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Catching and breaking bobbin thread when free motion quilting

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Hi. I am trying to do some free motion quilting and my bobbin thread keeps sticking/catching and breaking. I have tried retreading, tension change but doesn’t seem to help. I am using a Brother Innovis 950 machine with feed dogs dropped.

can you suggest anything to try?

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This may sound stupid, but give this a try.  

Remove the upper and lower thread, and leave the needle in the machine.  Then get yourself a piece of notebook paper.  The kind kids use at school.  You want thin/light paper to get the best training.  You can draw some lines on the paper to follow if you desire, but you want to be able to clearly see the holes in the paper.

Take the paper and put it under the hopping foot, and quilt some straight lines, and then progress to some swirls.  Quilt your signature.  Quilt all over the paper.  Have fun.

Once done, remove the piece of paper and look at the holes the needle left behind.  

If the holes are large than the needle diameter, then you are moving the paper/fabric against the needle as it is trying to loop the thread.  This movement is probably messing up your stitches, and causing you tension problems.  

Practice with the paper until you can move the paper in relation with the needle without distorting the hole size, or tearing the paper.  

You can also quilt on paper with the top and bobbin thread installed.  Give it a try on two pieces of paper stacked on each other. 

If can quilt on paper, without distorting the hole size, try setting your feed dogs to zero.  

I have read that some machines do not quilt well with their feed dogs down.  This could be because the quilter is trying to move the fabric when the needle is down, and the feed dogs help hold the fabric against the hopping foot.  This prevents the needle from being deflected, and messing up the tension.

Remember, the feed dogs stop moving the fabric when the needle is down for that instant the loop is being formed.  On a longarm, the stitch regulator increases or decreases the needle speed in relation to how fast the head is being moved.  

When you freemotion quilt with your hands, you have to do the same thing.  If you want to move your hands fast, you have to depress the foot peddle more to increase the needle speed.  If you do not, you will distort the needle hole or even tear the paper.  

Your mind is the best speed controller ever devised.  It just takes a few pieces of paper to develop the skill.  Notice how the space will change between the needle hole punches as you speed up and slow down your hand movement.  

If you have thread in the machine as you quilt on paper, notice how if you do not speed up the needle as you quilt a circle, how the edges of the circle are not round.  The gap between stitches will form straight lines, that try to make a circle 

Best of luck to you.  Tell us how things turn out.


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Thank you so much for your response.

on further investigation I decided that it was in fact the upper thread that was being caught - wasn’t sure if it was catching on the bobbin case. I tried a few things including changing needle, thread altering tensions etc. then I remembered also ready somewhere else about doing free motion with the feed dogs up and stitch length altered, so thought I might as well give that a go too! 
result is I had good success with this method and have managed to complete my quilting for that quilt

inhad decided that my machine also probably need a good service, so I will shortly take it in for a good service as well, and in the meantime I will continue to use with the feed dogs up and see if this helps out next time.

i think I will also give your paper stitching a try as well to help improve on my technique!

thanks again so much for your advice.


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