap and clean out the area every other bobbin. Cotton batting will leave behind lots of fibres, and if you happen to be quilting a flannel quilt with cotton batting, you will need to clean more often.

As to the hook and the indentations, there are several small grooves in the race of the hook assembly. When you oil the hook assembly clean out these grooves. This is extremely important. We recommend the daily use of an old toothbrush. Scrub across these grooves as you rotate the mechanism with the forward thumbwheel. If you do this to keep the grooves clean you should never need to do anything else by way of cleaning the hook.

Some people recommend that if you seriously need to clean up the hook, remove the needle, bobbin, and the throat plate. Turn the machine so the hook is to the left. (the hook rotates twice for every time the needle comes down) and put two drops of oil down each side of the hook assembly. Then use a rag and cover the area and turn the machine on in constant speed mode. Caution: keep the rag away from the hook! This will fling out the oil and the rag will catch it. It
will clean out the hook area. This type of cleaning is only necessary on an occasional basis. A regular good scrub across the grooves with the toothbrush before oiling is sufficient. 

The notch at the top front of the hook is where the positioning finger goes in. This holds the hook in place. There are two parts to the hook assembly. One that rotates (the hook) and the stationary part (that holds the bobbin). Each time the machine stitches, thread goes through the notch – ie behind the end of the finger. The finger should be no more than half way into the notch. Usually it is only 1/3 of the way in. Often times with thicker thread, it can get caught here, causing loopies on the back. Make sure that the positioning finger is set correctly. If it is not set in far enough, the bobbin part of the hook assembly will rotate and you will have a needle strike and then you will have a serious
problem. YOU WILL NEED TO RETIME, AND CHECK THE NEEDLE BAR HEIGHT and it may have bent the needle bar.

A good web site to understand sewing machines is "how things work". There is an animation of a machine stitching. It shows both a chain stitch machine and a bobbin machine. Cool to watch if you want to understand how it works. The link is http://home.howstuffworks.com/sewing-machine1.htm

To better see the texture of your quilting while you work, turn off the lights in the room and just use the light on the machine. Or try with all the lights off, especially if you have glancing light from a side window. Some find it relaxing to quilt in the dark. Another thing that works is if you’re working with say, white thread on a white fabric,  use your black light. The white thread will glow and you’ll be able to see it much better.

One of the most important things to do, especially with Batiks is to have the quilt loose on the rollers. Fred Nolting said to crank it up to where you think it should be and then back it off a notch for regular quilting. For Batiks, we crank it up to where we think it should be and then back it off two notches. The quilt really needs to be loose. That really helps with problems of thread lying on the surface of dense materials.

Also check the height of your take up roller from the quilt bed. Many new longarmers aren’t aware that you should only be able to slip your finger tips between the take up roller and the bed of the machine. If that space gets too high it can result in tension messes as well as skipped stitches and broken thread.