Thursday, October 21, 2010

FMQ Failure. Is is me ... or is it my machine?

Let me start right off by saying it's probably me.  I  have tried free motion quilting many times and I just can't get my stitches to come out anything but too loose and large and sometimes loopy.  I've read and watched all sorts of tutorials and many times just started fresh with a whole new attitude.  But I just can't get it.  Here are the stitches from my latest attempt.

Wish I had practiced on a solid now ...
I've tried a million variations and combinations of settings not limited to the following:

-tension dial up
-tension dial down
-feed dogs up
-feed dogs down
-stitch length at every possible length (I only have slider bar so I can't set it to zero)
-cleaned machine
-new needle
-sewing fast and moving practice piece fast
-sewing slow and moving practice piece fast
-sewing fast and moving practice piece slow
-sewing slow and moving practice piece slow

I get the movement but my stitches are just way too loose to be quilting.  Even with washing and drying they don't tighten up enough to be quilting on a quilt.  You can almost take your fingernails and pull out the stitches.  I can do straight lines with my walking foot and am getting better with some practice. 

Here's my questions that I'm sending out into the blogosphere:

Can one of you come over to my house and try out my machine so I know if I should keep practicing or give it up?  Or .... Can I come over to your house and try it on your machine? 

OK ... I know this isn't possible unless one of you lives in Western New York (hint, hint).  This is just one of those times I wish I had a real, live quilting community near me.  I love the internet and my blogs but sometimes I just need ten minutes with a real, live person. 

Has anyone has gone from a basic machine to a higher end machine and what sort of differences did you notice when sewing?  And how did you buy one if you didn't live near a sewing machine dealer? 

I've had a rough couple of weeks having some extensive (and expensive) dental procedures that are kind of freaking me out.   Sewing in the evenings has been a pleasant way to take my mind off of my mouth.  So here's a little sneak peak at some of newest star blocks.  Hopefully these will be turned into a quilt in time for Amy's Fall Quilt Festival.  


  1. I swear we are twins because that's exactly how my fmq comes out! That's why I do straight line quilting - much more modern looking (or so I tell myself).

    But seriously, it looks really good!

  2. Okay, from what I can see (and other than that small extraneous loop in photo #2), your tension looks okay. But your stitch length is definitely long (and obviously longer than you’d like). To make your stitches shorter, you need to up the stitching speed vis à vis the speed at which you’re moving the quilt sandwich. I know you said you’d tried that but that’s how the mechanics of FMQ work.

    You may also be trying to cover too much area too quickly. Focus on the 8 or so inches all around your needle and move the quilt sandwich around as smoothly as you can. When you find your hands or arm stretching weirdly in order to get the next bit of quilt under the needle, stop with the needle down and reposition your hands and relax your shoulders again.

    I am a bit far from New York, but I can tell you the steps I take to prepare my machine (a Bernina, but not an overly- fancy one) for FMQ:

    1. Up my top thread tension from the usual 3 to 7 or 8.
    2. Move my stitch length down to 0.
    3. Drop my feed dogs.

    I find I have the most success (relative word when you’re talking about my FMQ, I assure you) with the needle going at a medium+ speed (i.e. a little faster than medium speed, not pedal to the metal) and I am slowly moving the quilt.

    I hope that helps!

  3. I had my first attempts look just like yours.... now Ive got it down.... I dont mess with my tension at all.... I drop the feed dogs, turn my stitch length to 0, lower my foot pressure as low as it goes... then FAST FOOT SLOW HANDS. I think this is the trick.

  4. Wish I could help, but the one time I tried fmq it was so bad I cried, and I've been too scared to try it ever since! I really hope you figure it out... for your sake and mine!

    Those stars are beautiful!

  5. I would agree with stitch length to zero. Have you tried adjusting your bobbin tension? With loops on the top, that might be the bobbin tension.

  6. I'm thinking you need to have a bunch more little practices... you're almost there, from what I can see. First, pedal to the medal, and slow your movements wayyyy down. any fast, tight turns will also create weird things. Usually those long uncontrolled stitches, for me, are a cause of my posture and my hands getting out of place - like I'm reaching over in an awkward place. I need to needle down, stop what I'm doing, place my hands (and fabric bunches) in a more comfortable place, and go from there.

    have you changed the SIZE of your needle? someone recommended to me once a denim needle with a 50wt thread. I was having loads of troubles with certain brands of thread on my machine...

