First of all, I am celebrating today, because my youngest son David just released his latest novel (click on the book to find it)! Congratulations to him.
Setting up for free motion quilting or thread play
While my communiques (blogs, vlogs, and YouTube videos) are intended for everyone who wants to play, regardless of their machines, sometimes I also address some quick specifics for working on Berninas. Please don’t stop reading when you come across those if you are not a Bernina owner, because you might find some of what I say interesting anyway.
I have three Berninas: a Bernina Q20 sitdown longarm, a Bernina 880 Plus, and a Bernina 350. I also have a simple older BabyLock serger. I am truly grateful to have this collection of machines I obtained over the years through trade ups, gifts, and so forth. This is a wonderful set of machines for me to play with here in my studio. It’s like playing inside my own wonderland with favorite toys. But it does require practice, sometimes research, testing tools and techniques, and (gasp!) reading my manuals to get the most from this stable of machines. So I want to share what I have learned from this.
Setting Up For Free Motion
The setup for free motion on these machines is relatively simple.
If you don’t have a Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR attachment) or want to work without it, simply put on a darning or quilting foot like foot #73, #24, #29 or #9. Drop your feed dogs.
If you have a Bernina stitch regulator attachment that works on your machine, attach it and set it for your chosen BSR mode. BSR1 runs smoothly and constantly, idling with a little stitching, which is great for smooth free motion quilting and free motion embroidery. The idling allows you to stitch several stitches at the corner of a sharp turn in addition, which makes a nice turn. BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start, so you may prefer this setting. I find with this attachment I have to use a slightly shorter stitch length and not sew too fast for best results.
One of the interesting things you can do with this BSR attachment, is free motion zig zag with stitch regulation, which can’t be done on a sitdown longarm with a stitch regulator. This can provide some unique thread play opportunities and looks.
For most domestic machines you probably won’t need to make any adjustment in tension from the default for normal threads. For specialty threads, however, you may need to lower or raise the top tension to accommodate specialty thread weights and types. It’s a good idea to do a test using similar fabrics and write down your changes before working on your project piece.
When doing free motion it helps a lot to have a slick supporting surface, so I use a silicone mat, such as a Supreme Slider. I tape mine down with that indispensable studio tool blue painters tape because I have ruined more than one mat by stitching it to the back of my project. I have repaired them a bit with clear packing tape if they aren’t too badly torn. Yes, I know the stickiness returns if you rinse the back, but you have to remember to do that periodically and also the heavier and larger your quilt the more likely it is to dis-attach from the table and get caught in the stitching.
Setting Up the Q20 and the Q16 sitdown longarms
These machines are built for free motion quilting and free motion thread work and truly you can dive right in just as they are. But there are a few things that are helpful to know to make your free motion stitching work better. Note that I have had my Q20 now for nearly five years and I love it.
Free motion is always better when the supporting base is slick and the fabric can slide easily. There are some very large silicone mats available for these machines, where you cut the square carefully around the BSR/Bobbin square area (whatever do you call that?!!!).
Some people like using these extra large silicone mats with their sitdowns, I don’t have one. I spray the table before each project with Sullivan’s silicone spray, and wipe it fully dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. But before I spray it, I cover the BSR/Bobbin area under the needle and the vent area at the back of the machine with blue painter’s tape to prevent the spray from going down into the machine works. Alternatively, you can spray into the cloth and wipe the table but I think you get a little less silicone on the table that way (not scientific, just an opinion). From personal experience I know the spray works very well.
These machines have two BSRs built in which provide excellent stitch regulation.
- BSR1 constantly runs and has a speed setting to make it cruise along easily at the pace you like. I use it for most of my free motion quilting and all of my free motion embroidery. I like to start off with a relatively slow “idle” speed of 250 to 300 and will raise that if I need to. The machine will run very fast if you want it to.
- BSR2 stops when you stop and starts when you start. I use this mostly for ruler work.
- BSR3 is a basting stitch with multiple stitch lengths to choose from. I use it a lot for larger quilts. I will spray baste the sandwich and then do some large segments of thread basting. This is especially good for your masterpiece or show quilting that will take a long time just to keep everything in good placement.
- Then there is manual setting that does not engage the BSR, of course, but it does have a speed control on it so you can set it at a comfortable pace for you. I like this for micro-quilting, but I don’t use it for much else. It is smooth running and quieter and makes it easy to do those tiny bubbles for instance, but I still prefer the BSRs for most of my quilting. It’s a personal preference. Some people prefer this mode for everything, but if you are new to the machine, I urge you to try the BSRs first. They are wonderful.
I often get the question about what thread will the Berninas use. All my Berninas will work well with almost any good quality thread. I just have to be sure I have the right needle, tensions, stitch length, and the speeds set up right for that.
Keeping notes on how you set things up is always helpful, but these machines have four savable programs for various thread settings, which is really nice. Once you set it all up like you like it, you can save it and even tell it what thread and needle it is for in the naming of the programs.
I like to use the kickstart feature, which allows me to free motion stitch/quilt with a very steady power feed. This helps me relax while stitching and eliminates most stitch skips and the like, without my foot on the pedal. This is because the pedal is basically on/off and if you don’t keep your foot fully down it might skip a stitch, though not usually.
For using the kickstart, get your BSR mode chosen and make sure you are all set up, then kick the pedal at the heel and the machine will sew until you press the pedal at the front to stop it. I love it. You don’t have to concentrate on anything other then where you place your stitching once you get used to it. Here’s a youtube with cute fluffy slippers on using it:
And last, but not least be sure to set your bobbin tension to match your thread in the bobbin. I use mostly Superior Bottom Line in my bobbin…even mostly their prewound M sized bobbins, which are Bottom Line…and set my tension to 180 using the Towa Guage that comes with the machine. The Bernina default setting is 220, but I find you really need to adjust per thread size. If you somehow didn’t get one, be sure your dealer gives you one. It’s not like a domestic…it’s a real longarm.
Sew happy everyone! Have fun in your studio. I hope you found this helpful. I will be posting my next video probably this weekend. Cheers.