5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting

Today, it’s all about the 5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting. I’m going to use the Sapphire 930 to show you some different ways the sewing machine can be threaded. Yes – it does make a difference!

Next up, I’ll chat about thread weights and how they can affect the final outcome of your free motion quilting. Let’s not forget thread color which can also affect your final product. I’ve also got tips on what to do when you have skipped stitches and thread breakage. Let’s dive in!

Husqvarna Viking 930

Number 1 – make sure the sewing machine is threaded properly

While this seems like a silly thing to say, it’s extremely important. Here are some things to keep in mind when threading the sewing machine.

I intentionally grabbed an unusual spool size for this demo. Often times we get attracted to thread because of its color, not the thread weight and certainly not the size of the spool.

I’ll start out by loading this spool in the vertical position. Looks good – right?  Wrong!

Over sized spool of thread in the vertical position

Do you see what the issue is? That is a big heavy spool of thread and as the sewing machine pulls the thread from the spool, the spool has to rotate. This large of a spool in this position will affect the tension which is not a good thing. As the spool gets smaller, the amount of effort required to pull the thread will change and the tension will be affected. In some instances, this extra pull may be enough to flex the needle and cause the needle to break.

What alternatives do we have? Let’s try loading the spool horizontally.

Over sized spool in the horizontal position

There’s still a problem with this spool of thread. Do you see what the problem is? Yep, the spool is so large that the thread is actually resting on the sewing machine. The thread won’t pull consistently off the spool and this extra pull is going to affect the tension.

So the vertical position doesn’t work and the horizontal position doesn’t work. What other option is there?

Mega Spool Stand

This is an external thread stand that attaches to the existing spool holder on the Sapphire 930. It’s a brilliant little gizmo and it allows me to use that large spool of thread. Now that the thread is being pulled straight up, there’s absolutely no affect on the tension as the thread will flow smoothly and evenly through the sewing machine.

Not only does this Mega Spool Stand work for larger spools, but I prefer all my threads to sit this way on the sewing machine. I rarely have trouble with any type of thread when I use the Mega Spool Stand.

If your thread is very unruly such as metallic, invisible or other fine threads, use this thread net to keep the thread from falling off the spool or unraveling. A thread net comes standard in the Sapphire 930 tool box.

Spool of thread enclosed in a thread net

If you’re using the spool of thread without the Mega Spool Stand, make sure that you either completely remove the label or use your thread snips to ensure that all sticky parts of the label are tucked inside. Otherwise, if part of the sticky label is exposed, it can cause drag on the spool holder and cause problems with tension and needle breakage.

Make sure the label is tucked into the spool

Number 2 – what’s thread weight and what should I be using?

Thread weight can vary from 12 up to 100. The larger the number, the finer the thread.

If you’re quilting a lot of small tight designs, then you want to choose a fine thread. Let’s say you’re doing some tight micro stippling – choose an 80 or 100 weight silk thread. If you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking as in quilting feathers, a fine thread won’t show the back tracking nearly as much as if you used thicker threads. Same thing for stitch in the ditch – a finer thread will show less than a thicker thread.

If you want the quilting to be bold, then go for a thicker thread. If I’m using a thick thread on the top, I use a matching (in color) sewing weight (50 weight) thread in the bobbin. It’s very difficult to use thick thread on the top and bobbin and have the tension come out right. It can be done, but it can be tricky.

There is nothing wrong with using regular 50 weight thread (the same weight you use for piecing) for your quilting. It’s readily available, comes in lots of colors, cotton or polyester and is inexpensive. Use it in the top on bobbin.

Top line of stitching with 40 weight cotton thread, bottom line of stitching with 100 weight silk. Bobbin thread for both samples was 50 weight cotton

Number 3 – should I only quilt with cotton?

You can quilt with whatever thread you like. If you were to play tug a war with a quilt so hard that the quilt pulled apart, where do you think it would rip? At the seams, not the quilting.

So if you see some gorgeous rayon thread, polyester thread, nylon thread, cotton thread – anything will work. I don’t even worry about having the same type of thread in the top and bobbin. Often I’ll use nylon on top and cotton in the bobbin.

