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Quilting With The Quilt Expression 4.2

Quilting With The Quilt Expression 4.2

by Jennifer Houlden

Today is another rainy day, so a great day to stay in the studio and take a second test drive and do some quilting with the Quilt Expression 4.2. I am very excited about this after the very successful initial test drive for the Quilt Expression yesterday. We put the machine through its stitching paces with straight stitch, zigzag and some of the fancy decorative stitches.

Today I’m moving onto the quilting modes. As I do a lot of quilting with both the walking foot and free motion I’m very interested in seeing how the Quilt Expression 4.2 performs in these two areas.

The green flag has been raised and we’re off and running with this second test drive.

Important Features for Quilting

There are a couple of very important features that I like to have on my machine when I am quilting.

Needle down position

It certainly makes it much easier to stop and start in mid stitching if the needle can remain in the fabric when stopped. This allows for a continuous flow of the stitching with no jigs or jags because the needle took a little unwanted detour as you started again.

This feature is a must for me on any machine and this machine definitely has the feature. To turn on this feature hold the needle button down until the green light comes on beside it.

Needle down button

Needle down button

Foot Hover

Foot hover is when the presser foot hovers a few mm above the fabric when the machine is stopped and the needle is in the down position. This feature is especially useful when there is a lot of pivoting and turning to be done in a quilting motif.

The foot hover feature is found in the menu section under the heading Auto foot lift. It should have a dark square beside it meaning it is turned on, if not then scroll down to it and press okay to turn it on.

Foot hover in main menu

Foot hover in main menu

This machine does have the hover feature but if it didn’t there’s a way to create the feature manually. The external knee lift that I talked about in the first post, Out of the Box & Into the Studio can be used in the same manner only you are lifting the presser foot with the knee lift each time you stop and need to turn and pivot.

The lever just fits into the hole at the base of the machine near the accessory box and then hangs down below the table so it’s easily accessible with your knee.

Knee lift in place

Knee lift in place

Extended Sewing Surface

This is the perfect time to use the extension table as having the extra space will help with a smooth area for the quilt to glide over. It is imperative to make sure there is no drag on the quilt because if there is the stitch length and tension can be altered making for an uneven stitch line.

The ideal set up would be for the machine to be in a cabinet and flush with a table but unfortunately, most of us do not have that kind of set up and the machine is sitting up on a table.

I have come up with a solution for this problem by using small containers such as thread containers and small rubbermaids placed around the machine to extend the sewing machine platform making an even work surface the same height as the machine. Check out a picture of it here on Quilts by Jen, Extending Your Quilting Area. 

Extension table in place

Extension table in place


This is the most important part of quilting to ensure perfect looking stitches.

Don’t be afraid of adjusting your tension – depending on the thread being used, the fabrics being used and the number of layers being sewn over the tension often needs to be adjusted to get the best looking stitches that you can. You definitely don’t want the bobbin thread showing at the top especially if it’s a different color.

This machine has auto tension but there is also a place to change the tension manually if need be. It’s found in the main menu after pressing the tools icon. Use the arrow buttons to scroll up and down to change the tension and then press OK.

Tension - set at auto of 4.6

Tension – set at auto of 4.6

It’s always a very good idea to have a small quilt sandwich of the fabric and batting the same as the project to do some tension testing on before tackling the actual piece of work.

Each stitch also has a tension recommendation and is found on the display screen when you press the information button. This is very helpful for getting the tension just right but also note it may still need to be changed depending on the thread and fabrics being used.

Recommended thread tension for straight stitch

Recommended thread tension for straight stitch

When I quilt I use fancy threads on top and they are usually a heavier weight thread but in the bobbin I try to use a 40 or 50 weight cotton that matches the thread colour on top. Because I have a different weight of thread in the top and bobbin I usually then have to adjust my tension. Maybe with this machine I won’t have to.

Are you confused about the different weights of thread and what they mean? Here is a quick overview, The Thick and Thin of Thread.

