Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2: Threads and Needles

I often get comments on FMQ on the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2 and previously also on the 4.0. Unfortuantely some quilters are No-reply bloggers so there is no way of emailing them back. If this is 'you' check your settings and consult one of the many posts on the internet on how to fix this. If not fixable via settings, please email me direct.

Tonight catie080 is ready to throw her sewing machine out of the window (oh yes, remember this well!). She was talking about the difference on stitching on little practice samples compared to when going on a real quilt. Apparently her Pfaff 4.2 just does not behave itself...the whole caboodle of skipped stitches and shredded thread.
Unfortunately there was not enough information to get an idea what this might be due to. Give me an email, Catie, with a return email if you want to discuss this further...

Let me start with - this machine should not have any problems with FMQ at all...
I am not affiliated with Pfaff other than owning a Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2 and having learnt all my quilting skills on Pfaff machines, so these are my own opinions based on some research on the topic and trials and (many) errors I have gone through trying to master FMQ. Please don't get me wrong...I do not want to show off, but nowadays I do very few practice samples...I usually chuck my thread in, put my settings to what I need, do a couple of stitches on the practice piece to see that the tension is right and off I go on the real thing (unless of course I am doing a brand new design that I need to practice).
My current project

Skipped stitches and shredded thread seems suggestive of an issue with choosing the right needle for the thread used. The relationship between the weight of the thread and the size of the needle is very important if you want your sewing machine to perform well (and the Pfaff in particular seems very sensitive to that).
When I first started FMQ  and particularly when I got my second machine, the Pfaff QE 4.0, I remember thinking that the machine was extraordinary finicky and temperamental. At the time I questioned my decision in terms of having upgraded to a fairly costly machine with all the bells and whistles. As I delved into the topic I realised that I had some learning to do in terms of weights of threads and sizes of needles. I then found Harriet Hargraves book 'Heirloom Machine Quilting' - an older book but in my eyes an absolute treasure. She has a whole chapter on threads and needles and some suggestions on what needle size to use with what thread weight. Highly recommended. The other thing I would recommend is stopping to experiment with lots of different threads, needles and settings, instead:
- find a thread that you like and stick with it for a while, so you can experience this particular thread with different kind of designs/speed and with different kinds of wadding; I settled on Aurifil 50/2 thread at that point which is a beautiful thread with a nice sheen to it - never had any issues stitching with this thread; as you get more experience with time, you can start to experiment with different threads...by then you will have worked out your machine and will know what setting and what needle it needs;
- work out what tension you need for your particular thread; if unsure, make a practice sample where you literally go up or down in tension line by line...you soon will learn where that perfect tension sits. While the tension may vary by a point or so depending on the way you stitch or maybe the alignment of the planets, it should only ever vary by a point up or down; my Aurifil 50/2 tension sits usually at 3.8
- next, go through your needle sizes...you can stitch this thread (Aurifil 50/2) with an 80/12, which I would recommend if you are doing a somewhat faster design like stippling or swirls. For slower, more deliberate designs however, your stitching will look better if you use a 70/10 needle; try a normal 70/10 needle first and then try the same with a 70/10 sharp needle; your stitches will now start looking more refined;
- if you are a gadget queen like me, you will have several feet for your sewing machine; each of them will perform slightly differently and you will have to work out which one suits you best; I now stitch mostly with the Dynamic 6D foot...this is a good allrounder and performs well for both slow and fast designs; I am embarrassed to say, but I recently bought the old Springloaded foot again (after the little plastic knob at the top fell off again)...no other reason that I am strangely attached to that foot as I learned to FMQ on that; The visiblity on that foot is not that great, but I like this foot for doing the slower feather designs; I rarely use the closed Sensormatic foot, mainly because I find the noise it makes annoying, however it would be good to use for stippling, where you can literally just glide across the surface. Again I would suggest to stick with the foot that suits you best for a while to get your practice and confidence going.
- and finally, listen to your machine; I rely heavily on the sound of the machine and can tell by the sound as to whether the machine is performing well or not; there is that rhythmic purr that tells me all is well and my stitches are going to look good.

