Having proper tension on your sewing machine is very important because it ensures that your stitching will be even and look the same on both sides. It also helps to ensure that your thread will flow easily (tension that is to tight can stop thread from moving as you sew) as you sew.
Tension is what keeps your bottom and top stitches in equal tension with one another. Or in other words what keeps your front and back stitches looking the same. If both your top and back stitches don’t look the same it may be due to your tension not being right either on the top or bottom. Both the top and bottom tension must work together.
If your stitches look perfect and your sewing machine is sewing great, do not touch your tension knobs! However if your follow the below check list from Threads Magazine and it’s still not right, I would suggest starting to try adjusting your tension slowly using a test scrap piece of fabric (never your project)!
Tension is like a game of tug of war. When both sides are equal neither sides are winning. When one side is winning and one is losing your tension is off. The key to finding out which way to turn your tension dial is to find out what side is winning and losing. Is your top thread loose and bottom too tight? Or is your top thread tight and your bottom loose? One way that makes this easy to tell is to use a light coloured piece of fabric to test with two different colour threads that will show nicely against one another. The below graphics I think are a great way of illustrating this tug of war. I would actually suggest printing the below picture and keeping it with your sewing machine for a quick reference. Trust me it will come in handy!
In order to understand tension you need to understand which way it is off. I have found that understanding it is the best way to learn this. If you look at the illustrations above and think it out I’m sure you will understand which way you need to adjust your tension.
If you look at the above graphic you can see illustration number 1 (far left) shows a fabric sample that shows the top thread on the bottom, unlike the perfect tension in illustration 3 (the far right). This means that the top tension is to loose and the bottom to tight. In illustartion number two there is the opposite problem.
How Do You Increase or Decrease Your Tension
So now that you know how to determine which thread is tight and which is loose how do you adjust it?
How to Adjust Top Tension
First you need to find your tension regulating dial (see illustration of sewing machine above). It will be in a different place on every machine so if your not sure which knob it is, check your sewing machine manual. If you do not have a manual it will be the knob with numbers on it that does not change your type of stitches or length.
If Your Top Tension is to Loose
To increase your top tension (if your top tension is loose) turn your knob so that the numbers are increasing. Try 1/2 to one number lower, then test on a light piece of scrap fabric with a different colour thread top and bottom. Continue until it looks even on both sides and you can no longer see the bottom thread on the top. If you seem unable to do this keep it where it is closet to balanced and proceed to how to adjust your bobbin tension below.
If Your Top Tension is to Tight
To decrease your top tension (if your top tension is tight) turn your
knob so that the numbers are decreasing. Try 1/2 to one number lower, then test
on a light piece of scrap fabric with a different colour thread top and
bottom. Continue until it looks even on both sides and you can no
longer see the bottom thread on the top. If you seem unable to do this
keep it where it is closet to balanced and proceed to how to adjust your
bobbin tension below.
How to Adjust Your Bobbin Tension (Your Lower Thread Tension)
You should always try to adjust with your top tension first if possible. You should not need to adjust your bobbin tension unless you are using a heavier or lighter thread than usual. Heavier fabric needs more tension (turn the dial to a higher number) and lighter fabric less tension (turn the dial to a lower number). According to Mainely Sewing Machines too many adjustments with the screw in the bobbin could make it loosen it’s grip.
Every machine will have either a top loading drop in bobbin, or bottom loading with a bobbin case (the sewing machine pictured above has a bottom loading case). The below picture shows how to adjust the tension by tightening or loosening the bobbin case screw.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to trouble shoot before adjusting your bobbin tension.
- Is your bobbin winded right? Meaning is it would too loose and loopy or to tight?
- Do you have the right bobbin for your machine?
- Has your bobbin case fallen on the floor? If so it might be damaged and therefore affecting the tension.
Check out these great videos to see how to adjust tension on your sewing machine. Sometimes it just helps to watch someone. 🙂
How to Adjust Tension | Sewing Machine How Cast (4 min)
This is a great quick video about how to adjust upper thread tension
Sewing Machine Thread Tension – Updated Professor Pincushion (9 min)
This is a VERY through explanation of adjusting top and bottom tension (bottom loading only)
Bottom Loading Bobbins
One simple way to test if you need to adjust your bobbin tension if you have a bottom loading bobbin is to take the thread hanging from your bobbin case (if you don’t have a bobbin case you have a front loading bobbin). If the thread unwinds and the bobbin drops a few inches, your tension is perfect.
If the thread doesn’t unwind at all, your tension is too tight and will
need to be loosened. If the thread unwinds with no effort and the bobbin drops easily, your tension is too loose and you’ll need to tighten it. Use a tiny screwdriver and turn the screw on the side of the bobbin case
by 1/4 turn. As seen in the illustration below the good old righty tighty lefty loosey applies here. Test the tension again. Repeat until the thread only drops
a few inches.
Top Loading Bobbin
Below is a picture of a top loading bobbin case. For how to adjust tension on a sewing machine like this (top loading) in the video below.
Check out the video below to learn how to adjust tension in top and bottom loading sewing machines. She describes everything great and is very to the point!
Top and Front Load Bobbin Explained (5 min)
Here is a great pdf on tension from the University of Kentucky. I suggest that you print this and keep it with your sewing machine for a quick reference.
Found This Post Because You are Having Problems With You Machine?
applied what you learned? If not try that. If your machine is still not
working check out my troubleshooting guide,
also check your sewing machine manual which usually while have a troubleshooting
guide as well. If this does not work you can try a sewing forum such as Threads magazine’s or try a search online describing your problem. If this all fails you need to take your machine in to be repaired, unfortunately sometimes you just have to.
With a white piece of fabric and two different colored threads sew a straight line and look at it compared to the tug of war pictures in this lesson. How does your tension look? If it is not perfect work until you can achieve perfect balance (neither top nor bottom is tugging more than the other).
Next Lesson: How to Read a Pattern Envelope
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