Some people may have an issue with that and if you do – then I would suggest doing some samples to see what the end results are. Wash the sample, iron the sample – do those nylon threads really melt?  If so – how hot was the iron and is it realistic that you will iron a quilt???

I can’t say enough for experimenting with the threads. You’ll have to anyway to find out which foot you should be using with which type of thread. This experimentation is how you’ll learn and remember.

The best way to start is keep it simple. Use 50 weight on the top and bobbin. Don’t complicate your life until you feel more comfortable with the free motion quilting process. 

Variety of threads for free motion quilting

Number 4 – Skipping stitches and thread breakage

In the event you have never seen skipped stitches – have a look at the photo below. The two arrows on the left point to the skipped stitches. Sometimes, the sewing machine will skip one stitch and sometimes it will skip a lot. You can also see that the thread broke on the right hand side of this sample.

Example of skipped stitches and thread breakage

How does one get rid of skipped stitches and thread breaking? Here is a checklist of things to try. Hopefully one of them will solve the problem.

  1. Make sure your sewing machine is properly set for free motion quilting. The Sapphire 930 has the advantage of two different settings – free motion floating and free motion spring action.
  2. Make sure that your free motion foot is the correct one for the chosen mode of free motion quilting.
  3. A single hole stitch plate can help. It helps to stabilize the quilt during the stitching process.
  4. A new needle in the event there’s a burr on the existing needle. We will talk more about needles tomorrow.
  5. Make sure the sewing machine is threaded properly. Watch the size of spool and use a Mega Thread Spool if necessary. Try the thread in a vertical position or horizontal position and see which one provides a better stitch. If there are any issues – remove the bobbin and the top thread and completely re-thread the sewing machine.
  6. Drop the feed dogs. Your threads may be catching.
  7. Try a different brand of thread. Some sewing machines do not like particular brands. Don’t fight with the thread – just get rid of it.
  8. Try a different color. Yes – sometimes the color can affect the stitching. I have black thread that’s full of static, yet other colors of thread do not have that same issue.
  9. Try a different thread weight. If you’re having a lot of issues with heavy thread – try a lighter thread.
  10. Try a different thread in the bobbin.
  11. Try a top stitch needle or metallic needle if using metallic thread.
  12. Do not use old thread! It’s brittle and will break no matter what you do.

You see, skipped stitches and thread breakage can be the result of many factors. The most common is that the needle/thread combination isn’t correct. It may require a bit of perseverance and a lot of trial and error.

That’s why I highly recommend that if you’re just starting – don’t complicate the situation. Use regular 50 weight thread that you piece with. Once you’re comfortable with that thread and everything is working fine, then try varying the factors one at a time – try a heavier weight thread on the top and keep the 50 weight in the bobbin. Do you need to use the spring action foot? Do you need a larger needle? Varying the factors one at a time is a good way to learn.

Number 5 – what color thread should I be using?

Whatever color you want! Actually if you’re a new quilter and don’t want your stitches to be visible, then it makes sense to try and find a light weight thread that blends in with your quilt top. This is where busy backings and busy fabrics for the top are a blessing. You can experiment to your heart’s content and no one will really see what you’ve done. They’ll see the texture, but not the stitching.

A busy print for the quilt backing, can you see the quilting?

However if you want the quilting to be bold and stand out – then go for high contrast – use light colored threads on dark fabric and vice versa.

Very high contrast thread to the background

And what about the thread in the bobbin – should it match the thread in the top? Not necessarily. Many people don’t give great attention to their quilt backing. Often choosing muslin or some other solid because it’s inexpensive. These type of fabrics will show every wobble, every thread hiccup, every teeny tiny mistake will be way more visible.

Instead, I like to use very busy backs. No one can see if I had to do multiple thread color changes, they won’t see if I had to change a bobbin and restart my quilting.

