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Quilt group talk - what are your tension bugaboos?

Quilt group talk - what are your tension bugaboos?

Old 01-25-2016, 06:52 PM
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Default Quilt group talk - what are your tension bugaboos?

I've volunteered to give a talk on tension to one of the quilting groups that I belong to next Monday.

So, in an effort to make sure I'm fairly well prepared, I thought I'd gather a list of the types of things that appear to be tension problems, the problems with having poor tension - too loose or too tight, how to adjust tension and why, how tension problems affect machines.


Here's what I'm hoping to tackle so far:
  • Top tension does nothing. "I turn it this way and that and it doesn't change!"
  • "I've rethreaded thirty times. it. doesn't. help."
  • "I just take everything out and rethread and it fixes it!" (I don't recommend this anymore, btw)
  • "Oh, I don't touch that"
  • "Bobbin tension? There's such a thing?"
  • "Bird's Nests", "the mess down under", "pucker up, baby!", "Flatline...."
  • "My machine doesn't like that thread"
  • "My machine's growling...it's got stress!"
  • "I'd skip stitches too if I had that much tension!"
  • "My machine has automatic tension"

Also:
  • How to read a test sew
  • Decorative stitches - how they're different tension wise
  • I'm also going to do a little on serger tensions.


What other tension problems can I bust or tame?

Last edited by QuiltnNan; 02-10-2016 at 07:05 AM. Reason: pm
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Old 01-25-2016, 07:56 PM
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I thought I had it until I tried the zig-zag! Why can I get the tension working well but when I do a wide zig zag it pulls together in the middle or the stitches pull through to show on the other side.
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Old 01-25-2016, 08:00 PM
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Does it matter if I turn the tension dial a little at a time or a lot? Is there something I could do that would ruin my tension to the point of needing a professional servicing? What should I NOT fear about messing with tension?
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Old 01-25-2016, 08:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Mrs. SewNSew View Post
I thought I had it until I tried the zig-zag! Why can I get the tension working well but when I do a wide zig zag it pulls together in the middle or the stitches pull through to show on the other side.
A wide zig zag often requires both tensions to be lowered somewhat. Think of it this way - a wide zz is asking for a fairly generous helping of thread in the same time and space that a single straight stitch would normally be pretty frugal. If the Wide ZZ needs, let's say 3 times the thread, it can't be fighting terribly hard to get it or the stitch will be malformed. Tunneling is a sign of this - it simply can't pull enough thread to lay flat on the fabric. Solve tunneling with looser tensions - often both top and bottom - depending on the machine and thread. The other thing that helps a wide zig zag is stabilization - just like with a decorative stitch. Decorative stitches btw are a lot like embroidery - it's OK to have the threads lock on the back of the work - typically you'd match your threads and it wouldn't be seen anyway. This way less puckering happens and if you haven't matched your threads, the top thread is the only one that shows.

Read the stitches and see which thread is having the supply issue - stitches lock at the back - bobbin thread is too tight. Locking at the top - top tension too tight. Depending on what I'm doing, sometimes I do change the bobbin tension a couple of times in a project. It's "rare" to have to change bobbin tension according to the manuals but I think they're assuming a fairly narrow range of fabrics and threads - sort of like how "automatic" should work in most cases. It does too - but only for a fairly narrow range of circumstances.

Originally Posted by zozee View Post
Does it matter if I turn the tension dial a little at a time or a lot? Is there something I could do that would ruin my tension to the point of needing a professional servicing? What should I NOT fear about messing with tension?
Assuming that you're not way out in left field to begin with - a little at a time will tell you more. I think wide swings are more likely to bounce to back and forth between too tight and too loose. The exception (somewhat) here would be with some long arm machines that have tensioners that turn "forever". Depending on the tensioner, usually unless you start disassembling (and losing pieces), you can't harm one permanently. I don't really recommend flossing lately. You can shove things in further complicating the problem. Most tensioners - post 30s-ish anyway have numbers on them. If you record where you start, you should always be able to return things to where you started. Bobbin tension is the same -count the number of turns til the screw is tight, then loosen or tighten as needed. In fact, one of the best things you can do is experiment - run a test sew from maybe 2 - 9 whenever you change threads and see how the stitch changes.