The Walking Foot

I am so used to putting on a walking foot when I quilt that it was a bit strange not to have to do that with this machine. Because of the IDT system which I talked about the other day in Getting Ready For the Test Drive there is no need to have a walking foot.

The IDT system moves the layers of fabric evenly and smoothly just as a walking foot would. Make sure to use a foot that has a cut out for the IDT system such as 0A or 1A. Both of these feet also have a large clear area at the front of the foot making it easier to see the stitching.

IDT engaged and ready for quilting

IDT engaged and ready for quilting

Straight Line Quilting

When quilting with the IDT engaged the quilting is all straight stitch quilting in lines or slight curves. I put the stitch to a length of 3.0 as I felt that 2.5 was not quite long enough. The stitches are even and regular with a good tension on auto tension. These stitching lines I did at 1 ½ inches apart.

Straight stitch quilting

Straight stitch quilting

I was thinking that these lines of stitching looked a bit too plain so I decided to add in some lines perpendicular and build a grid keeping the lines the same distance apart as the horizontal ones.

A grid of 1 ½″ squares

A grid of 1 ½″ squares

Stitch in the Ditch

I thought to myself well I might as well use the blind hem stitch foot since it has the cut out for the IDT and give stitch in the ditch a go. This has never been my favorite quilting stitch and in fact I find it the hardest to do because if you fall out of the ditch it is so noticeable.

The trick is to use a finer weight thread on top and to match the colour exactly to the background. I used black for this one piece and a 50 weight cotton thread.  Normally I would use an even finer weight threat of 60, 80 or 100. I have to say I was very impressed with how well the blind hem stitch foot kept me on track and in the ditch.

Blind hem foot

Blind hem foot

The red piece on the foot is what sits in the ditch and guides you along the seam edge. This is also adjustable. The only issue I had was that it was hard to see where I was stitching since there is a lot of plastic and metal sitting in front of the needle but I did okay and stayed on track.

I was quite impressed with the results, maybe I’ll change my mind on whether or not I like stitch in the ditch. In fact the stitches are so well hidden that I didn’t even take a picture of them but take a look and see if you can see them on the star quilting below around the border.

Continuous Line Quilting

The less starts and stops in a quilting motif the better because the stitching remains smoother and flows more evenly. Plus the less tie offs one has to do the better.

I have an eight pointed star that I like to do as a continuous motif in squares. Lets see how it turned out.

eight pointed star motif

eight pointed star motif

The star turned out okay except I found that I had a bit of puckering of the fabric where the start and end were. You can see it in the lower left hand corner of the star. I wondered whether it did this because of the stitch in the ditch I did beforehand?

I figured I would give it another go and see what happens with no stitch in the ditch and no border.

Here’s the results.

Another 8 pointed star

Another 8 pointed star

I found that this star had the same issue but not as bad as the first one. You can see the puckering in the top right corner of the star.

I have just realised that I have been doing this stitching with a universal needle so will see what happens when I change to a topstitch needle. The sharper needle should help alleviate the bunching and pucker of fabric.

Third time's a charm

Third time’s a charm

Changing to a topstitch needle has certainly helped with the issue of bunching and puckering. The star looks much better now. Using a needle made specifically for quilting is always a good idea and always using the right tools for the job will definitely improve the final outcome.

Free Motion

When I was taking a look at all of the feet the other day I thought that I was missing the free motion foot as I didn’t see one that looked the way I thought it should. After a couple of e-mails with my contact person at Pfaff I discovered that oh yes it was indeed in the bag of accessories. A tiny little foot that I would have never guessed to be the free motion foot.

The Quilt Expression 4.2 machine uses either a sensormatic free motion or a spring foot. I only have the foot for the sensormatic free motion so I will be test driving with it today. This is the 6A foot – a bit different looking than what most of us are use to.

