Today I got a call from Leah Day! It was about something being out of stock that I ordered yesterday - but still it was fun to chat with her a bit. I told her how I was doing her beginning designs and how the needle was breaking. She asked me a few questions, then diagnosed it as operator error. When FMQing, of course I have control of the rate of the machine and the rate the fabric goes under the needle. When I am holding the fabric back then it's bending and breaking the needle. I said the last two breaks I was going straight - she said probably the timing was off and I should just take it in to be fixed. That one really bent needle can throw the timing off quickly.
So I loaded up the car and took the machine to the La Mesa Sew and Vac. The lady there (I think it was Monika) was very nice. She agreed with the diagnoses and started to write the ticket for repair up. Then she noticed I had the quilting foot on the machine - she asked if I had tested it with a regular pressure foot and I said no. I had broken all my needles so had just packed up and brought it to her. She said the test for timing was to sew a straight line and a zig zag line - so she found a pressure foot and put it on. (I had put on the dull needle that I was using to scoop the thread thru when bringing up the bobbin and had grabbed a spool of old thread and put it on the top of the machine.) She threaded the machine and did the test - both sides of the fabric looked perfect. She wound up the cords and told me I needed to practice coordinating the speed - she saved me either $45 or $75 (I can't remember how much a tune up is. They had a label on the machine so could tell I had last brought it in December 2010.)
Anyway, that's a pretty good test to know about. Hopefully I'll remember it the next time needles start to break - but also now maybe it's pounded in my head to be more careful about letting the fabric go when I'm Free Motion Quilting.
BTW Leah was so nice on the phone. Very generous with her time. She was so surprised that I was doing all her beginning designs...! To me it was just the natural thing to do once I found her wonderful blog.