How to Easily Adjust Sewing Machine Tension?

It is very crucial to maintain the tension for the string in your sewing machine. This is because the tension ensures proper and consistent stitches on either sides of the stitch. This issue persists even in highly experienced and expert sewers as well who dread to touch the tension of their sewing machines. 

What is Tension in a sewing machine?

The tension of a sewing machine determines whether you have a balanced stitch or an imbalanced stitch and is determined by the thread present on the needle and bobbin. This tension is crucial for a balanced stitch and it is controlled by the needle thread and the bobbin thread.

While adjusting the tension of a sewing machine is a difficult or somewhat tough task, with a couple of basic concepts and a few steps, you can confidently repair your own sewing machine’s tension and maintain it as well.

The first thing that you need to understand to maintain and adjust a thread tension is that it is simple and there is nothing complicated about it.

Identifying the problem with tension in your sewing machine

There are two ways to identify if your machine has a tension problem. The first method is to do it untouched and the other one is touched one. 

1.Un-Touched Test Sew

While a lot of sewing machine enthusiasts may not have a proper professional understanding of the machine, this is the best way to go as you won’t be touching the tension settings on it. 

As the name suggests you would run a test sew on a piece of cloth. Make sure that you are running equal streams and the end result should have even stitches on either sides of the fabric.If the thread is tight and causes the fabric to come closer or even if the stitch is loose and falling, it means that there is an issue with the tension of the sewing machine.

If not, then the tension is fine and do not touch the settings of the tension.

2. Touched Tug of War

Yet another method of testing the tension of the machine, for this, you need to have some basic or atleast proper understanding of getting the machine back to its original settings. 

The thread in a sewing machine passes through both the bobbin and the needle pulling each other. When the tension of this string is good, the seam and stitch of the cloth should be good. If the thread on this is loose (maybe one side pulling too much or the other side), the tension is said to be off.

Here, if the bobbin side thread has too much tension, then you can see the needle side thread being loose from the bottom. If the top thread is tight and the lower thread is tight, it means that the tension is loose for the bottom.

Problems with your sewing machine other than tension

Other than tension, your sewing machine might have other problems that may cause it to not give optimum performance.

  • Incorrect Threading: If the thread you are using is not running through the thread guides, it may prove to be faulty. Make sure that the thread spool is unwinding and flowing freely.
  • The bobbin insertion may also be an issue if not inserted properly
  • Sometimes, the performance of the machine may alter due to the sheer dust that gets accumulated on the machine; most particularly around the tension discs or under the throat pale or around the bobbin discs. 
  • Machine parts such as needles, bobbins or surfaces, if damaged may also cause a problem. Most particularly, look for issues such as needle bends, broken bobbins, surface damaged, needle eye or thread guides etc.,

How To Adjust a Tension on your Sewing Machine

Now that the tension is identified, there are two types of adjustment methods/ techniques available. The first one is a basic adjustment that you would be doing every day while you are sewing. This is what a repairman would do. Also, there is the temporary adjustment that is perfect when you change the thread types, fabrics or other stitching operations etc.,

Basic Adjustment

In order to make a basic adjustment, you need to select two threads of contrasting colours in both size, fiber and also the brand. 

  • First, use one coloured thread to fill the bobbin with the sewing  machine set at a medium speed. This is to reduce the risk of the thread from stretching.
  • Now insert a new needle and thread the machine. You can go with the same needle size that you typically use for your threading and sewing requirements. 
  • Go all out on using all of the thread guides on the machine head. If your sewing machine has an eye of the bobbin-case finger, do not thread it.
  • Set 12 stitches per inch stitch length (2 mm) or your typical length that you generally stitch with. 
  • After this, set the upper tension regulator to its middle range of about 4 or 5 depending on which machine you use. Take a light in weight muslin cloth and stitch a seam for test on two layers. 
  • Examine both the stitches closely to see if the tension is perfect or not. Now adjust the bobbin spring tighter or looser depending on your tension requirement. Here, if the upper layer of the bobbin threader is visible, then adjust tighter and if the underlayer shows needle thread then loosen the bobbin. 
  • After you adjust the bobbin, run another test seam. Do it as long as you reach the perfect tension and your stitch is balanced. 
  • Now once your stitching is balanced, make a note of the thread brand, size and type and also the number on the upper tension regulator that gave you the perfect tension and balanced stitch. This log will act as a reference for you to help you further adjust or get to the balanced stitch tension in the future easily.

