Tension, With Swearing Alert

Okay, maybe I’ll keep it clean. We’ll see how it goes.

I am quilting today. This is the big-block project. I finished the top, all gazillion half-square triangles. I made a heavily pieced back, the better to use some of the worst “quilting” fabric I’ve ever owned, John Deere logo fabric. (Yeah, there’s a story to why buy it and why use it. Another time for that.) It’s a biggish quilt, 84″ square. That is 7,056 square inches.

Yesterday I finished loading the back. It took more than one try, because that pieced up section with the horrible John Deere fabric was saggier and baggier than any little elephant. (In fact, I got it to behave reasonably well by surrounding sections of terrible fabric with pieces of better quality. Even so, the pieced section made the whole thing harder to load. But I did it.)

After loading the back I cut and loaded batting. I pressed the top and loaded it, basting along the upper and side edges to secure it. I began quilting, a simple loops and stars free-hand pattern edge to edge.

It went well. Tension was great.

After getting two-thirds of the way done — fourย passes out of sixย — I quit for the day.

This morning I began again. The fifth pass was fine.

The final pass is where the swearing begins. In fact, halfway through the final pass. I figure I got about 6,468 square inches, almost 92% of the thing quilted before the tension started acting up. I heard something weird. It looked fine on top, but I stopped a little ways away and checked. Yep, underneath was a thread nest, a wad of loops. Tracking back farther, I could see there were more issues; it started before the funny noise.


Okay, I spent most of an hour picking out the worst of those stitches, the ones that happened after the funny noise. Most of an hour to pick out stitches that took about 30 seconds to put in. And I began again. It was better, not great.

Last pass, remember? I took the stitching to the bottom (near) edge and tied off. I went to the other side. Changed the bobbin, rethreaded the top, cranked the top tension down slightly… And still it’s making loops underneath.


Why does the tension change when I have NOT CHANGED THE TENSION?????

This has happened before, and frankly it pisses me off. I swear A LOT when this happens. I am not Zen about it. I do try to go about fixing in a calm and logical way. But how do you fix THIS?

Okay, not much swearing in this, but it was good to rant out loud. When I finally finish this thing (which in normal circumstances should take about 5 minutes of stitching) I will email the company and ask the machine guy. WHY??? And more importantly, how can I make it NEVER happen again?


36 thoughts on “Tension, With Swearing Alert

  1. snarkyquilter

    I feel for you. The issues you’ve had with your longarm are some of the reasons why I pay someone else to use their machine on my larger quilts. One thought, could it be uneven tension in winding your bobbins? Some people swear by prewound bobbins.

  2. KerryCan

    I hope you found catharsis in writing this–the whole thing sounds so frustrating! I’ve never tried machine quilting and never expect to. I find plenty to swear about with adding that to the mix!

  3. Lisa in Port Hope

    I had a similar problem on my domestic, and after changing the thread and bobbin didn’t help I put in a new needle. The old one could have a burr or be a tiny bit bent from hitting a seam wrong.

  4. ntexas99

    I’ve never tried machine quilting, but not too long ago I cobbled together several large dog beds for my arthritic old (big) dog. There was plenty of swearing during the process. Can’t explain why my tension sometimes does the same thing … tons of loopy loops, and a tangled mess, and invariably it’s when I’m trying to put in a zipper or attaching hook and loop tape so the covers can be removed to be laundered. So then you’ve got a ziggity-zaggity mess all tangled up in the hoop and loop tape, I ended up pulling it all out, and carefully (and very slowly) doing a flat stitch around the borders. But I still don’t know WHY it got all smooshy.

    Love those technical terms. Loopy loops, smooshy, and ziggity-zaggity. When Mom starts cussing, the dogs always get up and leave the room. Every time. Poor puppies. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Jim Ruebush

    I can verify there was indeed swearing. She came upstairs and went flat on the floor on her back. As she expressed her frustration, there were blue streaks flying about the room like sprites. Certain words were heard as they passed my ears. It was impressive.

  6. katechiconi

    It’s always the home run, isn’t it? The last section. The last line, the last few inches. As I’m not a longarmer, I cannot offer any better suggestions that those you’ve already seen. I can only offer supportive sympathy and fellow feeling from all the times when I’ve struggled to achieve a straight line in recalcitrant fabric, only to discover the bobbin thread ran out about an inch after I started the seam. Bad language ensues…..

  7. Shasta

    Ooh I do hope you figure out what caused the problem. It is probably something that happened while you were quilting – maybe the needle got nicked or the bobbin or thread wasn’t wound evenly. I say that as an expert who has never owned or used a long arm.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      mm, could be the needle I suppose. Probably not the bobbin, as it continued after I switched to a new full one. I also cleaned the lint out from the bobbin area and rethreaded the top. It stopped my progress for sure, but I’ll look at it again. Thanks.

  8. Lucie the Happy Quilter

    There’s nothing worse than being so near the finish line to find that the tension has gone to pot. And no I can’t tell you why. The only thing I can recommend try one remedy at a time so you will know which worked. I have moment when the air is blue with expletives at times due to tension issues. I hope you find the perfect solution to this problem.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Lucie. This has happened before. As you say, try one thing at a time. BUT rethreading, changing/checking on the bobbin, those are easy. Last time this happened, I did EVERYTHING one thing at a time. New needle, reset timing, etc. And in fact it was the tension disks had failed me. I think that is the problem this time, too. Biggest problem now is I don’t have much margin on the side to try stuff, to see what fixes it. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  9. Tamara Hutchinson

    I’m listening! I can’t tell you how to fix the problem b/c I don’t have this type of machine. But sometimes it’s good to just shout out loud and know that someone is listening. And sometimes I want a long arm but other times, I’m glad for one less machine to give me a fit. ๐Ÿ™‚


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