The sensormatic free motion foot

The sensormatic free motion foot

Getting Started

Press the tool icon to the right of the display screen to bring up the main menu. You can see the tool icon just above the ‘i’ button in the photo below. Scroll down to the sensormatic free motion line and press OK to engage this mode. Use the arrows to the right of the display screen to do this.

Sensormatic free motion turned on

Sensormatic free motion turned on

Make sure to lower the feed dogs. The feed dog lever is found at the front of the machine just to the right of the accessory box. Shift the lever to the left to lower the feed dogs. Lowering the feed dogs allows the fabric to move more freely and gives you the quilter control of where the fabric moves and the stitches are stitched. When you’re finished with the free motion mode don’t forget to put them back up. I do this all the time and then wonder why my machine won’t sew.

Lever for feed dogs

Lever for feed dogs

I always wear gloves with rubber tipped fingers when I am doing free motion quilting. This just makes it easier to move the fabric under the foot and have better control of the stitches.

I also use a Supreme Slider under the fabric which helps the fabric glide more smoothly and prevent any drag.

Both of these are optional tools but do make life much easier when free motion quilting.

Gloves & Supreme Slider

Gloves & Supreme Slider

Stippling or meandering

Now that I have everything in place it is time to take the sensormatic free motion foot for a test drive.

I love free motion quilting – it’s like doodling with thread. So much fun to see what happens as the fabric is moved under the foot.

I was amazed and impressed at how well the sensormatic system works as I have only used the spring based system in the past with other machines. The stitches are even and uniform. The fabric slides well and it was easy to free motion with. The tension was perfect on the auto mode and I didn’t have to change anything with the 50 weight thread I was using in the top and bobbin.

Learn a little more about free motion stippling also known as meandering. 

Stippling sample

Stippling sample

Free Motion Zigzag

I like to do a fair bit of free motion zigzag which means setting the machine to zigzag while in free motion. This means that the needle moves side to side rather than back and forth. Because the feed dogs are down I am in charge of where the stitches will end up and what design I can create.

It’s has a much more erratic look than just straight stitch free motion. Once mastered it’s a lot of fun to use and create motifs such as trees, grasses, etc.

I use this stitch a lot for applique which I’ll demonstrate tomorrow.

Free motion zigzag

Free motion zigzag

Tie-Off Mode

There are many ways to start and finish a line of stitching. You can leave tails of thread at the beginning and end of stitching then tie and bury them under the backing afterwards. This is the time consuming method but also a very nice finish. I have to say it is my favourite method.

For those of you who do not wish to spend time with the above method most machines now come with a tie-off option and a pair of scissors to cut the thread when finished. The Quilt Expression 4.2 is no exception to this feature.

I did like how it performed as it didn’t leave a knot but rather went back and forth over the first and last stitches at the same length that the rest of the stitching was done. However, you could change the stitch length when at this part so that they are a bit smaller. The scissors did leave little tails but those would be easy enough to snip off after the fact.

Another successful day of test driving. Only one day left to see what this Quilt Expression 4.2 can do. Tomorrow will be applique stitch day and I am sure you won’t want to miss it.

Until then, Happy Quilting



Nannett Jordan April 16, 2018 - 5:59 pm

Can you tell me about the balance feature on the QE 4.2? How and when it’s needed.

Michele T March 28, 2018 - 6:44 am

I have the Quilt Expression 3.0 and am now considering an upgrade after your very informative article. I love all the extra features and want to do some FMQING! Thanks!

Vandis December 2, 2017 - 8:37 am

Dears, I have Quilt Expression 4.2 for a few months now. I am also struggling with the free motion but there are plenty ideas for that. I would like to ask help what “balance” means, that can be adjusted in the settings. There is no exact specification for that anywhere, not even in the manual. It says I can set it between 7 and -7 and use it in case of special fabrics or technique. Now I am a novice in sewing, every new technique and fabric seems special for me. Can anybody tell some example what “balance” is for? Thank you very much!

