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Adjusting the Tension on Your Sewing Machine

You just finished sewing a seam only to find loopy loose stitches instead of a nice neat line of tight stitches. Does your thread constantly break? The problem is probably with the machine's tension. This is a guide about adjusting the tension on your sewing machine.

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February 16, 2015 Flag
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loopy stitchesI'm having issues with my sewing machine's tension. I was using it just fine and then when I changed the setting from a straight stitch to zig zag and then back again, the tension is all off. It doesn't seem to matter how high I turn the setting (to increase tension) I still get loose, sloppy stitches, and the top thread is getting caught in with the bobbin thread and coming up with it. :( Does anyone know what's up and how to fix it?

By Ashley D.

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February 22, 20150 found this helpful
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Re-thread as suggested by the first answer, making sure you're using the correct needle and thread for the fabric you're sewing. Yes, I know it was working fine until the zig-zaging but sewing machines will try so hard when straight-stitching that we can get by many times using all the wrong needles and threads - until we try to change the stitch pattern and then it's as though the machine woke up and said 'Oh hey wait...'.

More than likely though, what has happened is that there is a bit of thread or a chunk of lint/fuzz in the bobbin area somewhere. If you have the manual, use it as a guide (this problem is often addressed in the troubleshooting pages of a manual and includes diagrams showing where and how to clean) to open and clean the bobbin area.

Also using the manual, take some unwaxed-nonflavoured dental floss and floss the tension discs IF the discs are in a knob jutting out from the front of your machine.

Either or both should resolve your problem - if not, and especially if your machine is a vintage (older than 15-20 years) model, you more than likely coincidentally used the zig-zag feature just as the bobbin gear gave up the ghost. The bobbin gear teeth on most machines built after the mid-late Sixties are usually made of silicone, and these do wear after many sewing hours.

This isn't a home fix - look in your local telephone directory for the names of near-by authorised repair techs for your make machine (Singer, Brother, Janome, Viking, etc).

These people will have the knowledge, tools, and access to spare parts that most home sewers don't. Be sure to ask if the repair part is new or salvage and I strongly advise buying a new-under-warranty, comparable feature machine if the repair part is going to have to be salvage (no salvage part is EVER as reliable as a newly milled one). Also be sure to get a cost estimate before you even hand over your machine so you aren't given a nasty ticket shock at the end of the repair(s).

If you don't have the manual, you can usually download a free copy from the maker's website.

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November 30, 2015 Flag
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I have a Janome 234D sewing machine. It has new needles. I can't seem to tension the left thread at all. It is like a spring has sprung. I would appreciate some help.

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    December 2, 20150 found this helpful
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    I'm not at all comfortable with overlockers but I did find a manual for the 734d (an updated model of your vintage machine but similar enough to be off help!) and am posting the link for you in case you no longer have the original to your machine:

    http://janome.com/siteassets/suppor ... /sergers/inst-book-7034d-english.pdf

    It's a free download, and if that doesn't help you, the only advice I can then give is to take it to a repair tech with experience on overlockers. I do standard domestic machine repair-refurb work on my Sewing 101 student machines but as above - I'm not at all experienced with overlockers. Wish I could help more than posting a link to a similar model user guide!

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    April 14, 2016 Flag
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    I have a Kenmore 100 stitches sewing machine that was given to me after the service tech did not resolve the problem. When doing straight stitching the top thread loops on the bottom. It sounds like tension. Even with the tension on nine and the pressure foot down (I can't even pull the thread) it still it loops on the bottom.

    I traced the top thread travel in the bobbin case and cannot find any obstruction. I am guessing it has to do with the take up on top. The tension spring "seems" to be okay. Also the bobbin tension is okay. I do not believe this has anything to do with top or bobbin tension, but with some kind of take up on the top.

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      April 19, 20160 found this helpful

      Thank you for your suggestions.

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      February 16, 2015 Flag
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      I have a Singer 413 zig zag machine. What is the proper tension setting? How can I set it to a small stitch? There is no manual. Thank you!

      By Linda H.

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      February 22, 20150 found this helpful
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      First of all - here's a link to a free download pdf from the Singer website for your machine:

      http://www.singerco.com/uploads/dow ... 0826209952d04b99bc6962f8ea588653.pdf

      If the link doesn't take you straight to the download (my links usually go straight to the download but on occasion take you to the Singer support page instead), it will take you to the Singer page for finding the right manual - use the search feature and type in '413' (omit punctuation), then click on the free download. I always print these out and put them into a 3-ring binder for my sewing students and machine repair customers here in Scotland because it's so much easier to use the manual in a flat open configuration.

