I just saw it again on social media from a quilter that has had a high end machine for two years that should bring them a lot of happiness but they cannot get the thread to stop breaking and therefore don’t use it much. Often it is thread nests, or thread shreaddings. Sew I decided to talk about this a little bit. In my humble opinion, most machines, and particularly high end machines, should be able to use nearly any type of quality thread designed for machine stitching. Note I did not say any brand, but rather any type. The owner should not have to find the thread that works for the machine, but the machine should work with the thread. I think there is much that can be done to make this happen.
Sew today we have a range of really fine threads to go with our really fine machines accompanied by really fine needles. Sew what’s the problem? This is what I think and have experienced in my own studio. I have a Bernina Q20 longarm set up as a sitdown, a Bernina 880 plus, and a little Bernina 350 (plus an older BabyLock serger and a vintage White that I am not including in this discussion today). So I will be talking about these, since that is what I have, but I suspect there is a correllating set of steps and considerations for your own machines that you can take. Your manual and YouTube videos can be very helpful for those, especially if you know what you are looking for.
One of my chief points I like to make is that it is important to test. Test your setup before starting a project. Make a sample sandwich from more or less the same fabrics and battings. or prepare a test piece of fabric you are using for sewing or embroidery, and test everything first. Then keep it close to periodically test if things go awry. This can be a very important tool for you. If you serge, or otherwise finish the edge, and put a large ring in the corner, you can hang this up or keep them together. Be sure to make notes of settings and products you used right on the fabric for future reference.
Before you begin any project, you should pay attention to matching the needles with the threads and the tensions with the thread types. Most of the better thread manufacturers have advice either right on the spools or on their websites as to what needles work best. It’s a good place to start, but may not always be the answer for what you are working on. Usually it is, however.
One thing to remember is that there are a lot of variables that can negatively affect our sewing that we may not think about on a daily basis and have nothing to do with the overall quality of our machines. These may include
- humidity and heat,
- batting types,
- adhesives, interfacings, stabilizers,
- lint caught in the thread path or the bobbin holder that may not be apparent when we do a standard clean and oil,
- a faulty needle,
- a little bur or damage on the foot,
- a damaged/bent bobbin
- a well used bobbin brake spring that just needs to be replaced,
- the tension settings for both the top and the bobbin not set correctly for the thread,
- a bad spool or cone of thread even from a reputable dealer (it happens and usually they will replace it if you let them know),
- and our own mood or health at the time.
I’m sure there are things I havent thought of in this list, but you see there are a lot of things that can make us have a frustrating sewing or quilting day.
Let’s take a look the Q20 sitdown longarm for starters.
I have heard that some dealers appear to mistakenly tell their customers that they should never ever in any circumstancs change the bobbon tension from the recommended 220 for the Qs. My own dealer is wonderful and does not do this. This is decidedly poor advice, especially for a longarm such as the Bernina Q20 sitdown, especially if we use any kind of bobbin thread other than 50 weight cotton. For the most part, I have found over the past four years of working with my machine that 220 is USUALLY too tight. Here is a little chart I worked out that works for my machine.
If you conduct your own testing that will let you know if it works for your setup. Sometimes adjustments need to be made to this chart depending on the weather, the batting and other variables. Making notes is really helpful.
Thread Management in the Q20
I keep on hand the following things to assist with thread management:
- thread nets for cones. I didn’t originally use these, but recently I find I have much fewer problems if I use a thread net. I do note that Wonderfil threads have an alternative wrap for their cones that I have not yet tried.
- the horizontal spool holder to allow for use of stacked thread spools (when the spool is wound so it is evenly stacked rather than cross wound).
- the pink liquid for the little applicator sponge in the threading path originally intended for metallic threads. I find it also helps if I am having problems with thread shredding of, for instance, rayons.
- Dritz sewer’s aid. It’s probably the same thing as the pink liquid, since it is a silicone thread lubricant, but it can be used more generously directly on a spool or cone without sendng the thread through the applicator sponge thread path. I don’t use it in my machine’s little sponge just because it may be a slightly different weight or something.
- A package of M sized bobbin genies. This is really helpful if you are having problems with thread nests on the back due to static electricity. I originally learned about this from Sharon Schamber.
- I like to keep a spare bobbin brake spring I order through my dealer, a spare bobbin case, and a spare threader replacement head all on hand. Maybe there are other parts I should have but I don’t know about. I have had my machine for four years of heavy use and these are the only parts I have had a problem with so far other than having to have my BSR laser sensors replaced early on.
