Thread Troubleshooting

Hello fellow thread lovers! Karen Miller of Redbird Quilt Co. with you today to share some troubleshooting advice for your day to day quilting challenges.

Working with the great folks at Aurifil has afforded me opportunities to learn all the ways in which Aurifil threads are applied to projects. It’s also exposed me to many of the challenges we as quilters and makers see in our everyday sewing adventures. In this post I’ll share a few troubleshooting steps intended to address machine-stitched thread breakage, shredding, skipping, loops, eyelashes, and more.

Before we discuss more advanced troubleshooting steps let’s run through these basics:

Pause, take a deep breath and know you can get to the bottom of this! Perseverance pays.

Check Your Presser Foot
It must be in the down position to engage your tension discs. Without top tension you’ll see a mess of thread on the bottom of your sandwich.

Without bobbin tension you’ll likely have railroad tracks or flat stitches on the top of your sandwich (at best!!)

Rethread the Top Thread
Take care to catch all the tension discs and guides. Refer to your machine guide for details. Be sure your pressure foot is raised when you thread the machine allowing the thread to properly enter and exit the discs.

Rethread the Bobbin Thread
Be sure the bobbin is drawing correctly and that the thread passes through the tension springs of the drop-in or bobbin-case areas. Refer to your machine guide for details.

Janome 7700 —

Featherweight 221 —

Bernina 240 —

Reset Your Needle
Ensure it is inserted properly (flat side facing to the back or to the left depending on your machine brand and model) and thoroughly tightened.

Spool Cap
Use the smallest cap available for your machine.  Ideally the cap size should be the same diameter as the opening of your thread spool.

So… use this cap:

Ideal Spool Cap

not this cap:

Large Spool Cap

Thread Breakage
If you’re using a large spool of Aurifil thread gently twist and loosen the bottom flange to ensure the thread is not pinched and is allowed to draw easily from the spool.


Replace Your Needle
Be sure to use the right size and type needle for your project and thread weight.

Even if you’ve heard this a thousand times, it’s worth repeating: A new needle is the best $1.25 investment you can make in your sewing project.

Old, bent, damaged, or dull needles are trouble. Sometimes a new needle can be trouble too – so don’t give up if you continue to see issues after inserting a new needle. Get a package (or two) of your favorite needles and let each new project begin with a new needle.

Karen’s Tips:  
Because I love quilting with all weights of Aurifil thread I keep a variety of needle sizes handy so I can switch my needle size to play well with my chosen thread weight.

For piecing with Aurifil 50wt a Microtex Sharp needle 80/12 or 75/11 is just right.

When I use heavier threads like 12wt & 28wt I utilize a Topstitch needle.   The Topstitch needle has an elongated eye and a groove down the entire shaft – the perfect place for a heavyweight thread to ride as it’s penetrating layers of fabric, applique and batting. I buy Topstitch needles in both the Assortment pack and 90/14 pack (which I use most frequently). Give them a try – you’ll be happy you did.

80wt – Microtex Sharp 70/10 or 75/11 ||  80wt or 50wt bobbin
50wt – Microtex Sharp 75/11 or 80/12 ||  50wt bobbin
40wt – Topstitch 80/12 or 90/14 || 50wt bobbin
28wt – Topstitch 90/14 || 50wt bobbin
12wt – Topstitch 100/16 || 40wt or 28wt bobbin
Monofilament – Microtex Sharp 70/11 or larger ||  50wt bobbin || Lower top tension

Check out this great guest post from Schmetz for more helpful info.

Give Your Machine a Spa Day
Has your machine been to the spa lately?

Yes, our machines need spa days too… or maybe just a good cleaning! If you’re like me, you’re using Quilt Shop quality 100% cotton fabric, 100% cotton or wool batting, and 100% Egyptian cotton Aurifil thread in the top and bobbin. All these natural fibers can lead to lint bunnies in your machine. Protect your machine investment and set yourself up for success by keeping your machine in tip-top condition.

Karen’s Tips:
Every other bobbin: Remove lint and dust bunnies from your bobbin area and needle shaft.

Every project: Thoroughly clean and oil your machine per manufacturers guidelines.

Every 6-12 months: Have your machine serviced by a qualified technician.   The techs can uncover and solve issues we may not recognize – protect your investment.

In the factory, machine tension is set to stitch through 2 layers of fabric using a 50wt, 3ply thread. With today’s advanced threads and wide variety of available weights and ply, the “default” or factory setting isn’t always the best number. If your thread is breaking or shredding, consider troubleshooting this setting by loosening your top tension. This is accomplished by selecting a lower number on your dial or digital setting.

Lowering the tension by a whole number or 2 will allow you to examine the impact on a fabric sample (use a sample that closely represents the project materials you’re using).

Once you’ve lowered the top tension run through a sample. If the thread no longer breaks or shreds but the bobbin thread is now showing on top, reduce the top tension another whole number. If the top thread is showing on the bottom side, you’ll need to step up or increase the top tension to bring it back to the top.

Tension — it’s a tug of war between the top and bottom thread. I love the simplicity of this Tension diagram from a 1947 Singer Featherweight 221.

Playing with and conquering tension issues is one of the scariest yet most rewarding lessons of all time. Once you’ve tackled this challenge you’ll rest easier knowing you can do it anytime. Be sure to jot down what you started with, especially if your machine has analog settings. This way you’ll know how to set it back to “default”. I could talk about tension all day long, but I’ll save those details for another post.

