At the end of last week, I was having a very frustrating day quilting on my longarm. It seemed like no matter what I did, I was only able to quilt for an inch before having my upper thread break. After trying to get restarted on my quilt several times, I knew it was time to take a deep breath and begin to seriously troubleshoot what was going on. Today, I want to walk through my basic thread breakage troubleshooting steps and talk about a unique solution I found for my problem.
As a quick background, I piece and quilt almost exclusively with 50wt Aurifil thread. Until quite recently, I had a very picky sewing machine and after buying and testing a lot of different thread, I found that it sewed and quilted the best with 50wt Aurifil. My longarm happily quilts using 50wt Aurifil as well, so maintaining one type of thread in my “inventory” made sense to me. Aurifil has wonderful customer service and is dedicated to the quilting community, so I feel great continuing to use their thread. Also, I do take care to dust my longarm bobbin case after each bobbin and oil the bobbin case before getting started each day.
When I see frayed thread (like the image above), I can usually pretty quickly trace back to something that I did to create the problem. If my needle goes up and down in the same location repeatedly because I am not moving quickly enough, I am very likely to fray the thread. Conversely, if I am moving along too quickly, I can break my thread with a quick transition from moving left to right and reversing to moving right to left.
However, when it is not immediately clear why the thread broke or when thread keeps breaking repeatedly, here are the steps I typically take to diagnose and fix the problem:
- Completely re-thread the machine top thread. As I re-thread the top thread, I take my time to check all the surfaces that the thread is running / rubbing against. Is there a burr or anything sharp that I can fix?
- Re-thread the bobbin and dust the bobbin case. Check the bobbin to see if the needle has crashed against it leaving any sharp burrs and replace if necessary.
- Try quilting again. (Note: this is usually all the troubleshooting that is needed.)
- Change the needle and repeat steps 1 through 3.
- Take the bobbin out and really clean and evaluate the hook (on my particular long arm the hook is easy to access). Make sure that there are no sharp edges or burrs on the hook or the case for the bobbin. Repeat steps 1 through 3.
- Change out thread to see if the thread is the issue. Repeat steps 1 through 3.
- If all these steps fail to solve the problem, take a time out and come back later. Once I have had a break, I will usually find that I was in a rush and skipped one of these steps, thus finding and fixing the problem.
What I found last week was that a particular spool of 50wt Aurifil was the problem. The thread worked well in the bobbin, but when that particular spool was used as the upper thread, it was very brittle and would snap quickly. The break was so clean that I could re-thread my needle without trimming, which will hopefully be an indication to me of a thread issue in the future.
Because I am using 4 different quilting thread colors on this particular project, I just changed to a different colored thread and kept making progress while I kept mulling the problem over in my mind. I made a quick order of a new spool of the thread color I was having difficulty with, and I kept quilting.
I want to pause here to note another reality of any manufacturer’s thread: darker thread colors can be more susceptible to being brittle than lighter thread colors. This is due to the amount of dye and the process required to make / dye the thread. In my specific case from last week, the thread color I was using was very light and I used a darker thread to test out my machine which worked just fine. This gave me confidence that the issue really was with my thread and not the machine.
As I continued to quilt, I had an idea. It was a hair-brained idea for sure, but I figured, what have I got to lose? If my thread was brittle, would humidifying the thread a bit help at all?
My experiment was set up in much the same way that I would let dough rise, but on a smaller scale. I put 8-10 ounces of water in a microwave safe glass and let the microwave run on high until I could see the water boiling. I then placed the thread inside the microwave (beside the cup of water; not in the water) and left the thread closed in the microwave for about 3 hours. The 3 hours was not a magical time – it was just how long it was in the microwave while I cooked dinner, went on a walk, and then had a moment to take it out and try quilting with it again.
I am thrilled to report that my thread humidifying experiment worked! I was able to finish quilting the area I was working on with the spool of thread without a thread breakage.
I do live in the very dry desert southwest, so I do not know if this solution will work for everyone who has this kind of brittle thread issue. I also have no way of knowing if the thread was just extra brittle in a localized area and perhaps if I had continued to try the thread without my humidifying experiment it would have worked as well. However, I do want to mention this experiment in case it might be something that would help you out in the future!
What do you do when you have repeated thread breakage issues? Are there troubleshooting steps you take that I have left out? Have you ever tried something like my thread humidifying experiment with success?
The comments, as usual, are a treasure trove of additional great advice. I am moving the additional suggestions to be in the body of the post and giving attribute so that it will be easier to find in the future.
- When I was first doing FMQ on my machine, I had put in my needle backwards in my machine (turned 180 degrees) and the “wrong” side of the needle provided just enough bad tension to wear the thread so that it would end up snapping every ten inches or so. Since then I’ve been very diligent about putting my needle in the right way! – Alison
- When it is real bad, I coat the needle with liquid silicone. – Kristina
- One other important thing is to measure your bobbin tension. If it is too tight it will break the upper thread. I resisted getting a Towa gauge for a long time, but since I have been using one, my breakage problems have ceased, and almost totally ceased! Set the bobbin every time you wind a new one or change the thickness of the bobbin thread. Superior Threads recommend a tension of 170-180 for their Bottom Line, which I use a lot. I have found that tension number works in my machine for almost every thread I use. I have to adjust the bobbin tension looser for thicker threads and tighter for Aurfil or Bottom Line, and the gauge takes the guesswork out. – Carole
- I have found if I use a bigger needle like a top stitch, in a larger size, that can help my thread breakage too. – Nancy
- When you’re sewing on your regular machine (not longarm), turn the machine off and on after rethreading. Kind of like rebooting your computer. – Lorraine
Linking up with Tips and Tutorials Tuesday.