Quilting Tension Problems: Troubleshooting Tips for Your Machine

Have you ever been in the stitching groove, just to see loops or puckers pop up out of nowhere? It’s often the thread tension that’s causing the frustration, and there are several reasons why it’s causing trouble with your machine.

If the thread is too loose or too tight, it affects your ability to make nice, even stitches. To make a definitive diagnosis about the problem, try some of these tips and get your machine back in the groove!

quilting tension

Also, don’t perform troubleshooting tests on your actual quilting projects! Make sure you’ve figured out the problem before getting to work again.

  • Rethread the machine
    This is the quilter’s equivalent of restarting the computer when it’s not working right – seems easy enough, and it just might solve the tension issue. Make sure the presser foot and needle are up while youíre rethreading the machine.
  • Clean and check the bobbin area
    Get out your machineís user manual and find out how to properly clean out the bobbin area so you know it isn’t clogged by fuzz or excess thread. Take out the bobbin and make sure the thread is moving in the right direction. Check to be sure it’s wound properly, too – it should be snug and firm on the bobbin itself.While you’re at it, follow the thread’s path to make sure there aren’t any clogs elsewhere in the machine.
  • Make sure the thread and needle are in good shape
    You might want to try using a new needle (perhaps the current one has seen better days), checking the thread to make sure itís not weak or old, or using a finer bobbin thread.Also make sure that the thread you’re using meshes well with the fabric you’re using. You can test a small square of fabric after cleaning and rethreading the machine to see if that’s the problem – starting with a nice cotton thread is a good baseline. If the problem persists regardless of the thread, it might not be the culprit.
  • Try using the same thread for the bobbin and needle
    You can definitely make manual adjustments to fix tension problems according to your user manual, but a quick fix might simply be using the same thread in both spots. This tends to be easier for the machine, though if itís not easier for your project, then there are other ways to fix it.
  • Manually adjust the needle tension, then the bobbin tension
    If you’re going to make tension adjustments, start with the top thread tension. Check your user manual to see exactly how to make the thread tighter or looser, depending on what your specific problem is. If you’re seeing bobbin thread on the top, it could mean the needle tension is too tight or the bobbin tension is too loose.If you’re seeing top thread on the bottom, it could mean the opposite – the needle tension is too loose, or bobbin tension is too tight. Make very small adjustments depending on your problem, adjusting and then testing to see if the stitch comes out more balanced.

    Most quilters recommend adjusting the needle tension first because bobbin tension is a little trickier to adjust. If you feel comfortable adjusting the bobbin, just be sure to mark where the screw was before you started adjusting it – and, as always, read your user manual for more specific instructions.

    YouTube is a great place to look — in addition to your user manual — for video tips and tutorials on testing thread tension.

  • See if changing the foot makes a difference
    Part of the troubleshooting process is determining whether the puckering or loose stitches are related to the machine. If you are seeing tension problems with a walking foot and darning foot and presser foot, etc., then it might be worth getting a little tune-up.
  • Consider whether the problems aren’t mechanical
    Though there are definitely plenty of machine-related reasons why the thread tension isn’t jiving, it could be a bit of user error. If you’re still trying to get the hang of making curves and other designs and notice that the tension issues always come at the same time – say, when you’re trying to take a curve too quickly – then it could be a matter of practicing those techniques more.

Tension problems have countless sources and definitely are inconvenient when you’re in the middle of a project, but with some troubleshooting and testing, you could find and fix the problem yourself!

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