Thread Delivery
How is your machine setup? I love this slide from the Aurifilosophy program that shows how Cross Wound spools prefer to be drawn from the top, not the side, of the spool.

If you’re experiencing shredding, breaking, or skipped stitches, consider how your machine is setup to draw thread from the spool. If a vertical post is your only choice, these alternatives may help to achieve the “preferred” thread delivery setup.

Convert your vertical spool holder to a horizontal mount like I did with this nifty Thread Post from The Featherweight Shop. (Read more in this January 2020 Thread Matters article.)

Utilize an external thread stand. They are inexpensive and work great with spools and cones!

Drop your spool or cone in a heavy mug or drinking glass that is positioned behind your machine.

via Auribuzz

If you’ve tried all of the steps above and can’t seem to get past the challenge, it may have something to do with your batting. Over the years I’ve learned that my machine, needle, and thread are not always happy with my batting choices. It’s true, I can stitch to my heart’s content with 100% cotton batting, a cotton/poly blend, or 100% wool batting. But honestly, when I try to quilt with 100% poly batting it’s a total disaster. I scratch my head about it but wanted to share this particular trouble spot in case you experience the same challenge with your project. Try replacing a small section of the project with a non-polyester batting and see if it helps.

If you’ve run through the troubleshooting steps outlined above and have yet to find an answer to your challenge be sure to reach out to Aurifil Customer Service in the United States or Italy. They’ll be more than happy to work with you and may even connect you with me. Rest assured they’ll do everything possible to address the challenge. Aurifil thread carries a 100% satisfaction guarantee!

Stay tuned for future troubleshooting installments. If you’re interested in us covering any particular area or thread weight, please leave a comment below. We’d be happy to address your questions!

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Karen L. Miller, owner of Redbird Quilt Co. is an Aurifil designer, Aurifilosopher, national educator, author, and cheerleader of all things free motion quilting. She launched Redbird Quilt Co. to share her love of appliqué and show others how free motion quilting on home sewing machines can bring their projects to life. Karen plays with all weights of Aurifil thread and openly contributes her knowledge and experience to the greater quilting community.   When she’s not home enjoying the multitude of songbirds that grace the Finger Lakes Region of NY, you’ll catch her traveling the countryside sharing her passion for quilting with Guilds and Shops alike.

Karen and her husband Cliff own one crazy Yellow Nape Amazon parrot named “Cayman”. Their children are grown and they are blessed with 8 grandchildren, many of whom love to sew with Gramma Karen!

If you’re interested in learning more about free motion quilting on home sewing machines be sure to check out Karen’s website, upcoming events and social media feeds.

The Subtle Sampler
Karen is a master at quilting with all weights of Aurifil thread. Her goal when creating The Subtle Sampler was to enable you to try each weight too.  You’ll love experimenting with the subtle 12wt, 28wt, 40wt and 50wt threads in the collection. Don’t miss her tutorial for The Subtle Tree right here on Auribuzz.

12 Large Spools
Clear Monofilament, Smoke Monofilament
12wt: 6722, 6723 || 28wt: 2430, 2130, 2880
40wt: 2530, 5017, 5006 || 50wt: 2312, 2000


  1. I so love this article. I have tried to print it out. How ever the photos and pictures are just plank.
    It there away to have this send by email to be save for further reference?

    1. Hi Kathryn – Thank you for writing. Thread weight is identified by the color of the spool and my the markings on the bottom flange. Large spools have the weight identified with xx/2 indicators usually. XX identifying the weight and /2 the ply. You can read a little more about spool color and see sample labels in this blog post.

      Please let us know if you have any other questions. Thanks again.

  2. What a wonderful article. I am sharing on my page for further reference but it would be wonderful to have a booklet to put in my sewing machine manual. It also would be wonderful to take another “Karen Class”

  3. Great article Karen. Thank you for sharing this. I need to try some of the things you showed.

  4. Just found Thread Trouble Shooting. I have love to sew. However so many times I have not finished a project because of thread problems. Your explanation is the first I have found That makes sense to me. I am noting the link so I can refer to it every time I start a new project..

  5. Regarding the comments about Thread breakage – I may have experienced this. Do I loosen the flange just to begin with a new spoil or keep it loosened at all times? I had not heard this and my retailer did not know about it.

    1. Hi Karla — Loosening of the bottom flange on a large spool of Aurifil thread can be especially helpful when the spool is full but it does not hurt to leave a small gap throughout the life of the spool. We’ll be sure to share this tidbit with Retailers as well. Many thanks for your comment.

  6. I had good Aurifil experiences in past with a cheap brother machine, but just got a Bernina 1008 that seemingly cannot handle this brand. Both machines have vertical spool holders, but on the Bernina the Aurifil tangles and stops feeding every few seconds. I tried loosening the phalange as advised here (this does seem to be cause of stop), but then the thread tangles around base… Does Aurifil make any spools that function on vertical thread holders? If not, is there another brand of thread as good that still can be used without resorting to external thread system to compensate for bad winding design? I am thoroughly disgusted and have not even managed to wind 1 bobbin (so don’t even know if actual sewing is possible with this incompatible thread)!

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