Free Motion Quilting-How YOU Can Learn From My Injury

Good Morning, Quilters!  Thank you so much for all your kind wishes, prayers and wit following my recent injury. Your support and humor helped me pass the painful stage more quickly…Someone even volunteered to do my dishes for me!  Now that’s loyalty!

Free Motion Quilting, The Egg and Dart pattern

I was back to free motion quilting by Friday,  but as I stitched I was mindful of the way I work.  I paid close attention to my movements.  One thing was very clear–my hands are under or near the needle very frequently when I free motion quilt.  I am constantly reaching under the needle to grab the bobbin thread or to snip the tail.  I always hold the threads as I begin quilting to prevent jams.   With my hands that close to the needle, all it takes is a small foot movement…the needle comes down with great force!

Both of my needle injuries occurred when I was either stopping or starting to quilt–that is when I reach toward the needle.

I am making three changes as a result of recent duel with my sewing machine:

  1. I will use a pair of long tweezers whenever I reach for my sewing threads.
  2. Each time I stop stitching, I will move my foot off of the foot pedal.
  3. I will wear glasses whenever I am sewing. ( In case a needle breaks and becomes a missile…)

In light of my recent mishap, and from reading all of the comments about others who have had similar injuries, I hope you will all develop a new respect for sewing machines.

Take a few minutes to analyze how you work.  Are you putting yourself in harm’s way?  Are there any changes YOU could make to your work habits that could make YOU safer?  Please share your thoughts and comments...

Thank you to our Veterans!  We are so grateful for your service and your sacrifice!


PS…The free motion quilt sample above was stitched on Bernina 820 with Sulky thread on top and Aurifil thread in the bottom with an amazingly strong  #80 Universal Schmetz needle-with Warm and Natural batting.  The Egg and Dart tutorial can be found HERE.


42 thoughts on “Free Motion Quilting-How YOU Can Learn From My Injury

  1. Great suggestions Lori! Awareness and small but important changes for safer stitching. I got my tweezers out right away! Sorry for the painful way you learned them. Glad to hear you are back stitching!

  2. Tip from my BIL who owns a sewing machine shop: wear shoes with a metal sewing machine pedal. You could get an electric shock when it burns out. Mine almost did!
    I use the seamripper to “whipe” the thread from underneath the foot. It works for me.
    Also watch out with winding your bobbins! My machine sometimes starts sewing when it is winding the bobbin. You could easily get your finger pinned that way!

  3. Lori I hope you are feeling better, I am a wheelchair user so don’t use my foot peddle although I have gone through my finger as I’ve said before I wonder if it is less possible as I use my hands to control my machine. Do you still use the hoop for quilting I can’t remember its proper name? Best wishes chris xx

    • Hi Chris, I don’t think you are at risk for the same mistake that I made, but it might be worth reviewing your work habits, too to make sure you aren’t doing something else…I frequently (but not always) use the Husqvarna guide grip. That will keep one’s fingers out of harm’s way during stitching, but my encounters both occurred while I was reaching for bobbin threads near the needle!

  4. Lori, thank you for sharing how you were injured, I have been watching my hand position and could not see it happening with the position of my hands while free motioning since I do not get that close to the needle. I use a wide v hand placement. I have been in the habit of taking my foot off the foot peddle whenever I stop stiching for any reason, too easy to take a stitch where I don’t want one, so I think that helps…. I do hope that you mend very fast, and I believe that I will also use tweezers, and I have glasses on, need them….lol but I have broken needles and just the pop sound scares me, they have always stayed together from the thread. I continue to enjoy readingand learning from you. Take care. Judy

    • Thanks, Judy. It was very helpful for me to spend a bit of time analyzing my work habits. It is clear that I have good control while I’m quilting, it is when I stop to reposition or pull threads that I put my digits at risk! By the way, once you try the tweezers–you’re going to love them–they really help a lot (and they are safer)!

  5. I so feel your pain with this injury and love that you are sharing with us and helping others avoid this horrific accident. I have unfortunately also sewn through my finger twice, the second time almost resulting in surgery… so I really do know how bad it hurts! Please, quilters, if you are reading this TAKE NOTE!! – quilting through your finger is about the worst thing you can do to yourself as a quilter… it is so incredibly painful- so BE CAREFUL!!! thanks again Lori! Hope you feel better sooner then later.

  6. Hmmm. Well, first of all, your injury was a huge alarm bell to me because I’m currently teaching my 10-year-old son to quilt. He’s just piecing right now, and using my 1951 Featherweight, but although I’m in the room supervising him and I’m the one doing his rotary cutting and pressing with the hot iron, I had not thought about the possibility that he could actually sew through a finger with the sewing machine! I may or may not let him free-motion quilt his project with my Bernina 750 QE and BSR foot, but if I do, I’ll be VERY vigilant and make sure those little fingers don’t get too close to the needle.

    As for wearing glasses while sewing, well, I recently discovered that the reading glasses I like to wear for hand applique work also make it easier to see what I’m doing while machine quilting… So I might just have to get a second pair of reading glasses to keep next to my sewing machine so I never have an excuse not to wear them.

    Feel better soon, Lori!

    • I think most 10 year olds are competent enough to learn to FMQ–they just need to know a few rules. Rules that I had to learn the had way!

      So great to hear you are teaching your son to quilt! Can’t wait to see what he is making!

  7. My husband gave me a long, blunt tweezer and I hold it horizontal to pull both threads up and out of the way–works much better than my fingers and it grabs the thread securely. Plus I have a well-lit work space and I use my glasses, and yes, moving your foot off the pedal is mandatory!!!

