Tired of Tension; too new to think this is good


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Every time I change threads. Every time I change bobbins. Seriously. This shouldn't be so difficult. So frustrating. New quilt. Using Rainbow (Superior) and it breaks on top after just a few stitches. I've re threaded. Re needled. Alternate threaded. Cursed. And started all over again. Is there a simple way to get this to work? Millennium. Delivered in September . Less than 10 hours on. Have actually completed three quilts on it with relatively satisfactory results after much frustration. New quilt. Tension frustration has returned.

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Becky, you don't say whether you have had your free Beginner's Class nor whether you have an APQS rep anywhere near you. Perhaps a visit from a Rep would help narrow down whether this is a machine issue, a thread or threading issue, or a "user" issue....

Tension is a balancing act that can be quite frustrating at the start - it does get easier, though, so hang in there! As you've read in the posts above, there are many factors which contribute to tension issues and thread breakage. If you visit Dawn Cavanaugh's "Quilt Talk" columns on the APQS website, you'll find some very helpful articles on tension and thread breakage. And this site is one of the very best resources!;)

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Do you have a cone of So Fine or some Signature cotton? Those two brands seem to be the most forgiving--at least when I started quilting. Rainbows is very machine-specific--some love it and can get it to work well and others have to fuss with it.

I echo Barb's good advice about finding someone to give you some hands-on help. Then experience and trial and error will help you find tension you can live with.

My main advice is to get the "feel" for the proper tension. When you bring up the bobbin thread to begin stitching, pull on both threads individually. The force needed to pull the top thread through the needle should feel exactly the same as the force it takes to pull the bobbin thread coming through the fabric sandwich. If one is much tighter, either loosen that thread tension or tighten the opposite thread tension. It's not fool-proof, but gives you a place to start. Do a practice stitch-out to check again and adjust more if necessary.

Non-matching threads require more tweaking.

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Hi Becky.

First, let me say that Rainbows is not the "beginner" thread of choice. It's beautiful and I love quilting with it, but it's not the best one to learn how to get tension "just right"

If possible, can you put a practice piece on the frame and load So Fine on the top and So Fine in the bobbin and just practice with those threads only. After you start "getting it" and confidence is built up then move to the more challenging threads like King Tut and Rainbows.

This is what I do to get my tension just right.

OK I am going to explain this to you: FIRST you set your bobbin tension. LAST you set your top thread tension.

Bobbin tension: I don't have a "towa" gauge I just use the "spider drop" test for my bobbins. I insert bobbin and hold in left hand and pick up tail with right fingers (do this over a table or quilt so you don't drop bobbin on floor!!!) and as you pick up the bobbin from your palm, it should start to roll and slide easily. Roll slow and drop down steady like a spider. If it doesn't roll or drop down it is TOO TIGHT and you need to make very small incremental adjustments until the tension spring rolls smoothly. After you get that set and you are happy, put it in the machine.

Top Tension: You run this through the top tension and guides and needle as normal and I usually pull on the thread and look at my tension disks and adjust until the spring is bobbing smoothly around 8:00 on the clock when pulling gently and evenly on the thread. Then I use a scrap quilt sandwich and I run the machine to test stitches. I ONLY TOUCH THE TOP TENSION KNOB!! NO MORE TOUCHING BOBBIN. I run a few test stitch lines and feel the stitching. I can see the bobbin thread barely peeking up through the hole that the needle makes, that is the goal. If I don't see the bobbin thread, I tighten top a bit; if I see too much bobbin thread, I loosen the top. Easy easy. You will get it...just keep practicing and playing. Pretty soon you will "get it" and the rest is history!!!

Usually (and I truly say 99.9999999% of the time) our top tension is not tight enough. Top tension needs to be tight to the point that it is close to breaking stage. If you keep your top tension as tight as possible, and your bobbin thread loose so it rolls smoothly dropping down at a slow rate, this will alleviate most of your issues.

Do you have any Sewer's aid to drip on the thread? What size needle are you using? is it a new needle? Is your machine clean, no fuzz or dust?

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  • 4 weeks later...

I am happy with the Glide threads I just got for free in the mail. The Magna-Glide bobbins are lovely and I have not changed anything between the last quilt, which was looping occasionally on the back, with King Tut on top and Bottom Line in bobbin. I even left in the needle...So the Glide thread was Sand colored and so were the Magna-Glide bobbins (20 L's). All free, and just arrived as a introduction to the Company. I am thrilled that it can be that easy. I did take out my tension spring from the bobbin since the magnet in the new bobbins core does that function.

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Becky, I have had my Millenium 2 years.....and have felt your pain! It happened to me with rainbows..... Also hidden piece od thread, lint, not enough oil, the threading process. Etc etc etc... Just hang in there. Love glide thread made by FilTec. They have a website. And the so fine in the bobbin has worked well, the bottom-line in good too but you can't see it as well. I am going to take a class in Kansas city in may on perfect tension ..... Rick Taylor is teaching it..

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I know what you are going through. I had some trouble in the beginning, but then it was just fine for almost 4 years. Now, suddenly, I am having aweful tension issues! I mainly use So Fine thread and now nothing I do has fixed the problem. This has been going on for a week now, maybe a bit longer. It is very frustrating!!! I've tried numerous different threads on top and in the bobbin, tried a Magna Glide pre-wound that I received as a sample, rethreaded numerous times and changed the number of holes I wove the top thread through, replaced my bobbin case, of course cleaned, cleaned and cleaned my bobbin area, tried new needles from 3 different packages, blown out the area repeatedly, and oiled repeatedly.

