What tension should you use on your sewing machine?
You need to be able to adjust the tension of your sewing machine to create the perfect stitch.
Why? Poorly adjusted tension can cause serious damage to any sewing project. It is possible to end up with large thread loops at the bottom of your fabric or the lower bobbin thread pulling towards the top. Sometimes the stitches can be too loose or tight, which could cause the fabric to pucker.
When I was a beginner, tension was something that puzzled me. My Brother’s sewing machine was stuck at a “4” for the first few minutes because I was afraid that I would ruin it if I changed it.
It was all going well until I decided to switch to thick fabric sewing projects with a heavier weight thread. After resolving the problem with the stitch quality, I decided that it was time for me to change the tension on my Brother sewing machine.
Fear not if you are also afraid of sewing tension! This guide will help you understand what sewing machine tension means, how to adjust it, what other problems may cause stitching issues, and finally, how to adjust your sewing machine tension for the best results.
First, let’s clarify what tension is in a sewing machine.
The tension on the threads during the passage through the sewing machine is called stitch tension. Every stitch is made up of two threads: the top thread that goes through the needle and the bottom thread that comes from the bobbin.
The balance between the two sources and other factors that influence the tension of the stitch is key to a perfect stitch. The top and bobbin thread should be drawn into the fabric equally, creating a link between the layers. The top and bottom stitches should be the same, and the knot should not be visible within the fabric.
Extra tension on the top thread or very little on the bottom means that not enough top thread is getting into the stitch. This causes puckering and the fabric’s bobbin thread to show. Extra high tension on the top thread (or too low at the bottom) can cause too many threads to be drawn into the stitch. This will result in a loose stitch as well as the presence of the top stitch on the bottom.
Incorrect top or bottom tension can lead to sewing tension problems.
What is top tension?
Two metal discs at the top of most sewing machines control the top tension.
A spring also regulates the tension on the threads on one side of the metal discs. The spring can be controlled using a dial or a computer with a computerized machine. The dial’s number can be increased to increase the tension or pressure on the thread.
The tension dial on your sewing machine could be found on the left, right, or top of the machine. Tension numbers range between 0-9 and 1-10, most commonly.
The tension discs come apart when the foot is raised. This allows the top thread to slide between them. The tension discs are reattached when the foot is lower to start stitching.
This is why the presser foot should be pushed down when threading your machine. The tension is not maintained because the top thread doesn’t enter the discs. The top thread is pulled back to create loops.
What is the bottom tension (bobbin)?
The bobbin case usually has a screw that controls the tension of the lower thread (bobbin thread). Many bobbin cases have a small tension spring that you must pull through to thread your sewing machine.
Adjusting the bobbin tension is a good option for beginners sewing.
Situations that require tension adjustment
You may need to adjust your tension in order to sew properly. Examples include:
- Changed thread weight (heavyweight to lightweight or vice versa).
- Change to another thread material (such as metallic threads).
- Change to a different brand
Troubleshooting a Sewing Machine Before Adjusting Tension
Before you start to fix a problem in your sewing machine’s stitches, these are some questions that you should ask before you adjust the tension. It’s true; I have had tension issues with my Brother’s sewing machine many times. However, you should opt for a durable model such as a janome derby sewing machine so troubleshooting issues will never arise.
- Are you sure your sewing machine is properly threaded? Make sure that the thread from your spool follows all instructions in the sewing machine manual. Make sure to thread your sewing machine with the presser foot facing up. If in doubt, rethread!
- Are the bobbins properly wound? Check that the bobbin is correctly oriented and not too loosely, tightly, or unevenly wound. You should also make sure that the bobbin is clean and free of lint. Clean it if you find any lint in the area. This is where I found dust bunnies the first time that I opened my workspace.
- Is the needle the right size? Itr’s vital to opt the right size needle! A bent or dull needle can lead to problems with stitching. Check out my extensive list of different sizes and types of sewing machine needles to ensure you have the right needle for your project.
- Is your thread weight compatible? If you have any unexpected problems, make sure the top and bottom threads are identical in most cases.
- Did you choose a compatible stitch type and adjust its length and width if necessary? Some stitches may not be compatible with all fabrics.
This should resolve your problems. If not, you can move on to fixing the tension in your sewing machine.
How to adjust your sewing machine’s tension
Both the the bobbin tension and top tension can be adjusted, as I have already mentioned. If in doubt, adjust the top tension.
How to Adjust the Top Tension of a Sewing Machine
Each sewing machine has a default setting for top tension. This value, or at the very least a range thereof, should be found in your manual. Try stitching with the suggested value first if tension is a problem. A beginner sewing machine can be suitable for you if you are new to this. Read singer 4432 review to find out how this model can be the best choice.
Most machines have a tension dial or an interface that allows you to adjust the tension.
Below is an example of where the Brother sewing machine tension dial can be found on my Brother CS6000i.
The Brother sewing machine’s tension dial is located in the same location as most other machines. Touch screen tension adjustments will be available on some more expensive machines. These machines often have automatic tension settings.
Below is my Singer heavy-duty sewing machine’s tension dial. It is clearly labeled!
To adjust the tension, do a test-stitch first. It is important to use both the fabric as well as the thread for your project. You can see the stitches better in case you use a contrasting fabric that has the same characteristics.
Examine the stitches after you have finished sewing. The knot should be at the center of the fabric. On both sides, you even want stitches. This means no loose stitches or puckering.
To pull the knot up, increase the top tension if the knot is too deep into the fabric’s bottom. A higher number on your tension dial will indicate a higher tension.
The tension should be reduced if the knot is too close to the fabric’s top. This will ensure that the top thread does not pull the stitch upwards as much. The tension dial should be set at a lower setting.
Pictures of Incorrect Sewing Machine Tension
This is how tension looks from the front of the fabric when it is too tight or too loose. You will notice the tight stitches and fabric puckering when tension is too high.
Adjusting the tension should not be done in a drastic way. Move one number to the left or right, then sew again.
Continue to test your stitches until you feel that they are balanced.
How to adjust bobbin tension
If you don’t know what you are doing, you should only adjust the bobbin tension last resort. Tension problems in sewing machines are usually caused by the top thread or any of the other errors mentioned above.
To adjust the tension of your bobbin, you will need to first take your bobbin out of its case. Use a screwdriver to turn the small screw in the bobbin box. Use minimal force to turn the screw. You must be ultra-careful not to damage your bobbin case.
Turning the screw counterclockwise will loosen the tension. Look for a model such as the Singer 3337 sewing machine to ease out in adjusting the tension easily.
How to adjust the bobbin tension on a Brother Sewing Machine
You can see the little screw that holds the bobbin container of my CS6000i sewing machines. I have removed the bobbin from my workspace and taken the case out.
To change tension, you can use a small screwdriver as described above. You can make small adjustments and test each one.
This tutorial should help you solve your sewing problems! If you still have problems with your sewing machine after trying all the suggestions above, it may be time to bring it in for professional evaluation.
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