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  • Free Motion Quilting on my Singer 500E (Rocketeer)

    Old 06-19-2022, 01:39 PM
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    Default Free Motion Quilting on my Singer 500E (Rocketeer)

    Yes, we (me and my husband) decided to see if we could use our Singer 500E (Rocketeer) to free-motion quilt. It was piecing just fine yesterday as I worked on piecing a block for my BOM quilt, but this morning, it just would not have anything to do with FMQ. After just a few stitches, the top thread would fray and break. (Note: I just remove the feed dogs for FMQ and put them back for piecing - it's only 2 screws....)

    After perusing many sites and forums (including this one), we FINALLY got it working beautifully :-) (Really, it was my husband!) (Thanks, honey, for spending half of Father's Day tinkering with it!)

    So this post is for you if you have had maddening tension/top thread-breaking issues with your 400-500 Slant shank machine. This is what worked for us (after HOURS of tinkering!) and I hope these tips can help out with your vintage slant-shank as well:
    1) Feed Dogs - can't drop 'em (for my 500E anyway), so just remove them (two screws and they come right out)

    2) Presser bar tension - set to 0 (inside the little compartment on my 500E)

    3) Thread:
    a) Use 50 wt Aurifil 100% cotton on top AND bobbin

    b) Set tension to 3-ish and adjust the bobbin tension accordingly so that at "3" on the thread tension, all is copacetic (Yes, I know the manuals say NOT to fiddle with the bobbin tension, but with these old machines, you might have to....just 'cause...)

    c) Create a horizontal spool pin (we bent some wire and screwed it into the top - see it my video link below) - THIS WAS THE CRITICAL FIX in our case - later slant-shank machines (like my mom's Touch N Sew) have the spool pin mounted horizontally)

    4) Needle - 90/14 (After we got it working with this needle, I actually tried reverting to an 80/12 and NOPE - thread started breaking all over the place! So yes, needle size matters!

    5) Foot - We actually use the Westalee Slant Shank ruler foot(more on this below if it wouldn't fit your machine...) and lower it as far as it will go. This WILL work with a quilt sandwich and leave the foot lightly skimming across the top of the sandwich.

    NOTE: We made a video showing how beautifully the Rocketeer is now able to FMQ - here is the YouTube link:
    Free Motion Quilting on a Singer 500E (Rocketeer)

    (Honestly, I was about to give up on it entirely and just devote it to piecing.....started eyeing the Sparrow 20 auctions on eBay even....but my husband would not give up on it - thanks again, honey!)

    What was the ACTUAL problem causing our thread to break all the time, you ask? Well, we FINALLY realized that when the thread broke, we actually HEARD it break and the sound seemed to be coming from the TOP of the machine. Then I remembered someone, somewhere, mentioning that if a spool is wound in a criss-cross fashion, it should be mounted horizontally to even out the tension coming off the spool. Once we created our very own horizontal spool pin (ahem, length of wire bent 90 degrees and screwed into the top)...well, that was "it." The thing started stitching like a dream, no matter how slow/fast or straight/curved we asked it to go. Putting a larger needle in also helped (90/14 instead of the original 80/12).

    ** A Note about the Westalee Slant-Shank Ruler Foot **
    If you go to Amazon and read the reviews, you will see MANY that say it doesn't fit. And neither did the one we received - at first. However, if you look closely, you will see the surfaces of the foot are ROUGH - as if it was never "finished" after manufacturing (yes, I have already complained, LOUDLY, to Westalee about their lack of quality control) Anyway, we took a small metal file to it, filing the inner surface of the screw slot as well as the inner surfaces for the "clamp" that fits around the presser bar (which only took a few minutes), and voila' it now fits perfectly. All of which is to say that a) as customers, we should NOT have to do this! but b) the Westalee slant shank ruler seems to be the only option for these old machines so c) you can either send it back for a refund or, with just a few minutes of "sweat-equity" get it working ;-)

    I hope this was helpful, at least esoterically for the small community of us who actually want to FMQ on old slant-shanks!

    In case you are wondering WHY I even bother to TRY with my 500E, well, let's just say we (me and DH) are very fond of these sturdy old machines with ACTUAL METAL GEARS and love how well they stitch, once you get them set up right. Yes, I miss having "needle-down" and "speed regulator" settings on modern machines, but honestly, I'm kind of used to sewing on old machines, so as long as I can get consistently beautiful stitches on a machine that won't break or throw tension fits, I'm happy :-)

    Good luck with your slant shank - always start by cleaning and checking everything for any burrs or rough spots that may be catching your thread - but once you've done all that, try the setup we used and see how it goes. We figured that, even if we never did get it to work, at least we learned a LOT about the inner workings of our Rocketeer, and if only for that reason, the exercise was worth it to us...
    - Jen

    PS Once again, here is the link to the YouTube Video we made (please don't judge - we are not professional YouTubers!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVR17es4ZxI


    JenMo is offline  
    Old 06-20-2022, 03:29 AM
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    Thanks for all the info. Sounds like you and your husband are patient and love old sewing machines. I love them too.
    Enjoyed the video.
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    Old 06-20-2022, 04:56 AM
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    Thanks for sharing. It's very good and detailed information. Also, it's well organized.
    I bought the foot for my 401, but had forgotten the feed dogs wouldn't drop. It's still in the bag, untried.
    Thanks again.

