Quilt “Drag” and Thread Challenges

How we love our sewing machines! They enchant us and bedevil us both vintage and new.

Those of who own sit down machines, like my Tiara 1 (with over 8 million stitches) know how fortunate we are to have the large throat space and a machine dedicated to quilting. But still, we have our challenges and these are not exclusive to our sit down machines.

In my Babylock Tiara FB group, I asked members to submit their most common frustrations and issues for a thorough discussion here. The two top issues were Quilt Drag and Thread Breakage.

First, as a gentle reminder, READ YOUR MANUAL! Obviously, not everyone is adept at understanding “manual speak” but our manuals hold little nuggets of gold. I read the manual when my Tiara arrived, but as time goes on I understand more and re-reading the manual every year or so helps keep me on track.

Quilt Drag – Even with our nice, big throat space, quilt drag or slippage is a common problem. 36″ of table top is not a lot when you have 90″ or 100″ inches basted quilt! Your quilt needs to be well-supported to prevent sections falling over the edge. We roll and we scrunch to keep our projects from moving during delicate FMQ maneuvers.

Table extensions are very helpful. Or add a folding table next to your machine for big projects. I use a suspension system on my Tiara, an extension table on the left and a 6′ table on the right side. There are commercial and DIY suspension systems to help keep your quilt on the table top. I have the DIY variety, which consists of two dog grooming arms, bunge cords and clamps. Patsy Thompson’s quilting suspension, which is similar, is also a good choice.

My Tiara with DIY suspension system.
Cassandra (Yes, that is my Tiara’s name…a big name for a big machine.) with suspension system working on a massive, King size quilt 100 x 103″.

Here is a file with an overview of various suspension systems.

Thread Breakage – There are two types of thread breakages, breaks/shredding on top and at the bobbin area. Top thread breakage is by far the most common. And there are two specific answers to the problem. 1) Buy a good quality thread and 2) Use the correct size needle. These two things will solve 85% of your thread breakage issues.

Inexpensive threads are often made with shorter fibers/filaments than good threads, which contributes to breakage. Sit down quilters sew faster and with more force than your domestic and need a good quality, reliable thread. Good quality poly, made with a single continuous filament, will break or shred much less than cotton which made from many, many lengths of fiber. If you are using cotton, using a good quality thread is paramount. Rayon thread, popular for embroidery, is the weakest thread type and is not recommended for sit down quilting machines. Cotton thread older than 10 years is iffy to use in a quilting machine. Cotton is organic and naturally breaks down over time.

Superior Threads makes really good quality thread. Once I switched to a good quality thread, my thread breaks became infrequent.

Needle size is also key to avoiding breakage as the needle shaft has a groove down the side for the thread to sit. This groove should hold the thread nicely and not be too big or small for your thread size. Your thread should also fit comfortably, not too big and not too small, through the threading hole. Check with your thread manufacturer or seller for recommended needle size for “long arm” sewing with your thread. My Tiara uses long arm needles and does NOT use the same sizes of needles that I would use on my Bernina 480 for piecing or applique. Sizes 16 and 18 are most commonly used in sit down quilters requiring long arm needles. If you are accustomed to sewing with a size 14 needle in your domestic machine, this can be a bit disconcerting.

Superior Threads also has a chart to help you select the correct needle for your sit down quilter! My favorite is a size 18 titanium dipped needle.

Other thread breakage causes are: thread slipping below the bottom of your cone or spool and winding around the thread stand bottom. Using a spool rather than a cone on your sit down machine can also result in thread snaps. Solution? Use a thread net over MonoPoly and metallic threads, or use a thread stand.

A cone stand for large cones.

Superior Threads convertible thread stand. This is set up for small spools, but also can be used for cones. I use this for slippery threads with my Bernina 480 and for spools with my Tiara.

Thread catching on a rough cone edge or a too tight top tension can also cause thread breaks. Incorrect threading can also cause breaks. A new needle may required! Change your needle after 8-10 hours of sewing. Reset your bobbin tension and then your top tension as too tight top tension can cause shredding. Try a different cone and see if you still get breakage.

Bobbin thread breakage – Some things to try: Try a different bobbin, perhaps your wind is too tight. Use a backlash spring or Bobbin Genie to prevent uneven bobbin thread feed. Clean your bobbin case thoroughly. Fuzz under your bobbin tongue can cause breaks (this is most common with cotton thread). Try Class M pre-wound bobbins for perfectly wound bobbins (I use them all the time).

Remember that your sit down quilting machine does not release the tension discs! Domestic machines release the discs when you raise the foot. Quilting machines have a stationary foot and pulling the quilt away from the machine will often cause thread snaps and even bend your needle. Pull about 4″ of thread gently between the tensions discs and the needle to release your quilt rather than simply pulling the quilt away from the sewing area.

Why do we quilt? Because we LOVE to.

Happy trouble free quilting all!


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