6/30 | How to Adjust Sewing Machine Tension

Ensuring that you have the proper tension on your sewing machine is extremely important. If you’ve ever tried knitting or crocheting, you know what a difference tension can make. The entire success of your project can depend on tension. It’s no different with sewing.

Sewing machine tension is what keeps your thread flowing from the spool and bobbin through the needle and into your item smoothly and easily. Top and bottom tension work together to help maintain even stitching. It should look the same from both sides of your sewing. Once you know how to adjust sewing machine tension, you can ensure flawless results with your sewing projects every time. 

How can you tell if you’re having an issue with tension? If you find that your machine is stalling with the thread seeming to hesitate and even breaking off as you sew, it may be that your tension is set incorrectly. Sections of uneven stitching – longer stitches in among shorter ones – can be another sign. And of course, look at your stitches from both the top and the bottom to ensure that they look the same from both sides.

How to Adjust Sewing Machine Tension

What should you do if you think you have a problem with your sewing machine tension? Begin by looking at your needle, thread, fabric, and presser foot first. Are you using the correct needle for the type of thread you’ve chosen. Thread should easily fit through the needle with some wiggle room to spare so that it doesn’t catch as it moves.

For your machine’s tension to work properly, you must thread the machine correctly. Check this to ensure that you haven’t missed any of the steps for threading. Also, double check that your bobbin is inserted correctly.

The More You Use Your Sewing Machine, The More Often You Will Need to Check and Adjust the Tension

Tension isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. With use, tension can tighten or loosen over time. In addition, changes in types and thicknesses of fabric, thread, needles, presser feet, even sewing through batting can require a change in tension.

When your sewing machine tension is off, it generally means that it’s out of balance. Your top thread is too loose and your bottom thread is too tight. Your top thread is too tight and your bottom thread is too loose. The goal is to get these two back into balance with each other.

There are some situations where the top and bottom tension are in perfect balance and yet still causing issues with your stitches. On some fabrics, you might see puckering caused by both the top and bottom tension being too tight. On others, you might notice a gap when you gently tug on a seam, caused by the top and bottom tension being too loose.

How to Check the Tension on Your Project

If you’re adjusting your machine for basic sewing, the easiest way to get an idea of precisely how the tension is out of alignment is by using a scrap piece of light-colored fabric. Choose 2 contrasting colors of brightly colored thread and use one as the top thread and the other in the bobbin.

Now start sewing a length of stitches. You can often look at the stitching from top and bottom and clearly see that one set of stitches is too loose or too tight. This is important information because it will guide you in now adjusting the tension on your machine.

How do you adjust the tension on your machine?

First step is to get out your sewing machine manual. Each machine differs slightly in the location of the top tension dial. Start with adjusting the top tension. Bottom tension rarely needs to be touched. Much of the time, you can solve the problem by fixing the top tension alone.

The higher the number on your tension dial, the tighter the tension. If your top tension is too loose, you’re going to want to turn the tension dial knob so numbers are increasing. Start by moving it only ½ to 1 number at a time and test again.

Repeat until you are satisfied with your stitching. Obviously, if your top tension is too tight, you’re going to turn the tension dial knob so the numbers are decreasing. Again, only move ½ to 1 number at a time and test again after each adjustment.

Dealing with sewing machine tension is often one of those things that sewists avoid at all costs. Once you understand how it works and how easy it can be to fix it though, it’s not that difficult. What if you have run through all the options listed here and are still having problems? Then, it’s time to take your machine in and have it looked at by a professional.

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