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A tensioning trick you may not know

Did you know that your bobbin case has its own tensioner?  Many sewers don't.  If you're experiencing difficulty with tensioning your machine, it might be that your bobbin tension is too loose (or, less frequently, too tight).  To test your bobbin tension, remove the bobbin case and bobbin from your machine and hold the end of your bobbin thread.  Swiftly pull up on the thread.  The thread should unwind just slightly and the bobbin case should drop an inch or two.  If the thread unwinds without resistance and the case slips to the floor, your bobbin tension is too loose.  If the bobbin case doesn't budge, your bobbin tension is too tight.  To tighten your bobbin tension, turn the tiny screw on the bobbin case a smidgen clockwise.  To loosen bobbin tension, turn the screw counterclockwise.  A quarter turn or less is a good place to start. 

Reader Comments (48)

Nice pics. Quick, easy, and helpful tip!

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Put the bobbin, screwdriver and your hand in a plastic bag, if you drop the screw, its in the bag!

October 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterQuiltmom1

OMG you have no idea how much I needed this 2 days ago! lol I have been attempting shirring (sp?) and can't get the tension right no matter what I put the setting on my machine..never once thought to check the bobbin case! lol gonna try it after kiddos go to bed.

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRenee T.

My Singer, that I have had for over 30 years, is sitting by the back door to be given away or tossed. I loved this machine which has all the bells and whistles UNTIL a tension issue that I could never resolve. If this trick works, I owe you big time!! :)

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I work as a machine embroiderist and one thing also they need to do if their tension is loose, is see if there is lint under the tension bar. if there is, clean it out and the tension will be fine. every time we hire someone new, I have to tell them that before turning that screw, check for lint.

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStar

Have been sewing for 40 years - this is the first that I knew about bobbin tensioning.


July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJudy H.

Amazing.. tried this and it worked! I couldn't figure out what to do about my tension, the stitches at the back were sooo loose, they were showing on the front too! (When I tested it, the bobbin spun to the floor for lack of tension!) Thank you so much :)

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

I put a tiny dab of brightly colored nail polish on the screw and the bobbin case. Then I can see if the tension has changed and which way it needs to be tightened or loosened.

July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

My bobbin always falls out of the case when I try this

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

Hello! I had no idea about this trick either and have been having trouble with my hand-me-down Singer 140Q and thought this may work. Unfortunately I'm still having trouble and was wondering if someone could possibly help me? Here's a couple pictures of the problem I'm having. The bobbin thread seems to be wrapping itself around the case and causing what my mom used to call "ugly chenille". Anyone have any ideas? Thanks!



August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Megan - from looking at the pictures, it looks like the bobbin has not been threaded correctly before inserting it into the shuttlecase. The bobbin should wind clockwise (for most machines) and the thread should than be pulled back toward the slanted slot... at this point you can hold it up and test for the tention. If you insert it into the shuttlecase without pulling the thread into the slot, it will make this "bird Nest"... machine will not sew a good stitch and will gum up. Note that if the slot on the side of the bobbin case is slanted left to right, than you will want to put your bobbin in so that the thread is pulled off backwards...when you pull the thread, the bobbin should rotate clockwise.

August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

I felt compelled to let you know how useful this has been. Thank you so very much. It has saved me the cost of having my 20 year old 'work-horse' Bernina machine serviced.

Your shop looks great too but I'm in England!

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Wow, I never knew this, I think this is why my bobbin thread keeps breaking every third stitch and then I have to take it out, fix it, re-thread it, etc. its so annoying! thank you for posting this!

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanyelle Kane

set your stitch in zig zag and set the stitch length and 2 and the stitch width at 2. If your tension is perfectly balanced, it will have a knot in each corner of the zig zag when you do your test stitch.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTomi C

Thanks for the wonderful tip! It was a live saver. I started FMQ for the first time recently and couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Your trick fixed everything :)

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJules

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

I am the second owner of an art deco cabinet singer with the original manual. This tension trick was not in it and all the other normal/easy fixes didnt work. I've been avoiding taking apart the main tension for 6 years afraid I'd permanantly screw it up. (That was in the manual!) In less than 10 minutes my machine is fixed! My bobbin tension was too tight.

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Thanks for this tip (found it on Pinterest) - I never thought to check my bobbin tension and it might be what's causing the problems I've been having.

December 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen Morris

omg sewing for 20 something .....years and never knew that ,, thanks

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpat

Just had my bernina serviced because it was skipping stitches. The repair man said my timing belt was off. but he tightened the tension on my bobbin soooo tight I can barely thread it! But when i loosen the tension it still skips stitches. any thoughts?

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRainey

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE PIECE OF INFORMATION!!! LOL! I use to have to take my machine in to fix the tension. For a pretty price. LOL! There will be some sad Sewing Machine fixers that will not be able to rip us off. Thank you so much!!!!! LOL! I have been sewing most of my life and I have NEVER HEARD THIS!!! Wow!!!! Appreciate this information!! ;))

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna May

Wow! I had no idea!

December 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhelen

to rainey:

i am a full-time seamstress for a living, and i have never known a skipping problem to be caused by the bobbin. it is almost always an issue of the needle. is it possible you are using the wrong size needle for your machine? are you sure it is inserted facing the right direction? some machines have the needle threaded from front to back, and some from one side to the other. there is also a groove on the needle that goes to the opposite side of the side you thread from. if you've had this problem for a while, im sure you have already tried a new needle. but for future reference, needles may sometimes become dull, sticky (if you use interfacing with an adhesive, or develop what is called a "burr". any of those things can cause skipped stitches
i hope this helps.

December 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjeannie

This is great info and I never knew it. However, when I took my bobbin out to test it, and it is very tight, I noticed the little screw is actually missing so I cannot loosen it. Waaahhhhh!!!

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterconniec

thank you!

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermay

Thank you!

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterinpire_me_2012

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