Bernina 440 – Free motion foot is a drag

So we’re still making friends here, my new Bernina and I. Doing some free motion quilting and getting to know each other better. When I used the machine in the workshop at the Museum, I was working on sample sandwiches with no patchwork, just two pieces of plain fabric with batting in between. The quilt sandwiches moved and glided like a hot knife through butter. I’m having some issues with that gliding thing here at home though, when I’m working on an actual quilt, and it’s more like slogging through mud sometimes than gliding. Some of this can probably be attributed to the difference in size: the samples were about 18″ square, and this Irish Chain quilt is, well, lots bigger obviously.

The foot on the Bernina sits lower and closer to the quilt than the free motion foot on the Pfaff…

I ordered a Free Motion Supreme Slider to hopefully help with the drag. I thought maybe just the difference in the machine bed texture and angle could be causing me some adjustment issues. Got the Slider, love it (the Supreme is way better than the first edition, BTW, since it has the self adhesive back, you have to get one of these things!), and things are better, but free motion quilting is still a drag in spots. What is this??? I’ve finally realized today that the problem is the free motion foot! The foot on the Bernina sits lower and closer to the quilt than the free motion foot on the Pfaff, and the Bernina foot catches on thick seam allowances sometimes, and creates way more drag on the whole quilt. I’m quilting along just fine, and then the drag starts, and I get smaller stitches. Then when the foot finally makes it over the lump of the seam allowance, the whole quilt jumps and I get a giant stitch before I can compensate. Even on wide open spaces, I also notice the fabric being pushed around by the foot more sometimes than it ever was on the Pfaff, just from the thickness of the batting. What to do??

I begin to wonder if the people who design and engineer these machines ever actually make a real quilt with them. Do they have real quilters test them out at all? If they did, wouldn’t this kind of thing have been noticed before? I’ve heard quilters mention this in the past, about how sometimes the foot gets caught on the seam allowances during free motion quilting, but I’ve never had it happen to me on the Pfaff. I’ve always just kind of wondered what the heck these quilters were doing, or how many layers of fabric were these catchy seam allowances anyway? So now it’s happening to me on this lovely Bernina, and I’m a bit less than impressed. So what, do I quilt the wide open spaces with the Bernina, and anything where I might have to get too close to a super scary seam allowance with the Pfaff? Really, how high maintenance and difficult does all of this have to be?

I took a good long look at the Bernina free motion foot and decided to get out the Leatherman tool and some wire. What’s the worst that can happen? If I mess it up, a new one is cheap, and if I can fix it, the reward will be invaluable. The foot has a spring that keeps it down, but will let it raise up slightly (which is probably meant to help it over seam allowances and high spots, but obviously doesn’t work very well). I wrapped a bit of wire around the little pole below the spring, so that the foot will stay up a few millimeters higher all the time. Check out the before and after pics:

Bernina free motion/darning feet

The foot on the left is an unmodified free motion/darning foot, and the one on the right shows the wire, where the arrow is pointing. Click on the pic for a much bigger version, so you can see it better. This looks like such a small thing, but even just the millimeters of height that the wire added help a lot. It’s easy to do: press on the top and bottom of the foot so that the spring compresses and a space opens up under the black clip. Thread the wire (No. 20 soft galvanized, for what it’s worth), through the space and use pliers to shape it around the pole tightly. Trim off both closely ends with wire cutters, and move the cut ends around to the back of the pole, so that there are no rough edges showing.

Problem solved. The quilt now glides just like it should, because the foot is sitting too high to catch the bumpy seam allowances. I think I’m getting a tiny bit more quilt hop as the needle goes in and out, if you know what I mean, but nothing serious or distracting (and probably exactly like what happens on the Pfaff anyway), and the thread tension wasn’t affected at all. Such a simple thing to do for such a big payoff. The Bernina and I are one step closer to being friends, but I still wonder why things like that aren’t taken care of in development. Couldn’t Bernina produce a different free motion quilting/darning foot that sits higher than the regular one? Hasn’t anyone else ever thought of this??

14 thoughts on “Bernina 440 – Free motion foot is a drag

  1. I have done exactly the same thing to my Janome foot, which incidentally cleared up a lot of thread tension issues too. And I have often wondered why no-one ever seems to give an experienced quilter a new product to test-drive,so that the bugs can be identified and worked out. It’s useless letting a non-quilter play with these things….