  7. Girlie, I feel for ya! You're questions about the sewing machine upgrade: I had EXACTLY the problems you were having on my little Brother machine. Nothing was gonna save my stitches on it. I upgraded to a Bernina and I can't say I will ever stray. It has been the best machine ever. I have the 440 quilters edition. HOWEVER, you do not need this machine in the Bernina series to get good stitches. All their machines are great and precise. My next choice would be a Pfaff and then the Viking Sapphires (which are now under the same company). Check the internet for online dealers. And when you find one you like, make sure you go to the manufacturers website to make sure they are a certified dealer and that your warranties stand. Also, make sure that any repair shop around you is able to work on whichever you choose (if you end up getting a new one). Sorry to hear about the mouth! Hang in there girl! Hope I helped.

    What kind of machine do you have now?


  8. I was having the same problems until I changed the throat plate. My quilting plate has a small single hole, this prevents the loose stitches and loops. My regular plate has a wider hole for zigzag stitches, and other decorative stitches, but not good for free motion quilting. The quilting plate has made all the difference for me. Hope that helps.

  9. I agree try some smaller panels - get some crayola washable pens - mark up a design on a FQ of plain fabric say a leaf and do a different design in each segment of the leaf - go slow - do you wear quilting gloves? if you don't want the expense of these at present by a cheap pair of ladies gardening gloves with the rubberised finger tips and palms - they do help hold and move the fabric - and keep checking out FMQ videos - freemotionquiting.blogspot / patsy thompson, and many other 'quilting' bloggers (some are listed on a previous post on my blog) - I was like you but am now finding the excitement and freedom of FMQ - small steps but getting there - look at the McTavishing on my recent table runner, I look at it and still get blown away - me a few hours and a simple basic domestic sewing machine no fancy quilting machines (cost me about £200) - just need a quilting table to get a large flat bed for working on

  10. I agree to start with small practice pads. Use a thread that contrasts with the pad so you can easily see what you are doing. And the blog "A Few Scraps" has a quilt along going..but the info is there easy to access at
    Good luck!

  11. Oh - about the machine. My really nice one has some handy features (auto thread cutter, pivot setting, and a BIG throat) but I did a lot of FMQ on a small janome that I got from eBay since there is no dealer close by. This was a refurb model that was originally a Kenmore made by Janome - but Kenmore dropped the machine so it was re-branded. However, the label says Janome..but at startup the panel says "KENMORE"

    that said, buying on eBay from a trusted seller can be a great way to get a good deal on a nicer machine. READ lots of reviews on the machine first! Read the eBay listing CAREFULLY.

  12. I don't have the best luck with fmq. So I either use straight lines or I send it to some one. But I understand that fmq just takes practice.

  13. As with a commentor above (I like orange too), I went from a simple 10 stitch Brother to a Bernina QE 440 & oh my goodness.....I don't know how I ever sew properly before this incredible Bernina. Like most owners would say, once you've sewed on a Bernina, you will never sew on anything else. Best of all, it has a Stitch Regulator which automatically controls my stitch length so that I seem like a super-duper experienced quilter!!! Yes, I am absolutely in love with my Bernina, in case you can't guess by now. Happy weekend from Tokyo, Japan!

  14. I a sorry that you are having such a hard time with your free motion. It is so fun, I do hope you figure out what is going on and continue on with the process. It does take alot of practice....

    Love your squares.

  15. I'm not the greatest with FMQ, but I'm getting better. Start with a pattern, like a loop-d-loop, drawn out on fabric and try and follow it with a fast needle and slow hands - just like Teresa said. You'll see that your flow is smoother and your stitches are more consistent after you practice more. Good luck, sweet potatuh!

  16. I've had the same problem with free motion embroidery, I've tried so many different ways and read so many tutorials and my stitches still don't work! I have decided it's my machine even though it's probably me. So I am absolutely no help here but it's probably nice to feel you're not alone.

    Kate x


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