Friday, March 15, 2013

FMQ Troubleshooting Tips & Tricks

I've spent the last few weeks dealing with FMQ headaches, as I get to know my Juki better. I've been teaching free-motion quilting now for several months, and have dealt with FMQ troubleshooting on lots of different brands, but this was my first Juki, so it's been a little bit of a challenge. Admittedly, my Viking Sapphire was extremely easy to free-motion on - turn it on, put the proper foot on and go, basically, but the Juki has taken a bit more tweaking. One of the things I hear most often in my free motion quilting classes is that the most challenging parts of FMQ is troubleshooting tension problems, so I wanted to share with you some of my tips and tricks to help you find the right settings on your machine for FMQ...

Cathedral Windows FMQ

Free Motion Quilting Troubleshooting Tips & Tricks
So you're free-motioning, and things are going well at first...until blam - a skipped stitch! Or blam - thread breakage! What do you do? Follow these tips and tricks below and I feel sure you will find the answer to your problem.

1. Change your needle. If it's been on there a while, it may be worn out. More often than not, a new needle will fix things up for you. Free-motion quilting puts a lot of stress on your needle, and it's more prone to bend or warp during free-motion quilting than when piecing. I try my best to remember to start each free motion project with a fresh needle.

2. Cut both your bobbin and top threads and rethread both. Dig out your manual for this one, and follow the directions step by step. One of my FMQ students had been using her machine for over ten years, and threading it improperly all along!

Wiggle FMQ

3. Clean out your machine. Take out your bobbin and clean the bobbin case throroughly. Keep your eyes peeled for stray threads, too. Use a tweezer to grab any stray threads you find.

4. Try a bigger needle - your needle may be too small for this. Ultimately, this has been the biggest solution with my Juki. I'm now using a Topstitch 100/16 Needle for FMQ on the Juki, which seems to work best. It has a much larger eye than the 90/20 needle that I use on my Sapphire for FMQ, so experiment with your machine to find what works best. Bigger needles, in general, are more rigid and will resist bending, even when FMQ'ing, and the needle bending is what most often causes skipped stitches and broken threads.

Sharp vs Topstich Needle

5. Can you adjust the pressure of the presser foot? It may be too strong/high. On the Juki, my presser foot pressure guide looks about like so...

6. Give it some gas. If your motor (and therefore your needle) is moving too slowly, it can create additional pressure on the needle, often causing thread breakage or skipped stitches. Try to keep your speed nice and even, at a medium to fast pace, to keep your stitches even and your needle nice and sturdy.

7. What kind of thread are you using? Some machines just don't like certain brands of thread. I've found so far that my Sapphire despises Superior threads and the Juki doesn't like Coats & Clark threads. Each machine is different, so try other brands. The one thread brand that I can't recall hearing anyone say their machine doesn't like is Aurifil, so you may want to give that a try.

Mixed FMQ

8. Set your stitch length to zero. Many machines don't need this in order to FMQ properly, but if you're still having trouble after all of the other steps, give this a try.

9. Make sure your needle and foot are installed properly. Double-check that your needle is fully screwed in and that your free motion foot of choice is installed accurately. I once had a student using a spring-loaded open toe foot who had stitch problems until we realized that the needle rest was not sitting on the needle screw as it should be. Once we reinstalled the foot properly, all was well!

10. Try lowering your top thread tension. Is your top thread breaking? If you've already followed the steps above, it's possible your thread tension may be too tight. Try lowering the tension.

If all else fails, take your machine in to a dealer for a full cleaning - it's possible that your machine may need to have the timing adjusted if all of these tips have failed you. Make sure to tell your dealer what's going wrong and what you've done to try to solve the problem.

By the way, if you're in the Tampa area, I'll actually be teaching my Beginning Free Motion Quilting class at Inspire Quilting & Sewing next Friday, and there are still a few seats available, so if you're new to free motioning or feel like you need help, I'd love to see you there! Have a great weekend :)


  1. Loads of great tips that I'm sure everyone can use. Thank you so much.

  2. Great tips, thanks, Elizabeth! I have a singer 201 for FMQ and the other day I started a new project with new needle, new thread, etc. My machine was squeeking while sewing with the walking foot so I cleaned it and just couldn't figure out what was going on. After I put the darning foot on, it didn't stitch, did the skipped stitches. I checked the needle again and it was not in all the way. You might want to mention that to students who are quilting on vintage machines.