  2. Isn’t that funny? What you hated, is what I loved! I was used to that from my old Bernina (153QE).
    When I got the Pfaff 2056 I was shocked, about how different and how MUCH the quilt was gliding… Felt always like sand running through my hands and never got familiar to that. That was a big problem to me with bigger quilts. Perhaps I gave up too soon *smile*…

    I solved the problem (with both Berninas, especially the 440QE) by setting the stiches near the seam allowances/layers of fabric with needle up and down stepwise with the backside of my own foot on the pedal. For me that worked perfect, though it took me out of the rhythm of quilting for a few moments…


  3. Keryn (I love the spelling of your name, btw!),

    Yes, it’s especially useless to let a non-quilter play with it, when it’s clearly marketed toward quilters, being the Quilter’s Edition and all! I did hear from Diane Gaudynski that she (and maybe some other quilters) had provided some feedback to Bernina about machines and what quilter’s wanted/needed, but I believe that this happened fairly recently, after the 440 was already out, so I don’t know what good that does anyway. Well, I guess it’s good for Bernina, if they finally get it together and make the perfect machine (not likely anyway), and then we all want to upgrade! Thanks for stopping by!


  4. Hi Nadine!

    I think we’re going to confuse people on my blog here, since our names are the same! (Nadine is my friend from the BFQG, for those who might already be in the confusion zone!)

    Anyway, I think it’s all what you get used to with the machines, and it IS hard to change and get used to something new. I can see how you made it work for the Bernina, but yes, it would disrupt the rhythm for a bit. I like my rhythm too much, so I had to modify my foot! 🙂


  5. Hi Kelly! While I’d love to say that I had a blond moment and didn’t try that, sadly, I did try it, and even with the presser foot adjusted as high as it will go with the dial, it’s not high enough. Love that feature though!


  6. I too, have problems near seam allowances, so maybe your wire fix will help. I can do pretty nice quilting on a small, unseamed, sample, but who ever makes a whole quilt with no seams and layers? Whole Cloth quilts are wonderful, but not teh mainstay of machine quilters.


  7. do you all realize that it is NOT necessary to use a darning foot for free motion quilting-use no foot at all ! the reason for the foot is to keep your fingers away from the needle or to keep you from bleeding on the quilt LOL ! it is soooo much easier with no foot-just pressure foot down and away you go ! no drag just humm along !


  8. Sorry Bev, I have to disagree. If you don’t have the free motion foot on the machine, the quilt “hops” as the needle goes in and out, making it difficult to keep your eyes focused on the line that you are following on the quilt. Also, depending on the thread, needle and batting combination, skipped stitches can be a problem if you don’t use a darning foot to machine quilt.

    This has been my experience on machines that will even quilt at all without a foot attached, and I’ve had students try it on their machines in my machine quilting classes, and some machines will not even function this way. But, if it works for you, great!


  9. I’ve had Berninas for 35 years but 440 & 640 are horrible for drag. Still prefer my Bernina1230 or Husqvarna Designer which allows manual setting for pivot height.

    Will try your wire solution – looks great. My earlier solution was to use Quilters knee lever and lean on it all the time I was doing FM. (not good for joints!) This would raise the presser foot and stop drag. My current solution is to use BSR open toe foot WITHOUT BSR activated. This foot is set higher than my regular FM foot, so there is NO drag on thicker battings. Definitely a fault with Bernina – hope they fix this soon!!


  10. Hi AB, your solution with the BSR sounds interesting, I’ll have to try that! I agree, it’s definitely a fault with Bernina, as I never had this problem with my Pfaff. Thanks for sharing that tip!


  11. Hi, I came upon your blog looking for help with an opposite problem. I have a QE150. The downward action of the free motion foot as the needle goes down has stopped, so the fabric pulls up and the stitches are horrible. So, is there a fix or do I have to take it to be diagnosed? I have quilted many, many quilts and been happy with the way the machine (usually) performs. I am just hoping that today the problem will have fixed itself!


  12. Hi Madelin,

    On the 440, the free motion foot doesn’t actually move up and down with the needle, so I’m afraid I can’t be of much help on this one. Do make sure that the presser foot lever on the back of the machine head is actually in the down position; if it’s not, that could cause problems like you describe.

    If you’ve checked for every possible solution and it’s still not working, take it in!

    Good luck, and thanks for stopping in!


Comments are closed.