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Stitch in the Ditch Problems

Why does my quilt backing fabric keep gathering when I am trying to stitch in the ditch?


Since you mention only problems with the backing, it seems as though the backing fabric isn't advancing properly.

Check your walking foot... make sure it's properly installed.

As you sit at your machine with the foot installed, you'll see an 'arm' or 'fork' (depending on your make of sewing machine) on the right hand side as you look at the foot. The 'arm' or 'top' prong if it's a fork rides on top of the needle clamp screw.

For many sewing machine models, the walking foot comes with its own needle clamp screw that is longer than the one originally installed on your machine. Make sure you change to this longer screw for the walking foot to work properly. make sure it's not broken.

With the walking foot correctly installed, put your presser foot in the down position without a quilt sandwich. Now hand walk your machine through a couple of stitches. You should see the foot moving up and down in concert with the needle bar moving up and down.

(For a refresher see our page "Learn How Sewing Machines Work" and then scroll down to the first video.)

If your walking foot is moving up and down then it is not broken. They do wear out with use, so it's always a good idea to see if that's the problem.

Feed Dogs should be "UP"... work with the walking foot to move the fabric through your sewing machine. There will be a button or level to put them up. If they are down, the fabric will not automatically advance.

...and thread tension balanced.

Check your needle tension. Is it so tight that it's pulling your bobbin thread to the top? Then reduce it by reducing the number on the tension dial.

Double check that your needle thread isn't getting 'hung up' somewhere in the thread path. Two of the most common problems are:

  • The thread wraps itself so tightly around the spool pin that it prevents the fabric from feeding through the machine...your quilting thread eventually snaps in protest, and

  • The thread has wrapped itself around the uptake arm. Again, it will eventually snap.

Evaluate the pin basting...

The other possibility is that there is a problem with the pin basting.

The quilt backing fabric is taped pretty side down to a large, flat, clean surface. The tape serves to hold the backing fabric taut, but not stretched. If the backing was pulled too tight or not tight enough there is the possibility of tucks forming as you stick.

Also make sure that enough safety pins where used to baste the quilt. When you place your palm on the quilt sandwich, you should a minimum of two safety pins. You can add more if you'd like, but you need a fair amount to keep the layers from shifting as you stitch.

You'll find more information on how to do this on our page "Layering and Basting a Quilt".

I hope that one of these suggestions solves your stitch in the ditch problems. I'm interested in hearing how things turn out!

Readers, do add your suggestions with the 'comment' link just below. Thank you!


Julie Baird

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