All sewers will feel the stress of not being able to get the sewing machine tension quite right. This tutorial will give you a checklist for obtaining the perfect sewing machine tension for your project. When you have gone through all the points, your machine will be performing beautifully.
What is Perfect Sewing Machine Tension?
Perfect sewing machine tension occurs when the top and bottom threads are perfectly balanced. That means you shouldn't see any little loops on either the top or bottom of your fabric, and the stitching should look even on both sides.
While you may be tempted to go straight to the tension dial on your machine, there are numerous other issues that can put your tension out besides the dials. Always check these first before playing with the tension dials.
How to Fix Sewing Machine Tension Problems
Sew...What can you do?’
TIP #1: Needles for Machine Tension
Check the sewing machine needle and replace it if necessary. A bent or blunt needle can cause your tension to go out. Also, check it is correctly inserted into the needle holder. The flat part of the needle should be at the back. Needles should match the type and weight of your fabric. For example, leather should be sewn with a leather needle in a heavy gauge. (Sewing machine needle sizes)
TIP #2: Machine Correctly Threaded
Make sure you threaded the sewing machine correctly. If in doubt, always rethread both the top thread and bobbin. The bobbin should be wound evenly with no loops. Make sure the thread has gone through the tension disks correctly.
TIP #3: Look for Dirt
Have a quick look for any fluff caught in the wheels, throat plate or bobbin. Even just a little bit of fluff can upset the whole machine. A small stiff paintbrush can sweep your machine clean. Fluff can also accumulate in the eye of the needle. (How to clean a sewing machine)
TIP #4: Check the Dials
Check all your dial settings are correct and haven't moved from their regular position. You never know who may have been playing with the machine dials and settings.
All those dials look very inviting to children, especially mine. Most sewing projects will have the tension dial set to 4. Check your sewing machine manual for the best setting for your fabric.
TIP #5: Thread Quality
Change the thread you are using and check it is a quality brand. Cheap brands can be uneven and break easily. Many sewing machine problems can be helped by using better-quality threads. Good brands of thread include Gutterman, Coates, and Rasant.
TIP #6: Matching Thread
Both the top thread and bobbin should be the same brand, quality, and weight. If they are mismatched, it can cause tension problems. Different colors should not make a difference as long as they are the same type. (Types of sewing thread)
TIP #7: Top Thread Caught
Check the top thread is not caught around the base of the spool. If it gets caught it will cause the top tension to become too tight. Also, check for any knots or tangles in the thread.
TIP #8: Machine Damage
Check the throat plate is clean and has no unwanted nicks or damage. Sewing over pins and needles breaking can cause nicks in the throat plate that can snag the bobbin thread. If small, a technician can buff the nicks smoothly. Otherwise, buy a new plate.
TIP #9: Bobbin Winding
Check the bobbin is wound evenly and not too tight. Check it for snags. (How to Wind a Bobbin)
TIP #10: Bobbin Case
Finally, check your bobbin is inserted correctly. Some machines have an adjustment screw on the bobbin case. Check your manual and adjust accordingly.
How to Adjust Sewing Machine Tension Dials
Still feeling tense? If these quick fixes didn't work, then it is time to adjust your tension dials.
If all the above is still not giving you a nice even stitch, sew a test on a scrap. Use a scrap of the fabric you are planning to sew, as different fabrics will need different tension adjustments.
- Loops at the back mean the top thread tension is too loose. Increase tension (higher number) with small increases at a time. Keep checking till you get it right.
- Loops on top of the fabric mean the top thread tension is too tight. Decrease tension (lower number) with small increases at a time.
Here is a sewing machine thread tension guide:
If all else fails, release your tension and have a laugh at a little joke along the way. Thanks to Sandy, who posted it on a sewing forum.
A Sewing machine walks into a pub. The waiter stops and says….Aren’t you a famous Singer
If the Sewing Machine Tension is Still Out?
If your sewing machine tension is still not correct, it is time to take your machine to a technician. Like cars, sewing machines need regular tune-ups and services. Before you head off, do one last check and try sewing a different type of fabric.
More Troubleshooting Articles
Sewing Specialty Fabrics
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool
- FLEECE – Sewing Fleece