      Now, the tension setting for zig-zag sewing should always be at least one number looser than for straight stitching, and depends on the fabric, thread, and needle you're using. It's not length that you need to determine and set for zig-zag sewing, too, it's width. That takes some experimenting using a test scrap of your fabric - Bonus, you'll also figure out your tension setting with the test swatch, too:)

      The manual will tell you everything you need to know about setting the tension on your 413, and it will also show you how and when to adjust stitch length and width.

      Happy sewing!

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      December 15, 2015 Flag
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      I have a Singer One sewing machine. I just got it from my sister who took poor care of it. The thread holder is missing so I made a makeshift one, but I am having huge troubles working it. I don't understand how to thread or feed the material. I push and it does nothing, only when I pull does it properly "sew". Also, when I pull the material out to cut it and see if it's working, it usually snaps. I had my tensions at auto, then I changed it to 9. I also put it on the standard first button at 2.6 and then increased that to 3.5, but I'm still struggling to understand why it won't work, and along with that wasting a ton of thread.

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        December 17, 20150 found this helpful

        Use this link to the Singer website free download of the user manual:

        http://www.singerco.com/uploads/dow ... cd9f5ef19df0466759b3181c4d143947.pdf

        That's a beautiful machine with tonnes of fab features - it may need a visit to the repair tech for a good going over and cleaning, but give the user guide a try first as you may find all your questions answered and information on replacing that spool holder (usually less than a tenner including postage and packing).

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        November 30, 2014 Flag
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        I have a White sewing machine that is from the 1960s. I am trying to sew a sheer fabric and I am using a #11 needle and Talon size 50 thread. I have replaced the needle, rethreaded the bobbin, rethreaded the machine, and still the thread loops on the underside. I have adjusted the tension on the top. What else can I do?

        By Rose

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        December 8, 20140 found this helpful

        Try a No 9 size needle, and be sure your feed dogs are set for the fabric you're using.

        Also, try flossing (yes, dental floss, unwaxed:) the tension discs - it's done just the way you do your teeth! Wipe the piece of floss with some 70-92% isopropyl alcohol (not the green stuff, it's got oils in it!) and look for bits of lint and fluff on the floss; you may also see some 'grime' come back on the floss.

        A last resort (as in very last resort!) try to adjust the BOTTOM tension by turning that teeny tiny screw in the bobbin casing a very teeny tiny bit left or right - try to sew a line as a test, if this helps but not enough, turn a teeny tiny bit again then test, and again then test, and again until your tension is sorted properly. Be VERY careful when turning that screw because...

        If none of the above helps, it's time for a trip to the repair tech - among other things, the bottom bobbin tension gear may need replacing/adjusting and this is best done by a qualified tech - bottom bobbin tension is so delicate most manufacturers will state in the user guide that they really do not want the home user attempting to adjust it.

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        November 25, 2014 Flag
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        I recently acquired a Singer 319W. I was sewing 2 pieces of fabric together and it worked fine. Then I doubled up the fabric, but when I started to sew, the needle stopped when it hit the fabric, but the wheel kept turning. When I went back to the original 2 pieces of fabric, it was fine. Help!

        By Kris

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        December 4, 20140 found this helpful

        Hiya from Scotland, Kris, where I teach sewing and do some vintage machine repair for my students - mostly on Singers!

        Your Singer 319W Swing-Needle machine should be able to take that thickness of fabric as it was built to handle everything from chiffon to farm weight (leathers, heavy duty feed sacks, etc) - since it isn't, there may be several reasons why it isn't:

        Did you adjust the feed dogs for the extra thickness?

        Did you adjust your upper tension?

        Are you using the correct needle and thread for the weight of the quadrupled fabric?

        *Solutions for all of the above are listed in the user guide (owner manual), here's a link to a free download if yours has gone walkabout:

        http://www.singerco.com/uploads/dow ... 5559db4967c61611a81fa4ec0253dd97.pdf

        And here's a neat free download of an actual scan of an original (ignore the K designation, all it means is that machine the manual was printed for was built here in Scotland at the Clydesbank factory - have a look and you'll recognise all the same parts as on your W, depending on model year, the slight differences are mainly cosmetic only:)

        http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_mac ... inger-319k-sewing-machine-manual.pdf

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        January 30, 2015 Flag
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        The top stitch is OK but from underneath you wll find a lot of clogged thread. Please help. Thnx.

