Taming thread woes

August 12, 2013

Besides the normal questions about thread tension, thread breakage certainly ranks in the top 10 questions asked of the Service Department. When your thread starts to snap, it doesn’t take long before your nerves start to snap, too. Here are some things to try that will help you narrow down the trouble and get back to quilting without stress:

  • Check your thread path. Start from the spool and re-thread the machine completely. A hidden twist around a tension guide or check spring may go unnoticed until you start fresh. Make sure the thread is firmly seated between the tension disks. Re-thread the bobbin case as well.
  • Eliminate the thread as the culprit. Cotton thread can get “old” and dryout. It has a shelf life. Try a different cone of thread, first of the same type you are trying to stitch with. If that thread breaks, try a different manufacturer or thread type. If either of the replacement threads sew, then you’ve narrowed the trouble down to the thread being the most likely trouble maker.
  • Loosen the top and bobbin tension to the extreme…the bobbin case and bobbin should quickly spill to the floor, and the top tension disks should nearly flop around. If the thread breaks with these two tensions completely loose, then look for mechanical reasons for the thread breakage. However, if the machine starts to sew (even though the stitches will look horrible on the top and bottom) then the tension may have been too tight. Keep the bobbin tension loose to start, and then start re-tightening the top tension about 1/2 turn at a time and doing a test run. Check your top and bobbin tension after each turn and test run. Continue until your stitches are properly formed, fine-tuning as needed. Remember, you’ll need much less bobbin tension than you may be accustomed to for other sewing machines.
  • If the thread still breaks while the tension is as loose as possible, look for mechanical reasons.
    • Change the needle.
    • Examine the pigtail thread guides for rough spots. Use a magnifying glass.
    • Study the needle hole in the needle plate. Any rough spots near or inside the needle hole will shred the thread and break it.
    • Examine the hook assembly for scratches or burrs (use the “Hook Maintenance” section in your manual to learn where and how to look). If you have broken a needle or even had a near miss thanks to a bulky seam, you’ve got a scratch somewhere on the hook. Your top thread must travel completely around the hook to form a stitch. It will do its best to find any little scratch!
    • Check the hook retaining finger for burrs, and make sure it is positioned correctly (see your manual’s section on timing).
  • There are other, more subtle reasons why thread can break, including a sharp needle eye, having a needle that’s too small for the thread, having the quilt sandwich too tight, needle heat and friction, and more. Plus, some thread is not designed to withstand the high speed, high pressure pull of a longarm machine. Tensile strength is a key factor in a thread’s success. If it snaps easily between your hands, the chances of it holding up to the speed of a longarm are greatly reduced (not to mention its longevity in the quilt–imagine how it might hold up to laundering–or not!)
  • By all means, contact us if you have difficulty. While many tension and thread breakage issues can be solved with these tips, it’s not a comprehensive list by any means. We’re here to help you…and the best time to call is before you’re so frustrated that you need a glass of bubbly:) It’s best to call when you can be near your machine with some practice fabric on the machine, but if that’s not practical, we can chat by email, too! We can’t help if you don’t ask!