Tag Archives: Longarm tension

Cheshire Cat?

Now you see her, now you don’t? Yes, that’s me! Two weeks ago I opted out of my own 30-day challenge, stopping at 20 days in a row of blogging. And since then was Thanksgiving, with several days of family fun. Besides that, I’ve been trying to finish some projects — don’t know if you know this, but the end of 2017 is rolling right up! (And not a moment too soon, huh? Heckuva a year, and not all in the good way…)

Right now I have three quilts in progress. Two are from my medallion class. Christmas Is Coming! needs binding attached.

The other is the bear’s paw quilt, which is still on the frame. Well, in fact, it is AGAIN on the frame. It is again on the frame because I’m having thread tension trouble on my longarm. Remember this?

This was the worst of it, but not the last of it. After struggling with getting the tension settings improved, I decided to take the quilt off the frame and putting a testing sandwich on. Prior to taking it off, I basted all the way around the edge, and also used great big stitches to baste through the body of the quilt. The basting stabilized the piece, so layers would stay put for returning to the frame later.

My test sandwich got covered with stitching. I managed to get the top and bottom tension adjusted well, but still had intermittent messy looping areas on the back. When the tension is BAD and there is looping, it’s because the tension is bad. When the tension is GOOD and there’s looping, it’s often because the thread is catching somewhere, like a rough spot in the thread path. I’ve done this long enough to know some of the places to look. (I have a long list of them, if you are interested.) I worked through all those things that I could. While it improved, it still wasn’t as good as it should be.

I called the company and spoke with the head technician. He agreed I’d done all the right things and asked me to bring the machine to the factory. Fortunately, that’s only about a half hour away from me, so I took it the same day. After two hours working with a technician, the best we could come up with was replacing an inexpensive part, the last thread guide above the eye of the needle.

Before returning to my bear’s paw project, I wanted to test it again on something small. Son’s fiancee likes seasonal decorating and I hoped to make a table runner for her for Christmas. I figured that would be a good project to test quilt. After all, if there was looping on the back, it wouldn’t matter. When used as intended, no one would see the back!

I tend to make things more, rather than less complicated. So I had to fight my instincts and make this a simple project. I made three puss-in-the-corner blocks with fussy-cut centers. (Yeah, I couldn’t go all the way to simple!) I set them on point and framed them with a border. I had a piece of appropriate fabric for the back. So I loaded it all up and quilted it.

(There is more to the story of how the quilting went and what happened next. That part of the story will come later this week.)

The last step on the table runner was the binding. I had just the right amount of just the right fabric. However, when it came to attaching it, I wasn’t sure how! All my quilts prior to this have had squared 90° corners. This also had 45° angles. Have you used them before, or other angles than 90°?

This morning I watched a video tutorial that explained how.

Here is my finished table runner.

The table runner has the edge of red binding. Underneath it is another quilt on the table.

Taking a couple of extra minutes to fussy cut the centers made these simple blocks look fancy.

Can you see the figure-8 Christmas tree stitched into this setting triangle? Another easy way to make an easy project look more intricate.

I’m off and running again. Thanks for reading! I always read comments and try to respond promptly. If I don’t get back to you soon, it’s because I’m offline. See you soon!

Tension, Chapter 2: The Unstitching

Today is a whole new day. This morning I spoke with the machine guy at Nolting, Dan Novak. Dan and I have chatted before. He is unfailingly helpful, even when the help isn’t what I want to hear. (For example, “The machine isn’t the problem,” as said a few years ago when I had a different model than I own now.)

Today Dan said that, like any other machine, my longarm needs some maintenance. After all, I’ve had this machine for more than four years, and I’ve probably quilted 80 or more quilts on it, most of them biggish. (By my figurin’, I’ve covered about 2000 square feet with quilting, or about the footprint of a typical house in the US.) In particular, I need to start by smoothing the tension disks with a piece of emery cloth. If that doesn’t work, I may need a new tension assembly, but we’ll cross that river when we get to it.