    bkay
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    Old 06-20-2022, 04:59 AM
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    Originally Posted by bkay
    Thanks for sharing. It's very good and detailed information. Also, it's well organized.
    I bought the foot for my 401, but had forgotten the feed dogs wouldn't drop. It's still in the bag, untried.
    Thanks again.

    bkay
    you could try setting the stitch length to zero so the feed dogs won’t move.
    Stitchnripper is offline  
    Old 06-20-2022, 05:11 AM
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    Originally Posted by Stitchnripper
    you could try setting the stitch length to zero so the feed dogs won’t move.
    Thanks, I now have a 15-91 set up in my spare bedroom. It's supposed to be the best vintage machine for FMQ. One of these days, I'm going to get that round "tuit".

    bkay
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    Old 06-20-2022, 06:04 AM
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    I'm wondering about not being able to drop the dogs. On my 503 the needle plate lever by the pillar has a "darn" setting, which, although it doesn't drop the feed dogs, lifts the needle plate above the maximum height of travel. Would this raised up plate interfere with quilting?

    I have used the feature once, when I made a heavy blanket for my daughter by sandwiching one of those polyester blankets from the 1970s between two patterned bed sheets. I used the smallest cam on a button holer to tack everything together. I will say the button holer did kind of wobble a bit because of the raised plate, but it worked.

    I also know that if a person takes apart this lift lever and doesn't put it back together correctly, it won't function properly (ask me how I know this).
    Attached Thumbnails 20220620_084326.jpg   20220620_084259.jpg  
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    Old 06-20-2022, 06:08 AM
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    In this post

    Singer Slant-o-Matics and free motion quilting?

    I found this under a lengthy reply, for 400/500 series, dated 1-20-2020

    8. I have come to believe that leaving the lifting needle plate down with the stitch length set to zero beats putting the needle plate to the Darning position. Putting the needle plate up changes the relationship with the rotary hook, and I'm not convinced that's a Good Thing.
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    Old 06-20-2022, 01:06 PM
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    Originally Posted by JoeJr
    I'm wondering about not being able to drop the dogs. On my 503 the needle plate lever by the pillar has a "darn" setting, which, although it doesn't drop the feed dogs, lifts the needle plate above the maximum height of travel. Would this raised up plate interfere with quilting?

    I have used the feature once, when I made a heavy blanket for my daughter by sandwiching one of those polyester blankets from the 1970s between two patterned bed sheets. I used the smallest cam on a button holer to tack everything together. I will say the button holer did kind of wobble a bit because of the raised plate, but it worked.

    I also know that if a person takes apart this lift lever and doesn't put it back together correctly, it won't function properly (ask me how I know this).
    We tried setting the needle plate lever to "darn," which does lift the plate a bit, but at least for our machine, it wasn't perfect - the feed dogs would still sometimes catch the fabric, so it was an imperfect solution. But again, that may just be our particular machine. Maybe yours will lift the plate completely clear of the feed dogs.

    As for setting the stitch length to 0, we have honestly not tried that. I worry about the feed dogs still snagging the fabric.... For us, it's just easier to take them out, because I am typically EITHER piecing OR quilting. I piece everything first, then switch to "quilting" mode :-) Plus, I can just use another machine in the house to do some quick straightline stitching if I need to :-)
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    Old 06-30-2022, 12:32 PM
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    Default singer slant free motion quillting rocketeer

    thanks for that youtube video, it is really helpful to see. You may not be a professional youtuber but it was very well made and helpful to see how you made the horizontal spool with the wire and how you attached it. And wow it does do a great job quilting.
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    Old 06-30-2022, 01:24 PM
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    Originally Posted by Rebaquilts
    thanks for that youtube video, it is really helpful to see. You may not be a professional youtuber but it was very well made and helpful to see how you made the horizontal spool with the wire and how you attached it. And wow it does do a great job quilting.
    Thanks for your kind words, Rebaquilts. One quick update: I decided to use some polyester thread to highlight some of my FMQ motifs, and the spool is wider on the bottom than what I had been using (see this link for an example: Spool with bottom wider than top.) As soon as I switched the top thread, I got MASSIVE LOOPING on the reverse side - basically there was NO tension on the top thread! (I think because the hole in the spool is much bigger than the spool pin on my 500E and tends to "wobble" when sewing). After playing around, we realized that, for THIS particular type of spool, we needed to NOT use the wire hook - just fed the thread directly from the spool through the thread guide. That did it.

    So, lesson we learned: For Aurifill 100% spools of cotton thread (and similar - those with a hole that fits my 500Es spool pin better) (example photo here: Aurifill Spool) we need the hook. Otherwise the differential tension of the thread when it comes off the top is too different than when it feeds from the bottom - on a criss-cross wound spool - probably because of the way it "wobbles"?) that the tension gets whacked. But for a spool that "wobbles" (because the bottom is way wider than the top), well that has the right amount apparently. Probably I am thinking the longer-term solution is to craft a thicker spool pin that I could swap out for spools with wider openings.....

    All of which is to say that getting the tension right seems to be a combination of MANY factors - INCLUDING the specific type of spool you use! (Who'd a thunk it?)
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