Learning to operate a Tiara Babylock, HQ Sweet Sixteen or similar sit down quilting should be simple and easy? Right? We have been sewing for years. And YEARS.
But here you sit, frustrated because it’s not the same as your domestic machine and the tension isn’t right and your project or practice piece looks like a bird has made a nest and you have rethreaded 5 times and tried everything.
Most of you know that I started a Babylock Tiara group on FaceBook and that it was started because when I got my Tiara in 2015, my dealer closed shop abruptly and left me in sit down quilting limbo. I had never done previously done any FMQ, and I needed to learn both FMQ and my machine. It can be frustrating at times, learning our machines. We can help with the journey. Here are some important things to know about using your Tiara or similar sit down quilter.
(Note: Bernina and Juki sit downs do not share all the same traits. But there are many similarities.)
10 Things to Know about your Tiara or Tiara clone (Viking Platinum 16, HQ Sweet Sixteen)
- Your Tiara does NOT operate quite the same way as your domestic machine. This simple fact is difficult to swallow because we find it hard to understand WHY?? and it also makes our lives more complicated and frustrating. As adults, we like knowing and understanding things. Having to learn something new can be challenging and it takes time. And we don’t have time and we have a pile of quilts to get quilted! Accept this fact and move on.
- Tiara has NO presser foot. You probably noticed this, that there is no lever to raise and lower. This is BIG DEAL because on our domestic machines, the tension discs that the top thread passes through are opened slightly when we raise the presser foot. This allows your thread to move freely and to seat snugly all the way between the discs. What this means is that your thread has to be flossed between the discs to assure that it all the way down between the discs. If it is not flossed, it can float on top of the discs leading to nasty bird nests on the back of our stitching.
- Tiara uses the Bobbin as the primary tension setting mechanism. In the beginning, this seems weird and it is also distressing because many of were taught to NEVER adjust the tension bobbin. Now, suddenly and without warning, we are told to adjust the bobbin tension every time we change our bobbin. This is also intimidating and feels wrong. But it is correct. Our machines come with a tiny screw driver to perform this action and we adjust with tiny 1/8 (or less) turns of the screw. Righty tighty; lefty loosey. Always adjust the bobbin tension first. And then turn the top tension. The top tension need BIG turns. At least half, usually a full turn, to make an adjustment. This feels, well backwards. But it is also correct.
- Don’t pull your fabric out rapidly from under your needle. This also feels strange! Using our domestics, we simply lift the presser foot and grab our project and pull swiftly. But this doesn’t work the same way on Tiara because there is no presser foot to release the discs and the thread remains tightly between them. We need to release the top thread by pulling slowly and firmly just ABOVE needle and then removing our project. What happens if you don’t? Members of my group have had both these things happen: the needle breaks, the needle bends just enough so it hits the needle plate at a future time and throws the timing out. Yikes! One member had her machine in the shop multiple times before she realized this was happening. Definitely hard on the wallet.
- You can use any thread you want BUT… It needs to be a good quality cotton or poly. Either are good and we are not going to argue about which is “better”. Modern polys are wonderful to use, unlike polys of old (like when I started sewing with a machine 54 years ago). When I first got my Tiara, I made the mistake of using old style cotton Coats & Clarks and had thread breaking constantly. Once I switched to Superior Threads (which took me much too long, alas) the thread breaks stopped. Good thread is totally worth purchasing. 50 and 40 wt are the most common weight threads for quilting. You can use 100 wt silk, or metallic or Micro Quilter (100 wt) but your upper tension will need adjusting and you will need a smaller needle. Beginners will be happier consistently using the same style thread until they become accustomed to their machine. Changing thread means changing the tension. And yes, you can use a different thread in the bobbin; I use Bottom Line 60 wt.
- You will use a larger needle size than you did on your domestic. 40 wt thread needs a size 18 Groetz Beckert needle. It will seem huge if you are used to using a size 12 for piecing and a 14 for quilting on your domestic. Some people worry about the size of the “hole” made by the needle. A needle simply pushes the fabric threads apart to lock onto the bottom thread and then returns. It does not (unless a needle is dull) make actual holes. Your threads will relax (especially after washing) and your project will be fine.
- Tiara needs very little maintenance! Yes, there is good news! A Tiara only needs to be lubricated every 5 million stitches. Other than that, cleaning the bobbin area and a drop of oil every other bobbin change is all the maintenance that you need to do. And of course, change your needle every 8-10 hours of quilting.
- What about the Tru Stitch stitch regulator? The Tru Stitch is a hockey pock sized, two piece accessory that can be used with Tiara and clones to regulate the length of your stitches. HQ came out with a table a few years ago that does the same thing without needing the separate appliance. Yes, you can (theoretically) put your Tiara in a HQ Tru Stitch table. But back to the regulator…Do you want one? Not necessarily. It is a completely separate appliance and must be placed on top of your quilt sandwich with a separate part under the quilt sandwich. It is also expensive! One of the common frustrations when you start is FMQ is uneven stitch length and some people like the nice looking stitches right out of the gate. It works much better on straighter sections than on curves (and I love making swirls). It has to be moved frequently as you move around your quilt and it has its own learning curve and technical issues. Tru Stitch is often compared to training wheels on a bike. It may be helpful at first, but it also interferes with finding your own quilting rhythm and most people abandon its use after they have been FMQ for a while. I don’t use one, never have. But some people like them. Babylock makes the tru stitch table for their 18″ Regent model, but not for Tiara.
- What feet can I use with my Tiara? The Tiara 1 (my machine) was originally sold with a single, closed toe foot and for several years that is all that was available. Tiara 2 and 3 came with interchanable feet. Tiara 1 will need a conversion kit to use different feet, although at this point most of them should have been converted. I love the open toe and Glide feet. You can also buy echo feet and a micro quilting foot and of course, a ruler foot.
- What about ruler quilting? Do you love ruler quilting, does it looks so fast and easy? Keep in mind that people who post videos who sell their own quilting rulers have been doing it a long time. Years. They are professionals! You can learn to quilt with rulers, but please, learn to use your machine first. Rulers are not a short cut to learning to FMQ. You can use your basic closed toe foot for rulers (according to the manual), but if you want to do a lot of ruler quilting you will be happier and safer using a dedicated ruler foot with nice high sides. The HQ Sure Foot is an excellent choice. Tiara requires long arm rulers at least 1/4″ thick. You CAN NOT use domestic machine rulers with Tiara. It is a safety issue and you can harm your machine (expensive repair!) and injure yourself (ER visit!) trying to use a domestic ruler. Rulers are also expensive, so invest in one or two basic ones first to see if you like ruler quilting. Like everything else, there is a learning curve to them. I prefer to use stencils and will do a column on stencils soon.
What is the fastest way to get a good result? We want to produce beautiful results quickly and without too much pain and effort. We blame the machine when it doesn’t happen. At least 95% of the issues people come to my FB group seeking help with are the result of user issues and not a problem with the actual machine. Read your manual. Use good quality accessories, supplies and materials. Practice, practice, practice. Fabric panels are good for practice! There is no “hack” for learning FMQ. There is understanding your machine and there is practice. Lots of practice. You will improve, you will have fewer and fewer issues as you practice. Is learning FMQ on a Tiara the right thing for you? It is if you want it to be!
NOTE: Babylock and Viking are no longer producing the Tiara or the Platinum 16 (all are sit down quilting machines with the 16″ throat). Babylock has introduced the Regent 18″ as a sit down model. HQ has a similar Capri 18″ model. They always to “upgrade” us!
I will keep the Tiara group for those of us with 16″ machines who are happy creating on the machines that we love.