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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.

Repair person sewing on a 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 17, 20150 found this helpful
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I had that problem just a week ago. I had been sewing and changed stitches and filled the bobbin. Got back to sewing and it happened. I tried everything then took the thread out and got a different spool and it worked great. So you might try changing thread, put the tension back on original and rethread. Your thread spool might be to old.

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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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August 2, 2016 Flag
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I have a New Home 532 sewing machine. All of a sudden my machine started looping badly underneath the fabric. I replaced the needle, cleaned and oiled, played with the tension, but nothing helps. Due to this being an antique machine, I am not finding any answers online. Do you have any ideas?

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August 4, 20160 found this helpful

Sounds like a tension issue, Jane. Bear in mind the top and bottom thread tension can both be adjusted? Set both back to zero and gradually increase one until you get the result you need.

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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: ... /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 17, 20161 found this helpful

If the service tech couldn't resolve the problem, he/she was either not a qualified Kenmore tech (they're all factory trained on just about every model Kenmore ever made), or the machine is beyond hope (doubtful, it's a Kenmore!).

Have you tried using dental floss (unwaxed, non-flavoured) sprayed with 70% isopropyl alcohol to 'floss' the tension discs if the tension knob is on the exterior of the machine - if the tension knob is not located on the exterior of the machine, you can 'floss' the upper thread path, just use a very long piece of floss.

Any road, flossing your machine tension discs or upper thread path should remove even the tiniest piece of thread fluff that is likely the source of your problem.

The only other thing I can think of just now would be timing - the tech should have spotted a timing problem, though.

If flossing doesn't resolve your issue, you may want to give up on this machine. Or find a genuine Kenmore factory trained repair tech.

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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: ... 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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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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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: ... 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 5, 20140 found this helpful

Check your bobbin. Is it wound properly, using same thread as top stitch, is the bobbin thread put in correctly and is it in the correct direction? This may clear up your problem.

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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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