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Help! Free motion quilting stitch disaster!!

by Katherine
(Orlando, Fl)

The Situation

I have read every post and thousands of others from other sites, plus my manual and I'm going no where!!!

First off I started quilting back in mid-November and made a lap quilt for my youngest daughter for Christmas, and finished it with a modified stitch in the ditch.

I have 2 table runners and a double size quilt that needs to be quilted, so I bought the free motion foot for my machine and made my quilt samples to practice. I have ripped out the thread of samples I know over 25 times, because my top thread is showing on the bottom.

I changed thread (I use 2 different colors so I see the issues in my samples), I made new bobbins, new needles, rethreaded top and bottom more times than I can count, sigh.

My factory setting is 4 on thread tension, and that works just fine on anything but free motion quilting.

If I lower the number {4 down to 0} (upper tension too loose, loops show on wrong side of fabric: *taken from my manual*) it makes the loops worse, then the bobbin thread tangles. So I go back to 4 and then work up (4-9), so that starts to get better.

Well I get a perfect bottom stitch at 7 BUT then I have bobbin thread showing on the top.

I'm ready to give up, but I can't afford to have a long arm quilter do my stuff.

I'm a single, disabled mom and quilting is relaxing, when all goes well, which it is NOT.

Can anyone help me out?

BTW, the loops on the bottom are all the time, not just in curves and I have my machine set on the slowest setting, and that is seriously SLOW..LOL

Oh I have a basic machine, Brother CP6500. It's all I can afford, and it does everything that $2500 machines do except it doesn't automatically cut the thread and doesn't have the extention table, or embroidery. I would love to have a Babylock, so maybe one day one will fall from the sky, lol!




Katherine, I so feel your pain and frustration. You've given me a lot of very helpful information to work with, but I've got a couple of questions for you.

  • What does the stitching look like on your practice quilt sandwich with the tension set at 4? (I'm assuming needle thread loops only on the bottom...)

  • What kind of thread and weight are you using and what size/type of needle?

  • What type of batting? What loft (is it thick)?

  • You've doubled checked that you've got the correct free motion quilting foot for your machine and that it's installed properly? (You sound like you know your way around a sewing machine, so I don't think that this is the problem, but I want to be able to rule it out for sure.)

  • I'm assuming that you're making a single change and then testing...that way you're isolating the problem. Changing the thread to two different colors of the same thread is an EXCELLENT way to help see which thread is misbehaving.

Answers to these questions will help me rule things out.


Needle thread loops on the back of your quilt mean the needle thread tension is too loose, somewhere, somehow. There can be a couple of causes for that.

  1. The needle thread isn't threaded through all the thread guides. Each thread guide adds a bit of tension to the quilting thread as it winds its way through your machine. Miss one and your needle thread tension is looser.

  2. The needle thread isn't properly seated in the tension disks. Make sure that when you thread your machine that the presser foot is in the up position (sometimes it's hard to tell because the foot in the down position doesn't clamp the fabric in place) and the needle, itself, is in its highest position. That way the tension disks are open to receive the thread.

  3. The needle tension is set too loose to begin with for the weight of the quilt sandwich.

If #1 and #2 above are not the problem, then we're back at #3.

So, if the loops are on the back of the quilt sandwich, loosening the needle tension from 4 down to 0 would definitely make the problem worse. For needle thread loops on the back, you need to increase the needle tension. I would go from 4 to 5. If your needle tension is set to 0 about the only thing you'll see on the back is what I call 'thread-throw-up''ll know it when you see it.

Set your machine to a medium speed and try a couple lines on your quilt sandwich...try a square...that way you'll have stitches in all four directions.

Then if you would be so kind and report back what you've got, and then the replies to my questions above we'll move on from there.

It's 7pm CDT, I'll be out getting kids for about the next hour, but will monitor this page to see if we can't work through this problem together. If your machine is doing fine with the walking foot, just not the free motion foot...we should be able to isolate the problem.

Just use the comments link below for your replies.

