I am back home from my wonderful time in Paducah at the National Quilt Museum and two classes for 39 terrific quilters. The weather was amazing, the best I've ever experienced there, cool at night, dry and sunny and 70's in the day with autumn color and deep blue skies. Lovely.
We quilted and we learned. I always learn so much from those in class and we laughed a lot too. One of the techniques I stressed this time was curving parallel lines, and learning to echo quilt well so that anything is possible.
Depending on the batt, thread used, fabrics, as well as design choice, switching to a smaller needle gave a better result unless one of those things wasn't quite right, and then we had problems.
One problem can be skipped stitches, see sample in photo above. Everything was working fine for one student until she put in a #60 needle with a fine cotton thread. A combination of the thin batt and the small needle caused skipped stitches. Going back to the #70 needle solved the problem.
Almost always skipped stitches are caused by one of the following:
the needle being too small for the thread
the batt being very thin and flat
the presser foot pressure too low
a defective needle
threading done incorrectly
hands too fast for the speed of the machine
Sometimes it is a combination of things, so try one thing at a time. Re-thread, try a bigger needle, check the pressure on the foot for the thickness of the batt.
The thicker and poufier the batt, the lower the pressure on the foot should be so the quilt will glide smoothly and easily. I switch mine to a lower pressure if I need to quilt over an island of puff without causing pleats, increase it for doing free motion straight lines for a bit more control. I usually decrease the pressure a bit for any free motion quilting for ease of movement, and to avoid the dreaded snowplowing of excess fabric, and the inevitable pleat that results.
Also, slow down your hands to a smooth even consistent motion. If you want to move them faster, increase the speed of the machine to keep up with them. Needles stop breaking and skipped stitches will be a memory.
By the way, in the photo, above, the thread tension is perfect. You want a softly curving stitch, no visible bobbin thread, that showcases the thread, that doesn't stretch it flat and tight. I usually recommend for all free motion quilting lowering the top tension one number. Some of the newer machines might need less, or some not any depending on the thread, but a little leeway for the stitches to go in all directions is a very good thing. And I didn't really have skipped stitches; I moved the needle over a bit and then continued to get a facsimile of a skipped stitch.
Try some curving, echoed lines for an interesting new way of quilting. The bowl, above, should give you some ideas and a challenge!
I will be teaching at the museum in Paducah, KY next October in 2011, an introductory class first for quilters with free motion experience, and an advanced class for returning students to continue the adventure. Check the museum's website for information; there are still openings in these classes, and I have not booked any more events after '11. http://www.quiltmuseum.org/
It's great to be home, Oliver really, really missed me and spent all day yesterday playing, attacking me, helping me unpack, scratching my suitcases, and having an ecstatic cat day. I wish I could take him along, but perhaps his adventures will have to remain sniffing my shoes and clothes and wondering where I have been.
Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!