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Quilting on a new sewing machine for the first time - help!

by Gwen
(Binscarth, MB Canada)

I am sewing with a recently purchased Bernina 550QE and although I have not yet mastered the free motion (which I really hope to one of these days!!) I am trying to quilt my quilts with the walking foot - it makes a real clunking noise when quilting (but not when piecing) - so I am wondering if there is a proper needle size I should be using - I was using a 70/10 and have just changed to an 80/12 not much difference.

Also I just moved the tension from 4.5 to 6 - does that seem normal (the stitches were looping in the back). I am sewing with a stitch length of 3 - is that about the right length? I know sorry for all the questions but any answer would be so much appreciated.

I have really paid far too much for this machine to start sending my quilts out again.


Congratulations on your new machine! You are so lucky!

It will take awhile as you get to know your machine and how it sounds when it is a happy-camper. But we can get these basics covered for you!

Install the walking foot correctly

First, double check that the walking foot has been installed properly.

The 'clunking sound' phrase in your question makes me wonder if the arm or fork of the foot is under the needle should ride on top so that the foot moves up and down in conjunction with the raising and lowering of the feed dogs.

If the foot isn't moving up and down, I suspect that the arm is underneath the needle screw. I suggest de-installing and re-installing the foot step-by-step with the instructions close at hand.

Your instruction manuals for both your foot and machine will be your best friends in these early days. And don't be timid about writing your personal notes right in the manuals. It took me a long time to do that, but it's so much more helpful to have every setting written in one place, instead of on a bunch of sticky-notes or note cards.

Needle size

The size of your needle will have more to do with the size of your thread than that you're stitching a quilt.

I tend to use a 70/10 Microtex Sharp for most of my quilting because I like to use the finer threads.

If I'm using a monofilament or 100wt silk thread, I go down to a 60/8, again a Microtex Sharp. The eye of the needle should be about 2 to 3 times the size of the thread. That way the thread will flow through the needle without too much friction on it. Too much friction will increase your tension and eventually cause your thread to shred and/or break. Yuck!

The size of the needle shouldn't be affecting the workings of the walking foot.

Other quilters will prefer either a Quilting Needle or a Topstitching Needle. They both get the job done. After you're comfortable with your machine, it really comes down to a personal preference and what you've got handy.

Sewing Machine Tension

Check the instructions that came with your walking foot. There can be a number of adjustments that you need to make to your machine before you start quilting with it.

For instance, on my Viking D1 (which is now about 13 years old--time flies!) I need to reduce my presser foot pressure, reduce the tension a bit and increase the stitch length to 2.5 to 3.0. (Personally I like 2.5 or 2.0 if I'm using a finer thread.)

I also set the 'Fabric Selector' to a heavy woven fabric setting.

Then I test these settings on a scrap quilt sandwich.

Every time.

I'll test the tension settings, the thread colors and types and the stitch length to see if it's giving the effect I was after. Once I'm satisfied, then and only then, do I move to my 'real' quilt.

Since the stitches are looping on the back, I'm assuming that either the tension is too loose for your needle or you've missed a thread guide somewhere.

Sometimes if you've missed the tension spring in the bobbin case, you'll end up with thread-vomit on the back of your quilt. You'll know it when you see it; the term is VERY descriptive!

The final possibility is that your presser foot isn't in the down position, but that's a more common problem with free motion quilting because of the way the needle and foot are positioned for that technique.

I hope that this helps clear up at least some of your problems. You WILL get through them!

Readers, your comments and experiences are most welcome, especially if you're familiar with the Bernina 550QE. Thank you.


Julie Baird

Comments for Quilting on a new sewing machine for the first time - help!

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Free motion quilting on Berrnina
by: Anonymous

I bought one of the first Bernina machines with a stitch regulator, a 440. For YEARS I was unhappy with the stitch, tried all sorts of tension tricks, had it in to three Bernina dealers hoping to find a tech who could fix the problem.

Then one day I stumbled across a little note in a square box in a how-to book about feathers, and WOW! It said to use a straight-stitch plate. No techie had ever told me that.

Worked like a charm, no more problems with wonky loopy stitches.

From the Editor: It's amazing, isn't it, how sometimes the simplest thing can have the biggest impact.

I agree, quilting with a straight stitch throat place makes for better quality stitches and fewer tension problems.


Julie B

by: Cortin

Well this sewing machine is going to be of good use to the people once you get the hang of it. The new fully automated stitch modes are so easy and simple to work with for trained people.

My mom is impressed with her SINGER.

Thank You
by: Gwen

Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions! I have taken the walking foot off and put it back on numerous times and it does go along smoothly for about a minute then back to the clunking so I know that something isn't right just haven't figured it out yet.

This is a wonderful place to find answers to my many questions.

Lots to learn so I will be back often. Thanks again.


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