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Broken quilting stitches after the quilt is finished

by Ann

Ann writes...

Do you have any advice on what to do if quilt stitches break (after the quilt is finished and in use)?

The stitching on my completed quilt keeps breaking. The quilt is used - on sofas and beds. I have been unpicking and resewing the broken quilting lines, there have been at least 100 breaks now and I feel the task will never ever end.

The original quilting was with thin Aurifil thread (50wt), but I have been re-quilting the broken lines with thicker thread, as I presumed this was the reason the lines were breaking. However, I'm now worried that even the thicker thread lines are breaking.

The greatest distance between lines would be about 4 inches.

Here is a picture.

Any help or advice would be so much appreciated, thank you!

Julie replies...

Hi Ann!

Two possible culprits for the thread breaks come to mind.

Neither has anything to do with the thickness of the thread. Aurifil is a good quality thread, one that I regularly use myself. I have not experienced the breakage you are having and here is my reasoning.


If your sewing machine's tension is set too tight, the thread is stressed and stretched as it is stitched. Any extra pull on it (like making a bed or covering up on the couch) adds even more stress. The thread literally snaps.

My favorite 'quick-method' of checking tension is to thread my machine with the same thread (i.e. Aurifil 50 wt, orange cone) in both the needle and bobbin—but use a different color in each. With a quick inspection on both sides I can easily see if the tension is balanced. The opposite side's thread color does not show.
If tension is off just the slightest, I'll fine-tune it until it's perfect. Grid quilting takes awhile to complete.

Not enough quilting for the size/weight of the quilt

I suspect this is the problem.

As you pick up, fluff, move or adjust the quilt on the bed, you are pulling at the stitching that hold the layers together. The weight and the stress of the movement is distributed amongst all the stitches in the quilt. Some are stressed more or less depending on where they are in the quilt and how much stress is applied in that area.

It stands to reason, that if there are more quilting stitches, each individual stitch takes less stress.

'Maximum Quilting Distance'

Batting manufacturers want to sell batting with high 'maximum quilting distances'.

It sounds like it's less work, right????

The term, however, is deceiving.

'Maximum quilting distance' is the manufacturer's recommendation about how far apart you can quilt and STILL EXPECT THE BATTING TO HOLD TOGETHER.

That's the BATTING.

Not the QUILT.

It's a huge difference in meaning.

A wall hanging with quilting lines 12" apart is only stressed as much as its stationary weight. Over time, it will probably sag because there's so little quilting in it. I won't, however, expect the stitches to break.

A large bed quilt is heavier and has the added stress of being 'thrown' about to actually 'make the bed' or 'get cozy' underneath it.

What's a quilter to do?

If it was my quilt and I wanted to make it last longer, I'd go back in and add more quilting stitches to it. In particular, if I'm seeing the quilting correctly in the photo, I would completely grid quilt it—filling in between the existing quilting lines to complete the allover, square-grid pattern.

Now, I admit, re-quilting an already finished quilt is really at the low end of my to-do list. You'll have to work around the binding, too. Either tying off frequently or ditch quilting in the well between the binding and top to move to another stitching line.

If it's a tension issue, unfortunately you can expect the current lines of stitching to continue to break.

If it's a need for more stitches to support the weight and function of the quilt, then adding the additional lines (even in the Aurifil 50 wt) should stop the breakage once there's enough of them.

How many stitches is enough?

There's no real formula, though the more the quilt is used and washed, the more stress there is on each individual stitch. The more stitches you'll need.

Ann, I hope this have given you some ideas for dealing with the broken stitch problem.

Readers, as always, your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Just use the 'comments' link below to share them. Thank you!


Julie Baird

P.S. I can see why you want to preserve your quilt. I LOVE the colors and pattern. Good luck to you!

Comments for Broken quilting stitches after the quilt is finished

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by: Ann

Thank you both! I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reply, but finally I have a moment and I wanted to thank you.

Julie, your detailed response was really helpful and reassuring. When I posted my question I was desperate! I just didn't know why the lines were breaking - I'd followed the guidelines for how apart stitch lines could be and despite much internet searching and reading no-one seemed to have had the same problem, I just felt clueless!.

