One of the most frustrating problems you may run into when learning how to sew is thread tension issues. The thread can be too tight and bunch up the seam or, more commonly, the thread is too loose and it creates a bird’s nest.
I remember this happening to me numerous times. I was convinced my sewing machine was broken, or maybe I got a bad one. It turns out it was not broken or bad. I just didn’t understand how to fix my own mistake.
If you are in the same boat as I was, let me help you sail to the Shore of Tension Knowledge. We will begin with a deep breath and a calm thought.
“I can figure this out.”
- Take the threads out of the machine; the bobbin thread and the top thread. If there are loose threads from cutting away a bad tangle, clear those away too.
- Re-thread your sewing machine with the presser foot in the raised position. Always double check your user manual for the exact path the thread should follow. The path is very important! You will always have tension issues if you miss the tension disc or the thread take-up lever. Make sure your bobbin thread is turning the right direction and wound correctly. I have two videos to help you with this step: bobbin & threading.
- Make sure your needle is not broken or bent.
- Look at your tension adjustment dial. What number is it set on? It will range from 0 to 8/9. Set it near the middle of your specific number range, 4 or 5. Those numbers are important and I will explain in just a moment.
- Grab some scrap fabric to test on, but before you begin make sure both threads are pulled about 3 in. or 7.5 cm behind and under the presser foot.
- Begin sewing slowly.
“What do these tension numbers mean?”
Memorize this: “Lower number means less tension, high number is higher tension.” 0 means zero tension on the top thread. 8 means high tension on the top thread.
Let your thread help you!
Use two different color threads, maybe pink and blue on white cotton, to help you see the tension of the stitch. In my thread tension video, I show several examples of low and high tension.
Remember that different fabric’s weights and thicknesses will effect the tension. Always stitch on a swatch before starting your project. I really mean always! Every single time. 100 percent, forever and always.
May you never get a thread tangle again, but if you do you will know what to do. Did this article or video help you overcome a thread tension issue? I would love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments about your tension victory.