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Thread: Getting ''perfect'' tensions

  1. #1
    Super Member thepolyparrot's Avatar
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    Someone asked about getting good tensions and really, I think most of our sewing machine troubles come from tensions being unbalanced.

    They don't teach sewing in most schools nowadays, and a lot of young women aren't lucky enough to have grandparents to teach them like I did, so maybe I can stand in momentarily and be a gramma for someone learning to sew.

    Without balanced tensions, your sewing machine may not sew a nice-looking, strong and reliable seam.

    It takes some practice and some trial and error, but if you can learn how to balance the tensions between bobbin and needle threads, you will solve about 90% of all your sewist woes. :)

    This method won't work for everyone on every machine - if you have an expensive computerized machine, it might have a tensioning system that isn't user-adjustable or even user-friendly.

    You may have been told by your sewing machine guy/gal not to ever *touch* the bobbin tension. If you have one of those kinds of machines, please don't follow these instructions. I don't know anything about those machines - I sew mostly on vintage machines partly for this exact reason - I can adjust all of them myself whenever I want to.

    Another benefit is that you can sew with wildly dissimilar threads in the needle and bobbin. I promise that it isn't as hard as it might seem at first - it just takes practice.

    1. First, match the needle to the thread that you're using in the needle, regardless of what thread you're using in the bobbin.

    If your needle is too small or too large for the thread that you're using on top, the needle cannot produce the loop for the hook or shuttle to catch. Skipped stitches or no stitches at all.

    2. Make sure the needle is straight, sharp and correctly seated.

    3. Thread your machine properly. If you have more than one machine or it's been a while since you sewed on this machine, you may have to look at the manual. Your manual is your best friend.

    4. Make sure that the thread path is clean and unobstructed by a bit of lint or thread or anything.

    5. Now, fill the proper bobbin for this machine and keep the thread flowing onto the bobbin smoothly - if it looks like a bowl of spaghetti when it's full, you're not going to get a consistently good stitch. Slow down and make sure the thread lies neatly on the bobbin as it fills.

    6. If you have a removeable bobbin case, it will be easier to adjust the bobbin tension to "just right," but in any case, it takes a little bit of practice.

    Insert the bobbin properly into the bobbin case - go back to the manual if necessary - if the thread is off-winding in the wrong direction, it will mess with your tension and the machine may not even form stitches.

    7. Holding the bobbin case in a way that allows the bobbin to spin freely, (or with the bobbin properly threaded in the case, if it's a horizontal/drop-in style) pull the thread that's extruding from it. It should have some resistance - you shouldn't have to tug on the thread, it should unwind smoothly and easily, but it will not feel like you're unwinding a bobbin that's just sitting on a spool pin, either.

    8. Now if your bobbin case is horizontal, you're going to have to skip this "yo-yo" test and go on to the sew test.

    If your bobbin case is removable, then with the bobbin case lying in the palm of your hand, lift it (slowly) by the thread that's extruding from the bobbin case. Give the thread a tiny little dip, the motion you would use if you're playing with a tiny little yo-yo. The bobbin case should slide down the thread a little bit and stop. If you do this over a tray or shoe-box lid, you will do less chasing of bobbins and bobbin cases while you experiment.

    If the thread just unwinds as you try to lift it and the bobbin case stays in your hand, then there is not enough tension on the bobbin thread. Consult your manual as to how to apply more tension. For all of my machines, it is a simple clockwise turn of the tiny screw that tightens the tension spring on the bobbin case. (And if you *don't* do this step over a tray or a shoebox lid, you will eventually regret it.) There may be another screw on the bobbin case - that will be the one that holds the spring on the case and should always be tight - look at your manual to see which one adjusts the tension end of the spring.

    Test the tension again. Tighten or loosen the spring if necessary and test again. If you're nervous about this, you can start with just turn a quarter-turn at a time. For fine-tuning, maybe only a few degrees at a time.

    If you accidentally unscrew all the way, I've found that the easiest way to re-set it is to lick my finger and touch it to the slotted end of the screw (which is lying right there in the shoe box lid, right??? ;) ) then touch the screw to the hole in the spring where it belongs, press down and turn the bobbin case counterclockwise against the screw. Most of the time, it will seat itself.

    9. Okay, so now the bobbin tension is correct for the thread that you're using in the bobbin and your needle thread is ready to go, too.

    Put some fabric of the type in your project under the presser foot, lower the presser foot, bring up the bobbin thread and hold onto both of them and sew a few inches of seam.

    Remove the piece and look closely at the seam. The seam should be smooth and have no puckering and both sides should have flat, even stitches.

