These Stitches Are Driving Me Crazy!

You may recall that a few weeks ago,  I was working on a twin-size quilt, and I was happy to get all the blocks sewn to the batting and backing.

Even though I was planning to quilt it with just a simple diagonal pattern, I felt like I should practice before actually working on the real thing.  So I took some left over blocks and started a lap robe.  The piecing went well and I was very happy with how the corners met.  But as soon as I started to quilt, things went horribly, horribly wrong.

Even with a walking foot , I couldn’t get a nice straight line, the stitches were of all different sizes, and the thread kept breaking!  Free motion quilting was even worse – it felt like the quilt was hanging up on something and wouldn’t move. Half the time the bobbin thread wouldn’t even interlock with the top thread, and I have never had that happen before.

machine stitches

Notice how irregular the stitches are.  I could show you many more examples, but it’s just too depressing.

What caused these problems?  Was it the fact that I was using high-loft polyester batting after being used to Warm and Natural cotton batting?  Was it that I was using size 40 cotton thread on the top and size 100 polyester thread in the bobbin?  Was it that I was using pre-washed fabric for the backing, so it didn’t have sizing to help it slide around?  The only thing to do was just keep working on practice pieces until I figured out the problem.

pieced lap robe

It all looks fine until I actually start to quilt.

I have now made two lap robes and two small sample pieces, with four types of batting and backing, over three days, and I am still having issues!

stitch practice

Practice projects for consistent stitching.  The one on the left has the worst problems.  I bet you can see the puckers from there.

Here are the variables I have tried:

  • change the needle
  • change the type of needle
  • take out the bobbin case and replace it
  • change the thread tension
  • change the presser foot setting
  • change the type of bobbin thread

Some things worked better than others, but nothing was really satisfactory.

tension trials

This shows three different thread tensions.  Either the top thread is curling up under the bobbin thread, or the bobbin thread is just laying there in a line, not looking like neat little stitches.

I finally sat down with the book Quilt as Desired by Charlene C. Frable.  It’s my favorite book about machine quilting technique, and I needed a refresher.  She suggests using the same size and type of thread for top and bobbin, and that gave me improved results.  The top looks much better, but on the bottom I am still getting irregular stitches.

top stitches

The stitches on the left are more consistent, using the same thread in the bobbin.

bottom stitches

The ones on the right show how the top thread knotted with the thinner bobbin thread, even after lots of tension adjustments.  The ones on the left show that using the same thread for both top and bobbin was an improvement, but still far from perfect.

At this point, the only thing to do is just stop.  For one thing, I am getting really sick of these fall colors and manly prints.  I am going to let these rest for a while, and take my machine in for servicing.  Then, things will either go better, or I will know for sure it is something I am doing.

It’s a good thing my dye experiments are going well.  I’ve been working with pear leaves and branches and I will be reporting about that soon.

If anyone has any helpful tips, I would love to hear them!