Recently, our online editor, Cate Prato, put out a plea on Facebook, regarding the sudden change in tension on her sewing machine stitches:
Sewing friends, I need advice. I have been machine piecing a quilt top for a couple hours without incident. Then the bobbin ran out and I refilled it, taking the opportunity to de-fuzz the feed dog and bobbin casing area before putting the bobbin back in. Now, the tension is completely off: loops on top and squiggly stitching below. What happened and how can I fix it?
Responses came swiftly from Cate’s Facebook friends, most of whom quilt or sew. The comments (from everyday home sewers to Bernina® Brand Ambassadors) read like a tension trouble-shooting guide from a sewing tutorial:
- Did you change the needle?
- Is the bobbin inserted the right way?
- Is the bobbin basket seated (aligned) properly?
- Did you remove all the fuzz? Try compressed air.
- Is the thread and/or needle the right size for the project?
- Is the machine threaded properly?
- Did you adjust the bobbin tension?
- Is there thread caught in the thread track?
- Did you oil the bobbin area?
- Is there thread caught in the bobbin area you didn’t see?
- Did you put the presser foot down?
- Did you change the bobbin?
The last suggestion was the winner. By putting in a completely new bobbin and stitching a few practice runs on a scrap of the fabric she had been stitching, Cate was back quilting–stitches all even and nicely interlocked.
Cate was simply sewing straight seams to piece her quilt top. When using free-motion quilting techniques, there are additional tension considerations.
Art quilter Dijanne Cevaal covered these tips and more in her interactive article “The Liveliness of the Stitch,” on Quilting Arts In Stitches, Vol. 5. Here are some of her suggestions:
- Regardless of what the instruction books recommend for your machine, you will almost certainly have to adjust your tension for free-motion machine quilting.
- It is impossible to say exactly what tension you should use, as it is dependent on the thickness of the thread, the needles you are using, the thickness and density of the batting you are using, and the backing fabric.
- It is best to keep a small sampler piece of the materials you are working with so that you can check that the tension is right for the materials you are working with.
- If there are problems underneath your work such as tension or bunching of threads, it usually means there is a problem with the top of your machine. Rethread the top of your machine completely. With free-motion machine stitching it is possible for the threads to slip out of the tension plates, and tension is needed to make good stitches.
Like Cate, I’m glad I have a community of quilt-and-sew friends who can help me out when I’m in a stitching conundrum, as well as the many print, video, and interactive resources from Quilting Arts.
There’s a wealth of information in Quilting Arts In Stitches, too, and now you can get the first five volumes in one convenient CD collection.