In these samples below, you can see that the main part of my quilt top is yellow with a very high contrast red border. I made this quilt years ago and I chose a solid yellow for the backing. When I quilted the yellow part, I used yellow thread in the top and bobbin which worked very well. However when I went to quilt the red border, I didn’t want to take the chance of using yellow thread in the bobbin in the events of thread pops – little bits of bobbin thread showing through to the top.

So I changed the color of my bobbin thread to match the top thread. If I would have used a busy fabric for the backing, the thread color change wouldn’t be so obvious. Some day you may want the bobbin thread to show but we aren’t there yet!

Back of quilt showing two different color of bobbin thread were used

Front of quilt – quilting in different areas done with very high contrast thread

If you’ll be working an overall pattern on your quilt top with light and dark areas, then choose a medium value (color) thread that will show equally on all parts. If you use too light of a thread, it will blend into the light parts of the quilt but really show on the dark and vice versa. A medium value will show equally more or less on the light and dark parts.

Medium value thread works on a quilt with different fabric values

Ive been known to use very high contrast threads on the top and bobbin. Sometimes, I end up with an issue like this photo below. Do you see the black thread showing through. Is that a tension issue???  No, it’s actually the black thread that’s shadowing through the hole made by the needle.

As long as you cannot pull those threads out (which would be a tension problem) then you have two choices – leave it as is and when the quilt is washed, those fibers will relax and cover over the holes or change one or both of the threads so they’re more similar in value.

Black thread shadowing through to the front of the work

There you have it – the 5 things you need to know about thread when free motion quilting and some very important issues that have to do with thread and how it works with your sewing machine. The Husqvarna Viking 930 has lots of options for dealing with thread and that means that I can pretty much use any type of spool that I want. No restrictions. Again – today’s topics was pretty easy. Although a bit more involved since you need to do some experimenting. But remember – start with 50 weight thread. Have fun playing around. Tomorrow we talk needles and tension. Have a great day! Ciao!

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1:  6 tips to set up the sewing machine for free motion quilting
Go to part 3:  4 essentials to solve thread tension issues

