It is all about TIMING – The motto of a longarm quilter

If you are a longarm quilter, you probably have experienced thread breakage. My machine of choice is the Innova 22 ( due to the Lightning Stich. I do not think the following story is machine specific, so please do not stop reading.

When I encountered thread breakage for the first time, I ignored it for a while because it only happened once or twice a pass on my frame. When I got that lucky quilt where I could not go a few inches without breaking, I turned to the internet. Here is what I found across a few websites.

The causes of thread breakage.

  • Thread composition (100% cotton versus polyfilled)
  • Some longarm machines just do not like certain types of thread.
  • The color of thread, darker threads are more likely to break due to overdying.
  • Thread tension
  • Pattern of quilting (diagonal bottom right to upper left for long runs)
  • Tautness of the quilt on the frame of the longarm
  • Batik fabric, the weave is tighter and causes flexing of the needle
  • Needle size
  • Needle height
  • Needle eye position
  • Needle sharpness
  • Barometric pressure
  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Timing

With timing, there was always a WARNING. Do not change your timing you will only make it worse.

There are lots of variables to juggle and make you crazy. I played with all of these and did find I had more trouble with Batiks than 100% cotton quilt fabric, but I never was able to fix thread breakage. I just made the time between breaks longer.

As a retired research scientist, I really engaged and started collecting data. I bought gauges to measure humidity and temperature and even tried to humidify my quilting room in the winter. No matter what I did, I still had thread breakage.

Weeks and maybe months passed struggling with thread breakage, I found myself curled in a ball on the floor crying in frustration, because I could not go few inches on a batik quilt without breaking. Through this saga, I had tried different thread types and manufacturers. Learned two or three ways of setting thread tension. I avoided batiks if I could, but as a professional longarm quilter, you quilt what the customer brings to you. I tried different size needles and a nifty magnet to help me position the eye of the needle in the forward position. I recorded the humidity, barometric pressure and temperature. If it was extremely cold or dry, I did have more breakage. Dark blues and blacks do break more often than the light colored thread. No matter how I fiddled, I still had thread breakage.

With thread still breaking and my psyche starting to break, I investigated timing.  Timing is the relative position of the needle and the bobbin hook on the up stroke of the needle. Thread breakage is not a definitive symptom of a timing issue. A timing issue is diagnosed when skipped stiches occur with needle holes in the fabric. Often with a timing issue, the thread breaks following a stretch of missed stiches. Most of the things I tried simply reduced the incidence of breakage. The only thing that STOPPED breakage was resetting my timing.


Innova has great timing videos on their site. I even bought a jig to set my needle height and a jig to time the hook position to my needle. I love technology, but I found an older video to time the Innova before the jig was invented easier for me to use successfully than the jig.

From my reading all the experts warned vehemently not to time the machine yourself as you would only make it worse. Timing is for professionals. I live 6 hours from my nearest professional and I had a quilt on my machine I promised to deliver in a day or two.

With several videos under my belt, my manual, and my husband in tow for the adventure, we began to time the machine. Our first attempts either made thread breakage slightly less frequent or slightly more frequent. With perseverance, swearing, and many more viewings of the videos, we were able to time the machine and deliver the quilt just a day behind schedule.

I was in agony over thread breakage and on my way to a breakdown, because I believed the experts, “Do not time your machine”. I am here to say that you can time your machine, and should if you skip stiches and there are holes in the fabric. It is not easy at first, but I never hurt my machine or created a problem that was permanent.

The key to fixing timing is to collect your machine specific information and TRY, TRY again.

Do not live with thread breakage. Do not despair, LEARN TO TIME YOUR MACHINE!

or become good friends with a dealer who can maintenance your machine.

My favorite Innova dealers are Material Girl ( in Grand Island, NE and Jukebox Quilts ( in Fort Collins, CO.

Innova timing videos I like:

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