Carla A. Canonico December 5, 2017 - 1:00 pm

Thank you for your inquiry, balance adjustments should be made to a decorative stitch if when it is sewn it is overlapping or has gaps where there shouldn’t be any. It is supposed to look like the stitch pictured in the lid of the machine. Adjusting the balance will either improve the stitch or distort it more and this is why you have a range from +7 to -7. If the original stitch sewn is looking good then no adjustment is needed. I hope this helps!

Joanie June 4, 2017 - 3:07 pm

Just found this site 2017, I’ve had my 4.2 for 7 months, love it, my question is can I use The Fabric Mover on this model?

Theresa Domzal August 25, 2016 - 7:07 pm

My sister-in-law recently upgraded and gave me her Pfaff 4.0. She also gave me some practical tips for getting great results. My daughter, a new quilter, recently purchased a 4.2. Among the three of us, we’ve encountered some of the problems mentioned above. Our solutions vary from your responses and may help your current readers.

If the thread cutter is not working properly and the machine jams, change the needle and rethread both the top and bobbin threads. The needle may be dull or slightly bent. This can be the answer too, if you get error messages to clear the jam and have already cleaned the area under the plate.

You can use all the thread on the bobbin if you don’t click OK to the message. Just keep sewing until you are ready to stop or run out of thread. Click OK after you have changed the bobbin. I try not to run out of bobbin thread as it can necessitate a rethreading of the upper thread, as well as changing the bobbin.

Fancy stitches overlapping? Make sure the walking foot is disengaged.

I appreciate all of your practical advice. I live over two hours away from a Pfaff dealer and rely on other quilters posting info online. Keep stitching and sharing! Thanks!

Sharon January 24, 2016 - 3:51 pm

Hello Ladies, I am fairly new to quilting and have the 4.2 . It’s a beautiful machine. Many features I have not used yet. I want to applique and will use the blanket stitch. How can I pattern restart? It doesn’t mention it in the manual. Can you help? !!

Carla A. Canonico January 25, 2016 - 2:46 pm

Hi Sharon, good question. You can restart the stitch on the Expression 4.2. Go to page 2:10 of the manual and you’ll find information on the Stitch Restart button. I highly recommend you take your owner’s classes from your dealer as they go through all the features of the machine during the owner’s classes. This will be most helpful.

Mary Aldworth January 7, 2016 - 9:35 pm

I love my new machine but I am feeling frustrated because it will not let me empty the bobbin. It warns me that the bobbin is almost empty and then refuses to sew. I feel that I am wasting a lot of bobbin thread by having to preplace it with a new full bobbin. I’d like to use all of the thread in the bobbin before replacing it.

Help Mary

Carla A. Canonico January 13, 2016 - 9:19 am

Hi Mary,
The low bobbin indicator on the Expression 4.2 needs to have some thread left on it in order for it to detect when it is low. On some of our machines (more top of line ones) you can continue to sew while the low bobbin indicator is still showing. Depending on the type and color of thread the customer is using, there may be enough for a couple more seams, to finish a decorative stitch or buttonhole. If you want to continue sewing until the bobbin is empty you can leave the door to the bobbin area open and the low bobbin indicator will no longer work (there is an eye in the bobbin area door that, when connected to an eye behind the bobbin, brings up the low indicator message). The only issue with it is you will no longer get the low bobbin indicator show up when the bobbin thread is low so I guess it’s whichever is more important to you at that moment. I hope this helps.

Anne Marie Phillips September 7, 2015 - 5:19 pm

I have just got a qe 4.2 for my birthday (what a wonderful husband) I am gradually getting to grips with it but it seems that as soon as i get one thing sorted, another problem pops up. Now, when I do fancy stitches, they end up overlapping each other. This was working fine before. I have changed the needle, re-threaded top and bottom, cleared out any lint but to no avail. I am using a size 70 needle and Aurifil Mako 50 thread. What am I doing wrong?