    10. Troubleshooting the seam - if there are no stitches on top, just a line of thread with little loops holding it to the surface, the top tension is too tight. Loosen it a half-turn of the tension knob.

    Sew a few more inches and examine the seam. Better? If not, loosen the tension another quarter or half a turn at a time until you're getting a good seam.

    If the stitches look good on the top but the bobbin thread is lying flat with loops of upper thread around it, then there isn't enough tension on the needle thread. Tighten it by a half or quarter-turn of the knob.

    Sew a few more inches and see if it's better or if you need to go just a little tighter or if maybe you've gone just a bit too tight.

    If the stitching looks good and even on both sides but the fabric is puckered, the tensions are too tight on both the needle and the bobbin threads.

    Go back to the bobbin thread and loosen it just a bit at a time, testing it and balancing the tension on the needle thread as you go.

    When you get a seam that looks smooth and even on both sides and the fabric lies flat along the seam with no puckering, you've just balanced the tensions correctly for that combination of fabric and threads.

    If you change anything in that combination, you may have to tweak one or both tensions.

    This *sounds* very complicated, but honestly, it's taken a lot longer to type it than it takes to do it. :)

    It's only a few seconds or maybe a few minutes when you start to sew and you're ready to go. Once you learn how to do this, your frustration level is going to go way down - you'll know how to get the best seams out of your machine and you will make all these adjustments automatically, without even thinking about them. They're very easy once you've tried them a few times and you'll be a better seamstress for it. :)

    I hope that helps someone, somewhere. You can do this! :)

  2. #2
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    Beautifully done. I had the best home ec teacher back in the 8th grade. I know she had to change the tensions between classes because this was the first thing we did every day in class the first 3 weeks...just as you said. Get to know you machine was her motto! OMG 8th grade was 51 yrs ago!!!!

  3. #3
    Senior Member scrapngmom's Avatar
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    THANK YOU!!! I needed this.

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    Power Poster alikat110's Avatar
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    This is great info. Thanks. Bookmarked.

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    Power Poster Sadiemae's Avatar
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    Nicely written and easy to understand. I have a question, If the stitch is beautiful and looks fine, but the bobbin thread is too easy to remove what should I do? I hope that makes sense.

  6. #6
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    Thanks. I learned the bobbin tension test about a month ago - sewed when I was a teenager and in my early 20's, some in my 30's and started quilting about 4 years ago. No one ever told me how to test the bobbin tension - not even my Mom!!! I guess she didn't know or had been doing it for so long she just thought 'everybody knows that' and forgot to tell me.

  7. #7
    Super Member GwynR's Avatar
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    Thanks! I have never learned much about this at all. I bookmarked it for future reference.

  8. #8
    Senior Member calano1's Avatar
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    How wonderfully kind of you to put it all on one list ... :thumbup:

    Thanks Gramma!! :)

  9. #9
    Super Member thepolyparrot's Avatar
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    Thank you - I'm glad this was helpful! :)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sadiemae
    If the stitch is beautiful and looks fine, but the bobbin thread is too easy to remove what should I do? I hope that makes sense.
    It sure does.

    When you say that it's too easy to remove, can you start in the middle of the seam and lift the bobbin thread right up off of the fabric, or do you have to start at one end of the bobbin thread and pull it through the length of the seam,like you would do with a gathering stitch?

    If it's the first, your machine is not making the proper lock stitch - I've never seen this particular "symptom" before, and I can't even guess at what's wrong with it without a lot more information.

    If it's the second - the machine is making the lockstitch, but the bobbin thread isn't being held fast by the needle thread.

    Either your stitch length is too long for the fabric you're working with, or your needle thread tension is too loose.

    If you tighten up your needle thread tension, that should pull the bobbin thread up into the fabric and you won't be able to to remove it so easily. Hope that works for you! :)

  10. #10
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    Brilliant and very easy to understand.

  11. #11
    Super Member Veronica's Avatar
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    Thank you, thank you, thank you, I never had sewing in school, this is all new to me. I'm going to bookmark this, I sew on an older no frills machines that I got on free-cycle.
    I'm learning as I go, so this is very helpful.

  12. #12
    Super Member thepolyparrot's Avatar
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    Well, terrific! I'm really happy that y'all liked it - made my day.

    Thank you! :)

  13. #13
    Power Poster Sadiemae's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thepolyparrot
    Thank you - I'm glad this was helpful! :)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sadiemae
    If the stitch is beautiful and looks fine, but the bobbin thread is too easy to remove what should I do? I hope that makes sense.
    It sure does.