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carol February 7, 2022 - 3:59 pm
Thank you so much for this article. I was struggling with using a black bobbin thread to match the quilt back and light thread to match the top. I was thinking my machine was having tension issues, took it for servicing and was told it was fine. Came back to the quilt and still had the trouble. Now I realize it not a tension issue.
Elaine Theriault February 9, 2022 - 8:24 am
Carol You are very welcome!! Have fun with your quilting. Elaine
Angela Wesseler December 17, 2021 - 10:45 am
Thank you for your tip great information
Marlene Sullivan September 23, 2020 - 7:39 pm
Really enjoyed all your helpful hints at solving problems. Thanks
Pam October 28, 2023 - 6:40 pm
Excellent advice, thank you.
Ruth December 27, 2019 - 4:20 pm
I am so impressed with the tips. I happened to run into this site on Pintrest and have actually learned a lot. Some old that was forgotten and some new. I hope to keep up on everything from now on.
Elaine Theriault January 2, 2020 - 9:10 am
Ruth -- thanks for the feedback. Have fun with the free motion!! Elaine
Orla V October 29, 2019 - 5:53 pm
What a wonderful article, it goes through all the issues you are likely to run into, with possible solutions. But, more importantly, it tells you the best way to start, so you can reduce problems before they occur. Thank you so much. I am new to free motion quilting, and your articles are so thorough, and written in a way that makes them easy for a novice to understand.
Dawn F. October 8, 2019 - 9:14 pm
This was a really thorough article on tips and things to check for. I never knew you could use different thread weights on top and bobbin.
Cathie Scanlon March 17, 2019 - 11:25 am
That's a lot of really good information! Now I just need to remember all of it!
Kathy E. November 5, 2018 - 8:18 pm
These are awesome tips to remember as i still keep on learning the FMQ technique. I've had many skipped stitches and now i know how to fix the problem! Thanks!
Leslie Wagner August 21, 2018 - 9:37 pm
I'm new to quilting and so far I've only made a variety of squares for group projects. I've been using my new sewing machine, a Husqvarna Viking Topaz 50, and my next accessory will be a thread stand - now that I understand its purpose. This article was really helpful to me - now I know I don't have to have the perfect thread for my projects and can move ahead with what I have on hand.
Donna Simpson June 15, 2018 - 10:10 pm
Thank you so much for this post. It goes into so many of the problems I've experienced while trying to learn free motion quiltling. All of the problems addressed in one place: wonderful!
Julie April 1, 2018 - 8:19 am
Thank you so much for these tips. I was having a lot of trouble with a silky thread breaking. By following your advice I changed to a top stitch needle and a different thread for the bobbin and it's working awesomely.
Julie April 1, 2018 - 9:01 am
Oh and I changed the plate to a single hole one as well.
Heloise Benkenstein March 5, 2018 - 11:04 am
I am new to machine quilting. I really need to know how to start and end the stitching. I tried starting like in normal sewing, but that really looks unneat. What I mean, is how to prevent the stitches from coming loose. I used to do hand quilting and there you start and stop with a knot. Please help me out of my misery! thank you and best regards, Heloise Benkenstein
Carol Lutz February 1, 2018 - 8:46 pm
Great, informative article! Thank-you So much! Even though I've been free motion quilting for years, I learned a bunch of new stuff!
Michele T October 5, 2017 - 10:40 am
These are very helpful tips!!! I love your website!!!
Carla A. Canonico October 5, 2017 - 11:25 am
Thank you Michele!
Linda Smith July 23, 2017 - 9:42 am
Found this website while browsing FMQ on Pinterest. I have an 870 Quilt which is at least 7 or 8 years old., perhaps more. I take it to the dealer AT LEAST once a year and sometimes more, depending on how many quilts I've made and how it sounds (and maybe how it smells). This machine is still serving me faithfully. I use it almost exclusively for every quilt I make. Sometimes, I'll piece on my mother's old Bernina 1030, which stitches like a dream but doesn't have the throat space for double/queen sized quilts. But my Husqvarna is what I use for FMQ every single quilt with straight stitching graphics and tons of feathers (LOVE feaathers), flowers, paisley, McTavishing and whatever comes to mind or seems to fit. The part of the process I enjoy most is seeing the quilt come to life with all the stitching on top. To me, it's a major transformation, source of pure joy and escape into another world. After trying a myriad of thread brands of various fibers, Aurifil is my absolute favorite for this machine. Once my dealer recommended the Mega Thread Stand, I never again had thread breaking or tension adjustments to make. I use the darning foot (floating mode) for FMQ because i can't stand that bouncing from a spring foot and could be, too, that I broke the bouncy one. I've tried many needles from topstitch to microtex in the frequently recommended 90/14 size. One day, I found myself out of BOTH types and the only thing on hand was 80/12 universal. Works like a dream! I also broke that 'cardinal rule' of not using a bed sheet for a quilt backing. After completing a complicated schoolhouse quilt for my niece, my addiction to fabric and sewing was still in full force. So, I began a new quilt using scraps on hand and had an old, old Eddie Bauer 100% cotton double sheet