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Machine Quilting Thread Shreds, Then Breaks

by Kathy
(Kansas City, MO)

The top thread breaks. An inspection of the broken end of the thread shows that one of the thread strands have broken and bunched up while remaining strands stayed threaded through the needle for a short time before breaking. Why is this happening?


It sounds like your thread is shredding.

It's a really frustrating problem, but there are a number of possible reasons for what's causing the problem.

Remember, after each adjustment, test on a quilt sandwich made from the fabrics in your quilt.

  1. Re-thread your sewing machine. If that's the problem, it was a simple fix.

  2. Insert a new needle. Needles are the root cause of a number of sewing machine problems. It's easy to check, just change to a new, fresh out of the pack needle. An imperfection in the needle eye could be causing the thread to shred.

  3. Use a quality thread. Make sure it's not the thread, itself. The major thread manufacturers do a good job and in the scheme of things, the cost of thread just doesn't add that much to the cost of a quilt.

  4. Use the proper spool pin. If you're using a cone of thread, make sure you're using a separate metal thread stand. Thread on cones is meant to be pulled up and off the spool from the top. A metal thread stand does just that.

    Conversely, spools of thread that are wound straight onto the spool (the strands of thread will look like they are stacked one on top of each other--not crossed)should be used on the vertical spool pin on your sewing machine. That is how they are intended unwind off the spool.

  5. Check the needle thread tension. Look at the stitches you've already put into your quilt sandwich.

    Does any bobbin thread show on the top? That is the sign that the needle thread is too tight. To reduce tension, reduce the tension setting number or turn the knob to the left (remember 'lefty-loosey', 'righty-tighty'). Most tension adjustments can be made with the needle tension alone.

  6. Check the thread path to make sure that your thread isn't catching on something. Thread will sometimes wrap itself around the spool pin or uptake lever of your sewing machine, increasing the needle tension until the thread snaps.

    Are you using a spool with a notch in one end? If you are using a horizontal spool pin, make sure the notched end of the spool is to the right so that the thread doesn't catch on it.

  7. Increase the needle size for higher thread count fabrics. Are you using a batik or other high thread count fabric? Increased thread count creates more friction as the thread passes through the quilt sandwich. This rubbing may fray the thread.

    Switch to a larger needle of the same type (i.e. if you're using a Microtex Sharp 80/12, switch to a Microtext Sharp 90/14).

    You want a needle just large enough to get the thread through the fabric without breaking, but not so large as to leave unsightly holes.

  8. Finally, check your throat plate for burrs. These are little nicks that happen when the needle hits the throat plate instead of going through the when we accidentally sew over and hit a pin. Or during free motion quilting when the quilt sandwich is pulled too fast and hard and pulls the needle out of position so it hits the plate.

    If it's a burr, you might be able to rub the burr out with Crocus cloth, but I don't have any of that sitting around. (It's a cloth used for sanding on fine parts.) I bet you don't either.

    If you can't saw out the burr, then you'll need to replace your throat plate. I use both a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch version for different quilting applications, so I've always got an extra one handy and I can identify if it's a burr.

    If you're free motion quilting and your thread breaks always when quilting in one particular direction, there's a good probability that it's a burr.

If after all this, your thread is still breaking, it's time for a visit to your sewing machine dealer for a check up.

One year at Christmas, I was making quilts for everyone in the family and, of course, started after Thanksgiving.

As I would pull the stitched pieces out from under the needle to cut the threads, I wasn't raising the needle uptake arm to its highest position (and thereby opening the tension disks). Because there was tension on the thread as I pulled it out, it wore a groove into the bobbin mechanism that interrupted the flow of thread. It caused my thread to keep breaking. It was a simple repair job and took just a few of days. But REALLY bad timing.

The moral of my problem...just remember to have your uptake arm in the highest position when you are pulling on the thread in any way!

I hope one of these suggestions fixes your problem.

Let us know how it goes.


Julie Baird

Comments for Machine Quilting Thread Shreds, Then Breaks

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Possible Discovery for This Issue!
by: Anonymous

I have a Janome 6600P and have been using it to FMQ for about two and a half years. I've just had a very frustrating few hours of FMQ and have finally figured out what is causing this issue! The thread shreds and breaks now and then (sometimes often enough to make me want to get rid of the machine!), and I find that it is all about what direction I'm moving the quilt sandwich, rather than a needle, tension or thread issue. It's ME!

