Saturday, June 20, 2015

Free Motion Quilting with a Pfaff

I have completed another quilt top which I want to free motion quilt. However I have felt doomed with my Pfaff.  When I google for tips, all I find are other Pfaff users in the same dilemma. I have successfully free motion quilted (to a point) with my previous Pfaff, a Tiptronic 2020. However when I moved to Northern Virginia from Texas it was damaged, so the movers paid for a new machine. At that time the equivalent Pfaff on the market was an Expression 2.0. I had not yet tried free motion quilting on the Expression 2.0 until this afternoon.  Everything I read on-line about Pfaff Expression 2.0 users attempting free motion quilting were so bad, that they all sold their machine for another brand.

Their problem was the same as I've had intermittently with the Tiptronic 2020.  Whatever they did snarled into a mess of thread. My free motion quilting attempts could sometimes snarl into an unexplainable mess of thread.  What to do? I did find out that  my local Pfaff dealer (an hour away) was holding a class on free motion quilting...today. Too late to join that.

However I did remember a book. I saw Libby Lehman featured with this book years ago on Simply Quilts on HGTV with Alex Anderson. Threadplay discusses more than machine embroidery. It discusses threads, fabrics, free motion quilting...and more! I bought this book soon after I saw the show, but haven't really read it. The pictures are gorgeous of all her lovely work, but today I actually sat down to read it. It has lots of great information.    

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One of her recommendations was to begin each project by cleaning the machine. So I took my bobbin case apart and pulled out lint with the small brush that came with the machine. This machine does not open at all on top, so I did my best by reaching up from underneath the needle area with my brush to pull out lint.

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After putting everything back together, I dug out my open toe free motion foot that I had purchased shortly after moving here. The Expression 2.0 did not even come with a darning foot, so I used a discount I had received to purchase the foot. (With my Tiptronic I always did free motion quilting with the darning foot that came with it.) I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to attach the open toe foot, but I finally figured it out.

In the process I learned a few more keys in free motion quilting with a Pfaff. One, the open toe foot needs to be correctly assembled...and THEN engaged. There is a little button on the presser foot lift. I needed to move that up, and then push the button on that lever towards me.

After setting everything up, I practiced free motion quilting with a quilt sandwich scrap from a past project.  I found that after a successful run of free motion stitching, if I had to raise or lower the open toe foot for any reason, there were times when the threads suddenly started knotting into a mess of threads. Sometimes that was because I had inadvertently shifted that button on the presser foot lift. Once I figured that out, I started putting on my mental check list to check that button and be sure it was pushed towards me.

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Another tip is starting the stitching properly. First I bring the needle down, then bring it up which allows me to pull up the bobbin thread and bring it to the top. Then I bring both the top and bobbin threads to the side, sliding it under the open toe foot. 

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I hold onto that while taking a few small stitches to secure the stitching. Then I start the free motion quilting. I found that if I held onto the threads while starting the free motion quilting, the bottom thread did not break. However if I snipped them at this point and then began the free motion quilting, the bobbin thread broke underneath the quilt. 

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While practicing my free motion quilting, because attaining a smooth move is no easy task, I used all my threads and bobbins of various colors since this was simply a leftover quilt block sandwich. I had lots of opportunity to start and stop, go fast and slow, and switch out threads.  The fun thing was that all of the threads coordinated with the quilt (pinks, greens, and creams).

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At one point I switched to a third top thread. My first top thread was a Gutterman 100% polyester. My second was a Mettler 100% polyester. This time I changed to a shinier, slinkier Mettler poly sheen 100% polyester which caused a bit of issue.  But after thinking through a new snarl of tangled threads, I realized I had forgotten to lift the presser foot when threading the needle. Such a silly mistake...but so easy when everything looks and feel so different for free motion quilting. But further stitching seemed to drag, so I lowered the top tension, which brings me to another tip.

Free motion quilting usually needs a low tension. The precise number varies with the type of needle used, threads used, etc, which is discussed in Threadplay.  I had been running the stitching quite smoothly on a tension of a setting of 3, but then I dropped that to a 2 for this new thread.  Then things really seemed to continue to drag, despite no more snarls. I realized that this thread felt super different, like it was tugging and slowing things down, so I slowed down the pedal...but I realized all that did was make my stitches larger which I didn't like. When I sped up the pedal, the stitches became smaller again.

This also  reminds me of another tip...try different needles. Different needles work best with different types of threads. This is discussed in Threadplay. However I read somewhere else that a larger needle is usually best because there is a lot of work done in free motion quilting, and a lot of tugging from the top thread.     

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I finally found a great 4 part tutorial from Patsy Thompson Designs. My favorite thing about this tutorial, is that she uses a Pfaff! I was elated to find a successful run at free motion quilting with a Pfaff after all the bad rap I had previously read about it.  It can be done! I think the trick is to know all the tips and keep them continuously in mind.  In the past I would do so well, then late at night when I'm super tired, after hours of free motion quilting, the threads would snarl up and nothing would work. I remember trying to finish a wedding quilt for my brother and his wife the night before their wedding. I had to give up around midnight. The next morning I tried one more time and suddenly everything worked better! I've read this sort of thing over and over on the internet. It has been said more than once that the machine peters out and needs a rest. After today's numerous attempts and successful attempts at analyzing the snarling problem, I am excited about free motion quilting again. I don't think it's the machine so much as knowing all the steps (many of which I found in this video, and many of which was confirmed in Threadplay and a couple of other places I read-but it was great to see it in motion with a Pfaff). 

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I finally put things aside to cook dinner, then after dinner I came back for one last picture. A massive storm was building outside (the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill that hit Texas a few days ago was now descending on Northern Virginia and boy was it wild! There was a tornado sighting a couple of miles away! Thankful that only a few trees are down!) So this next picture was taken in low lighting, but you can see some of the meandering stitching I practiced with.

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I think I'm going to take my time to practice this and nail it before I start free motion quilting my bargello flag quilt. Hopefully everything will continue to work but right now I'm still a bit nervous! 

For my purposes (at least for me but I'm happy to share) I am posting the tips for free motion quilting with a Pfaff. I will add to this list and post if I find anything else:
  • Clean the machine
  • Lower top tension
  • Use a larger needle
  • Use a fresh needle
  • Stitch length 0
  • Feed dogs down
  • Use a darning foot or open toe foot
  • Engage the free motion ability with the back lever
  • When beginning to stitch, pull the bobbin thread up and pull back with the top thread
  • Take a few small stitches before beginning free motion quilting. Then clip the long threads.
  • Raise the open toe foot when rethreading the needle

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