The good news is that I did finally resolve the tension problems on one of my machines (the Singer Merritt.)
I ended up completely cleaning the machine and oiling it, changing the thread, the bobbin, the foot, and the needle only to end up solving the problem by accident.
It turns out that the Merritt doesn’t like to change the tension if the stitch dial is on 0, so if you’re having tension problems, fiddling with the tension AFTER setting the stitch length to 0 doesn’t help much.
In the beginning, I had the tension gauge up to 9 (as high as it would go), and was still having stitch “dots,” “slubs” and skips on the back. Since this was happening both on Barbara (the Singer 99) and the Merritt, it was a real head-scratcher to me.
Eventually, I set aside the free-motion quilting to work on the binding for the placemat project I was testing a while ago (I had already sent in my report, I just hadn’t finished the placemats.) I corrected tension while joining the strips, and the long seam joining the strips ended up perfect, with no skips or tension issues. whoo-hoo!
(BTW, I have decided to name this project “the incredibly pink placemat project”… because they are.)
To tame the binding I was going to grab one of my random pieces of cardboard, but I laid my hand on my old cutting ruler instead.
I’ve had this one for many, many years (probably 15) and the marks on the edges have started to wear off. After I had started winding the binding on it, I realized that this was a really good idea. Not only did it keep my binding from getting twisted and tangled, but it also gave me an idea of how long it was (just count the folds on one edge and multiply it by 2 feet.
Having finished one of the free-motion cables for the edge of the placemats, I was looking at the end and feeling a bit dissatisfied with the way it came out. (Of course, between the tension issues and my lack of free-motion quilting skills, there was much to be dissatisfied about.) I decided to take a page from my friend Cricket’s book: to stabilize the edged using a coarse zigzag.
Not only did this keep the edge from rippling after quilting, but it also helped keep the edges firmed when I trimmed the placemats and added the binding.
I just made sure the zig-zag was within the 1/4 inch seam allowance, and even if it was off the “placemat top” onto the batting on one side, the stitches that weren’t cut away held long enough to keep the back from shifting as I sewed on the binding.
So, even though I didn’t expect to, I learned a lot from this project:
- If you are using thick fabric, you should cut away all of the backing corners if you are using the flip-and-sew squares technique. (With three layers of fabric in those half-square triangles on the corners, I had more trouble than I should have matching points and quilting.)
- Zigzagging around a project is a good way to stabilize the edges for free-motion quilting and adding the binding. (Just don’t do it at the beginning, because there may be some “take up” when you quilt the center.)
- Winding your binding around an old ruler can help you keep it from tangling and give you an estimate on how much you have.
- If you’re having trouble with the tension while free-motion quilting, try increasing your stitch length. I know that with the feed-dogs covered or dropped, it shouldn’t make a difference, but sometimes it does.
- If that fails, go back the the beginning: set the machine up for “regular sewing” and, very careful retrace your actions setting it if for free-motion quilting.