Tired of Tension; too new to think this is good


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I feel your pain, when I was a newbie I almost gave up my Millenium, could not get my thread issues fixed.

Just hang in there, it will get better. The posts in this chatroom will help you for sure, we have a group of very good, kind & giving LONGARMERS.

A friend of mine who bought a freedom also bought several bobbin cases for each kind of bobbin thread.

Corey

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Sandra,

You're doing all the right things to deal with the tension. Here are some other things that can cause the flatlining and what you can do about it. Keep in mind that you may be to the point where the "spa" treatment is the best solution (we're currently booking appointments for the last week in February.)

Carefully check the hopping foot height. Turn the fly wheel until the needle is as low as possible. Then slide a single business card under the foot from all angles. It should feel snug, but shouldn't cause the card to crinkle up. If you can't feel any resistance, the foot should be lower. Here's the important part when you have flatlining....make sure the foot is "level". If one side feels tighter under the card than the other, it causes problems during the stitch formation since the foot will hold on to one side of the fabric longer, flexing the needle. If it isn't level, remove the needle and then insert a flat blade screwdriver into the center of the foot and gently pry up the low side. Check again until it is perfectly level.

Check the tension check spring. When you pull thread through the tension disks (pull the thread through the needle's eye), it should pull down to about 9:00 and then bounce back up to a resting place of about 11:00 for the bottom "U" shaped area. If it has lost its resiliency then it can be tightened slightly, or it may need to be replaced. Your manual should have instructions about "tension control disassembly and maintenance" but if it doesn't, send me an email and I'll send you an attachment.

Next double check that the 3-hole guide directly next to the tension assembly is still pointing to 8:00 and is "firm" there. If it has swung down lower than that your tension will be inconsistent as it allows the top thread to slip in and out of the disks without you knowing it.

Next re-visit the timing. Normally timing problems will not cause flatlining and tension issues. However, if by chance something has happened to slightly alter the hook rotation or needle depth, then the result would be poor quality stitches. Normally something nasty has to happen to throw the timing out, such as really breaking a needle hard, jamming a needle, etc. So while I don't suspect you'll find a problem here, it never hurts to re-check. Again, I can send you an email file with lots of photos if you need it.

Next check for hook shaft collar play. Your hook rotates on a shaft that runs through the length of the machine. That shaft rides inside a brass bushing between your hook and the gearbox. A "collar" keeps the shaft in place so that the shaft can't slide forward and backward. The collar rests right next to that bushing, just behind the hook assembly. Over time, a the shaft rotates, that collar wears down the brass bushing just enough that a little air space develops between the collar and the bushing. This allows the shaft to move slightly forward and backward, subtly changing the timing on the machine in certain instances. If you find "play" it is something you can fix.

Then check your needle bar bushings (now we're getting into things that cause the problem but typically require a trip back home to the factory to repair.) Let the machine "warm up" for 10-15 minutes by sewing by itself in manual mode off the fabric (of course remove the top and bobbin thread). To check the bushings, stop the machine and remove the needle if you haven't already done so. Next, turn the fly wheel until the needle bar is down, and then grab the needle bar itself and try to wiggle it forward and backward, and left and right. If you feel wiggle or hear clicking, then the bushings are worn down. That allows your needle bar to wander around when you move the machine, again causing the needle to flex and not form stitches properly.

There is also something inside the machine called a "rocker assembly" that makes your hopping foot and needle bar work in sync to form each stitch. If the rocker assembly begins to wear, it will affect the stitch quality.

Of course, the last but obvious thing you have checked already is the actual tension settings. Whenever I have railroad tracks on the back, I first try to determine if it is from directional tension. In other words, do you only see it when you move the machine in certain directions or is it all over?

Directional tension is most common when moving the machine to the left or away from you when you stand on the freehand side of the machine (or when you move it to the right and toward you if you're on the back of the table doing a pantograph). If you see the flatlining in those directions, then you're suffering from "directional tension" issues. While there's a lot we can do to minimize its effect, sometimes there's no guarantee it will be completely gone. That's because we are asking a sewing machine to do something it was never designed or intended to do. It's the nature of a sewing machine, and why your stitches look better in one direction than the other. The needle and hook work in tandem to form a stitch. If the needle bends away or moves out of alignment, it doesn't have enough time to "straighten up" and tug the bobbin thread up into the quilt layers. It's often bending at an angle and it doesn't have enough oomph to tug the bobbin up completely before it's time to take another stitch.

