Tension headache!

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on 1 May 2012 6:53 AM

I've just started freemotion stitching and find I can't get my tension right. I just get a mess of top thread on the back or loops of the bobbin thread on the top.

I started with my tension at 0 (lots of mess of top thread on the back), gradually went through 1, 2, 3 (at 2 and 3 I get the bobbin loops coming through to the top). At first I thought I'd fixed it by setting the tension to 1.5, but I just got a mixture of ok, mess at the back and loops on the top... Help! Any suggestions please?

Does the speed of the needle have anything to do with it?

I'm using a layer of cotton with some heavyweight interface. I'm not sure what my thread is, I think it's polyester.

With thanks for any help that may be forthcoming!



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aiminator wrote
on 1 May 2012 10:28 PM

Trish some suggestions for you:

Be sure you have the same weight thread in the bobbin and top thread. 

Be sure to use the factory set tension in the bobbin case. Don't adjust the tension on the bobbin thread. Adjust the tension on the top thread only. 

Dont be afraid of the numbers on the tension dial.  Get the stitch perfected. Generally 0 is a basting stitch or gathering stitch. If your machine has a "normal" setting start there. Often around 5 on a 10 scale.  Keep adjusting until the loops are in the batting or appear even on the top and bottom of the piece. Use a practice piece of the same fabric make up of the piece you are quilting and stitch a little then adjust until you like the adjustment. Sorry there is no magic formula for this. 

Yes, your stitching speed may have something to do with it however if it's not adjusted on the "straight" it will only get worse on curves. If you are going too fast, and turn too quickly, you can compromise stitch quality. Thread color can affect this too. Dark threads are heavier than light and can require less tension. Darker thread less tension.; light threads more tension. Only slighter different so don't get to carried away with the adjustment.  

Put the feed dogs down or put tape over them. Now you are ready to free motion quilt.

The trouble you are having sounds like mismatched threads. Good luck to you. I hope this helps.

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ckquilter wrote
on 3 May 2012 4:06 AM

hi trish

if you have not already figured things out -

- start back with our machines standard settings and regular straight stitch with regular weight sewing thread in both the bobbin and thru the needle ,and with the feed dogs up. most default tensions are around a 4 setting on the tension adjust. did you change the tension on your bobbin??if so, you need to get it back to the deault setting also.  once you have the machine stitching nicely with a straight stitch , you should not need to make any adjustments to the tension, just because you drop the feed dogs.

- bobbin thread showing on the top means your top tension is too tight, or the bobbin tension too loose.     if the top thread is showing on the back, your top tension is too loose, or the bobbin tension is too tight.

-when your bobbin tension is properly adjusted - and that depends on the thread in the bobbin - a thick thread will require you to loosen the tension; a thin thread and you will need to  tighten the tension on the bobbin;            if you put the bobbin in the case, and hold the thread, the bobbin case should not feed the thread. if you give the thread a little jerk, it should release a bit of thread and then stop. also you can just hold the bobin case and pull on the thread - if you have to pull hard for the thread to feed, the tension is too tight for that thread. if the thread just pulls out with no resistance the bobbin tension is too loose for that thread. if the thread pulls smoothly, with a bit of resistance, then tension setting for the bobbin case with that thread is where it needs to be.

-you first need to get your bobbin tension correct for the thread you are using. then you will need to adjust the top tension fo the thread coming thru the needle. start with your machines default setting. if you have got the bobbin tension correct, you will probably be cloto the correct top tension just by using the default tension setting.

practice sewing on a sample, made the same way as the piece you want to eventually sew on. (cotton with your heavy interfacing as you describe above).          sew a few inches and then check the top and underside. whichever side you find the other sides thread on - the tension is too tight on that side. you will have already gotten the bobbin tension correct. so now you will only need to adjust the top tension. make small adjustments to the tension (1/4 to 1/2 increase or decrease) and then sew again and check again. keep making small adjustments and practice stitches after each adjustment.

remember when doing free motion - you need to pull up the bobbin thread and hold both threads out of the way for the first dozen stitches.

