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Longarm Machine Troubleshooting Checklist | Machine Quilting Academy

What is the LAST thing that happened (or you did) to your machine before things got icky??

If you remember this question, it will help your longarm machine troubleshooting immensely. It isn’t always the answer, but it gives you a roadmap to troubleshooting instead of trying everything at once! As with ALL machine troubleshooting, change ONE thing at a time and test for effect. It is hard to say what worked if you try 10 at once!! 

If the last thing you did was change the needle, consider: 

  • Is it in straight? Is it backwards (don’t laugh, we all do this once!) 
  • Is it the wrong size (ask me how I know!) 
  • Did you put it all the way up into the hole?? (if not, you changed your timing!) 
  • Is it a bad needle, does the needle have a burr, is the whole pack bad? 
  • Did I rethread, or miss a guide when I put in the new needle? 
  • Did I make sure the thread is fully seated between the tension discs? 
Sewing Machine Needle Sizes
Needle size systems

If the last thing you did was change a bobbin: 

  • Is the new bobbin warped? (pre-wounds are notorious for that!) Feel it unwind. 
  • Pull it up through the throat plate—is it tight? Check your backlash spring for lint. 
  • Is it in correctly- did the case pop in? Take it out and put it in again. 
  • Is the bobbin wound correctly and the same tension (by the TOWA) as the others? 
  • Is there a piece of lint in or under the backlash spring? Did the spring or screw come out? 
  • Did I clean out and oil my hook area between bobbins? 
  • Did you drop the bobbin case—is it out of round now? (use the TOWA to see) 
  • Is the tension screw still in the case?? 
  • (I recommend two cases and a spare—one for thin, one thick, and a backup case). 
Towa Bobbin Tension Gauge

Did you just clean your rails? 

  • Did you check for and remove any thread? 

If the last thing you did was remove the front to oil, or the back cover: 

  • Check that your connections are still tight 
  • Check that no cords are pinched 

If you changed quilts, then a LOT has changed. 

  • Is your TUR lowered again after the last quilt? 
  • Did you raise your hopping foot for the last quilt and not lower it? 
  • Is your quilt sandwich too tight, have tight weave fabric, etc 
  • Do you need a new needle or different size for this thread/material combination? 
  • Did you bump the first thread guide when rethreading? Make it directly above the cone. 
  • Did you adjust the tensions again for the new quilt components and threads? 
  • If it is a new thread—is it old, dry, variegated, etc. 

Other issues: 

Stitches not even in SR mode: 

Check your encoders—GENTLY move it by rolling the head. 

Test them separately to help decide which encoder may be having sensing problems: 

Stitch front to back ( Y encoder) to see if the stitches are even. 

If they aren’t, check your encoder that is attached to the machine head wheel and runs on your carriage rail. Is it clean? Is there lint or dirt on the rails or wheel it touches. Clean everything thoroughly and stitch again. 

Do the same thing now side to side— this X encoder is on the machine carriage. Check the things listed above.

Loops of Top Thread under the Quilt 

  • Loose Top Tension: If the top tension on your quilt is very loose you may find loops of top thread under your quilt. 
  • Bad needle: A burr on the needle can cause this—try changing your needle. 
  • Timing Finger: The timing finger is the little “tooth” that fits loosely into a corresponding notch in the hook assembly. Both the top and bobbin thread need to pass between this tooth and the hook assembly to form the stitch. If the timing finger is inserted too far into the hook assembly it is very easy for the top thread to catch on the hook, resulting in a loop of top thread underneath the quilt. 
  • Check Spring: The loopy part of your check spring should be set at around 11:00 when it is completely relaxed. It should also be VERY springy. If it isn’t threaded or functioning properly the top thread will not be pulled up into the quilt sandwich. 
  • Needle bar too low: With a needle bar too low, it creates more slack and time in the hook rotation and will allow loops to form. 

Shredding thread/breaking thread 

Shredding or breaking thread can be caused by many things. Start simple and work up from there. 

  • First look at your cone of thread—is it old, brittle (especially cottons) or fragile? Spritzing cotton with water and putting it in the freezer can help with shredding and breakage issues. There IS such a thing as a bad cone of thread, so try another cone of the same brand before doing major adjustments!! 
  • Look at your tension. Is your bobbin tension set appropriately for that thread? If you have a TOWA, is it at the range you always use for that brand. Try loosening your tension a few points and see if that helps. If it gets better, but not gone, loosen your tension a tad more. Tension is probably the number one reason for shredding and breaking thread. 
  • Look at your needle—is it new? If not, change it. Can you go up (or maybe down) a size needle? Try that, and see what happens. Have you hit a needle or broken one recently? You may have a sharp area on your bobbin hook or your needle plate. Gently buff out the rough spot if you find one. It is also a good idea to check EVERYWHERE the thread passes for a rough spot—even in thread guides grooves can get worn and sharp. Check for rough areas on your timing finger as well. Emery cord is great for getting at those spots. 
  • I often oil my thread if all the above does not correct the problem first. First attempt would be thoroughly soak some batting that is inserted in the first thread guide above the cone of thread and have the thread running underneath it. Dual purpose is to keep the thread from whipping around plus provide some lubrication to the thread to ease it through the quilt sandwich. 
  • If not enough, then I have been known to drench the cone/spool of thread in oil to get some moisture back into the thread that helps it work as it should. This has saved me more times than I can count on hot dry days when quilting. 

