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Do It Yourself Sewing Machine Tensions

When you understand how to adjust and balance your sewing machine tensions, you save time, money, and frustration in your sewing.  Here are some simple steps to doing your own tension adjustments.

The outcry of frustrations can shatter creativity.

When the finished seam has faulty tension, it can cause even the most meek to cry out.

"I hate this machine! All it does is gum the threads up."

Perhaps the most common complaint sewing machine users make, is about their tensions.  In a sense you might say poor sewing machine tensions cause extreme user tensions. 

The sewer may sew along thinking all is fine, only to cry out in anguish when the turn the fabric over to see gobs of unsightly tangled threads.  Or the thread may pucker up in little balls on top of the fabric. 

What causes poor sewing machine tensions?  

There are many possible sources. 

The threading may be faulty. 

If the upper thread does not seat properly into the tension assembly, problems result. 

If there is a snag on spool or on one of the thread guides, problems result.  Missing a thread guide, tension spring, or the bobbin tensioner can cause problems. 

There are a dozen places where jagged edges, dirt, burrs, or other rough spots can snag the thread resulting in poor tensions. 

Bad thread causes problems. 

Dull needles cause problems. 

Dirt causes problems. 

Properly set tensions should produce stitches with the upper and lower thread locked together in the center of the fabric.  When you look at the seam from the top side, you should see a smooth even flow of thread with tiny holes into the fabric.  When you turn the fabric over, you should see exactly the same quality stitching as you saw from the top side.  The stitches should be snug and show no extra threads on top or bottom.

To achieve these perfect stitches the upper and lower threading must be just right.  The drag or resistance of the upper tension system and the bobbin tension system must balance each other precisely.

Imagine the fabric is a stream of water.  The threads are like ropes across the stream.  One tug of war team pulls up and another pulls down.   Each team pulls across the stream.   If the lower team or bobbin team pulls harder than the upper tension team, excess thread will collect under the fabric out of sight until you lift the fabric to see ugly bunches of thread.  It may even look fine on top while the threads jam up underneath.   If the upper team pulls harder than the lower team, excess threads pop up on top of the fabric.  Usually, you will see bubbles, balls, or bunches  of thread almost as soon as they stitch.  

Remember, your goal is to provide the same or equal tension from the upper and lower threads. 

Begin your corrective efforts by rethreading the upper thread.  Be intentional and careful to insure everything is just right.  Remember to lift the presser foot while threading.  Watch out for anything that might snag the thread.  Check to make sure not lint or gunk has messed gotten stuck between the tension discs.  Watch out for rough spots. Once you reach the needle, gently draw on the thread two or three inches.  You should feel very little resistance.  The thread should flow smoothly.  Now drop the presser foot, and test again.  Is there more resistance?  Good.

Take your bobbin out.  Is the thread wound evenly?  It should be.  Place it back in its carrier.  Check the tension spring for any debris or lint that may have collected under it and clean it out.  Slide the thread under the tension spring.  Test it to make sure there is  moderate resistance on the thread.  This usually does not require adjustment unless you change the size of thread significantly.  Some suggest that a professional sewing machine repair person make these adjustments when needed.

Next, adjust the upper tension to equalize the lower tension.  You may need to rely on some trial and error until you get it just right.  Ignore the numbers on the tension dial, unless they are really low or really high.  In this case you may need to disassemble the tension assembly to make the repair, or have a technician to do.

Sew a trial seam on scrap fabric.  Sew a straight stich and then a medium zig zag.  Examine the stitch quality.  Continue making slight adjustments until your get a stitch that pleases you.  Avoid sewing on finish fabric, until you have confidence that your stitch quality is what it should be.  Avoid frustration.

Sometimes  things just do not work perfectly.  The thread, the needle, the fabric, and the machine can all contribute to small challenges.   Some of these issues can be resolved by using better thread, replacing the needle, using the right needle, or using better fabric.  If you have good tension with straight stitches, but one side of the zig zag is still not just right.  Minimize the flaws by setting tensions to keep the flaw on the underside instead of the facing side of the fabric.  Narrowing and shortening the zig zag stitch can also help.

When you understand how your sewing machine tensions work, you can adjust them with confidence.  In those rare instances where your best efforts failFree Articles, you can always rely on your local sewing machine repair technician.

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Find out more about sewing machine tensions and how to repair sewing machines from Author David Trumble's expert sewing machine manuals.  Get your free copy of his beginning course 7 Steps To Peak Performance For Your Sewing Machine.

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