I am by no means an expert on frame quilting. I’m still in the “hmmm, I think I could try a flower now” stage. I have a short arm machine (Janome 1600P-DB) on a Little Gracie II frame. When I started using this, it was absolute agony. It didn’t work. I got a mess of thread, or the thread broke, or some other catastrophe happened, so I ignored the monster in my basement for four months. Finally I did some research, asked some questions, and came up with this list. It is not an exhaustive list, so if you have any suggestions to add to it, please let me know.
TROUBLESHOOTING IDEAS – THREAD BREAKS, NEEDLE BREAKS, AND LOOPS ON THE BACK
If you’re having a problem with thread or needle breakage, loops on the bottom, or skipped stitches, try the suggestions below.
1. Set your bobbin tension first, then your thread tension. The bobbin should be loose – if you hold the tail of thread in your hand it (and maybe give a little flick) it should unspool easily and drop all the way to the ground. Loosen the bobbin tension a tiny bit at a time until you get this. Load the quilt and sew through a small practice piece (the size of a sheet of paper, but all three layers). Use different colored thread top and bottom so you can see what’s happening. If the top thread pulls through to the bottom, tighten the thread tension. If the bottom thread pulls through to the top, loosen the thread tension.
2. Make sure your needle is big enough. You need at least a 16, preferably an 18 needle for frame quilting. Too small a needle will often lead to thread breakage. It’s important that you get the right needle for your machine.
3. Be sure the needle is inserted correctly and all the way up. Check your book for the correct way to insert the needle.
4. Change your needle often. We spend $10 a yard on fabric and we often aren’t willing to throw away a 50 cent needle. If you’re having trouble with thread breaking, it might just be an old or bad needle.
5. Use good quality thread, and make sure the size is appropriate for the job (and for the needle). The higher the number, the finer the thread. I was able to use my Aurifil 50 thread with a 14 needle until I got the larger needles. If you use 40 or lower thread (I’ve used 28), be sure to use a 16 or 18 needle. Some variegated threads are reputed to be more likely to break – I haven’t experienced that myself yet. Try different brands – some people love Aurifil, Superior, YLI, Coats & Clark, and some people hate Aurifil, Superior, YLI, Coats & Clark. You need to try them for yourself to find out what works.
6. The quilt should not be too tight on the frame. You should be able to poke a finger up from the bottom and grip it through the quilt on top. The side clamps are there only to keep it straight, not tight. I’ve even quilted several passes without using the side clamps, and everything worked fine.
7. The take up rail should just barely clear the bottom of the machine. You should be able to slide a finger under the bar, but that’s about it. You’ll need to adjust this as you get further into the quilt.
8. I’ve heard that you should only quilt left to right from the front of the frame (when you’re doing free motion quilting) and right to left from the back of the frame (when you’re using pantographs or templates). When you finish one pass, clip the thread, return the carriage to the left side, roll the quilt to the next space, and start again from the left. If you’re having trouble moving one direction, try this. If you’re able to quilt in both directions, don’t worry about it.
9. Set the foot pressure dial (on the top of your machine above the needle) to 0. Set the stitch length to 0 also, since you’re moving the machine – the machine isn’t moving the fabric.
10. Check that your feed dog cover is securely in place. Some people tape it down, others remove their feed dogs entirely if the machine will only be used for frame quilting.
11. DON’T FORGET TO PUT YOUR PRESSER FOOT DOWN! This is the number one cause of thread looping on the back.
12. If you are going fine for a while and suddenly the thread starts looping or breaking, check in the bobbin area for a stray piece of thread. A tiny piece of thread caught in the works will muck up everything. Use a flashlight and a long pair of tweezers and get right down in there to look. You might even want to take off the needle plate and check in there – I once had a foot long piece of thread get wound around a shaft in there.
13. Make sure your carriage moves smoothly in all directions, and the vibration is minimal. If there are any problems, check that your frame is level side to side and front to back. Check that there aren’t any problems with the rollers or rails.
14. If you change your thread or your batting, you should do a test before starting. You may have to adjust your tension, including bobbin tension.
For anyone looking for assembly, leader, or loading instructions for a Grace frame (any version), check out this page of the Grace website. It lists each of the frames, current and past, machine and hand, as well as all of the accessories. Click on the frame or accessory and you will be able to open a PDF of the owner’s manual for that item. Save it to your computer for future reference.
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