If I'm pushing the quilt sandwich away from myself and the machine is being asked to "sew backwards", and in my case, specifically to the left and backward at the same time, the needle appears to come down on the thread which causes it to shred. The next up/down motion of the needle creates more shredding, thereby tangling the thread and needle.

The biggest problem is that once you're "in motion" it's difficult to remember to turn the quilt.

From the Editor: I had that same problem several years ago right as I was trying to get Christmas quilts finished.

The thread would break if I quilted to the left. Always.

I took it in and it turned out that I'd worn a grove into the bobbin case from pulling my thread away from the machine while it was still attached to the patches I'd just sewn. The tension disks were still engaged and the stress wore a groove. Could of blown me over with a feather on that one. The thread, in that one direction, would hit the groove and then break.

If you have a spare bobbin case, give it a try and see if the problem doesn't stop for all directions.

The other thing to check for is a burr in the throat plate. Again, if you've got an extra one, swap them and see if that makes a difference. The thread can catch on that burr and it does the same thing.

Since the machine has been fine for free motion quilting for so long, I suspect that something has changed. It doesn't take much for things to go ker-flooey!

I hope this helps.

~ Julie Baird

Top thread breaks after stitching
by: Anonymous

My machine top thread breaks almost every time after I have finished stitching one patch. i.e. at end of the cloth. I have taken it to the mechanic as well. He tried changing several parts but to no effect.

Hope I'm able to make sense...

From the Editor: If it is always at the end of a patch where the machine begins stitching on nothing, I wonder if using a 'spider'—a little piece of fabric that you start and end your stitching on will help.

This is what mine looks like after I've used it awhile (and shows why I call it a spider).

A spider is a piece of scrap cloth used to start and stop your stitching on

I'd give it a try and see if it helps. I am quite surprised that your mechanic let it leave the shop still with the problem.


Julie Baird

Pioneer Mountain ma'am
by: Anonymous

I had struggled for several days with my old domestic Singer Merritt.

I read that if you can't lower the feed dogs, TAKE THEM OUT!

I DID, and also changed to poly embroidery thread. It worked perfect!

I FMQ quilted a baby quilt, flannel, front and back, in less than half an hour. Loopty loos, circles round and rounds, and my old Merritt Singer never skipped a stitch, nor had any trouble with the top thread frazzling!

Now I will keep this machine specifically for FMQ or use it with my John Flynn Multi-Frame.

From the Editor: I would have never thought of that! Thank you so much for sharing.

To my readers, check your instruction manuals (especially on older machines) to see if this will work for you!

Thanks again! I'm so glad you were able to get to the quilting and have some fun!

~ Julie

Breaking Thread
by: Sandra


I have been trying for days to resolve this issue, I shall't cover all the various permutations and combinations I had tried but it felt like hundreds. Putting the thread onto the vertical spool holder worked a treat. I knew it was tension somewhere along the way and of course it is obvious now that the direction the thread is coming off the spool would affect the tension but I just hadn't thought of this.

Thank you so much.

I have done some FMQ before but this was the first time on a frame.

thread breaking
by: virginia

Hi Julie

Thanks for the help on thread breaking, that fixed the problem for today, just know I'll be back. Do you have a book on quick-fix /longarm machine, some days I would like to put it on the side of the road.



From the Editor: You're welcome, Virginia! I wish I could recommend a good quick fix book, but since I don't long arm I'm not qualified to do so. I'm hoping maybe some of the long armers will leave their suggestions!


Thank you!
by: Barbie

I was working on a Batik Quilt and couldn't figure out why my thread was breaking so much. I found this post through Google and tried a larger needle. It worked! My thread didn't break a single time after switching needles. I really appreciate this post!

From the Editor: I'm glad it was helpful! Thanks for letting me know.

~ Julie Baird

Multi user thread breaking
by: Sue

We have a long arm quilting machine that is being used by a group of people. Some of us have little or no problem with thread breakage while others experience severe problems (every 3-4 inches). In general it is the trainees who experience the problems. We have had the "no problem people" work through the setup process with the trainees and still they have problems. We have gone through all the standard fixes, rethread, new needle, check tension, new thread, all to no avail. Frequently the "no problem" individual will use the machine right after the trainees, only changing the quilt and the thread with no problems. What is going on? We want the machine to be available tp the entire group.

Note from the Editor: Sue, your question really deserves its own page, and I have given it one here: There are several responses from long arm quilters that may help you!~Julie

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