August 08, 2010

My thread kept breaking


I love that this machine is called a Slant-O-Matic. It could only be better if it was a Slant-O-Matic Rocketeer. Yes, that actually exists. Anyway. In case any of you are trying to befriend a sewing machine and win it over to your free motion quilting ways, I thought I would write down the changes I made that turned my thread shredding beast into a free motion kitten.


  1. I rethreaded my machine. The basic reboot of the misbehaving sewing machine. Did not help. 
  2. I considered lowering my top tension but alas, it was already about as low as it could go. 
  3. I inspected the thread path for places the thread could be getting snagged. I did not find any, which is good because I'm not sure how I would have solved that problem anyway.
  4. I made sure the weight of the thread in the top and the bottom was about the same (the bobbin thread may have been a heavier weight before). Did not help. 
  5. I changed the needle plate to the straight stitch plate. This plate has a tiny hole in the plate instead of the wide slot in the standard plate. I'm going to try super duper extra hard to remember to change the needle plate back when I'm done free motion quilting so I don't end up zig zagging right into the plate someday in the future. I thought I was on to something with this change but alas, not much help. Maybe I should just change the plate back now.
  6. I replaced my new 90/14 quilting needle with a new 90/14 topstitch needle which, despite being the same size needle, actually has a larger eye. Helped immensely! I went from breaking the thread every minute to quilting for over an hour straight with no breakage.

Problem solved! Which just emphasizes how important the right needle is when you are free motion quilting. It really is worth spending $5-10 on a pack or two of new needles! If the topstitch needle hadn't solved the problem I was prepared to try denim needles and stretch needles, both of which appear to have solved the thread breaking problems for some quilters. Have you ever dealt with problems with thread breakage while free motion quilting? How did you solve it?

16 comments:

Suzan said...

I had exactly the same problem with the machine I ALWAYS use for quilting. I was trying to quilt a baby quilt and the thread kept breaking. I re-treaded, changed tension, changed thread, changed the needle and nothing. Just as you experienced, the last resort was to change needle size and that finally worked. I nearly always use a topstitch needle now when I quilt. I generally use the 90/14 but will bump up to a 100/16 if I am quilting batiks. I also learned (in another thread breaking incident) never to use older Coats & Clark thread for anything other than piecing. It will not hold up to high speed quilting and will shred. I am not terribly picky about thread until it comes to the actual quilting process.

MJ said...

Wow, I am impressed!! I love to see people sewing on “real” sewing machines, and great tip. I pay attention to needles only when I have a problem, I need to be more proactive so thanks!!

Sewing Junkie said...

Another thing that maybe will help is the last thread guide before you thread the needle can be eliminated. This is a path of least resistence. good luck Great machine I use to own one but wore it out. Chris

Megs said...

Thanks Christina! This kind of info is so helpful for someone like me who is so very new at free-motion quilting. Can't wait for your PMQG presentation!

Dolly said...

Great tips here.......I'll try to remember to buy new needles !
I love the photo showing the masking tape.
At first I thought, "huh?"
Then I remembered how my thread basting is always catching on corners of my throat plate cover and such, and realized that I need to do some taping of my own !
Thanks so much !

Dolly said...

After taking another look, I see that you had just taped something to cover the feed dogs.....
check out this post

http://doraquilts.blogspot.com/2010/07/how-do-i-lower-feed-dogs.html

.....you may be able to lower YOUR feed-dogs, too !

Jill said...

Thanks for the tip, being a newbie at free motion, I have no idea why thing don't just work. I'm going to put this on my list of tips for free motion!

Michelle said...

(Puts hand up) I have a Slant-O-Matic Rocketeer and it's a wonderful machine. It does a beautiful job piecing and that's what I use it for. I tried to use it for free motion quilting but it didn't work out. My solution was to only quilt in straight lines until my husband came across a vintage Necchi BU that sews through quilts as if they were butter.

By the way, the flippy lever on the right side of the bed, next to the bobbin thread guide, should be the lever to lower your feed dogs.

Lisabee said...

Whether or not I get thread breakage seems to depend entirely on whether I'm using good thread or crappy thread (assuming that I've managed to thread the machine correctly).

I just finished quilting a project. I stippled the black background with Gutterman 100% cotton thread without a single thread breakage. Then I was quilting inside pinwheels with matching thread from this box of thread that my boyfriend bought on ebay. I don't even recognize the brand name. My thread broke on average 2x per pinwheel. I was about ready to kill myself, the quilt and the machine by the end. I'm never quilting with that thread again.

Dora, the Quilter said...

I've been told several times lately that quilting needles work better for piecing than for quilting. Superior Threads recommends 90/14 topstitching needles for quilting. I find they work well, so that's what I usually use. However, there have been times when a jeans needle or a larger top stitching needle has been the answer.

Gene Black said...

Gee...and I bought QUILTING needles to quilt with. Now I will go buy some topstitch needles. I may try quilting with my old Kenmore machine.

Angie Padilla said...

Oh, wow. At first glance I thought we have the exact same sewing machine. Upon closer inspection, however, it seems yours is a little "younger" than mine. (Blogged about at: http://blog.ajpadilla.com/2010/08/15/on-sewing-machines-2/) Mine is only a straight stitch, but I love the way it sews. I have tried all the tips you give, except using a top-stitching needle. I'll try that next. Given a choice, this would be THE machine for me as far as FMQ goes... I hope you will address sewing machine issues in your quilt-along?

wlstarn said...

I also have a 401. You cannot lower the feed dogs on this machine. What you CAN do is use the lever on the bottom right to raise the throat plate. It has 3 settings; move it to the middle one. If you get one of the free-motion sheets that cover the whole machine bed, you won't have to use tape (and get sticky stuff off later), and the bump from raising the throat plate will not be noticeable.
It's also a good idea to check the whole bobbin area for lint. Take out the bobbin case and check the grooves on the side where it builds up. I do this about every other bobbin change if I am working with linty fabric. Also remove the throat plate and you will likely find lots more lint. Get it all! I find that a bit of oil on the race hook helps too. You can find out how to do all this in the manual. If you need a manual, check the files at the Vintage Singers yahoo group. I think they have it.

Elizabeth said...

To bad I didn't find your blog before the school of hard knocks found me. What we learned (that the sewing machine repair place couldn't seem to figure out) was your #2 suggestion of dropping down the tension.

On "Sewing with Martha Pullen" the other day they had a rep. from Schmetz who said that some people use the Metallic needles when freemotion quilting 1st because the needles shread the thread less (larger eye for more delicate metallic threads) and 2nd because the shape of the needle gives a more even penetration through the quilt hence the quilting looks better on the back as well. I'm planning on picking up a package next time I'm out to test that theory.

marcia said...

Another solution to thread breackage I have found is to clean my bobbin area and oil it sometimes a thread gets caught in there, but more often I need a new needle

Lesauri said...

I love my 401A just like the one my mom used to sew on. I have a question for you where did you find the clear darning foot that you have on your machine? Would love to get one for my maching.

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