Thursday, 18 February 2016

Strategic Tensioning

When things go wrong, it helps to have a plan. So here's my 5 step strategy for tension issues.

First: Check your thread path. Sometimes tension issues have nothing to do with tension. Often the thread has gone off the path. So first take a quick look at your thread path and make sure that your machine is threaded properly. If you're not sure read the manual or look it up online.

Second: Change your needle. This is a quick and inexpensive fix. Sometimes the needle gets bent or dull and changing it can solve the problem. While you're at it be sure that the needle is right for what you're doing. For free-motion quilting use a Top-stitch needle because the eye is twice as big as just about any other needle.The bigger eye will give your thread room to move back and forth through the eye while you're stitching. This will keep your thread from shredding. I use a 100/16 Titanium coated Topstitch needle from Superior Threads for all my quilting. 

Third: Tidy your sewing machine. As you sew your machine get clogged with all sorts of fibres. Get a good brush, I use a paint brush. Take off your needle plate and give your machine a a thorough clean. Then open the bobbin area and clean that too. Clean machines run smoother. If your machine takes oil this would be a good time to add a drop or two where needed. Check the manual or find out how-to online.

Fourth: Adjust the Top Tension. Get a practice sandwich of fabric and do some stitching. Sometimes it helps if you have one colour on top and a different colour in the bobbin. If you see the bobbin thread on the top of your practice piece then your top tension is too tight. The top tension is pulling too hard. To balance the tension you will need to loosen the top tension. Righty-tighty Lefty-loosey. So turn your tension dial to the left. Stitch, check and stitch again. Keep doing this until the stitches meet in the middle. 

If you see the top thread on the back of your practice piece then your top tension is too loose. To balance your tension you'll need to tighten your top tension; Righty-tighty. So turn your tension dial to the right. Stitch, check and stitch again. Keep making adjustments until your top and bottom threads are evenly balanced and meet in the middle. Follow this link for more information on top tension issues.

Fifth: Adjust the Bobbin Tension. I save this step for last because many people are afraid of it. Fear not! Sometimes this is the most important intervention. If you haven't been able to fix the tension by adjusting the top tension you'll need to move on to the bobbin tension. Often the bobbin tension is set too tight at the factory and so usually the bobbin tension will need to be loosened. You can find good directions on how and why to adjust your bobbin tension here.

If you follow these 5 steps you should be able to sort any tension problems and get a perfect stitch. If you're still having problems put it in a comment and we'll reply.


Unknown said...

I am working on an applique project where I am doing a close zigag stitch around the edges. I am using batik fabrics with a stabilizer on the back and cotton thread. My babylock machine (about 1 year old) just started skipping stitches in the middle of the project. I've tried all the suggestions above (except the bobbin tension) and nothing seems to have solved the problem. I've also tried two different types of thread. Besides trying the bobbin tension - do you have any other ideas?

Thanks so much

Emily Milne said...

Hi Dawn, I'd change the thread to a polyester. Batik fabric has a high thread count so it's more difficult for the needle to get though. When you add a stabilizer that makes it even more difficult. A good polyester thread like So Fine #50 from Superior Threads will be easier to work with than cotton. So Fine #50 is etched to look like cotton so you'd most likely be able to match it to the previous cotton thread that you were using.If you weren't already in the middle of a project I'd recommend using Bottom Line for machine appliqué. It's a finer thread that blends so well that it seems to disappear. Just perfect for appliqué. Also try changing the needle to a Titanium coated Topstitch 90/14 also available from Superior Thread. The titanium coating makes the needle keep sharp even stitching through heavy/difficult fabrics. hope this helps.