Yesterday we delivered a longarm to a customer upgrading from a 17″ throat to a 24″ throat machine with more options and ergonomic, adjustable handles front and rear. The machine used, only a few years old, but I had sent it back to the Nolting factory to have them go through and make sure everything was as it should be. When the machine arrived back from the factory I put it on a frame and stitched with it to make sure I was satisfied with everything.
At the delivery we replaced the short frame arms and short carriage rails with longer ones (an easy upgrade with Nolting frames) to accommodate the 24″ throat Pro and put the machine on the frame. My customer had practice fabric and batting ready to load so that I could train her in the use of her “new” machine. We basted the batting and top onto the backing and started stitching. The basting stitches worked well, but when we started sewing we occasionally got a long stitch, sometimes half an inch long, other times much longer. In addition, we noticed that it always seemed to be a vertical stitch (front to rear).
Before we started we used the Towa Bobbin Tension Gauge to set the correct bobbin tension for the M-hook (200 to 225 for the Nolting machine), then adjusted the top tension for a balanced tension. As the tension was OK, we knew we could rule out tension as the problem. The clue we focused on was the vertical long stitch. Skipped stitches vertically could indicate a problem with the encoder on the side of the machine, so we replaced the encoder and made sure that the encoder wheel made good contact in the carriage rail. Hoping this would solve the problem we tested again, and again the same long, skipped stitch.
Use a List
Working through a list of possible causes for skipped stitches we (1) changed the needle, but that didn’t correct the problem. (2) Made sure the quilt sandwich was level and only a finger width of space under the take-up roller, and loosened the quilt sandwich slightly as both of these could cause skipped stitches. Again, same problem of long, skipped stitches. Knowing that this machine had stitched perfectly several months ago when it came back from the factory, we had to look at other possible causes.
Again focusing on the long, skipped stitch, we realized that it only happened when the machine was moving away from the front of the frame toward the back of the frame. It is important to slow down and analyze everything carefully when something like this is happening. The customer had put a fine thread in the top, something to consider. But, the key was moving the machine toward the back. Needle flex will happen with longarm machines, even with a larger, sturdier needle. The machine had a MR 4.5 (size 19). But the other factor was, one of the fabrics was a batik which, because of its high thread count, can be challenging to stitch.
What we observed was excellent stitch quality except in one direction with needle flex a
possibility, so we decided to check the timing. After taking off the throat plate and rotating the hook to the correct position we found the timing position correct, but the hook was a tad too far from the needle. We are talking a very small distance too far away, but enough to see day light between the needle and hook. We adjusted the hook distance, put everything back together and tested stitching again. SUCCESS!! The machine stitched beautifully and there were no long, skipped stitches.
Diagnosing and trouble shooting issues with longarm machines can sometimes be challenging because there are a number of variables involved. To diagnose, find the root problem, and solve it, each of those variables must be considered and evaluated. When diagnosing, rather than jumping to a conclusion, I think it is important to consider every possibility and to work through those, starting first with the things that can easily be checked and changed (changing needle, adjusting tension on the quilt top, etc) and moving to other possibilities until the cause has been found. For these reasons, I have included a comprehensive chart type trouble shooting guide in my book, Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting. Although written for Nolting owners, this guide provides helpful information on the various aspects of longarm quilting (beneficial to all longarm quilters), free motion and template quilting, a maintenance and repair guide for Nolting machines, the trouble shooting guide which covers issues common to all longarm machines, and many tips, hints, and resources. Click to buy the Guide now.
Issues like this are inevitable. Rather than panic, analyze carefully what is happening, when it happens, take into consideration the thread, batting and fabric you are using. Then, go through a list of possible causes checking out each one until you find the problem. Often there is something you can do to correct the problem, but if not, you can tell your dealer or the company tech what you have already tried as they work to solve the problem.