Your explanation made a lot of sense. It is a heavy quilt that is used a lot, it is moved about from sofa to bed, tugged, jumped on.. I think the problem comes down to not enough quilting lines.

I do use a 'tester' mini-quilt (made from a surplus block) to check my stitching and tension, and am careful to use the recommended needle size (for quilting I use the titanium coated ones by Superior Threads).

What I have done in the end, because it was really getting me down, is I have kept the quilt in use and continue to work on it now and then, when I have time and between other projects . I continue to fix the broken lines but am also adding more quilting lines using the invisible thread to stitch in the ditch (thank you Jo for this suggestion).

I still have a lot to do, but I will get there and with the new information that you have given me I am confident that I will!

BTW I really didn't expect a response to my question. I was amazed that not only did I get a response but such a detailed and helpful one! I was really gobsmacked!).

Thank you again,


Why quilting stitches break after the quilt is finished
by: Jo Goranson "The Thread Lady"

I agree with Julie on everything she said, but I would like to add a few other things to think about as you quilt.

I always make sure I have a "practice" quilt made up of the same fabrics, batting and backing before I begin quilting. By "practice" I don't mean you do another quilt. I just make sure I have the same fabrics, batting and backing to have to check the tension using the thread and needle that I am going to quilt with. I find this saves me an enormous amount of time and this helps me from having to remove stitching I've done on the quilt itself once I've seen what the thread I've chosen looks like. I have chosen a thread color that I thought was perfect, but when I use it on my practice quilt I find it is not what I like. If I had started quilting on the real quilt I would have had to rip those stitches out, something I absolutely hate doing.

Another thing that Julie didn't mention is to be sure you are using a quilting needle of the right size for the thread when you quilt. You can also use the titanium coated needles made by Superior Threads that take the place of sharps, quilting needles and metallic needles. The most important thing is to be using the right size needle for the thread you are using. I have had so many students, friends and other quilters ask me why the thread is breaking or not looking right and almost every time it is because they are using the wrong size needle. Every thread manufacturer will tell you on the spool or on their website what size needle to use with their threads. However, I have found a few errors on some sites so here is a list of what needle you should use for the thread sizes:

Thread size 90 Needle size 70/10 or 60/8
80 70/10
70 70/10
60 70/10 or 80/12
50 80/12
40 90/14
30 100/16
any thicker thread 100/16 or 110/18

Remember that the higher the number on a thread the thinner it is. Silk is 100. The opposite holds true for needles. The higher the number on a needle means a bigger eye. It can be confusing unless you remember this. You should never use a needle that is too big for the thread or one that is too small for the thread. If you use the right needle size and the needle that is right for what you are doing you won't have as many problems. Remember that you use sharps to piece, quilting needles to quilt and metallic needles for metallic thread. Superior's titanium coated needles take the place of all three needles and can be used for any of these other needles.

I agree with Julie that you haven't done enough quilting on your quilt. Although you might think it looks nice, if it is a quilt that is going to be used it should be quilted quite a lot. One of the ways to make sure it has enough quilting is to use invisible thread and quilt in the ditch. By quilting in the ditch I mean that you stitch in the seam lines so that you cannot see the thread. If you use a polyester invisible thread you can use it in both the bobbin and on top. There are only two manufacturers I know of who make polyester invisible thread: Superior Threads and Sulky. Any other invisible thread is made of nylon and can only be used on top. You need to use regular thread in the bobbin.

I hope I have expanded a little on what Julie has already told you. I know how frustrating it can be to have to do something over again, but you are going to have to re-do the quilting on this quilt. Invisible polyester thread will help you do this without changing the appearance of the way you have already quilted it. However, I am afraid you are going to have to take out the thread you have used and do it over again. Unless you want to kind of cheat and stitch next to where you have already quilted and then wait for the stitches to continue to break and take those out when they do. It would look a little weird for a while, but that would save you from having to rip out all the stitches at once. If you used a different color thread or a variegated thread it would not be as noticeable.

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