    • Hi Pamela, Like you, I have found the tweezers to be a great addition–so easy to use, besides being safer! It will take me a while to develop the habit of always removing my foot from the foot pedal.

  8. Did it penetrate your bone? I hope not. When I connected with the needle recently ( after sewing a lot for over 50 years) I was stunned. Like a car accident, it happened so fast. I recall my stomach doing a flip flop when I realized what happened. It did not hurt like I thought it would have, which also surprised me. It did penetrate my nail but not the bone, and it healed within a week. I thank you for sharing to warn us all. It is a good idea NOT to sew when taking pain killers too! The sewing machine is heavy machinery too.

    • Hi Trina, Unfortunately the needle did penetrate the bone in my index finger. The surgeon said it hit the bone and shattered into shards. He had to leave a small shard in the bone…so now I truly have a Quilter’s Finger! Like you, I was shocked at how quickly it happened!

  9. I use a seam ripper or my small scissors to wipe the thread(s) from under the foot. For a long time I couldn’t see how anyone managed to sew their finger. Then I started using and open toe presser foot and got almost too close one time. Now I get it! So far I have not made this mistake and sewn thru my finger. Whew. I will be extra careful.
    When I do FMQ I keep my hand flat and away from the foot area.

  10. Glad to hear that you’re recovering well. I’ve had a close call or two where the needle actually went through the outer layer of my skin. Thanks for the great safety tips! I too often operate my longarm with just one hand and smooth the layers with the other as I’m quilting. I shudder to think what would happen if the needle ever got too close.

  11. We spend so much time with our machines that it’s easy to forget how easily they can bite us. Anybody who’s had an accident can probably tell you that they were doing something they knew better than to do. (Obviously, if the needle went through your finger, you had your finger under it. The needle didn’t reach out and grab you.) Yet, the first thing we teach a young sewist is to mind where their fingers are. We really need to be awake to these things, like watching where we put our hands, and protecting our eyes, and not getting our hair or loose clothing caught in the rotating parts (for those of us with older models that have exposed pulleys and belts). As much as we love our sewing machines, indeed they are machines. We probably shouldn’t sew while tired, drugged, drunk or distracted any more than we should be driving under those conditions.

    • I didn’t mean for that to sound accusing, but somehow it did. I love my little featherweight like I love my cats. I don’t think of her as a machine. When I sew on her, I feel like it’s something we’re doing together. If she sewed through my finger, I would take it personally. But really, she is only a machine, and she sews only because I press on her pedal. If she sews through my finger, it’s because I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done. She doesn’t have the heart that I’d like to believe she has, for she is only a machine. I can’t count on her to watch out for my fingers for me.

  12. Oh, Lori…. I’ve never sewn my fingers but I feel your pain. I noticed that I didn’t take my foot of the pedal when I stopped sewing and sometimes I’d start sewing when I wasn’t ready (like fingers too close for comfort), so I started doing that. It’s helped a lot. Thanks for your tips and sharing this… Sewing isn’t a walk in the park…there are a LOT of ways to really get hurt doing what we love. SO, we gotta pay attention! Whew! Feel better soon.

  13. This happened to me a few months ago, though the damage was to my left hand little finger. I was using my Elna, feeding my sandwiched quilt under a wide zig-zag stitch & boom! Broken needle! It took me a second to understand what had happened, faster than a blink of my eye. What I have figured out is I was stabilizing the quilt layers between myself & the machine with my left hand; my hand was lifting away when the needle got me. Thankfully the needle entered on my palm skin side & entered out through my nail, missing the bone, AND my husband was home to aid removing the impaled needle. Everything healed well. I know I’m blessed, realizing how much more I could have been hurt.
    Thanks for sharing your story & for Aurifil on Facebook for sharing your story farther.

  14. Thank you for sharing your story. I have “shared again” on my facebook wall with my quilty friends, and will share with my “bee” next week. I used tweezers in the past; but found myself near the needle yesterday. Going to put them on a lanyard with my little scissors!

  15. Pingback: Injuries happen!! | stitchinggrandma

  16. I have shared your injury but didn’t hit the bone, thank goodness. I’m recovering now from a rotary cutter accident that I never expected. I’ve been sharing with my readers safety tips while rotary cutting. Taking our time and being aware of the possiblity for harm is definitely necessary. 5-6 months healing time and two of that for me was NO sewing. Tough way to learn a lesson. Hope people heed your safety tips and mine!

    • Marsha, would you send me a link to your rotary cutting safety tips. I’d love to share it here. So sorry to hear about your injury–now sewing for 2 months must have been torture!

  17. Ouch! Not a great sewing experience! I had to hold my mums hand when she did a similar thing, the needle broke in the thumb and had to be cut out. It was not nice. Makes me very careful now.

  18. It’s funny, my husband is pretty sure that no matter what I’m going to do, even when it’s sewing, that I’m going to be injured and that I should be wrapped in bubble wrap. He thinks that I’ll be messing with something under the needle (which almost never happens) and that me or my little dog will step on the pedal and bam, needle through the hand! It’s not funny that it happened to you, and I hope you are 100% soon, BUT I did post a picture of the warnings from my sewing machine book on instagram kind of as a joke about how if you sew, YOU WILL BE INJURED! Hope your adjustments help keep you out of harm’s way!

  19. Another bad habit to be on the lookout for is locking your rotary blade in the open position. I have seen many quilters do this. It is not necessary and should never be done. When you squease the handle the blade is out, as soon as you release it the blade goes back in. A woman at our guild was in the habit of locking her blade in the open position. It fell to the floor and landed on her foot and gave her a severe cut. Had it not been locked open the cut might not have happened at all or would have been less severe in any case.

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