Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fighting with Miss Frances (Pfaff)

(If you are looking for QED for October click here. There is still time to link up and have a chance at this month's giveaway)

Well, last night I had a knock down, drag out fight with Miss Frances. She was really having a problem FMQ. FMQ is why I bought this machine! I am not happy with this machine's attitude!

Loops and bird's nests on the top!

Frayed thread and bird's nest on the bottom!

So I went back to the beginning and tried to understand what Miss Frances was trying to tell me.

1. I put my feed dogs up (Leah recommends this)
2. I put my stitch length to 0 (the manufacturer doesn't say you need to do this in the sensormatic setting)
3. I put a 'Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washer" in because every time it did this I could hear the bobbin clonk.
4. I tightened my top tension.
5. I have been using a spool stand and spool net - I continued this configuration

She STILL did this! Now I have changed my needle several times, I have been using a 90/14 Schmetz quilting needle.
Broken needles (a lot of them)!
This is Isacord thread (same thread top and bobbin).  Everyone always seems to tell you to go bigger when your thread shreds, but 90/14 seems plenty big enough, this thread is quite thin. So I went smaller, to a 70/10 Microtex/sharp. I broke one more needle, so I lowered my top tension back to were I had been before.

That seemed to do the trick and I was able to stitch out the rest of my homework for Leah Day.


The bird's nests were prior to changing the needle. After changing the needle, not a single bobble for the rest of the homework.

I really loved adding to flowing lines, turning it into Goldilocks. I didn't stipple, I did just a simple back and forth to give it a more modern feel.

I was so pleased with my success, I went to stitch on my Expanding Possibilities quilt. And this is what I got!

Another broken needle! Actually I was able to stitch for a bit and it was better, only one or two skipped stitches. This needle broke when I moved to a new area, as I was pulling up my bobbin thread.

Leah HELP! What am I doing wrong??? Could the bird's nests, skipped stitches, broken needles be operator error (This mainly happens when I stitch backwards)? Could it be that the bigger quilt is pulling? Should I take the machine in for a check-up? It seems I can get rid of a lot of the problems, but them never really completely go away.

On to other projects:

I finished my library quilt this week. Yippee, skippee! I'm now down to just three WIPs!

My stats for the week:
In-process: (3)
Purple heart wall hanging ( needs backing, quilting and binding)
Expanding Possibilities quilt (Continue to quilt)
Storybook quilt # 2 - All embroidery is done

New projects: (0)

Finished (1)
Geneva Public Library quilt - done
I'm linking up with  Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday and The Free Motion Quilting Project for QAL Wednesday

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced
Free Motion Quilt Along

Color Me Quilty!



  1. frustrating! As you know I have the same machine and am a bit perplexed as I have not encountered any of your problems. The only thing I find with this machine is that it is a bit more sensitive to thickness of thread and needle to use. But you addressed all this. The only other thing I could suggest...maybe take the bobbin washer out. I tried this and the machine does not like it at all, so I don't use it. For comparison, when I stitch with similar thread, my tension is about 3.6 - 3.8 with a 70/10 needle. Hope this gets sorted.
    By the way, love your Goldilocks design with the lines. Great idea.

  2. That Library Quilt is gorgeous. I'm sorry about your machine issues, how frustrating. :(

  3. Pat, can you take your machine back to the dealer and show them how your machine is acting? And bring all of your normal materials, like thread, thread stand, etc. Maybe they can figure it out. I know it's a pain to lug it, but it may be worth the trip.

  4. I sympathise. I had the same machine as you for 3 years, and in that time broke hundreds of needles, created birds' nests, broke threads and skipped stitches. It just never FMQed properly. Like you, that's what I'd bought it for. I'm a competent quilter, and could never get it right. I found it extremely fussy with thread, prefering lighter 50 or 60wt, and I did find a topstitch needle much better than anything else but sadly it was always a battle. I finally changed brands earlier this year - a big deal for me, and it pains me to say, but I'm glad to be rid of the Pfaff. Since the change I've not broken a single needle and have done a massive amount of quilting. Sorry, that's probably not exactly what you wanted to hear, but do try the topstitch needles. (But don't try the titanium ones - they'll still bend/break - and they can damage the foot at the same time!)

