This post contains affiliate links for which I receive compensation

Problems machine quilting with decorative stitches

by Mandy

Since I was a teenager I have made many quilts on my first very basic machine. Using it I quilted along the seams of the top.

Recently, I decided to purchase a machine with more features, primarily for the "quilting and decorative stitches". I chose a Brother SQ-9000 which showed hearts and clovers and leaves and all kinds of other pretty things in the stitches and came with an instructional DVD. The DVD didn't really go into how to use those stitches and neither did the book and when I tried to figure it out on my own I didn't get anything that looked like any of those designs.

How do I get some of these designs in my quilting?


I'm going to address two different aspects of your question—first, for using decorative stitches to machine quilt and then for using them for decorating fabric.

For Machine Quilting

If you are using these decorative stitches for machine quilting try these following suggestions. (I am assuming that you installed the walking foot that came with this machine according to the instructions and have made any recommended adjustments to your machine's settings.)

Always test after every tweak...

Create a practice quilt sandwich from leftover materials from your quilt. It doesn't have to be pretty or big, just large enough to stitch some lines of quilting. If you have to do a lot of testing/fine tuning, you'll need a bigger sandwich.

Adjustments to your machine setup...

First, I'd increase your stitch length and width, small increases. Because your decorative stitch is also holding the layers of the quilt sandwich together and not just 'decorating' your fabric, the design may get lost in the loft of the batting. The higher the loft (thickness) of your batting, the harder it will be to get the design to show.

Next, reduce your needle tension. Just teeny-tiny adjustments if your tension already looks balanced (meaning no bobbin thread shows on the top and no needle thread shows on the bottom). Adjust and test until the stitch is just balanced.

Now use your speed control slider to reduce the maximum sewing speed. You'll have more control while stitching, and it is usually recommended to slow your speed for decorative patterns.

Now the presser foot pressure is not adjustable on this machine and reducing the pressure may make it easier to stitch these patterns. These programmed stitches move the fabric in several directions and not just straight forward through the machine. This has a tendency to push more of the top fabric in front of the presser front, creating a 'bubble of fabric'.

This bubble may distort how the final stitch looks and will create a tuck if left unchecked.

To compensate, after quilting for a bit, stop with the needle in the down position through the quilt sandwich. Then simply raise and lower the presser foot. This will release any 'pillow' or 'bubble' of fabric that might form in front of the walking foot. Needle down will maintain your place in the pattern. Then continue stitching. Do this every so often and see if it has any effect on your results.

For decorative stitching...

The key to using decorative stitches is to stitch on a fabric that is stable enough to hold up to the density of the stitches. Some fabrics will be just fine as is.

My experience with our 100% cotton quilting fabrics is that most are too light to 'look pretty' without a bit of help, and that help's name is 'STABILIZER'.

You'll find many brands and types of stabilizers at your local fabric stores (the big box stores should also have an ample selection). There are tearaways, washaways, rinsaways, fusibles, pressure sensitives. It can be confusing but just keep in mind, their sole purpose is to beef up your original fabric so that the stitches look nice.

You can also use starch. A good application or two may be all you need and you may have starch sitting around the house. Check out this page on how to starch quilt fabric. The nice thing about starch is that it washes out easily.

(Just a simple warning if you're tempted to use something like Xerox paper as a's going to be harder to tear out, more likely to distort those stitch patterns you want to create.)

Mandy, I hope these suggestions help you with your problem.

Readers, if you have more suggestions, please do add them with the 'comment' link below. Thank you.


Julie Baird

Comments for Problems machine quilting with decorative stitches

Click here to add your own comments

Learn as I go
by: Melissa

When you pull up the bobbin thread at start and end. What do you do w them? What’s the next best step?

I'm looking forward to trying this out this weekend, on a quilt. I have two full rows of 8 in blocks with only buttons in the centers. I realized I still needed to quilt some more. Great opportunity to use these fancy stitches. Something simple. I have a Brother SQ9285.


From the Editor: If you start your line of quilting with micro-stitches (30ish to the inch for a 1/4") then you can trim off the ends.

If you didn't, then after you've quilted awhile, you'll need to go back with a hand sewing needle, knot the thread tails together, close-to but not quite at the quilt top, and then pop this knot into the quilt in between the layers.

I hope this helps.


Julie Baird

by: Anonymous

What type of thread can be used for decorative machine quilting?

From the Editor: Mostly it depends on your needle particular the eye. If you can thread it through the needle and not have it shred or break as you stitch, you can quilt with it.

YOU have to be happy with the results!


Julie Baird

Decorative stitches
by: Anonymous

I have the brother SQ9000 and the directions booklet says not to use the walking foot with decorative stitch only use it on straight and zig-zag stitches.

From the Editor: Yes, I suspect that many will have that instruction in them. If you look at how the walking foot works, it would seem that it does its best work with stitches with all forward motion. The bottom of the foot is acting just like an extra pair of feed dogs to pull the quilt sandwich through the machine.

However, there are directions for a 'mock' hand quilting stitch done on the machine. The stitch is made with one of the specialty stitches that does go backwards and forwards. By jimmying the tension, the 'mock' stitch is formed. Viking, I know, talks about it. It uses the walking foot for a stitch that goes backwards.

If you do want to try it, then just set your machine at a slower speed so that you are in complete control.

The other thing that may be of concern is that the opening in the walking foot may be smaller than the width of some of the decorative stitch patterns that are out there. Hand walk your machine through a couple of the stitch patterns to make sure that your needle doesn't smack the metal of the foot on the way down and break.

Do what you feel comfortable with. It's your machine.


Julie Baird

Click here to add your own comments

Return to GQP's Quilting Forum.

This article was printed from

Print Article

Follow Us