Solution to Wheelies and Long Dragging Stitches on my Longarm
For those who have been following my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been griping about having long, dragging stitches in my quilts. This issue has been plaguing me since I bought my longarm back in Nov 16. There have literally been crying tears, screams, stomping, and tantrums as I could NEVER solve the problem. I could kind of solve it somewhat, but never completely. I have the King Quilter 18” (a Tin Lizzie), a Quilt Butler computer, and a Grace GQ frame. $15k worth of quilting equipment that hadn’t worked right since I got it. Faith, my friends. You must have faith. And wine. Wine definitely helps.
One day (a year ago?) in my local quilt shop, I was lamenting about my problem and one of the employees said, “It sounds like your carriage doesn’t understand what your computer is telling it to do.” Hmmm. Interesting. So I got to looking under the carriage and sure enough, there were spots on the frame where the wheels of the lower carriage didn’t touch at all. Like completely free-spinning! And where the wheels weren’t touching the frame, is where the long stitches occurred. Now this sounds like I figured it out that day. No…my life doesn’t work like that. First I fiddled around with the encoders, then I messed with leveling the frame again, then I worked with realigning the tracks to make them parallel by taking the frame completely apart (twice) and putting it back together. I’ve fiddled with the alignment of the wheels on the carriage to make them fit the tracks in the troubled spots – but then they didn’t fit on the other parts. Needless to say, there has been a host of adjustments made to my frame and my carriage over the past 19 months. Everything is level – everything is parallel. SO WHAT THE HECK IS THE PROBLEM??? Grrrr.
Then this week I FINALLY came across a way to definitively identify the root cause of the problem. In a nutshell, it was the tracks not being perfectly parallel, but finding that out was not as easy as it seems. If you only measure the parallel-ness (not a word but you know what I mean) sporadically on the frame like left/right/center, you don’t get the true picture. A laser level is the ONLY way to know and get it right because the tracks may be the EXACT same distance apart at each end of the frame, but in the middle of the frame there may be a tiny point where it twerks to the left or right 1/8” and then 3 feet later, it’s a full 1/2” off, but it’s still parallel to the track across from it. Like the entire frame takes a left turn at center where the two halves come together.
Here’s an example of long stitches in the tan triangles.
Last Sunday, because use of the computer causing long stitches, I decided to use a pantograph to complete a quilt I need to get in the mail next week. So I printed out the pantograph on legal paper and taped the sheets end-to-end and laid them out on the frame table. They didn’t match exactly across the bottom edges but that was probably due to my lousy paper cutting and taping skills. Then I put my plastic grid on top of the pantograph and lo’ and behold, it would not lay straight on the table from one end to the other. If I forced both ends to rest solidly against the inner edge of the track on the frame, the plastic grid bubbled in the middle like a ski slope. Huh? What thuh? (I don’t have time for this – it will be fine.) Famous last words…
So I just let it go and let the grid lay flat wherever it wanted to, attempted to do the panto anyway, and the bobbin tension was so bad I had to rip it all out after 3 minutes. Did I mention screaming earlier? Yes, it was one of those days. No worries, I was alone in the house.
After the panto debacle, I decided to leave that project alone and trim up another quilt that was ready for binding. I laid out my two 36” Olfa green cutting mats on the frame, end-to-end (so I can trim the whole side on one go) and guess what? While each mat was laid straight against the inner edge of the track on the frame, they didn’t meet in the middle exactly – there was a 3/8” gap between them at the bottom edge – the gap formed an upside down V. If I forced them to exactly meet on the short end of each other, the left one didn’t sit flush against the straight edge of the track. Why? WHY? BECAUSE THE FRAME IS WONKY!! That’s why! My husband walked in the door just then and I’m dancing around going, “LOOK! LOOK! THIS IS THE PROBLEM!!”
He got his laser level and look. The laser light device is flush with the edge of the metal track making the laser beam start 1/2″away from the track. However, the ending point of the laser closest to me is touching the edge of the track. Where did that 1/2″ go? Mind you, the measurement between the tracks at the end of the frame show them to be parallel, so the issue kilters near the center of the frame.
Hubs loosened the screws under the frame, made a few bangs of a rubber mallet from the underside of the tracks and then tightened the screws and NIRVANA! We spent about an hour going back and forth, slowly up and down making sure that all wheels touched the frame completely at every inch. And if they didn’t, we gave the tracks a little tap to one side or the other. We did the front track first and then the back track. Here’s the laser showing the correct position.
The moment of truth came last night when I reloaded a quilt I’d removed for long stitches and the machine and computer and frame worked perfectly. Like completely, totally perfectly, PERFECT.
Even the tension looked smoother than it ever had.
I have a happy, happy Longarm quilting machine! And Becky is a happy, happy girl! Remember…faith!