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 How To Balance Tensions On A Sewing Machine

Learning to control and balance tensions is a very important skill to learn for any sewer. Not only will your sewing machine have a perfect stitch, but you will be able to adjust your tensions perfectly for different types of fabrics.

I have been around sewing machines most of my life, but the last 5 years or so I have been actively repairing sewing machines and I balance tensions on a daily basis. I still get stumped from time to time. It takes a lot of practice, but eventually you will be able to do it fairly quickly and easily.

Before we begin, I recommend that you should be familiar with your sewing machine and know how to sew and can identify the bobbin, bobbin case, presser foot lever, presser foot, needle plate, stitch length dial(button), stitch width dial(button), upper tension assembly and the bobbin case tension screw. You will also need a very tiny screw driver to adjust the bobbin case when necessary.

 

Here is a list of steps to take before we start to balance the tension:

 

Use a light colored thread. The same thread should be used on top and for the bobbin. A high quality mercerized thread is best like Coats & Clark all purpose thread.

 

Insert a new needle. I recommend size 14. Keep needle bar in UP position

Thread the machine and the bobbin case.

 

Bring the bobbin thread up through the needle plate as if you are getting ready to sew.

 

Set sewing machine to the widest zig-zag and the longest stitch width your machine will allow.If you only have a straight stitch machine set to the longest stitch (basting stitch)

 

Your upper tension should be between a 3 or 5 or on the newer sewing machines should be set to auto in the middle of the auto range. I am also assuming your top tension assembly is working properly as well as your bobbin case is in working condition.

 

STEP ONE:

The first thing to do is to feel the bottom thread tension. For most machines the bottom thread should pull out of the bobbin fairly easily AND smoothly from the needle plate hole. It takes some experience to know what the right tension should feel like. Unless it takes a lot of effort to pull the thread out, I would just leave that part alone for now. If the thread tension seems fine skip the bullets below and go on to step two.

 

= If the bottom thread is very tight. Check to make sure there is no debris inside the bobbin case and it is threaded properly.

 

= You can loosen the bobbin case tension screw (counter-clockwise) until the thread pulls fairly easily and smoothly out of the case. ONLY TURN THE TENSION SCREW 1/8 at a time. If you cant resolve the bottom tension, I would recommend going to a technician.

 

STEP TWO:

Insert the test fabric under the presser foot. I recommend using a medium dark fabric folded in half. The finished folded fabric should measure around 53W x 123L. The longer the fabric the more room to test the stitch quality. Sew one length of the fabric.

 

Now we are going to inspect the stitch quality. If you notice the stitches are skipping, then you have more than a tension issue. Most likely the timing of the machine is off and you should take it to a repair shop.

 

If you look at the top of the fabric do you notice if the stitch is pulling or if the knot is showing? If this is the case then most likely your bottom tension is too loose.

 

Tighten the bobbin case tension screw in 1/8 increment clockwise. After each turn, sew a half length of the test fabric. Stop tightening the tension once the knot moves to the bottom of the fabric or until you cant see the knot at all.

 

If you cant see the knot at all the tensions are balanced!!!!!

 

If the knot moved to the bottom of the fabric, go to the next bullet point.

If you look at the bottom of the fabric do you notice if the stitch is pulling or the knot is showing? If this is the case then most likely your top tension is too loose.

 

Tighten the top tension assembly clockwise in small increments. After each increment, sew a half length of the test fabric. Stop tightening the tension once the knot moves to the top of the fabric or until you cant see the knot at all.

 

If you cant see the knot at all the tensions are balanced!!!!!

 

 

If the knot moved to the top of the fabric, go to the first bullet

 

In this process if you find yourself tightening or loosening the tensions way too much in any one direction then most likely the tension assembly is out of whack. Also, if the knot shows on both the top and bottom simultaneously on the fabric you most likely have other issues with the machine that are beyond the scope of this post. I recommend at this point going to a professional repair shop.

 

I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions, please let me know.

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