Temporary Adjustment

Tensions tend to stay balanced when you choose a lighter than normal thread for your bobbin and needle. Heavier thread on top or bottom may increase tensions on both sides. Thus try and set to lighter tension for stitching heavy fabrics.

Always remember that when you switch to a new thread from your standard sewing thread, always test seam if your tension dial is perfect or needs adjustments. In such cases, you need to perform temporary adjustments to it. 

  • To make a temporary adjustment to the tension, you need to select threads like you did for the basic method. 
  • Now thread the sewing machine and fill up the bobbin. 
  • Similar to the basic method, run a test seam on a test fabric and look at the stitches closely. Try to find a balance using upper tension assembly.
  • Take our the second bobbin case and move the screw in increment of quarter turns. 
  • Depending on how your sample seam has shown the thread showing (upper to bobbin thread or underlayer to needle thread), turn it tight or loose respectively.

Precautions to avoid tension mis-balance of your sewing machine:

The tension of you sewing machine may be a difficult thing to get back on track, it is best that you follow certain precautions that will help you prevent losing the tension balance on your machine. Maybe this checklist will help you do just that.

1) Thread your machine correctly at all times

Incorrectly threaded machines are one of the more common places of tensions. There are thread guides which help you properly thread into a sewing machine. Use the presser foot down attachment tool which will keep the thread from slipping away from the tension discs and thus prevent it from freely unwinding from the spool. Make sure you use the bobbin is inserted correctly and you use it as a spool that will not interfere with thread flow.

2) Filling the Bobbin Incorrectly

Often, we do not remove the thread on the bobbin before we wind on new thread onto it. This will make uneven winding and thus cause improper tension. Always make sure that you remove any thread that is present on the bobbin and also outside it before placing new thread. Also, wind the thread consistently at either slow or medium speeds. This will relax your seam particularly for nylon or polyester threads.

3) Make sure that your machine is cleaned from time to time

A dirty sewing machine will cause lint or thread that will get logged under the throat plates, between the tension discs or around the bobbin case. This will cause friction and thus restrict the thread flow. Make sure you clear out the tension discs with a lint free and light in weight cloth from time to time that will avoid these frictions.

4) Keep an eye out for damaged parts

Damaged bobbins, bent needles, rough surfaces or damaged needle eyes, tension discs, thread guides, throat plates, take-up levers, presser foot or the bobbin areas can cause long term damage to your machine. If sensitive objects such as metal bobbins have small damage due to rough handling or due to falling down on the floor etc., it is better to replace it than reuse it because it will end up distorting the tension of the machine. 

In order to avoid damage to the bobbin tension spring, make sure you cut the thread close to the case before removing the bobbin. Also do not forget to raise the presser foot before removing the upper tension thread. 

5) Be careful of the choice of threads, fabrics and needles you use

Using variable thread sizes and top types can cause your tension settings to go off base. When the needle is either big or small for the thread, it may cause the tension to give you unbalanced stitches because of the variable hole sizes.  

Conclusion

The tension of your sewing machine is a sensitive function. It might give you a perfectly symmetric stitch or maybe end up giving you an uneven, botched, sloppy or sometimes too tight stitch thereby damaging your work. 

Apart from maintaining your tension settings, repairing it, make sure you oil your machine regularly. Use consistent needle and thread types for unchanged tension settings.

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