if you are using a straight sitch for your free motion - a straight stitch needle plate will help. just remember to change back to our regular plate if you change from using just a straight stitch.

if you change the thickness of your bobbin thread, you will need to change the bobbin tension. but once that is correct , you often do not need to make any adjustments to the top tension.

it is easiest to get even tension with standard weight sewing thread in both the bobbin and thru the needle. once you start sewing with a different weight thread in the needle and bobbin it will take a bit more adjusting to get the tension even.  and some machines will do a better job handling the different thread weights than other machines do.

if you can, find a friend who has experience, and ask them to help.   or take your samples and threads to the dealer and ask them to help.

the needle speed should not really affect the tension setting. unless you are using a delicate thread (metallics) - most sturdy cotton, poly adayon threads can be sewn at speed.    but you don't mention any thread breakage - so it sounds like your thread is fine - you just need to get the tension correct.

also - when you do your practice sewing- check your stitch length - not too short or long. your 1.5 tension sounds like it is getting close. make sure you are not twisting your sewing surface as you sew. i find most people, when they first do free motion, think the sewing surface needs to rotate as they move; as it does for feed dog up sewing. and that is NOT the case. the orientation of your sewing surface should stay the same.

so, 1. get the bobbin case correct for the thread you are using                   2. pull up the bobbin thread and hold both threads when you start to sew                           3. don't rotate the sewing surface                            4. make small adjustments to the top tension and do a little practice sewing to fine tune the tension                                  5. use a straight stitch plate

hope that helps                                                    ckquilter

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Redrockslady wrote
on 17 May 2012 11:56 AM

Sorry I'm late to the conversation.  I've read the responses about playing with the upper tension settings.  Sometimes that is not a fix. 

 Have you practiced with different threads, top and bottom?  There are some popular, brand name threads my machine will not handle well.   Most of the time I can use a much lighter thread, even 100 wt. poly, in the bobbin while a 40, even 30wt is on the surface.  I've done bobbin work with really thick threads, yarns, ribbon, etc while I used 100wt thread on the upper surface.  All depends on the day and the grace of the QuiltingGoddess!! 

Have you made sure the machine is really clean?   Clean the bobbin race with every bobbin change or more often if necessary.  Lint happens because of thread, fabric and batting choices.   Has the tension setting been calibrated by a tech recently?  One machine of mine had a faulty uptake hook, whatever that is. ?? 

Have you tried using a free-motion foot but keeping the feed dogs up?  It's like riding a bike with training wheels!   Unlike a bike, you may have to take it a quite a bit more slowly that usual.  When I start practicing a stitch line I have the machine speed at less than the middle setting.  Once I get comfortable I increase it to just above the middle setting.  If I'm doing close, tight work I almost walk the needle through the fabric.  Don't be a speed demon!! 

You mention a heavy interfacing.  I have had problems sewing through thick layers.  Try a bigger needle.  I use a 90/14  topstitch needle for most stitching but I opt for a 100/16 for tough surfaces or threads that are > 40wt. or are more loosely wound like some Gutterman, YLI  or Sulki threads.I find that the larger needle helps with the bounce of the fabric sandwich against the machine's surface.  That bounce and the vibration at high speed can cause looping and skipped stitches. 

 Don't pay too much attention to the banter about holes in your quilt.  If you wash or steam iron it the material's threads will retract.  If you use it as a wall hanging the "holes" don't matter.  If someone is that critical of your work show them the door!!    One important suggestion is to forget the backing on a wall quilt until it's almost done.  Fuse a backing on and then bind the project.  Then stitch through the sandwich in strategic areas so it meets the qualification of "quilt".  That way you can worry about the look of the stitches on the surface and not the back.  Freedom!! 

Sometimes nothing works.  Sad to say.  Turn out the lights and walk away.  Have a cuppa or a beer.  Tomorrow is another day.








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chikankari wrote
on 14 Jun 2012 3:08 PM

Yes i completely agree with you.

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