Now I am waiting for a service call from Dave Jones, but due to his busy schedule he can't come until after MQX (after April 14th). I've returned all of my customer quilts, except for one that will go back tomorrow, all to be done by other quilters in the area. I am really upset about this, but I seemed to have tried everything, including reading the manual again and talking to my rep.

I guess my advise is to keep trying everything that people suggest and if it is a "newby" problem, you'll get it worked out, or maybe you need a service call, too. Good luck.

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Ohmagosh Sandra! That is awful that you had to put your business on hold because of this! Isn't there a rep close to you who can come and help?

If you have intermittent tension problems (stitches OK for a while or occasional loopies top or bottom) then the thread is hanging up somewhere. Not enough to break the thread but enough to tighten it on one side and ruin the tension. Check for grooves in your pigtails. Look for something that may snag the thread--even a burr on the cone. I make sure when using the nylon thread socks over a cone that the sock sits below the "shoulder' of the thread--sometimes the thread will snag on the top of the sock as it feeds off. Check that your hook retaining finger is positioned correctly--if it is too far in the slot the bobbin thread can catch as it travels around the assembly. Check the needle depth and as a last resort, replace the bobbin assembly--which means re-timing of course.

Start the investigation with your friendliest thread--the ones that have always worked for you. Mine are SoFine cones and BL bobbins. And use the 4.0 recommended needle size as well. I assume when you tried the Magna-glide bobbins you removed the backlash spring--and then replaced it when you went back to regular bobbins? Just asking all the obvious questions here!:)

Please describe the problem tension so we can narrow it down a bit. I feel for you!

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Sandra, Myna isn't very far away. I dont know if she could/can fix it, and even I would have come down with my box of parts. You very well could be needing a new tension spring or something fairly minor. Also I would have sent it back to the factory before giving all the quilts back. I'm so sorry you are going through this.

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Thanks, Linda.

It is happening with all the threads I've tried which are So Fine (the main one I use), Rainbows and Glide. I did take out the backlash spring when I used the Magna Glide bobbin. I also put in a new bobbin case when I was using my turbo wound bobbins, just in case the backlash spring was "old." I use the 4.0 needles and replaced them several times with brand new needles from different 10 packs and 2 different purchases, and they are the APQS recommended needles, not titanium or other.

It seems that I can be sewing along just fine and then the bobbin thread flat-lines, then goes back to looking good. I have 2 quilts from my last customer to re-do the problem areas. I thought I looked them over well enough before delivering them, but when she put them on her dining room table (great lighting)and looked over the stitches, she found quite a few areas where the tension wasn't good. That was the one with SoFine in the bobbin and Rainbows in the top. But, next she looked at the one with So Fine in both the top and the bobbin and the problems were there, as well. She handed them both back to me to fix. That was a week ago - last Friday.

I need to contact her and give her my time frame to have my machine serviced. The Rainbows quilt is hers, so that might be OK to wait on, but the other quilt, a huge queen she pieced for her sister-in-law (her husband's brother) out of the deceased BIL's dress shirts from work. The SIL is waiting for my customer to get it back and bind it. My customer is getting paid $600 to piece and bind it plus I am getting paid $.02 per sq. in. to quilt it. The lady is paying out some bucks for this quilt and it needs to be done the right way.

I spoke to my rep and her suggestion was to switch to the Magna Glide bobbins, but the sample one did not fix the problem. Plus, since I had years of good tension when winding my own, I felt that was not my answer. She also suggested the tension disk assembly was not working correctly. I plan to contact the service dept as APQS and discuss this with them and probably order a new tension disc assembly.

I was going to send my machine back to the factory for a spa treatment in June (since I will be on vacation for two weeks-it seemed like a good time to do it), but when I spoke to Dave Jones and bought lights from him, he said he would make a house call and also put on new M&M wheels if I wanted to purchase them, balance my frame and do a complete system check-up. That sounded great to me. So, I ordered the M&M wheels from APQS and some parts and greese that Dave put on my "shopping list." I'm ready for him when he comes in April.

In the mean time, I'll order the new tension disc and install it. I did it about 2 years ago, so I think I can do it again. Maybe that will solve my problem. Or, when I call APQS, they may have another solution.

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Sandra, definitely call APQS - talk to Dawn or Amy and let them know what you're going through. Talk to them before you start ordering replacement pieces.

Are you breaking thread or is it just the flatlining of the bobbin thread? Off the top of my head, it sounds like the bobbin thread is catching somewhere. If you've changed bobbin cases with the same result, then that pretty much eliminates the bobbin case tension finger, always my first thought in cases like this. But humor me, and check under the tension finger of both those cases.......

Next up would be some sort of snag/burr in the hook assembly, catching the bobbin thread but not enough to break it. I'm assuming you've carefully examined your hook assembly, both by eye and with a piece of panty hose or something else that would catch on a burr.

Linda R. may be right - you should double check the position of the hook retaining finger. If it's too snug in its slot, it could cause problems with the tension.

Can you post photos of the tension problems you're experiencing? I can't imagine making you wait until Dave comes in April to have your machine running properly again!!!:o

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Thanks, Barb.

No breaks, just intermitant flat-lining on the back.

I haven't tried the panty hose yet, but I will. I'm not always sure of what I'm really looking at, but will know if the panty hose snags.

I'm not sure about the hook retaining finger. I'll need to get out the manual and see if there's a picture in there of how it should look and compair it to how mine looks.

Great suggestions!!! I really appreciate your help.

I'm having problems posting pictures, but will take a pix with my BB and e-mail it to you.

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I'm with Barb....there isn't a reason in this world for you to wait till April. Your actual tension wheels shouldn't fail in two years, but tension springs or the inside springs can. I like Barb have a complete set of parts just for times like this. Have toolbox and a suv that loves to travel. Send Barb or post pictures.

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