Rarely, if your machine is shredding threads a LOT, your needle bar or timing could be slightly off. It is the LAST thing I’d recommend touching, so give your dealer a call before going to that.

Skipped Stitches 

Skipping stitches does not always mean you are out of time. It can also indicate: 

  • Tension on the quilt sandwich is too tight (especially batiks and unwashed cottons). 
  • Top thread tension is too tight and flexing the needle. 
  • Hopping foot is too high and not compressing the layers of the quilt sandwich enough 
  • Take-up roller could be too high (lower it so just a finger fits between it and the throat) 
  • Painted fabrics and high thread count fabric can increase needle deflection resulting in skipped stitches (batiks). 
  • Incorrect threading. 
  • Faulty thread pick-up. 

Timing should be the last thing you do! Loosen your sandwich, loosen tension, increase your cruise speed, check your hopping foot height, TUR height, rethread, and use a bigger needle. Larger needles have less deflection, and that alone can sometimes “cure” the quilt ills! My favourite needle is the Groz Beckert Sans 6 or 11 Titanium needle. Sometimes the only answer for certain materials is to go slower! 

How Does a Sewing Machine Work? 

What I love about this animation is not only does it show how a stitch is formed, but it also shows perfect tension using different colors of thread. The two threads interlock perfectly in the center of the sandwich. The more you study this video, the more you can see where our common pitfalls can occur with stitch quality. 

Common Troubleshooting with IQ issues: 

All Machines: 

It is recommended your run your longarm machine using manual speed settings when asking your Intelliquilter to control the movement of your machine. Your machine will sound calmer and it is far less stress on your motor than using the stitch regulator. The speed and detail settings on your Intelliquilter combined with the manual motor speed of your longarm machine will determine your stitch length on the quilt. Commonly you would have approx .3 difference between IQ speed & details settings to ensure you have smaller stitches moving in/out of detailed patterns and points/ changes of direction. 

Experiment with your longarm manual speeds to determine where YOUR machine has the most harmonic vibration (when you machine starts jumping/vibrating) and AVOID that motor speed. Then work out what speed you need your IQ set at combined with your Longarm motor speed to get the stitch length you like to see. Remember the smaller the stitch the harder to unpick!! 

A1 Quilting Machines: 

  • Ensure all wheels on both the carriage & machine head are contacting equally on the rails and are all at the same height. They must not be spinning or you will get wobbly stitching lines when IQ is moving your machine for you. Manually you will feel your machine as unstable, or easy to knock off the rails. Some people call it fishtailing when changing direction when standing at the front of your machine and the rear of the machine feels loose. 
  • Ensure you have your needle positioner in the UP position always! 
  • On Elite machines with Stitchrite remember to turn your dial to the right side - manual stitching speed side of the dial. 
  • On Platinum machines program your non dominant hand handle switches to be full single stitch and manual stitching to allow your Intelliquilter to use those switches to control stitching. Then the opposite dominant hand switches to be your chosen preferred settings for stitching freehand. 

APQS machines: Machine not stitching? 

  • Check that you have set manual speed setting as APQS machines revert to zero speed when turning off the machine. 


  • Perform Auto motor setup with your APQS machine without Bliss tracking, closer to the take up roller as the weight of the machine will slightly lift the X motor mounted to the front bolt of the carriage. 
  • Check all eccentric nuts on your wheels are set for a smooth freehand experience. Not too tight and stiff, but not so loose that you can ‘feel’ your machine fishtailing when changing direction. 

Gammill machines: 

  • Ensure you have your needle positioner in the UP position always! 
  • Unthread your machine and run it in manual motor speed mode to determine which speeds you need to run at to avoid vibration. Really important to know this! 

Handi Quilter machines: 

  • Ensure you have your needle positioner in the UP position always! 
  • Unthread your machine and run it in manual motor speed mode to determine which speeds you need to run at to avoid vibration. Really important to know this! 
  • If you have canvas attached to your rollers that slide sideways easily then consider taping them on so they can’t move to assist in controlling better when advancing the quilt. 

Hope it helps you when you need it. Obviously I hope you are forever trouble free & won't NEED to use it 😆😆😉

I have created a printable PDF of this checklist for you to have next to your machine for reference. 

DOWNLOAD the Longarm machine troubleshooting checklist here.

Categories: : Longarm Maintenance

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