How to fix tension issues on your sewing machine if you’re getting messy stitches
Hey y’all, today we’re going to talk about sewing machine tension. I got a question about what tension to set a machine on for a project, and the truth is, I can’t give you a number and be sure that would work. What i can do is show you what balanced (good) tension looks like, and how to identify what to do when your sewing tension is unbalanced and it’s making your stitches messed up.
First – did you know that the reason that your thread does not go in a straight line from your needle to your thread spool is tension? Your sewing machine has to be able to keep a consistent tension in order to form stitches, and the inventors and improvers of sewing machines quickly learned that having the thread go in a winding path toward the needle made it easier to control the tension and keep it consistent.
I made a video with some visual demonstrations of machine stitches and how they’re formed, you can watch it below or on YouTube here. I highly recommend watching this one, as I think it really helps show you what to look for and how to fix your sewing tension when it’s messed up.
I will add a disclaimer I wish I had said in the video – please, if nothing is working, make sure to unthread and then rethread your machine from scratch. If your machine wasn’t properly threaded to begin with, the things helping control your tension won’t work either, so it’s always good to check.
Here are some close ups of balanced and unbalanced tensions you can refer to when you’re troubleshooting a problem with your sewing machine. First, let’s take a look at balanced tension
Balanced sewing machine tension looks like distinct stitches on the right side (top thread, orange) and wrong side (bobbin thread, black). Stitches are stable and do not pull out easily.
The picture above shows top thread tension that is too loose, there is not enough tension to pull the top thread fully back onto the right side of the fabric and it is clearly visible on the wrong side. The black bobbin thread runs in a straight line and does not form stitches. It is also extremely easy to pull this thread out. To fix this problem, increase the tension on the top thread until it is balanced.
The picture above shows what happens when you have too much tension on your top thread. You can see that the top thread is running in almost a straight line, and even disappearing into the fabric, unlike the balanced tension sample. In addition, the fabric is puckering under all that tension – this is a red flag that you might get broken stitches.
When to Check Your Sewing Tension
- When you change to a fabric that is much thicker/thinner than you were sewing previously
- When you change to a different size needle
- When your machine is new
- When your stitches don’t look right
- When your fabric is puckering as you sew
- When your bobbin thread and top thread aren’t evenly balanced
Remember, I can’t tell you what tension to use for any particular project, as it can vary due to fabric, needle, thread, and machine – even between machines of the same model! The best way to determine the correct tension for your project is to check with a scrap of the fabric you’re using and the same needle, thread and machine you will use for your project. Also, if it’s not your tension, here are some other issues your machine might be having and what to do about them.