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Free Motion Quilting Thread Problem

by Karina
(Houston, TX)

I have a very basic sewing machine (Singer) and when I attempt to do free motion quilting the upper thread rips. I have a free motion foot, I set my stitch length to zero - and still, sometimes it rips right away, sometimes I manage to go as much as ten inches.

Do I need to get a better sewing machine? If yes - which one should I get?



First, let me say I'm sorry you're having problems. You just want to get down to free motion quilting and your sewing machine refuses to cooperate.

Before you do anything else, try the simplest thing first.

  1. Remove the thread spool and bobbin from your machine.
  2. Replace the needle with a new one.
  3. Now re-thread your sewing machine.
  4. Make sure the feed dogs are lowered.
I admit, that sounds so elementary, yet many times, I've missed a guide or gotten the thread wrapped around the uptake arm in my haste. It's worth a try.

I am assuming that when you say your thread 'rips' that it is breaking. There are a couple of things to consider.

When Thread Shreds

If your thread is shredding, it'll be real fuzzy on the ends. This indicates your thread is being roughed up somewhere. You should be able to see the thread start to shred as you stitch.

I would suspect that either the eye of the needle is too small or there is a burr on your throat plate. The easiest, cheapest thing to do is change to the next size larger needle. (I like Schmetz's Microtex Sharps for machine quilting.)

For a burr or nick on the throat plate, you may be able to polish or sand it off with crocus cloth, but the results can be questionable. You may need to purchase a new plate. If the thread always breaks when you quilt in one direction, I'd be leaning towards a burr. These burrs or nicks happen when the needle strikes the throat plate as you are sewing.

When Thread Snaps

If your thread literally snaps as you stitch, that points to the needle tension being too tight.

If you are using a monofilament thread, you'll need to reduce the needle tension adjustment to offset the tension this stretchy thread adds as you stitch. I usually reduce my thread tension by 2 whole numbers for monofilament thread and then test on a practice quit sandwich.

Using two different types of thread, one for the needle and another for the bobbin, usually requires a tension adjustment.

If the thread spool has a nick or cut in its top...make sure this is on the right side on a horizontal spool pin so that the thread doesn't catch in the nick.

Make sure that the thread path is clear. If you've used a free standing metal thread stand, make sure that the thread hasn't looped around the holder.

With your machine threaded and the presser UP, pull the needle thread through the needle. Because the tension disks are NOT engaged at this point, you should be able to easily pull the thread through. If your thread has wrapped around something or gotten caught on the spool, you'll feel the drag or resistance.

One Last Possibility

Change to a completely new spool of thread. I've had types of thread that my machine just doesn't like. My quilting bee mates have had similar experiences.

Do You Need a New Machine?

It really does sound like a tension issue...too much tension is somehow being applied to the needle thread, so I don't think you NEED a new machine. If you were experiencing other problems while PIECING, then that would effect my answer.

However, if you do decide a new one is right for you, instead of recommending a particular machine, I will point you to the following pages on the website:
Both contain information to help you choose the features you'll want on a new machine and what quilters, just like you think about them.

To my readers, if you have suggestions, please do share via the "add your comment" link below! Thank you.

Good luck to you. I hope some of this information has been of help.


Julie Baird

Comments for Free Motion Quilting Thread Problem

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Skipping atitches
by: AnoMary Trafton

I have had my Singer looked and serviced by 3 different repair workers. replaced the needle, re-threaded the bobbin. Played with tension. Tried to slow my hand speed and increase the speed of my needle. Help Any suggestions?

Works on test
by: Erin


These are great suggestions - I need to go and get some new needles, anyway.
Here’s my question, though. I’ve tried all of your suggestions in previous times and what happens quite often is that everything is great on my test piece (usually about 10" x 10").

When I put the actual quilt in, I get maybe 8" - 12" before the thread breaks. I’m using machine quilting thread, no nicks in the raised throat plate, and in previous times I’ve put in a new needle. The only exception where I have had success is for small pieces like the test or slightly larger, and I also did a baby quilt with no batting, just the quilt top and a flannel backing.

I am using a vintage Singer 774 slant shank with the open toe foot, as I could not find a quilting foot that was the right length.

Also - I reduced the tension of the presser foot to where the label says, "darn" - much like I say when my thread breaks - HA! (A good one! ~ Julie)

Lastly, I didn’t reduce the thread tension today, but in previous times I reduced it and it caused problems with the stitches. Realistically, it’s time to get the machine in for it’s annual tuneup, but this has been happening since I got the machine back from its tuneup about a year ago.

From the Editor: Hmmmm.

Erin, from what you're saying, I wonder if it has more to do with the speed you're moving the quilt sandwich? For a smaller practice piece, there's just nothing to wrestle with. And as you say, the baby quilt (smaller piece) without a batting was fine, too.

I recommend spending some time testing how fast you're moving the sandwich. I don't think that reducing the tension is needed in this case.

Bring a quilt with you when you bring your machine in and show the fix-it guy what's happening. Also, check to see if they can recommend a generic quilting foot for your machine. That may help, too.

Since I'm assuming you're free motion quilting, set your stitch length to '0' and drop or cover your feed dogs. That may help a bit, too.

I hope this helps.


Julie Baird

Thread is gathering at the end and breaking.
by: Kathy Jones

Thread is gathering up and breaking when I'm free motion quilting on my quilting machine. What is causing this to happen?

From the Editor: If your thread is gathering it sounds like a tension problem. Adjust, then stitch on a practice quilt sandwich to make sure the adjustments work with the fabrics, threads, and needles you are using.

~ Julie

A Big Thank You
by: Julie

I want to thank you very very much for this information. I, too, was having the same problem, changed the needle, changed the thread, stitched slower and nothing worked.

I just checked my throat plate and there it was, 3 nicks in the plate. I was very close to buying a new machine. Now to purchase a new plate.

Great information.

Thank you again.


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