Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spaced Out Under the Foot

Happy 2011!  Thanks to everyone for your good wishes; I am muddling along.  Many emails have arrived, some with questions, and one of these deserves a bit of blog space here today as the snow falls, the washer washes, and Oliver watches me with half an eye, sleeping quietly most of the time near me as I work.

Years ago, Becky K. had issues with her free motion foot getting caught and stopped dead by extra thickness in the quilt in certain areas, such as many seam allowances converging at a point, even plain old seam allowances.  Any extra bulk and it was all but impossible to move the quilt smoothly and freely under the foot, and quite difficult to maintain rhythm and even stitches with all the stops and starts and struggling.

I too had this problem when I first began free motion quilting on a home machine.  Using the darning foot was problematic, because the clearance or space under it was very tight.  Going over seam joins was tough.  I got leaping stitches, toe catchers or tons of tiny ones all piled up and then a big one as I tugged on the quilt or lifted the foot to move it.  Frustrating!  Not good at all.

My machine at that time did not have any adjustments for pressure on the foot.  I have mentioned this in classes and books and articles because it is such a fabulous tool on the new machines (and some elderly ones as well) - the ability to set that pressure lower so the foot "floats" nicely over tough areas on the quilt top. 

What to do.  One of my friends, Jenny B., inserted a metal washer in the foot, just under the bottom of the spring where there already is a small thin metal washer, sort of a horseshoe shape.  She had to take the foot apart and put it together, but the result was fantastic!  It was possible to quilt on pieced tops without the foot getting stuck on the thickness.

Another friend, Jill S., was in an early Camp Diane, and she came up with small rubber rings ("O" rings) that you could simply snip and slide in under the spring.  She sent me bags of them but all are gone but one.  I decided to show you this amazing little tip if you have problems with not enough space under the foot when it is lowered and in position for free motion.  Or if you have a machine with no way to lessen the pressure on the foot.

Here is my #9 darning foot from my Bernina 1030.  Next to it is the little rubber O ring that Jill sent me, and some frog feet for ambiance.  This ring is the last one I have.  To find one for your foot, take the foot with you to the hardware store and find one that will fit.  The salespeople who gather round to help you will enjoy this job as it is fun, new, different, and you will be so happy and smiling when you get the right one.  They will feel super human and wonderful to have done this exacting job for you.

Take it home and prepare to modify your foot.  Sounds difficult, but it's easy.

First, cut a slit in the O ring, just one snip so it can open up like a "C."

Next, depress the foot by squeezing top and bottom, and slide in the opened O ring until it is settled nicely around the shank.  Release the pressure on the foot and voila!  A foot that will now give you a tiny bit more room under it (works great for trapunto too) and can be removed easily if it isn't needed. 

Attach it to machine and give it a try.  The quilt should feel much easier to move, and stitches should look the same.  However, if the quilt is very thin and flat, you will not need to do this, and it could cause skipped stitches. 

Below, photo of foot with the O ring inserted.  It is just above the smaller black one that is part of the original foot configuration.

If you have skipped stitches with it on the foot, it might be too much and the foot is acting as if it were in the "up" position.

If you need more clearance, and this helps but you still have to tug when you cross seam allowances, you could add another ring and give it a try.  I've never had to do that, but there is always the recalcitrant machine that needs extra help.

I  did add a smaller diameter one once to my Bernina 730's #29 foot when I did a bit of trapunto in a wild moment.  Even with the pressure reduced on that foot with the dial on the machine it wasn't enough to quilt smoothly.  I put in one tiny ring and it was perfect.  I took it out when done, machine back to normal.  It's a great option to have, a trick in your drawer of machine quilting arsenal.

Also, when you depress the foot it should go up and down on the shank with spring pressure smoothly.  If it is sticking and not working well, or squeaking, it might need some lubricant (your choice) such as a drop of oil on the inside cylinder and then press and release several times, wipe off excess oil. 

Feet can wear out, become bent or damaged with use.  I did get a new one for this machine due to the intensive amount of quilting I did way back then.

So I offer many thanks to Becky who prompted this blog post.  She wrote in her email to me: 

"I was quilting away today, I was making use of a tip you gave me way back then, and would have been unable to quilt had I not known this particular trick. I can' remember if it is in one of your books or not, but think it might be useful enough to pass on to your readers on your blog.

I am still quilting on the same 1031 Bernina from 1992, and the pressure on the foot is not adjustable. So when using the quilting foot (I use the small, open toed one), the amount of clearance is not adjustable. The quilt I am working on has Mariners Compasses with flying geese rings and in some areas of the piecing there are MANY layers of seam buildup, to the point that the quilt would not fit under the foot. Then I remembered you tip from so long ago, (haven't needed it in all these years, we're talking a lot of buildup!)

Luckily I still had the packet of Surgical rubber hinge rings (get them in the eyewear department at WalMart). I just inserted a snipped one at the bottom of the foot, between the bottom of the shaft and the end of the tubular back part of the foot that moves up and down the shaft. (If you put your index finger on the very top of the foot, and rest the bottom of the foot on your thumb, and squeeze, the foot will move up the shaft. The space opened at the bottom is where you insert the rubber ring. You snip the ring apart with scissors so it will easily slide on.)

I suspect that you may not have had to to do this for quite a while given sewing machine advancement over the past 18 years, so I explained the whole original tip as you gave it to me.

Sounds really odd, but that small additional amount of space makes all the difference in the world, and I have been gliding right over that seam allowance buildup for several days now, like it wasn't even there. Do have to remember to remove the ring when I go back to flatter areas, as that bit of extra space will then cause skipped stitches. But wow, what a wonderful help when I need it!

Anyone using an older machine that does not allow them to adjust the clearance of the foot would surely find this an invaluable bit of advice, I know I sure did, thank you again after all these years!"

And thanks to Becky for explaining it so well, and reminding me to tell you about it. 

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day.