- And a selection of the following needles:
- Topstitch titanium needles (I prefer Superior brand, but Schmetz and Bernina are also ok) sizes 70/10, 80/12,90/14, 100/16
- universal 70/10 and 80/12
- Quilting needle 80/12, and 90/14.
- I also have a collection of specialty needles, like leather needles or double needles in different widths for playful quilting fun. Note that you must have the double needle throat plate to use the double needles.
- A can of compressed air to blow clean the bobbin area and the brush. The top area should be cleaned with a brush according to Bernina, but the bobbin area is ok to use the compressed air and it makes a big difference.
- Bernina machine oil
- I also have the multifunction tool that came with my Bernina 830 that I traded in for my 880 plus, which has another one, because I particularly like the way it helps me hold the needle in place while I screw it in. You can buy this tool at the dealers, or here online, and there are other generic tools on the market that perform this function (a threader gadget has a needle holder end to it
- The bobbin tension gauge (it’s made by Towa). If you don’t have this, you should have received it with your machine, so go to your dealer and ask for it. Here’s a little video link to help you use it correctly, although Nina McVeigh, whom I admire very much, is saying the tension should be 220 always. I hate to disagree with the extremely talented Nina, but trust me, the tension needs to play with your thread types. Using the gauge
As you look at this list, you may figure out that when things go awry (and yes, they do for me too from time to time, but far less often than they did at first) that I have a selection of things to try beyond changing the needle and cleaning and oiling the machine. I usually manage to quilt a full quilt now with no thread issues).
Steps to Take When You Are Having Problems
- Unthread the machine and check the spool/cone to see if by chance the thread is catching on the spool itself or there is a flawed area in the winding of the thread you can see.
- If it is a cone, make sure it has a net.
- If it is metallic, run it through the lubrication path after adding a drop of lubricant on the sponge.
- If it is monopoly run it through the lubrication path to help control this lively thread.
- It’s really important that the top tension and bobbin tension match the threads you are using. The neat thing about the q20 machine is that it has a set of four programs where you can store your settings for the different types of threads for the top.
- Check the needle. Is it the right one for your thread? If you run your fingers down the needle and across the tip carefully, you can sometimes detect that there is a bur or bend on the needle. But this is not a guarantee you will find it if there is some kind of flaw. You may need to change your needle even if it is new. Replace the needle using a needle holder to help assure it is fully up in place. Just holding it with your fingers can sometimes not get it quite fully engaged upward.
- Remove the bobbin and blow out the bobbin area, then oil the machine carefully. Double check especially if you have been using monopoly recently. It can tangle around things like it is alive sometimes and you can’t see it without a magnifier and flashlight!
- Run a needle around the workings of the bobbin case to see if there is a wad of lint caught in the case…I have had that happen and it can bring things to a frustrating point.
- Check your bobbin case brake spring. Is it in the proper place? Is it upside down? Is it wearing out (flattening or with a bur). I had a very difficult to diagnose problem happen about a month ago with terrible thread nests on the back. I finally replaced the brake spring and it has been working wonderfully ever since. I never did see what was wrong with it.
- Examine your bobbin to see if it is bent or damaged in anyway. This is especially important if you are a klutz like myself and drop your bobbins on the floor or if you have had it for years and used it for many miles of stitching.
- Run your bobbin through the tension guage to make sure it is still set correctly for your thread weight. It can change over time, especially if you do hours of quilting and everything heats up.
- Replace your bobbin.
- Check both the front and the back of your piece to make sure the tension is ok on both sides. It’s a good test to put a different color in the bobbon of the same type of thread you will be using and test it to see if you have any tension problems showing up or down that don’t show when your threads are the same color. Note that I have surrendered to the metallic threads. I put a matching thread color (some polyesters look metallic) in the bobbin. I have sometimes been totally unable to get the tensions set with a metallic so there are no little dots showing on the back. I have also been successful from time to time with getting it right. I have to think it might be a batting issue. It doesn’t stop me from using metallics, however. I may even put a metallic in the bobbin, which works fine.
- Run a length of tooth floss through the upper thread path slowly and carefully to pull out anything that doesn’t belong you don’t find with just brushing it out.
- Check your foot for damages. I one time had constant breakages and then tried a different foot. They stopped. Upon close examination, I found the foot that has had many many miles of use had a bur on it. I sanded it with an emory board and it works fine now.
- Remember to have the foot up when rethreading…a real necessity to make it all seat into the thread path correctly.
- Put it all back together and do some test stitching. Make notes of any setting changes you had to do to get things right.
I realize this is really a long post and I still haven’t discussed working with my sewing machines. Although a lot of the same things apply, I wanted to get more specific for them. So I will break this blog into two parts. Next week I will talk about solving thread problems in sewing machines.