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Kelly's Advice

Let's Mention Tension

Most of us get quite tense when we have to deal with the tension on our sewing machines. Some, if not all of us, blame our machines for this ongoing problem but, in fact, it’s often not the machine. It’s often the user. Once we recognize and understand this little crisis, we can learn to love and manipulate this wonderful tool. I will be brief and run you through the set up for a proper balanced tension on your sewing machine.

Adjusting your tension can be like a tug-of-war. Both the upper thread and bobbin thread should be balanced. Set your upper tension to the middle number on the dial and thread your sewing machine as usual using an all purpose thread but use a different thread color of the same brand for your bobbin thread. Sew a straight line of stitching on a sample piece of fabric. Run your index finger and thumb over the stitches to test: if it feels smooth and there is no bobbin thread showing on the top and no upper thread showing on the underside then your tension is balanced. However, if the test sample feels coarse and there needs to be an adjustment. The first adjustment will be to unthread your machine, clean the shuttlecock area and thread path with a small brush and gently clean between the tension discs with a soft cloth. Stitch another sample line, and if you are still having problems, you will need to adjust your tension. If the bobbin thread shows through to the topside on the sample fabric, the bobbin needs to be tightened. If the upper thread shows through to the underside the bobbin needs to loosen. 


To tighten the bobbin tension on either drop-in or set-in bobbins, turn the small screw to the right. If it needs to be loosened turn it to the left, (righty-tighty, lefty-loosey). Turn the screw in small increments and re-test your stitches. If you are unsure of the adjustment for the bobbin tension, refer to your owner’s manual.

Vibration from sewing or transporting your machine may throw your bobbin tension off. You may have to re-adjust for this, as well as for different fabrics.

On some computerized sewing machines the tension is set by the manufacturer. So it’s pretty much smooth sailing for you, but if you encounter tension problems it can be extremely frustrating if you’re not sure how to correct this problem. In most cases, your machine just needs a little tender loving cleaning. Check the tension discs on your machine to be sure they are clean and also clean the bobbin case. Threads today can leave behind fuzz in the discs or in the tension of the bobbin case. After you’ve cleaned your machine, always place a new needle into the machine and then test run it again. This rule of thumb also applies to the mechanical machines as well.

Happy Sewing

Kelly Carter
Kelly’s Creative Sewing.