Carla A. Canonico January 13, 2016 - 2:02 pm

Hi Anne Marie,
I’m wondering if you’re using stabilizer with the decorative stitches and whether you’re using the correct foot – Foot 2A or 1A. Both have a raised area under the foot to allow the decorative stitches to feed through. If you’re using the standard 0A foot for regular sewing there isn’t enough room under the foot to allow the stitches to feed properly. If, after following these suggestions, you’re still having issues with the stitches, you may need to take it to your dealer to have them check the balance. I would also suggest going to your dealer for lessons they offer on the machine, this way you get the most from your machine. I hope this helps.

Anne Marie August 17, 2015 - 12:39 pm

I have a new 4.2. It is wonderful for everything except free motion. I am really struggling with that. The bobbin tension seems to be so tight and is pulling the top thread through. Sometimes it just refuses to sew any stitches at all! Sews perfectly when sewing straight lines.

Carla A. Canonico September 3, 2015 - 2:27 pm

Hi Anne Marie, I would suggest that you take your machine to your dealer and have them check it. I would also recommend you take the thread and bobbin thread you’re using along with a fabric sandwich sample so the dealer can see what is causing the issues – also maybe a sample of what you’re getting when you’re free motion quilting.

Trisha July 21, 2015 - 11:43 am

Hi there, I was so interested to read your review of this machine. I sew on a Pfaff with built in dual feed, it is over 20 years old. Just recently I bought a new Janome quilting special with wide arm and all the whistles and bells, as my aunt left me some money. As I taught textiles on a course, thought I had better update my machine, was longing to try a computerized one. What a waste of money, I have just sold it on ebay, serviced and repaired, after 2 years, only made two things on it, and not happy with either. The feet were wobbly, and not well designed, inaccurate seams even with the patchwork foot, a race hook shied that cracked (made of plastic inside the machine) and several bobbin covers that broke too. I hated fitting the fiddly walking foot which had a extra piece to take off and put on each time as well, but most of all, the stitch quality compared to the old Pfaff was so poor.
After reading your piece was wondering if a new Pfaff (my machine is very old) would be a better supplement? To be honest, the needle up/down etc and lots of features on the new one seemed a bit superfluous, the sensitivity of control on the old one means you can end/start needle/up as you prefer, just controlling the foot pedal! Does you model have a vertical or horizontal race hook and do you know if it has plastic parts/how durable and strong it is? Trisha (UK)

Carla A. Canonico July 27, 2015 - 10:03 pm

Thank you for your questions regarding a newer Pfaff sewing machine. While some of the features may appear superfluous, they make your sewing so much easier and enjoyable. Having sewn on the Pfaff machine, using the needle up/down button means I don’t have to worry about stopping and turning the fly wheel or trying to control the foot pedal – I just let my machine stop with the needle in the down position. On some machines, the presser foot will even raise just higher than the thickness of the fabric for easy pivoting. Even if I forget to use the needle up/down button, a simple tap of the foot pedal will lower the needle, another tap and the needle is up! Even with the great new features, I still have complete control over my Pfaff sewing machine! Another great feature with the newer computerized machines is the needle always stops at the top dead center – meaning the stitch is always finished – no skipped stitches when turning/pivoting at a corner because I didn’t bring the needle up high enough…

Pfaff sewing machines have a top loading, horizontal, rotating race hook for even stitches and I can easily see when my bobbin needs replacing. While there are plastic parts on the machine, it is a very strong and durable plastic which helps to keep the weight of the machine down and makes them very portable – important when taking your machine to sewing retreats/classes.

I would check out the newer machines at your local Pfaff dealer and ask them to show you some of the newer features so you can see for yourself how they will really make your sewing even more enjoyable and creative! Enjoy!!