    When you say that it's too easy to remove, can you start in the middle of the seam and lift the bobbin thread right up off of the fabric, or do you have to start at one end of the bobbin thread and pull it through the length of the seam,like you would do with a gathering stitch?

    If it's the first, your machine is not making the proper lock stitch - I've never seen this particular "symptom" before, and I can't even guess at what's wrong with it without a lot more information.

    If it's the second - the machine is making the lockstitch, but the bobbin thread isn't being held fast by the needle thread.

    Either your stitch length is too long for the fabric you're working with, or your needle thread tension is too loose.

    If you tighten up your needle thread tension, that should pull the bobbin thread up into the fabric and you won't be able to to remove it so easily. Hope that works for you! :)
    Thanks for the reply. It is the second, but it on 2.0 stitch length and it doesn't help tightening the top. I will keep working at it.
    Thanks again.

  14. #14
    Super Member thepolyparrot's Avatar
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    What kind of fabric are you sewing? If it's thin, you may need to go to a higher stitch count - 12-15 per inch is usually good for quilting cottons, but for fine muslin or batiste, I would go with a finer thread and a higher stitch count - 18-20 stitches per inch. I'm not sure how that relates to the digital stitch count on your machine.

    Does this happen with all bobbin threads on all the fabrics that you work on?

    Unless you are intentionally working with a low stitch count and decreased tension, (so that you can gather the seam, for instance) a bobbin thread should not pull out this easily. At 12-15 stitches per inch, you should have to use the seam ripper.

  15. #15
    Power Poster Sadiemae's Avatar
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    It has just begun to have a problem. I cleaned and oiled it, and have been playing with the tension, but it hasn't helped. I use 100% cotton. I have had this machine for 5 or 6 years and thought maybe the tension had just vibrated looser, but nothing is helping. This machine is non-computer/non-digital, and 2.0 is quite small for a stitch length. I will keep trying.

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    how do I save this information. I am getting my featherweight in a few days and this will come in handy. thanks

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    how do I save this information. I am getting my featherweight in a few days and this will come in handy. thanks

  18. #18
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    Thanks for this; it is all really good information. years ago I worked in a shirt factory and there were days when it rained that the atmosphere would cause the machine to act up. the next day it was good. I have very little problems with my Kenmore/Janome machine but normally when I do I do what I tell the users here at the hospital (I work in the IT dept) reboot and sometimes that means shut it off for a few minutes; have a cup of coffee and go back and it is usually good by that time.

  19. #19
    Power Poster Sadiemae's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by donnai
    how do I save this information. I am getting my featherweight in a few days and this will come in handy. thanks
    You can bookmark it, or you can create a page in "My Pages" and save the URL.

  20. #20
    Power Poster miriam's Avatar
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    Here is some more info on tensions: http://www.quiltingboard.com/vintage...s-t170748.html
    NEVER let a sewing machine know you are in a hurry.
    good mothers let you lick the beaters - great mothers turn it off first

  21. #21
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    good thread. Thanks.

  22. #22
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    Thank you I am intimidated to change settings but just got a terrific green 185k that needs just a pinch to make a perfect stitch and it seems like i can do it with your help

  23. #23
    Senior Member kapatt's Avatar
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    Great advice on adjusting the tension. Thank you. I wanted to encourage everyone to really get to know your machine manual. It is a wonderful friend. I've been sewing since the late 60's and I make sure that I have a manual for each of my machines. (Last count I had about 15 or 16 vintage machines. My favorite machines to sew with are the Singers 401, 403, featherweights, and the 15-91 treadle.) I also have the Viking Mega Quilter on my quilting frame.
    I refer to my manuals a lot. Most of my machines thread front to back but there is one that threads left to right and a few that threads right to left. Some of my machines have horizontal bobbins and some have the removable bobbin case. When I pull out a machine to use to sew a quilt, I always check my manual to see which way the thread is suppose to unwind on the horizontal bobbins or if it has a removable bobbin case, I check my manual to make sure I latch the removable bobbin case in at the right position.

    I just wanted to add that if it is at all possible, a person should try to use the same machine for all of their blocks. If we switch machines frequently in a project, we will find that the blocks don't always match up.
    Last edited by kapatt; 07-12-2012 at 02:37 PM.
    Kathyj


  24. #24
    Senior Member Dotha's Avatar
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    Thank you. I sure have lots of trouble with this. I don't like my bobbin set up in my 1680 Bernina. And I have been told, "Don't ever touch the bobbin" so I have been afraid. My tension sure is off though. Guess I need to study your guide and try it. Right now my brain can't absorb all of this info so I will come back to it. Thank you again.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Dandish's Avatar
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    Great information, very well written out. Thank you for taking the time to do it.

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