  5. I've got the same machine, and I had the same problem with FMQ at the beginning. If your local Pfaff dealer can help you with configuration, take your machine there!
    I got the problem solved by the following ajustments:
    - sensormatic free motion on
    - thread tension down to 2.6 (normal sewing thread, variegated cotton thread even less)
    - pivot height down to -3 so that the presser foot almost doesn't lift when you stop quilting, so there won't be any extra thread when the foot lifts
    - switch off the fabric transport system (swith at the front of the machine)
    - needle-down position is helpful if you like to use it while quilting (I use it all the time because I can move the quilt without tying out thread)
    - normal thread on a normal bobbin, carefully set in, just as always
    - skipped stithches are because of the speed, put the speed regulator on and ajust it to the highest possible speed, then you shouldn't skip stitches any longer
    If that still doesn't work, try to change the thread spool top to bottom so that the thread comes off from the other direction, it could make a difference, too.
    I hope the ajustments rid you of this nuisance!

    I was short of crying about my trouble at FMQ with my Pfaff at the beginning, but with the ajustments it works perfectly fine and I had an king size quilted in no time at all.
    Best wishes, Barbara

    1. Oh, I forgot to mention: clean the dust from under the bobbin holder, it could do the trick, too.
      These are all options I used to solve my personal FMQ fights with my Pfaff. :-)

  6. I feel your pain - I hate when my machine acts up. My new one behaves - thank goodness! I think some of the above comments may help. I like your Goldilocks - it is another neat way of varying Flowing Lines. Thanks for the idea - I'll be trying it! ~Jeanne

  7. Hey Pat - I'll definitely go into more detail tomorrow, but here's some quick advice: first off, it's great that you've systematically diagnosed this problem. Even though you're still struggling, you're way ahead of the game.

    From the look of the thread, I'd say this is a needle and pulling issue. Try a few different types of 80/12 needles - topstitch, universal, microtex, embroidery. Just do simple samples of each one and make sure the design has both open spaces and travel stitching to test where the issue starts.

    As for the needle breaking - you weren't stitching over an area with multiple layers / seam allowances. These look like plan practice sandwiches, correct?

    If that's the case the ONLY thing your needle could be hitting to break in that way is the edges of the needle plate. The fabric and batting won't do it, but hitting metal on metal will.

    You're probably very subtly pulling the needle forward or backward, just enough that when it's up, you're pulling the tip out far enough that when it comes down it connects not with the hole, but the edge of the metal needle plate.

    I know it sounds crazy, but stop stitching backwards. I've had multiple machines that it was just impossible to quilt in that direction and you can make allowances for it. It seems limiting, but ultimately you will have fewer problems if you just keep rotating the quilt and avoid the problematic directions.

    Okay - this was supposed to be short! I'll think on it more and share more tips tomorrow in Question Thursday.

    Good luck and try not to get too frustrated - you WILL find a solution!


  8. Is your machine the 4.0 model. I have this machine as do several friends. We all bought them because of the longer arm for free motion quilting. None of us are satisfied. I took mine back to the dealer because of the needle breaking issue. He replaced a part and it no longer breaks needles. However I am not satisfied with the quality of the stitches. He showed samples of my quilting to a Pfaff rep and the reply was that it is a problem of physics with this machine. Try using the spring free motion setting and a free motion foot. It works much better. You will still have to fiddle with the tension setting for the best results. That being said I still end up back on my 2040 Pfaff because it quilts so much better.

  9. I shudder to think that I would probably not be quilting today if I had encountered this many issues when I started FMQ. I've never been a quitter, but as a newbie I would has assumed this was just the stuff you had to deal with, and it wouldn't have been fun at all.