As it turns out, I don’t have a piece of emery cloth. Tomorrow I have a bunch of errands planned, and the hardware store will be on the list.

In the meantime, there is ALWAYS plenty to do. (Say it with me, friends: “There is ALWAYS plenty to do!”) Besides paying bills, making apple sauce, doing my nails, sweeping floors, reading, writing blog posts, and the like, I also have some work to do on the quilt project. Unstitching.

Yes, some people call it “ripping,” and some people call it “frogging” (similar theory — rip it, rip it!) I always call it “unstitching.” Sort of like I always call pantyhose “stockings.” It just sounds nicer to me. I’m weird that way.

Unstitching is a part of quilting. The fact of it does not bother me. The fact that there is SO MUCH is kind of a pain. Literal pain. Leaning over the quilt frame to pick tiny stitches kind of pain. Bent back, twisted neck kind of pain.

There are ways to make it easier. First, roll the quilt forward so the area to be picked is close. There’s no need to reach or lean very far. (Don’t worry, you can roll it back when it’s cleaned up.) Then pull up a stool. Sit. Use good tools. My two favorite tools are these:


That’s a Clover seam ripper and a Fiskers blunt-tipped children’s school scissors. Another help, if you have a large section to unstitch, is a way to mark the bad area. I used a couple of long straight pins as flags. But I also thought marking the area with blue tape, like marking a crime scene for a dead body would work, too.

Once the unstitching is done, there is another task. I will sew a piece of muslin along the bottom edge of my backing. The longarm can make that stitch. It won’t matter if there is loopiness and bad tension. Once the muslin is sewn on, I’ll unpin the quilt backing from the frame’s leader on the frame front. (If you don’t use a longarm, you may be unfamiliar with the terms. The leader is the piece of canvas I’ve attached the backing to, to create the bottom of the quilt sandwich.) Then I’ll pin the muslin to the leader, extending the backing or bottom layer. This will give me space to test my stitch tension after I’ve smoothed the disks and rebuilt the tension assembly.

Only then will I take the tension assembly apart.

Say it again, friends: There is ALWAYS plenty to do!

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 — four passes out of six — 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?

I have clamps!

No. NOT cramps. CLAMPS!

My long-arm quilting system consists of the machine and frame. When a quilt is loaded on the frame, the layers are stretched between the take-up roller at the back and the “belly” bar at the front. Those provide even tension at the back and front of the frame. However, to get a smooth quilting surface, I also need to apply tension on the sides.

The system came with two clamps per side, and they have quite a grip! The mouth of each is about 1″ across and coated with orange vinyl, giving a smooth texture that doesn’t snag.

I wondered, though, if I’d have better results with wider-mouthed clamps. A wider mouth would distribute the tension more smoothly.

There a few clamping systems out there. One that seemed simple is similar in nature to what I have, but with a broader grip. The Grip-Lite brand has a 6″ mouth. It’s sold in-house by my long-arm dealer, as well as at retailers. It’s also $27 per pair (and can be found elsewhere for somewhat less.) That’s $54 for 4, which is the number I would need.

It’s no secret: I am frugal. If I can pay less for something, I’m glad to do so. I looked around, looked at other methods and tools. I looked at the hardware store and the office supply store.

Ultimately, I bought chip clips. You read that right. Chip clips. They have a 6″ mouth and cost $4. For 4 of them. Yep, that’s it. A dollar each.

The original clamp on the right. The chip clip (held by the original) on the left.

As far as I can tell, the Grip-Lite’s main advantage over this is there is no more need for the original clamps, as they come with their own Velcro strap. Other than that, they’re the same.

So why pay $50 more? I didn’t. I won’t.

I have clamps, which distribute the layer tension better than I had before. And they cost me $4.

What great, cheap solutions have you found to some of our quilting problems? I’d love to hear your stories.