Readers, if you've got a Brother CP6500 and have suggestions, please use the 'Comments' link below to share them! We appreciate your help!


Julie Baird

Comments for Help! Free motion quilting stitch disaster!!

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free motion quilting disaster
by: Christine

I have had similar problems. Most have posted about the upper thread tension.

Have you tested the bobbin tension? When you thread the bobbin, hold it by just the thread and give a very slight dip or shake. Did the bobbin run away or not give any thread out at all?

If it ran away, it is too loose. If it didn't give at all it is to tight.

If you do not have a removable bobbin holder, look on the side where you drop the bobbin in. There should be a screw on the bobbin holder or on the machine where you drop the bobbin in. Very minor adjustments to this screw will change your bobbin tension.

Good luck,


Needle doesn't stay threaded
by: Jean

I am trying to do free motion quilting. when I start my needle disengages. I have my feed dogs down.

Is there supposed to be a big amount of space between the darning foot and bottom of machine when I lower it to sew?

Loop with free motion
by: Anna

My old machine was all loops underneath when doing free motion. Had no trouble for years before that.

Got a new Brother Sl300. Normal sewing is fine, no loops, but free motion is all loops again.

New needle, good threads and threading is done properly. It has a cover plate as the feed dogs don't drop. Short shank and I'm using a short shank darning foot. Very tight fit though.

Going crazy.

From the Editor: Hi Anna!

From what you wrote, I'm thinking two possibilities:

1) It may be the wrong foot or installed incorrectly. The foot should fit snug, but 'very tight fit' has me wondering.

2) Check that your bobbin is properly threaded and that the thread is in the tension spring.

Oops! Make that three things. Is the presser foot in the down position? I forget that everything once in awhile for free motion work and it definitely makes thread-throw-up on the bottom of your quilt sandwich.

Hope this helps,

Julie Baird

No stitches showing!! HELP
by: Anonymous

Hi, I am using my old Kenmore # 385 and got everything in place for FMQ, my stitch is set to zero, and tension is on 2. Seems like all is well, then I see O STITCHING!!

Why or how can that be???

feed dogs
by: Anonymous

Feed dogs down?

Reply: Yes, feed dogs down is the recommended position for free motion quilting.

That said, when I first started FMQing, I stumbled upon leaving the feed dogs up sometimes, because it felt like it was working better for me, like I had more control.

I think what's going on is as a new FM quilter there are just so darned many things to keep track of...EVERYTHING is new.

Feed dogs up reduces the space between the darning foot and bed of the machine. This creates a little friction or drag on the quilt sandwich which, in turn, helps to stabilize your movement of the quilt sandwich under the needle. Thus you feel like you have more control. That increases confidence and helps you/me to relax. All those things make for a better quilting experience.

Now that I've have more experience, I always put the feeddogs down.

If you are having problems, then try them up, see if that helps. There are no Quilt Police, no one is going to be looking over your shoulder and insisting that you do the 'only one right' way.

As I always say, there's more than one way to get things done in quilting!

~ Julie

Many thanks!
by: Janet

Thank-you so much for your help. I've been putting off going to my sewing room to practice free motion because I was so frustrated. (Quilting is so relaxing?)

So, I took all the advice...

First I picked a new spool of cotton thread, wound a new bobbin, re-threaded spool and bobbin, changed the needle (I probably bent it ripping the thread vomit out).

Ok, thread vomit again. SO, I did what I thought would not be the answer. I took the plastic feed dog cover off. I don't have a machine that drops the feed dogs, there's just a little plastic plate that pops in for free motion. TADA! I can easily move my quilt with the feed dogs working, and I believe it helps me with my stitch length. Thank-you so much.

Now I'm going to put the baby quilt on the machine instead of my practice fabric.


Reply It feels like this, doesn't it!

I'm so glad you didn't give up! Good job!

~ Julie

by: Janet

I've been practicing my free motion. I'll go a couple inches and everything is fine, then all of a sudden my needle is caught, and the thread is wound around the bobbin holder and there's loops on the wrong side. Why can I go for a while with everything fine, then it goes all wrong?