        By Marcon

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        February 1, 20150 found this helpful

        When the sewing machine is clogged with thread below you have to take the bobbin case out and then you can use a brush for that purpose or a tiny screwdriver for the small hard to get to parts to get the thread out and then just reverse the procedure to get the bobbin case in and bobbin then your all set to sew again.

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        January 7, 2015 Flag
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        My stitch on top is messing up; the bottom stitch is fine.

        By Marcie

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        January 15, 20150 found this helpful

        Depending on the age and condition of your machine, the problem could be anything from lint and fuzz clogging the tension discs to incorrect thread - needle - tension setting for the fabric you're trying to sew.

        Sorry I can't be more help. Use your owner guide (if you've lost yours you can usually download a free copy from the maker's website) to troubleshoot and be sure you're using the right thread, needle, and settings for your machine and fabric - there will be a chart or table outlining the correct items to use for each sewing job.

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        November 23, 2013 Flag
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        Bottom threads messyI have a brother LS 2125. During sewing the top side of fabric is nicely sewed, but bottom side is in a mess. It is not properly sewed and loose. The thread breaks very easily. It's really very irritating. Attached a bottom side image for your reference.

        By Abel

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        November 24, 20130 found this helpful

        Hi Abel, hopefully the link MissRebecca posted helped you sort your problem:)

        I'm guessing from the appearance of your loopy stitching that you have a side or front loading bobbin system, so to expand on the helps I've posted over the years (lol, see the link:), the problem you're having is stemming almost certainly from your bobbin loading technique.

        If you have the manual for your machine, read through it carefully to be sure you're loading the bobbin case correctly into the machine. The front and side load bobbin systems are VERY tricky to place correctly and will always cause the problem you are experiencing if incorrectly loaded. If your machine hasn't been serviced recently, consider having it serviced by a qualified (factory trained is best, check the advert for those words) and ask him/her to check your loading skill. He/she can help you learn the best way for your specific machine to load the bobbin case into the machine.

        If you have the money, consider a new sewing machine - the trouble you are having is very frustrating and can put a sewer off sewing altogether. I teach sewing here in the UK and try to steer my sewing students to top-drop in bobbin load systems. These systems are practically jam-proof and end 99.9% of all sewing frustrations.

        Good luck, please update and let us know what turned up with your machine!

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        September 29, 2014 Flag

        You may need to adjust your tension dial with your fabric you are using and kind of thread, also adjust to thickness of fabric. Always use good sharp needles with your sewing and keep machine clean and oiled.

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          June 18, 2014 Flag
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          I am having tension problems on an industrial Juki model # LU-562 machine. The tension is going from fine to loose as I sew. When it's loose it's on the top. The bottom is fine.

          By Carol I.

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          June 23, 20140 found this helpful

          Have you checked to be sure you're using the correct thread and needle for the fabric, and have you adjusted the upper tension with the pressure foot fully raised?

          If the above doesn't help, the thread tension changing mid-stitch could be a problem you cannot solve at home.

          The tension discs could be worn out OR clogged with lint/thread fluff in a place dental floss won't reach; also, the tension adjustment gear could be worn, or the bottom tension (on the bobbin case, do not try to adjust this at home!) could have been knocked out of place.

          Without looking at the machine (I do limited repair and servicing on mostly Singer domestic machines here in the UK), the best advice I can give you is to take this to a qualified repair tech - someone with extensive industrial machine experience.

          When was the last time you have the machine serviced? An industrial machine needs the same (if not more) regular servicing as a domestic one but the tech needs to be qualified on an industrial machine - you'd be amazed at how different the insides of a domestic machine is from an industrial one! A qualified tech will have your machine clean, oiled, and repaired so you can get back to sewing - please update and let us know what the problem actually was:)

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          March 9, 2010 Flag
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          I have a problem with my sewing machines. I have 2 different brands, different ages, but the same problem with both so I'm sure it's me and not the machine.

          Here's my problem. The tension keeps being so tight it breaks the thread. Also, the thread keeps getting all tangled up in the bobbin area. Can anybody tell me what I'm doing wrong?

          Since I'm sure it's me and not the machine I refuse to buy a 3rd one. Plus I took both of them in last year for repair and the first time I went to use them I had the same problem. So, it's got to be me.

          By Cricket from Parkton, NC

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          March 13, 20100 found this helpful

          It definitely sounds like you have your machine threaded incorrectly. I do some sewing, and my parents own an upholstery business. This sounds like improper threading vs tension.

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