Machine Tension


Posted on November 14th, by Amy in sewing. 13 comments

Kandra had a question about her tension on her sewing machine –

I do have a question about sewing… About a year ago, when I was a TOTAL newbie (now i’m just 2/3 newbie)to sewing and quilting, we bought a Janome sewing machine. However, the stitches are made on the BOTTOM of the fabric… so if I were to zigzag, the stitches are underneath the fabric and stitched with the bobbin thread. All stitches are like that, so I have NO CLUE how I’m supposed to applique or use those stitches. Any ideas?

Also, bobbin tension and thread tension.. I still have problems with this. I’d love suggestions on that too! LOL

Kandra, for your basic straight and zigzag the stitches should look pretty much the same on the top and the bottom. You need to get some scraps of fabric and start experimenting! My suggestion is to start at one end of the tension spectrum, sew 6-8 inches and examine the stitches. If they are not the same change it a whole number and repeat. Keep in mind, tension is more accurate when you sew samples with 2 layers of fabric.

I took a few pictures of a sample of both stitches for you. Click to enlarge if you need to. You should notice that the front and back look mostly the same, and the tension on my zigzag looks a little tight. . .

I hope that this helps! Does anyone else have something to add?


Good luck Kandra!

Amy


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13 thoughts on “Machine Tension

  1. 1
    Jennie says:

    Don't forget about bobbin tension- that's what the little screw is for, and it can make a HUGE difference! If her stitches are coming out on the bottom, it could be that the bobbin tension is too tight. It is very tricky, though, and you really need to make the smallest adjustments possible as you go! I personally am comfortable messing with it (I've been trained how to do this since I used to work for a machine dealer), but she might want to take it to a dealer/repair place and have them look at it. If the bobbin tension is wrong you can't fix it with the top tension, and the stitches will look terrible.
    ~ Jennie

  2. 2
    Kandra says:

    Thanks so much! I never thought about just playing with it and going from one end to the other. Also the pics are very helpful! :D

  3. 3
    Natalia says:

    My only advice would be make sure you are using high quality thread. For me the difference in thread is night and day when using nice thread and my personal favorite is Sew Fine by Superior Threads. Good Luck!

  4. 4
    Cheryl Arkison says:

    When you play with scraps like that I also suggest taking a pen and writing right on your fabric what the tension was when you sewed that line. Then keep that piece handy and you can use it as reference.

  5. 5
    Cheryl Arkison says:

    When you play with scraps like that I also suggest taking a pen and writing right on your fabric what the tension was when you sewed that line. Then keep that piece handy and you can use it as reference.

  6. 6
    Cheryl Arkison says:

    When you play with scraps like that I also suggest taking a pen and writing right on your fabric what the tension was when you sewed that line. Then keep that piece handy and you can use it as reference.

  7. 7
    Artystitches says:

    I have given you a award you can get it on my blog :o)

  8. 8
    paige says:

    Ok. Now what about the tension on a serger? I HATE dealing with serger tension!!!!!YUCK! I love, love, love my sewing machine, but I haven't quite felt the love for my serger yet (and it's been 7 years!). Any great tips? I love your blog:)

  9. 9
    Amy - Park City Girl says:

    Paige – I have no clue about sergers! The only one I have ever used, was 20 years ago, and not mine :( Anyone else want to weigh in?

  10. 10
    Mandy says:

    Hello Paige. I am still learning how to use my own serger. What I have found helpful is to keep a small notebook handy and record all the settings that have worked for a particular fabric. You can then staple a sample of the fabric on the same page.
    I also keep the manual close beside me to remind me how to adjust settings.
    One reference book which I refer to whenever I use my serger is this one:
    "The Complete Serger Handbook" by Chris James.
    She fills in most of the gaps in that my manual doesn't quite answer.
    Keep persevering.

  11. 11
    Trudi says:

    Jenny is right, it's not just the top tension, however, not all machines are adjustable on the bottom shuttle (top loading bobbins). If you do addjust your bottom tension on the bobbin shuttle remember 'lefty loosey, righty tighty'! It helps me. Diane Gaudinksi has great advice on this on her blog and in her books. Well worth the investment. Again, mark the fabric with the adjustment made, such as 1/4 turn left or even as small as a five minute (on the clock face) turn left or right.

  12. 12
    Terriaw says:

    Great demo and exchange in the comments! I agree with the comment about using high quality thread. I have noticed a huge difference when using Guttermans. I also agree with experimenting. That's the only way to learn your machine AND not be intimidated to make those tiny adjustments.

  13. 13
    amylouwho says:

    I recently acquired a serger and was scared to death of the tension on it. I have the Singer book on Serging and it has a great chapter on tensions. I basically did the same thing – played around with different settings until it looked right. And you know what? The factory setting (red lines) were just about perfect. Hope that helps!

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