From the Editor: If it looks like 'thread vomit', then I'd completely re-thread the machine...needle and bobbin...when it's a nasty tangled mess, it usually means that the tension is too loose...the thread could have popped out of a tension guide or the tension discs for the needle, or not caught completely in the tension spring in the bobbin.

If that doesn't fix it, try doing some stitching with a regular presser foot and feed dogs up to see if the same thing happens. If it's still happening and you've rethreaded the machine, I'd take it in to the dealer. If the problem happens only when free motion stitching and you've rethreaded, then try a new needle...that pesky little thing is easily damaged and can cause a lot of problems. Next I'd try changing the speed I was moving the sandwich...probably slow it down a bit.

Let me know if any of these suggestions work and we'll go from there.


done it myself suzie australia

Make sure u put the foot lever down you still have 2 do it even if youre darning, when u drop the feed dogs always put the foot indown position good luck

Update to free motion disaster
by: Katherine


After I submittted my post for help, I did some more research and I found another site and this lady explains that she doesn't lower her feed dogs on 2 of her machines and her stitches are perfect, but on her other 2 machines she does. Anyways, I gave it one more try with my feed dogs up, tension back to normal and low and behold my stitches were normal with free motion, just like I was piecing.
Thanks so much for your help, but should anyone else be having problems and you've changed thread, needles, did the tension until you crazy, try not lowering your feed dogs and see if that helps! On my machine, with the free motion foot, my stitch automatically goes to 0, so I didn't have to do anything with that. Now hopefully I can figure out how to actually free motion, but practice always makes ya better.
Again, thanks and good luck everyone!!


I'm so glad it worked out for you! ~Julie

Free motion quilting stitch disaster
by: The Thread Lady

One of the first things that came to mind was to check and see if you are using a quilting needle and that it is the right size for the top thread. When you piece you use a sharps needle, when you quilt you use a quilting needle and when you use metallic thread you use a metallic needle. This is the way it has always been done. However, you can also use a topstitch needle for both quilting and metallic thread. In fact, there are titanium topstitch needles now that do the work of all three needles, so you only have to have one kind of needle on hand. Whenever I get a call for help about machine quilting the first thing I ask is what kind of needle they are using and if the size is right for the thread.

I also advise everyone to use a top quality thread. Whether you are quilting with polyester, rayon, cotton, etc. you should never use a bargain brand of any kind for anything you do on your quilt.

One of my small group friends called me a few weeks ago with this same problem. She is a very experienced quilter who used to own a long arm. We fiddled around with her machine until we got it to an acceptable stitch, but once that quilt was done (she was on a deadline) she took the machine to the dealer and found out she needed a new bobbin holder because hers was somehow damaged (probably just from long usage in her case). However, if the something is wrong with the bobbin holder you will never get good stitches. I have had to replace my bobbin holder a couple of times. It can just be from age, but it can also get damaged when thread gets caught in it and is removed or just from a broken needle hitting the bobbin holder and damaging it. The bobbin holder is usually not very expensive to replace and my advice is to take your machine to your dealer and have him look at what is happening to your stitches if everything else you are doing is right.

If you are using the right needle and good thread and all the fiddling you do with the tension and everything else (like taking off the foot and reattaching it to make sure it is put on correctly, which is another problem I have run in to) still doesn't fix it, then take it to your dealer or have a more experienced quilter you know come over and look at what is happening. These kinds of problems happen all the time and since you are new at free motion quilting you may not be able to diagnose what is wrong by yourself.

Take heart---quilting disasters happen to the most experienced quilters too. Libby Lehman (the diva of metallic thread and one of the best teachers I have ever taken a class from) just showed a picture on her Facebook page where her thread had somehow got wound around the handwheel of her machine. She showed a picture of it and I was amazed at how much thread was on it. And she hadn't noticed what was happening! She asked all of us if this had ever happened to them and only two people out of many, many quilters had ever had that happen. So remember that disasters happen to all of us!

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