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Quilt is bunching up when I machine quilt

by Nancy

I am currently machine quilting a baby quilt. I have used a cotton batting and have used a quilt gun to secure the three layers. My machine tension is on 5.5 and the stitch width is at #3.

As I am quilting, I am having problems with the three layers bunching up so that I have to use something similar to a stiletto to flatten the layers.

When I finish a row, I look at the back to see that some of the quilting stitches are very very tiny, while others are at the correct length. I checked to see if this is happening when I sew over joined seams but it isn't. I am very frustrated. Any ideas? Thank you.


I understand your frustration! When you're so close to the end and these problems crop up, it just sucks all the fun out of quilting.

Let's go through the checklist and see if we can identify the source of the problem!

The Walking Foot

The very first thing I thought when I read of your plight was it could be the walking foot.

Is your sewing machine walking foot properly installed?

On my Viking Designer I, I usually reduce my presser foot pressure a number or two for machine quilting. (If you are free motion quilting with a darning foot the pressure setting is irrelevant because the foot either skims or hops along the quilt top.) Check your foot instructions to see if that may be the case.

Also, check that the arm or fork of the foot sits on top of or around the needle clamp screw. When this screw goes up, your foot should move accordingly. If the arm is underneath the screw, there is no "up-and-down" movement of the foot, and it cannot do its job to help feed the quilt sandwich through the sewing machine.

Finally, check to make sure your walking foot isn't broken. (I've had this happen and it took me a while to figure it out). Simply hold the foot in your hand and gently move the arm or fork up and down. The bottom of the foot should move. If nothing does, the foot it broken.

An even feed or walking foot is a mechanical foot and its moving parts can wear out from use, or in my case, I didn't handle is carefully enough when it wasn't attached to my machine.

A final thought, when using your walking foot the feed dogs are up, double check that, thought I think that it is really just an outside possibility.

For more information, see our Quilting Foot page.

Machine Quilting Thread

The only thing you don't mention in your description (and an EXCELLENT job, btw, of providing details!) is whether you are using monofilament thread. If you are, then a tension setting of 5.5 is probably too high. I usually reduce my tension by 1-2 numbers for this clear thread. I also use a nice 50 wt cotton in the bobbin with it.

Double check your thread spool and thread path. If your thread spool has a slit in the end, its possible your thread is snagging and then coming free. The easy fix is to make sure the spool end with the slit is on the right side as your spool sits on a horizontal spool pin.

Quilt Basting Gun

I use curved safety pins for quilt basting, but have used a basting gun in the past.

Are your quilt tacks close enough together. I shoot for 3"-4" apart, maximum. If you put your palm flat on the quilt sandwich, you should feel at least two tacks.

Have you used the small, short tacks. That way the quilt sandwich can't shift along the tack itself.

Your Sewing Machine Tension

I don't know if 5.5 is a standard tension setting for your sewing machine. If it is, quilting through the layers of a quilt sandwich actually adds some tension to the thread itself as you stitch. You might try reducing the tension by .5. Test on a practice sample and see what happens.

However, because you've said you'll have small stitches and then larger stitches, it sound more like your quilt is hanging up on something, and not the tension.

For more information, see our Sewing Machine Tension page.

Your Sewing Machine Table

When you're quilting your whole quilt should be supported on top of the flat surface surrounding the machine bed. Your sewing machine, by itself with no surround, sitting on a tabletop could be the problem. The bed of the machine isn't larger enough to support your hands while quilting a piece of any real size.

Having a table like a Sew Steady is good, a Sew Ezi portable sewing table is better, and a true cabinet that your sewing machine sits in is best. The reason is that your quilt has a larger and larger area to sit on.

Is it possible that your quilt is catching on whatever support you're using to hold it? If your quilt is hanging off the table, the tension is creates while hanging down could be creating the small stitches and then when you re-position the quilt, you've reduced that tension and the stitches go back to normal.

Nancy, I hope that one of these suggestions helps you solve the problem.

Readers, did I miss anything? Do join in with your own suggestions. We'd both appreciate it!


Julie Baird

Comments for Quilt is bunching up when I machine quilt

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Help to fix a bunching quilt
by: Rachel

Any suggestions on how to fix a quilt that is bunching/puckering after I've finished quilting it? I guess I didn't do a good job basting my layers together and things shifted. I haven't put on the binding either.

Would washing and drying the quilt tighten things up?

From the Editor: Without seeing the quilt as it is, I can only hazard a guess.

Washing will tease out any shrinkage in the materials used in your quilt. If you used a cotton batting, there's a good chance it'll have some shrinkage, too.

You'll end up with a 'crinkly' look to the finished project. 'Crinkly' equals well-loved!

A final piece of advice.

Don't point it out to anyone. We, quilters, have a terrible habit of pointing out everything we think is a mistake.

Please don't do that to yourself.

Instead, celebrate that you've FINISHED another quilt. (I am!) And I bet you've already got another one started, at least in your head.

Start that one in a positive frame of mind. Incorporate the lessons you've learned from your previous quilts. Move on and grow in your quilting!


Julie Baird

Those quilting tacks
by: Stephanie

I have a problem with the clear tacks from the quilt basting gun. As it is so easy to miss them as one is sewing, they can get jammed up on the feed dogs, whether they are engaged or not. As a result, I use the tacks to hold the quilt while I hand baste the old fashioned way, and feel the surface of the area to be quilted before I go to the machine. This is not a problem for hand quilting; this just comes up on the machine.

Once I removed the tacks, the problem stopped.

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