set sitting in the linen closet. It was old enough not to have the deep pockets to fit today's' very thick mattresses. What the heck? It had been washed dozens of times, had no thread count on the label, and was one of those comfy, cozy sheets very pleasant to sleep beneath. With the naked eye, you could see the thread count was far greater than my quilting fabrics, but you never know until you try. The winning combination was Aurifil 50/3, Schmetz 80/12, settings 'chosen' by my machine and that "never-want-to-be-without-it-again" Mega Thread Stand. I am short and work with my machine on a wooden TV tray (to get it low enough) with my sewing /cutting/work table next to it. It is an awkward situation. I am looking at sewing cabinets with an insert providing a flush surface but due to my stature, nearly every one of them is too tall. I especially want some flat surface or a drawer to my right. If there is anyone reading this that knows of a solution for short little old ladies, I'd welcome your advice.
Carla A. Canonico July 31, 2017 - 9:10 am
Hi Linda, thank you for sharing. I hope you find the cabinets that are comfortable for you. I find sometimes they can be found in children's furniture.
Linda Smith November 30, 2017 - 9:44 am
Hi, Carla, I finally have a sewing table and I am so happy and much more comfortable. I bought the SewEzi portable. I wanted the more spacious Grande, however, there was just no way to lower those legs without employing a welder and/or machinist. The portable table has steel tubing legs that could be sawed off. I bought a pipe cutter at the local hardware store for about $12 and removed 3" from each leg. Recapped them with little feet that will slide on the low pile carpet in my sewing room so I can move the machine around without having to lift it. My husband offered to use a hacksaw but I wanted to be more precise. Also bought the accessory table and cut down the legs on that table in the same manner. Having the things you reach for most often often in the accessory tray , is truly handy and saves time. All that being said, it is most unfortunate that the vast majority of sewing tables (flush surface with inserts) are made for average to tall women and have zero adjustability for petite ladies.
Beth T. June 6, 2017 - 8:34 pm
Thanks very much. The idea of using a single-hole needle plate for extra stability is new to me, and I'll be trying that right away. I always appreciate tips such as yours, as I'm still very new at this, and I'm pinning this page to return to when I'm flummoxed.
Cheryl Saunderson July 23, 2017 - 8:31 am
Beth, I swear by it. When I ordered it from my Janome dealer she smirked and said you don't need that and it doesn't make a difference. I had read many blogs where they all said it helped. Boy, they were right. I love it. Just remember to change it back when you do applique and need that zigzag! I learned the hard way!
Summer March 30, 2017 - 12:12 pm
Thanks for the tip on the single-hole plate! I've not tried using mine, but I'll give it a try to see if that helps my machine to keep from skipping stitches when free-motion quilting.
Censcore November 22, 2016 - 9:05 pm
Great info. Tnx We're documenting quilts made and collected by family members. Does anyone know of an app that would make this task easier than a spread sheet? Tnx
Jen B August 19, 2016 - 8:31 am
Lots of helpfull info, thank you. I'd add that, yes a blending thread will hide mistakes better, but you're also more likely to make mistakes because you can't see so well as you quilt.
Dolores Tresemer April 21, 2016 - 11:44 am
Linda- I am having two problems with my Sapphire 930 and want to know if it is me or the machine. When sewing with the needle down selected.. when I stop to reposition and start again it leaves an extra unstitched stitch which I call a" hick-up" - new needle , new thread, re threaded etc. And when I am trying to stipple and stop to re position when I start sewing again the machine does an extra stitch and leaves a big knot. --needle down, spring foot, spring foot selection, feet down etc. It has been in the shop many times for the same problem and I don't get any good answers as to what is wrong.
Linda in TX March 11, 2016 - 8:51 am
I read somewhere that spools, wound like your biggie, above, should be fed from the horizontal. My machines don't have horizontal pins, but I do have a vertical feeder, similar to yours, only it sits on the table. Very good info in this post. THANKS!
Elaine Theriault March 15, 2016 - 5:20 am
Linda - while there are guidelines as to how the spool should sit - I tend to try different things until something works because not all big spools will fit in the horizontal spool holder. I do love the vertical feeder and for the most part - it has never let me down. Thanks for following QUILTSocial. Elaine
zeenath March 10, 2016 - 2:01 pm
Thank you. I am begining to try to tackle FMQ. your article is most helpful. thank you again!
Elaine Theriault March 15, 2016 - 5:21 am
Zeenath - so glad you found us. How is the FMQ coming along? Thanks for following QUILTSocial. Elaine
Quilting Tangent August 30, 2015 - 11:41 am
Thanks for the tips.
Elaine Theriault March 15, 2016 - 5:21 am
You are most welcome for all the tips. Thanks for following QUILTSOcial. Elaine
Lynn Roberts August 18, 2015 - 8:50 pm
OMGoodness! I can't believe I just found this website! SO much help, I will be visiting here A LOT!!!!
Carla A. Canonico August 19, 2015 - 11:55 am
Lynn, so very, very glad you found us! Enjoy!
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