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Forum > Sewing Machines > Needle thread vs. bobbin thread tension adjustment ( Moderated by Sharon1952, EleanorSews)

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Needle thread vs. bobbin thread tension adjustment
How do you know which one needs it?
Christina Sonja
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Christina Sonja  Friend of PR
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Washington USA
Member since 7/2/06
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Date: 7/29/11 2:11 AM

For most of my sewing life I've used newer machines where only the needle thread tension could be adjusted. My friend recently gave me a vintage machine, a Singer 401A. I am so proud of myself for figuring out how to thread it! Well, thankfully I do have the manual.

I am testing out the straight stitch on scrap fabric, but the thread tension needs adjustment. My question - is there a way to know if you should adjust the needle thread or the bobbin thread first? Does it matter? I know it's just a matter of finding the right balance between the two. When I get to either far end of the dial of the needle tension, then I know it's the bobbin that needs tweaking. The manual has excellent drawings, but the drawing for ''bobbin thread tension too tight'' and ''needle thread tension too loose'' look identical (and vice versa). Is there any difference that I'm missing?

Not sure how to search for this in the archives... Any tips appreciated!

(I'll also mention that this machine purrs like a kitten, such a sweeter sound than my modern, plastic Pfaff!)

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Christina
www.assortednotions.com

andye
andye  Friend of PR
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Date: 7/29/11 3:06 AM

I see what you mean, though the pictures in the manual aren't quite identical.

The illustrations showing incorrect bobbin tension both have the top tension set to four. This seems reasonable enough for a default. It's much easier to twist a tensioner than it is to turn a tiny screw-- and 4 should give you enough leeway on either side.

Use a bobbin thread that contrasts with your top thread, set your tension to 4, and sew a row of stitches into two layers of muslin, using a reasonably small needle. Examine the stitches, and adjust the bobbin tension accordingly.

more here

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Bernina B330
Feet: 1,2,3,3A,4,5,7,8,10,13,16,18,20, 29,32,35,37,50,64,70,71,82,85,86, 92

LynnRowe
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Date: 7/29/11 3:09 AM

With new additions to my Featherweight Flock, I first do the bobbin case tension check; place a bobbin into the case, and pull apx 6" of thread out. Hold onto the thread and let the bobin case dangle down. Jiggle your hand, as if you're "trying to shake a knot out of a gold chain", as Dave McCallum puts it.

The bobbin case should jiggle down an inch or so with each jig of your hand. If it doesn't, the bobbin tension is too tight; loosen the tension screw a tiny bit at a time until the jiggle works. If the bobbin case just rolls down, the tension is too loose; tighten the screw a touch at a time.

Once the bobbin case tension is set, you shouldn't have to play with it again; check the stitching and adjust the upper tension to get the correct stitch formation.

If your upper tension is incorrectly set, check your machine manual for adjusting it...I can tell you how to do that for Featherweights, so let me know if you have any upper tension problems when (notice the "when" ) you have a Feather requiring adjusting.

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I heart Panzy, Pfaff Creative Performance, the sewing machine love of my life!
And Baby (Enlighten serger), Victor (BLCS), Rupert (Pfaff 2023-knits expert) Ash (B350SE-Artwork), Kee (B750QEE-Panzy's BFF), Georgie (B560-Kee's baby sister) and the Feather-Flock!

Most of all, I heart Woo (HimmyCat). Until we meet again, my beautiful little boy. I love you.

Al Johnson
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Al Johnson
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Date: 7/29/11 10:22 AM

For sure click and study the link "more here" in Andye's post. It's an excellent article.

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A sewing machine is just a welder for textiles.

Learn To Sew
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Learn To Sew  Friend of PR
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In reply to LynnRowe


Date: 7/29/11 11:48 AM

Lynn, that is a neat trick. I'll try to remember it when I buy a vintage machine. Does it work on the modern ones too?

Have you posted this under Tips?

Learn

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I really enjoy quilting. I love to play with fabrics, colors and pictures. I recently discovered how much fun applique can be. As I love making pictures, landscape quilting can be challenging, but seeing the picture come to life is so rewarding.
Bernina 630, my main machine
Pfaff 2036, my class machine
Babylock Molly
Bernina 1200DA serger
Unique Sewing Cabinet 450L

andye
andye  Friend of PR
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Virginia USA
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Date: 7/29/11 1:27 PM

I've also discovered this article which can help you figure out whether the balanced tension is nevertheless too slack, or too taut.


Quote:
.... To further test the tension balance, grip the ends of the bias stitching between the thumb and first finger of each hand. Pull evenly, strongly enough to break threads. One of four things will happen:
1. The upper thread only may break. This shows that the upper tension is tighter than the lower.
2. The lower thread only may break.This shows that the upper tension is looser than the lower.
3. Both threads may break.This shows that the tensions are balanced. The stitch may be perfect. However, if the cloth puckers at the same time, both tensions may be too tight.
4. Neither thread may break. This shows that tensions are balanced but both may be too loose...

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Bernina B330
Feet: 1,2,3,3A,4,5,7,8,10,13,16,18,20, 29,32,35,37,50,64,70,71,82,85,86, 92

PattiAnnJ
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PattiAnnJ
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Date: 7/29/11 2:14 PM

What I have found with old machines that have not had professional service is the top tension settings are usually not going to be the same as when the machine was new or serviced on a regular basis.

Secondly, the screw on the side of the bobbin case can sometimes be "frozen" with rust or old lube. In this case, a squirt of WD-40 will usually allow you to adjust the tension with little effort. Remove the bobbin case from the machine to apply the WD-40.

Enjoy your "new" machine.



-- Edited on 7/29/11 2:16 PM --

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I dont give them Hell, I just tell the truth about them and they think its Hell. Harry Truman

"Improvise, adapt and overcome." - Clint Eastwood/Heartbreak Ridge

Christina Sonja
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Christina Sonja  Friend of PR
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Washington USA
Member since 7/2/06
Posts: 342
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In reply to andye


Date: 7/30/11 0:48 AM

Thanks for the great links andye! I do see now that the illustrations in the manual aren't exactly identical, my photocopy version is not as clear. So it seems like I should set the tension to 4 or 5, then adjust the bobbin thread tension while using fabric swatches/thread that are similar in weight/type to what I most often sew with. That way when I do need to make an adjustment, hopefully just an easy turn of the needle thread tension knob will be enough.

I will have to try that bias stitch test too.

------
Christina
www.assortednotions.com

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