  3. Thanks Elizabeth! Very clear check list! I have a Sapphire as well and learned through trial and error her needle preference and speed thing. Aurafil does indeed always work, monofilaments are still tricky. I also am finding a difference depending upon the foot I use. I was using the darning foot that came with the machine, but now I am trying to get used to the spring action free motion foot (lots of jumping around every stop/start). Which foot do you use on the Sapphire? Wish I lived in the Tampa area....for a few reasons! Thanks from cold and muddy New England!

  4. Thank you. I have a bunch of tops I need to start quilting.

  5. What a great resource, thanks!

  6. great tips. My problem I am running into when FMq is my needle falls out -- which is really weird because the screw is still tight most of the time. Now this doesn't cause issues for the process it's just annoying.

  7. A great resource - thanks, Elizabeth!

  8. Thanks for the long list! I bought a Juki in December and had the same problems you describe--great FM at first then breaking thread. I was pretty good with my Babylock, but the throat space was just too small. Took it back to the shop and they practiced with me. Top hints: 1) go faster on pedal 2) move hands slower and 3) use yellow band singer needle. Weird on the last one--that is ball point. I haven't done a large quilt yet so don't know if that will really work. I'll grab some 100/16 needles just in case.

  9. I use a Juki and I have found the best thread in it is Connecting Threads Essential Pro. It works like a charm and never breaks. I used to have major breakage issues before.

  10. Those are great tips and should be printed and taped to your machine before starting. I had a singer and would beat my head against the wall when trying to FMQ with it. Finally I upgraded to the Viking Sapphire and it was like the clouds parted and the birds started to sing. What a difference just a machine can make!

  11. Thank you so much! I hope you don't mind if I pin this for future reference!

  12. Thanks Elizabeth! This is great. I pinned it in my Free Motion Tips Tricks and Tools Board. :)

  13. Very helpful!
    With my Juki, the dealer actually told me to use size 18 to FMQ - I was shocked (and had a hard time finding an 18!), but it works like a charm!

  14. I have a new Juki too- the 2000- and I have definitely run into what you are describing. I agree speed has a lot to do with it, and had more luck after adjusting the presser foot and turning the stitch length to zero- but two things I also discovered that helped were- switching to Isacord thread- haven't had a breakage in thread since- and using Titanium needles- which has severely cut down on the needle breaks and changes. I am still using the same size of needle, but the titanium ones are much stronger and it really helps! Hope you continue to learn and grow with your Juki, I know I am with mine.

  15. Great tips, Elizabeth. Maybe I'll actually get the courage to FMQ one of these days!

  16. Great tips. Thank you very much for posting them.

  17. thank you, I'm new to fmq so this might come in handy.

  18. Thank you for all the tips. There is also a big difference between a topstitch needle and a sharp needle. The topstitch needle has a grove running along its length that the thread goes into and thus moves into the fabric inside that grove, not beside the needle - so much better for fmq, and really any quilting. I use a topstitch 90/14 and it works great but will also try the size you recommend. There is a great video about these needles on the Superior Threads website where they have all their thread school videos.

  19. Elizabeth, thanks for the great list. I teach FMQ too, and some of these tips are new for me! Something I didn't see that sometimes makes a difference is whether your spool is on a horizontal spool pin or vertical. Here is what I tell students: place cross-wound spools (crosses over itself diagonally) on your horizontal spool pin and stacked spools (threads are packed right next to each other but do not cross) on your vertical spool pin. (That's if you're having troubles)

  20. Very useful tips, Elizabeth, thank you.

  21. love this post! i am in a learning phase with my Juki and i am super curious about your point #5. i feel like the pressure of my presser foot is causing problems. i cant see your pic on point 5, but i would love to know where you keep the gauge. thanks!!!! amy

  22. Great post! I couldn't figure out why my Juki was skipping stitches and making weird noises. I did everything you said and now it FMQs like a dream. Thank you so much!!

  23. I've had a horrible experience with Aurfil in my Juki. Can you give some examples of threads that work well in the Juki so I don't have to waste money trying out different threads? Help!

    1. Honestly, I've never had problems with Aurifil in my Juki. It's my thread of choice, 100% of the time. It could be a thread-needle mismatch situation, however. What type of needles are you using? The right thread must be matched with an appropriate needle, otherwise shredding is absolutely possible. Shredding will rarely happen due to thread choice alone, unless it is a cheap, poor quality thread (which Aurifil is not).


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Welcome! I'm Elizabeth, mom to a mood teen boy and a chatty six-year-old girl and I sew for my sanity. Let's get to quilting, shall we?
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