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Monday, January 3, 2011

Thats Why They Call It Tension Baby...

There is nothing worse than messed up tension on your old vintage sewing machine especially for the new sewer who is scared to death of the "TENSION KNOB THINGY!" Yikes!  Well actually the tension is not really that scary and actually there are two tensions you have to deal with, not just the knob thingy but the tension that controls the bobbin thread, that tension is sort of like the troll that lives under the bridge. Don't mess with him unless you absolutely have to!

Let me esplain Lucy... Unfortunately the tensions on your machine sometimes have to be adjusted or fiddled with a little bit. Why? Well... because fabric thickness varies, and not only that but the texture of fabric varies as you well know. So you gotta set the tension so it sews right on whatever kind of fabric. Mostly you will adjust  the top tension but sometimes you will have to fool with the bobbin "troll."

So by now I am sure you figured out that the top tension knob thingy controls the the thread that comes out of the needle and the bobbin tension controls the thread that comes out of the bobbin.  Those two threads have to pull together to form a stitch. But enough said about the technical part, what you really need to know is how to set your tensions right so you get a straight smooth stitch on top of your fabric and that when you look on the underneath that it looks just as good.

OK so... the tension knob thingy is regulated by turning left or right, rightie is tightie and lefty is loosey.   Turn to the right and your tension gets tighter, turn it too much and your stitching will pucker or gather up the fabric. Turn it to the left and it your stitches will start laying flat again.  However if you turn it too far to the left your stitching will look loopy and crazy. Sort of like your other half when he has had one too many....

There are lots of other little things that will have bearing on how your stitch looks but I am not that long winded and maybe that's a little too advanced for the new sewer but fine materials and fine threads and needle sizes can all cause tension issues from time to time. But for basic cotton fabrics and size 11 to a 14 size needle and good old Coats n Clark 6 strand cotton thread this will work.

There are a couple of old timer tricks that wouldn't hurt for you to know either.
1. Never adjust your tension unless the needle bar is down (for newbies
 that's the little lever in the back of your machine that you put the foot down with.)
2. When you put your bobbin in your bobbin case (if you have the kind you have to hold in your hand and load with your bobbin that is) hold the thread and let go of the case, they say it should just hold its weight without coming out. Some older sewers I know swear by this.
3. Thin fabrics like silks, linings, laces and so on use a fine needle, fine thread and a LIGHT TENSION.
4. When I am using cotton fabrics like for a quilt or to make an apron my top tension is usually always set on 3-4. I might have to go to 5-6 for a real heavy fabric but I increase it just a little at a time to see how it looks.



  1. What do I do when my tension knob has NO NUMBERS? AUGH.

  2. So when you wrote this post back in January 2011 little did you know you would be saving the bacon of a woman in south Dorset uk on a very hot day in June 2017 and preventing her from having a tension related meltdown... thankyou :) xx