Katie May 3, 2015 - 12:59 am

Hello! I really appreciate your videos on the Pfaff QE 4.2. I’m trying to make my first king size quilt (Dresden plate). The blanket stitch (#60) is creating a “V” shape when the stitch moves from the left to the right. The straight stitch in the background fabric is fine. The problem is the thread that takes a “bite” out of the Dresden plate. It’s OK (sort of) using the shortest stitch. It looks like the presser foot is dragging the stitch and creating the V. I adjusted the presser foot tension but it did not help. I’m using Isacord 40 and a 80/12 microtex needle.

I called the dealer where I bought the machine but have yet to hear back from them 🙁 So much for customer service!

Do you have any advice?

Thank you!!

Jennifer Houlden July 13, 2015 - 11:50 am

Hi Katie Do you have a stabilizer behind the the piece that you are stitching? The stitch will make a V if there is no stabilizer as it has very little to anchor itself to. A leave in stabilizer such as Pellon fusible fleece works great to eliminate the V thing. You can also use a tear away stabilizer rather than a leave in one. Jen

Carol Dodge March 5, 2015 - 11:18 am

Hi there,
Have purchased this machine end of last year (Oct), and up to now have been in love with it. However, at the weekend it has started playing up. First the automatic thread cutter isn’t cutting properly, and now it sews a couple of stitches then jams up with thread under the stitch plate. I have thouroughly cleaned the bobbin area and feed dogs etc under plate, and tried other threads and bobbins. Help.

Jennifer Houlden March 7, 2015 - 6:17 am

Carol, I am sorry you are having issues with your machine. My suggestion is that you take the machine back to where you bought it to be serviced as there is clearly an issue in the bobbin area that should be looked at. All the best, Jen

alice siler April 23, 2015 - 8:27 pm

I had the same problem.I had to send it back to the factory twice as the dealer could not fix it. It still will do that on occasion. good luck.

Jennifer Houlden July 13, 2015 - 11:54 am

Hi Alice Glad to hear that you were able to get the machine fixed but sorry that it still occasionally acts up. Jen

Dottie Godolphin February 23, 2015 - 1:09 pm

I too own a 4.2…I have had it since 8-2013. I love so much about this machine…but I quilt and am having a devil of a time getting it to have pretty stitches on the top of my quilt compared to the bottom. I have changed the tension and worked on a sample to see what was best…none of them have a pretty stitch on top where everyone can see it!!…..what am I doing wrong. I will be glad to attach a picture of my samples if needed. I have BOTH free motion feet and have tried both. The spring seems to do better than the sensormatic…what could be the problem?
Dottie Godolphin
Quilting for over 15 years.—and my 3 Pfaff

Jennifer Houlden February 24, 2015 - 7:35 am

Hi Dottie What a shame you are having issues with the free motion quilting. Without seeing what the stitching is doing it is hard for me to give you any advice. Are you using a needle for quilting such as a topstitch or quilting and the correct size of needle for the thread such as 90/14 especially if using a thicker thread? Are you using the same thread top and bobbin or different? Have you had your machine serviced lately – possibly the timing may be out and or there could be a burr in the bobbin mechanism causing havoc with the free motion quilting. If you want to send pics to me you can – I will send you a PM with my email. Jen

Diane July 27, 2014 - 7:20 am

Jennifer I’ve been going through a video on the machine on utube
At 25.43 there is info on tying off. There is a second straight stitch (52) which locks a bit differently and looks really nice. I’m salivating over this machine but it will be a few months before I can buy one. In the meantime I hope to pick up lots of tips from you.

Jennifer Houlden July 28, 2014 - 9:52 am

Hi Diane, thanks for the info. I am moving onto a different machine for my week in August but I have certainly enjoyed my 2 weeks with this machine. Jen

Paula Rudolph June 23, 2014 - 4:45 pm

This is one of my favorite machines. We are a PFAFF Dealer & this is great to see you like it also. Happy Stitching!


Jennifer Houlden June 23, 2014 - 6:11 pm

Thanks Paula. It is a great machine with so many wonderful functions.


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