Last edited by ArchaicArcane; 01-25-2016 at 08:50 PM.
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Old 01-25-2016, 09:07 PM
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Right now I am trying to figure out how my tension should be reassembled on my 31-20. It is funny I was just on your site one minute ago.lol I don't have a lot of problems with tension, but I do know that people will sell their machines because they can't get it right. so many times in ads people will say that the machine works but needs to have tension adjusted. So I know it is a big problem for some people and some machines.

My dealer sends your machine home with stitches stitched out on cotton sandwiched with heavy pellon in the middle so the stitches look great, you get it home and have to change the tension when sewing on normal fabric, not all of us use pellon while quilting or making clothing.lol

I would think it would be neat to have machines to look at with different problems with the tension and then explain what you are seeing and how to fix it.
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Old 01-25-2016, 09:23 PM
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No fear in changing tension settings if you take a picture. Don't pull your thread to test the tension if the pressure foot is up. When removing thread from the machine pull it off from the spool side rather then pulling out from the needle. Make sure when winding a bobbin to go through all the thread guide to get a properly loaded bobbin. A too tight or loose bobbin can cause problems. Discuss stacked threads and crosswise threads and how they should go on the machine to feed properly.
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Old 01-25-2016, 09:57 PM
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Originally Posted by sewbeadit View Post
Right now I am trying to figure out how my tension should be reassembled on my 31-20. It is funny I was just on your site one minute ago.lol I don't have a lot of problems with tension, but I do know that people will sell their machines because they can't get it right. so many times in ads people will say that the machine works but needs to have tension adjusted. So I know it is a big problem for some people and some machines.

My dealer sends your machine home with stitches stitched out on cotton sandwiched with heavy pellon in the middle so the stitches look great, you get it home and have to change the tension when sewing on normal fabric, not all of us use pellon while quilting or making clothing.lol

I would think it would be neat to have machines to look at with different problems with the tension and then explain what you are seeing and how to fix it.
Ha! That's great! If your 31-20 is the same as my 31-15, it's a pretty basic tensioner. What did you need to know?

I agree. I see a lot of machines advertised as needing tension help. I feel bad for the machine that replaces it because it will likely go out the same way!

Your dealer uses Pellon? That stuff is expensive! Test sews in general make me crazy. They're rarely indicative of real world. They're an indication of how well the person making the sample knows how to manipulate the machine. A lot of people who don't "get" tension yet will never get those results. Plus, there's no proof it was made on any given machine.

I just show people why a test sew reads the way it does so that they know what to expect in the real world use of their machines.

I'm not going to have enough time to set up and show a lot of machines but I'm thinking of bringing the test sews of several borked (<-that's a technical term. ) tension set ups that I can pass around.

Originally Posted by Tartan View Post
No fear in changing tension settings if you take a picture. Don't pull your thread to test the tension if the pressure foot is up. When removing thread from the machine pull it off from the spool side rather then pulling out from the needle. Make sure when winding a bobbin to go through all the thread guide to get a properly loaded bobbin. A too tight or loose bobbin can cause problems. Discuss stacked threads and crosswise threads and how they should go on the machine to feed properly.
Some great suggestions Tartan!! Thanks!
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Old 01-25-2016, 10:22 PM
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Wish I could be there. I've got a machine that has a borked tension. I also have one that's twinked. <G>

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Old 01-25-2016, 10:42 PM
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Borked I can do fairly quickly,.. twinked might require a longer session.

I'd let you know the next time I get into the BC interior to teach but it's probably still too far away for you.

I will have to mess up my Pfaff again because I wasn't able to make my vintage machines misbehave enough last time when I was doing the tension posts on my blog. I tried and tried and that 15-90 just wouldn't make a nest. I got a "slightly sloppy" stitch at its loosest and snapped the thread once it got too tight. Between those, I had a fairly acceptable stitch most of the time. After those posts, I had to disassemble and adjust the Pfaff's hook retaining finger thanks to the mess I made.
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Old 01-25-2016, 11:19 PM
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My modern machine with drop in bobbin creates a big mess on the bottom when the bobbin is nearing empty only when I attempt to free motion quilt...

My White 660 tend to break thread when I try, but I think it might be the groove the thread wore in the paint so I'm going to fix that and look for other potential burrs
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