Skipped stitches: they are going to happen from time to time! Obviously, check the threading of the machine and your bobbin first if it skips every other stitch.  However, if you have the occasional skipped stitch, and everything else is alright, I find that it often has to do with the way I move the fabric...just not in sink with the rhythm of the machine, indicating that I am getting tired and loosing concentration. 

Hope this helps



  1. thank you for sharing what works for you. One thing that I found on my Grand Quilter Pfaff was the needle plate had a burr inside the edge of opening, where the needle enters. That caused thread shredding, irregular stitching while on the frame. I spent hours doing this detective work and once I had a new needle plate, it sewed just fine.

  2. Great post. I agree it isn't the Pfaff, but getting to know the machine with the thread and needle. Some machines just stitch along so much happier with certain threads, but most it is just a matter of finding the right tension, needle, thread combo and that takes a bit of practice.


  3. As you know Karin your blog posts on fmq with the Pfaff 4.2 are usually at my side when I embark on an fmq project. They have been invaluable. Rather like Catie and I guess all of us I have been at that stage of frustration with our machines. For what's it worth my greatest problems with shredding/thread breaks/skipped stitching whilst doing fmq happened early on and I put it down to the sensormatic foot, my jerky movement of the fabric and on one project a rather old and stiff piece of wadding. I now use the open toed spring loaded foot. This is one that came out a year ago? I like the visibility. I use the machine settings you give on the post on that foot. Although my fmq and your fmq are sadly a world apart I don't get the thread breaks I used to get or slipped stitches unless I moved the fabric out of sync and most important of all I'm beginning to really enjoy it.
    PS sorry for being an occasional non blogger. I just forget to log into my google account. Easily done but frustrating for you.

  4. Hello Karin, thank you for your 'reply' in the form of another informative post! I was quite chuffed to say the least! I took the machine into my dealer and she sat down with me to check it out. What she noticed is that some of the thread I was using was quite thick. There are so many different ways of measuring the thickness of thread, but let's just say that what I had was a bit thicker than the Aurifil 40wt. The thread she sells in her shop is Amann Rasant 120 which is tex24. I have worked out that Aurifil 50 is around tex20 (which is actually thinner despite having a smaller number) Anyway, the machine was making a pretty laboured sound with the thicker thread (in the bobbin too) and when we swapped it out and put the Rasant in and it worked fine. She said that if I want to use thicker thread for FMQ then I need to change the bobbin tension, which you can't easily do on this machine so I ordered a new bobbin holder that will be calibrated to the thicker thread that I left with her for the technician to match up. I still haven't used the new bobbin, but I bought the 6D foot and popped Aurifil 50wt in the top and bobbin and managed to stipple a baby quilt with absolutely no problems! My conclusion from all this is that the machine as lovely as it is, is probably a bit too technical for my limited experience. I now realise what people mean when they write that a simple perhaps even mechanical machine is best for learning on. Still, I am getting the hang of this machine and I do love how straight and easy the material feeds through the machine. It sews really well and now that I have learned some new tricks for FMQ, that is working too. So thank you again for your feedback - it was nothing that couldn't be worked out, and I'm super glad I didn't throw the Pfaff out the window! :-D

    1. So glad you got your machine sorted and thanks for the info. I have some Rasant spools and was wondering what weight they were.

  5. Karin I appreciate this more than you know! Just started my first big FMQ project on my 4.2 and was ready to scream and throw the whole thing out the window after tons of attempts with different threads and needles. This helped so much and I am having a wonderful quilting experience now!❤️❤️❤️❤️

  6. Im so pleased i found your blog. i'm a relatively new sewer and am currenty working on my first ever patchwork quilt project (a bee themed patchwork quilt in memory of my dad who passed in December which will be raffled in aid of our local hospital in august. i too have been having issues with thread shredding, snapping and generally being a nightmare whilst doing FMQ -to the extent that i was about to throw everything in the bin.. and regretted buying my beloved pfaff QE4.2(Phoebe)
    then i came across your blog.
    After doing a bit of reading about needles and threads and seeing that you reduced your tension from the preset 5.2, i had a play around and found the settings i needed to make Phoebe do her thing without snapping and shredding the thread and i have just finished quilting to quilt :) :)

    1. Yes, no idea why the preset tension is so high...have never not ever used this. I am so glad this worked for you and your Phoebe...there is no holding back now!


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