Here are some things that affect directional tension (caused by needle flex) and what we can do about it:

1. the speed you move....the faster you move, the more the needle flexes. So, slow down and give the needle a chance to straighten up with each stitch.

2. The direction you move (already discussed)

3. The size of your needle (that's why we send out machines with a 4.0 needle--it's big, but it reduces flexing. Smaller needles naturally bend/flex more, which increases directional tension issues--especially if you are a "fast" quilter)

4. The thickness of your thread (you are not using thread too thick for the needle (4.0). But since I'm on a roll and others may read this, the thicker your thread is, or the coarser it is (such as cotton) the more it will pull on the needle. The more it pulls the needle, then the more the needle flexes. And the more flatlining you'll get. Use the appropriate needle size with thick thread, and try going up a size if you encounter troubles.

5. Thickness/composite of the batting--the thinner and denser the batting is, the harder it will be to have balanced stitches 100% of the time. With little air space to shoot for, and with the needle dancing all over, it's hard for the needle to find the middle of the batting. For greater success, use a lofted batting or a blend, especially if you're trying to use two different colors of thread on the top and bottom. In addition, if the batting is "dense" such as Warm and Natural, it causes the needle to work very hard to pierce the batting AND the fabric.

6. The tautness of your fabric---the tighter the quilt sandwich, the harder it will be to balance tension. Tight quilts take out the air space between the layers left in the batting by smooshing it down. They also make the needle flex more, like you're stitching through the skin of a drum. Loosen up.

7. Your stitch length. -- longer stitches mean the needle has to drag the thread a long way before penetrating the fabric again. It gives the thread a chance to pull the needle away from the hook and cause railroading. Shorten the stitch length (try 11-12 when you're battling flatlining.)

8. Fabric make up and condition--tightly woven fabric like batik will cause needle flexing more than traditional cotton fabric, as will unwashed fabric or fabric with a finish. The sizing tends to hold the fibers more rigidly and makes the needle work harder to penetrate the layers.

9. Tension settings. If the top tension and bobbin tension are both running on the "tight" side of things, their battle for dominance causes the needle to whiplash in different directions once the quilter changes directions. Try loosening the bobbin tension to almost nothing (let the bobbin zing to the floor) as well as the top tension. Then start tightening the top tension a little at a time. See if you can cause the problem to live on the TOP side of the quilt by pulling the bobbin up to the quilt surface. If you can, then slightly loosen the top tension once you do, to allow the bobbin thread to fall back into the quilt layers. It may be necessary to also tighten the bobbin tension slightly to prevent loops.

If I can find your email address, Sandra, I'll send the documents I've referenced to you now. If you try these things and discover that there's wear and tear (such as the needle bar) then give us a call to set up a spa treatment. I hope you can get things readjusted until you have more time in June to do the spa treatment, but if not, we'll work together to get you back up and running again.

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So, to follow up on my problems.......I spoke to numerous people on the forum, 3 APQS reps, e-mailed with Dawn and spoke to Mark Frazier at APQS. It seems that my 3 hole tensioner was not in the correct position and my check spring was not functioning properly. In addition, there may be a circuit board issue, and perhaps some more problems, as well. My decision is to send it back to the factory for a full spa treatment the end of Feb.

Sending a big thanks to everyone who took the time to offer suggestions and help to me. XXXOOO

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  • 4 months later...

I feel for you. I have problems with tension and breaking thread too. It is very frustrating! Hang in there and you will get the problem figured out. Everyone has given great advice. I am going to use it to try to fix my thread breaking and tension problems. Thanks for posting.

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I was having the same issue of my thread flatlining on the back occasionally, I finally took out the anti-backlash spring in the bobbin, blew it out really good and oiled it before putting spring back in and that fixed my problem. I was new to my milli but not to long arm quilting. Hope this helps Carol

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