Solving Tension Issues on Your Sewing Machine

Tension is how your top and bobbin threads meet and loop around each other. While most modern sewing machines automatically adjust tension, it’s good to know how to spot and solve problems. You'll have a frustrating quilting session when your tension isn’t correctly balanced. Let's look at tension and how to fix the biggest culprits causing issues.

Before we get into the meat of it, please make sure you're checking your machine's user guide before making any adjustments to its settings.

Just right, tight, and loose

Your tension is just right when the top and bobbin threads are looping right in the middle of your quilt sandwich. You can't see the top thread from the back, and you can't see the bobbin thread from the front. 

Your tension is too tight if you can see the bobbin thread from the front. This can cause tight stitches and puckers and is solved by decreasing tension settings.

Your tension is too loose if your top stitches show on the back of your quilt. This can cause skipped stitches or "eyelashes" on the back of your quilt, which can be solved by increasing the tension settings.


Check these things first!

While it's great to be able to spot tension issues, adjusting tension settings on your sewing machine should be a last resort. You'll be surprised to see what easy fixes you can make before turning a dial.

Threading your machine

First, check if your thread is unspooling in the right direction. Your machine's user guide will illustrate what this should look like. Second, ensure you haven't skipped any steps or loops during the threading process. Even one skipped step can throw off your tension. Finally, check your spool for stickers or burrs that could catch the thread. I can't tell you the number of times a sticker has caused me frustration!

Keeping your bobbin happy

When did you last check that your bobbin race was cleaned and oiled? I had been quilting for a long time when I realized cleaning it out was a thing. Check your user manual and see how you should clean your bobbin race. Make sure it's tightly and correctly seated when you put it back. Then, make sure your bobbin thread is looped correctly through the race so that it will catch the top thread. 

Staying sharp

This seems so easy, but when did you last change your sewing machine needle? Try changing your needle to see if that helps your tension. 

Keeping you happy

While this has nothing to do with your sewing machine, it can affect your quilting sessions. If you’re still having problems with tension, check yourself. Are your shoulders back and down in a relaxed position? Or are they up trying to tell your ears a secret? Are your main joints generally at 90-degree angles? Or are you all stretched out or scrunched up? Think about what’s on your mind, too. Are you calm and ready for this sewing session? Or do you still have a lot from your day to process first? Your mindset plays a big part in quilting success. If everything above is fine, maybe it’s time to take a break and try later. 

If you're having tension issues after checking all that, adjust your machine's settings. Go in incremental changes so you can see exactly where you need to set the dial. I hope you found these tension tips helpful. 

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