Great thread tension adds a level of beauty to your quilt: every stitch is a lovely arc in and out of the quilt, front and back. Poor tension distracts from the beauty of the quilt. I get so many questions about tension in class and there seems to be a lot of confusion and angst about tension. It’s really not that hard! I created a 4 min YouTube video last week to explain the process of getting good tension:
I still have a few things to add about tension that were not in the video. Let’s start with what good tension looks like:
Good tension looks like this:
See how every stitch is defined?
Now, bad tension:
See how it’s just a flat line, you don’t see individual stitches and there are little loops sitting on top?
The sad thing is, the second photo, the “bad tension”, is the back of the first photo. This is common: one side looks good, but the other side shows the bad tension. Superior Threads has an excellent article here that explains tension as essentially a tug-of-war between the top thread and the bobbin thread.
Here’s a simple way to remember it:
The side with loops is too tight:
Top shows loops, decrease top tension.
Back side shows loops, increase top tension.
Going beyond the basics, here are a few pointers:
- Above all, remember, adjusting tension takes time and patience. Chill!
- Before you adjust tension, it is important to put your presser foot up. That releases the tension discs so that the thread can reseat itself properly.
- Make sure your machine is threaded correctly first. Common threading issues:
-Thread has wrapped around the needle.
-Thread path is restricted. This could be something like the thread has wrapped around the spool holder, or, the thread has caught on a machine part or something else you added to the machine (add-on light, etc.)
- If you adjust the tension dial and no change occurs in the tension, you may have lint between your tension discs. Gently “floss” your tension discs by slowly moving your thread back and forth through the tension discs. That should disloge any accumulated lint. Usually the real problem is icky, linty thread, oh my!
- Yes you CAN use different weights of thread and/or different types of thread together (polyester, cotton, silk, etc.). I do it all the time. That will make adjusting tension more challenging, but if that is the look you want, go for it.
- Make all your tension movements small and incremental. It’s easy to get confused when you over-adjust. Take your time.
- In some situations, you may have to go to the bobbin to get perfect tension. I know, heresy. But, the perfect tension may be between 2 settings. My quilt, Morning Breeze was one of those. The perfect tension was between 2.25 and 2.0. Thread would pop up on either the bobbin side or the top side. I had to go to my bobbin and adjust the tension there. That’s easy too – adjust the tension screw “righty tighty” to increase tension and “lefty loosey” to decrease tension.
There you have it, balanced tension is worth it! I’ll be linking up with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Friday where you can find lots of other great links.