    I agree with Leah that the breaking needle must be hitting metal. If you have a regular plate (not a "quilting plate" with a single hole for the needle), I'd try that. Then, let me pose a question to consider: if you decide you are not satisfied with this machine, why keep it and be frustrated with it?

  10. PS I think using a thread stand (and the mesh I see in your pic) adds tension on top of the tension setting you set on the machine. That spool looks similar to an Isacord spool. I actually mount those horizontally in my Brother. If the paper is on the bottom, poke a hole in the center. If the paper fell off the bottom, use painter's tape to replace it and leave a hole!

  11. Pat, with all of your quilting issues, I forgot to say YAY on you library finish!! :)

  12. I also have the same machine, and have had nothing but problems. I have dozens of posts like yours. I've come to the conclusion that it's the machine, not you or me. FWIW, the Isacord thread that Leah recommends is a lifesaver! It's the only type that works with my Pfaff QE 4.0. Also, I use the spring foot, and top stitch or embroidery needles, feed dogs down, and have played around a great deal with the tension and balance settings, as well as the bobbin tension screw. I actually also found burs and grooves in places where the thread meets the plastic that I have sanded down. This is totally unacceptable for a machine to have so much plastic touching the thread. I really hate to say this, but seriously consider seeing if your dealer will take it back and give you a different brand. It's a good machine for regular sewing, but FMQ-ing is a nightmare. Oh, and don't let the dealer try to convince you that it's your technique. One more thing is that the original machines had a bad thread uptake lever that had to be replaced. Mine was an old machine, and this did help a great deal. Mine barely quilted at all prior to that, as the thread would jump off the lever while quilting. Make sure you have the new uptake part. BTW your quilting looks fantastic! Sorry you're having problems.

  13. Hi Pat, Another Pat from the 2012 FMQ Challenge here. Sorry to hear you're having these problems with your machine. From the comments, it sounds like there are a lot of Pfaff owners with similar situations. I hope your machine is still under warranty. Just a thought here, maybe your machine doesn't like Isacord. Certain machines will have very finicky tastes about thread, both brands and size. I've never sewn on a Pfaff, but have a newer Janome and have found that I really need to remove the stitch plate cover and the bobbin case and really clean around the bobbin area more frequently than I ever thought might be necessary. The machine tells me this when it starts acting up, somewhat similarly to yours, though my issues are more on the bottom rather than top of the fabric. Also, if the bobbin is running low it will also act up sometimes, especially if the leader thread into the bobbin has somehow worked a bit loose and is flopping around. I've been using Aurifil 50 wt. and have just tried the 40 wt. on a sample (50 wt. Aurifil in bobbin in all cases) and haven't had any problems. Have heard tremendous reports on Superior threads and plan to try them as budget allows, but if you really like poly thread that might be a good brand to try. Good luck!

  14. Yay for finishing a WIP! Very cute library quilt.

  15. Hi Pat. Everything you've done so far to diagnose your thread issues is great, and you've gotten a lot of good advice. I just wanted to add that my last machine, a $200 Brother from Walmart, was extremely picky about needles and thread. I absolutely could not use Schmetz needles. There was no way. Singer needles were all it would abide. Thread was pretty much the same. I struggled with thread issues until I found Leah and Isacord. Isacord flowed through my machine like butter. It was awesome. BUT--I've found that even the Isacord will sometimes shred, and if you find a spool that's doing it, you may as well pitch it, or keep it strictly for bobbins, because it won't stop. I've since passed that machine on, and my granddaughter is happily making quilts on it. So, my advice is to try different brands of needles and thread. If nothing else is helping, it might just be picky. Good luck, and very nice quilt. Your quilts always look great.

  16. So sorry she is still giving you troubles! I use the top stitch needle or the embroidery ones. I have the best luck with those!