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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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September 29, 2014

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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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
February 16, 2015

I'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.


February 17, 20150 found this helpful
Best Answer

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
Best Answer

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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By 0 found this helpful
May 7, 2018

The thread on the bottom of the fabric does not properly fit. What can be done with the sewing machine? The sewing machine is an Elna Opal.


May 7, 20180 found this helpful
Best Answer

make sure that the sewing machine top thread is correctly threaded from the thread spool on top of the machine down through the tension disks, down and up through the thread take-up mechanism and through the needle. Also make sure the bobbin compartment is working properly by opening it and removing the bobbin casing.


If the bottom stitches are loose, turn the screw closest to the bobbin case centre an eighth turn to the right with a tiny screwdriver. However, if the bottom stitches are too tight, do the same thing but to the left.

Also this link provides further instructions

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February 16, 20150 found this helpful

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.


February 22, 20150 found this helpful
Best Answer

First of all - here's a link to a free download pdf from the Singer website for your machine:


http://www.sing  62f8ea588653.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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By 0 found this helpful
April 6, 2017

I had brought a mini sewing machine, but the stitches are not being made properly. If I sewed any clothes in that, I can pull the thread very easily from the cloth. Please help me in repairing my sewing machine.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 9, 2010

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


March 12, 20100 found this helpful

Make sure you hold the upper thread and bobbin thread toward the back when you begin to sew a seam. That might help with the boggled up mess of thread by the bobbin.

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March 12, 20100 found this helpful

Make sure you have the machine threaded right. I was shown the wrong way, and finally figured it out myself. Once it was threaded right, no more broken or knots. If you get too much slack in the thread, it gets wrapped around where you can't see, and it breaks too.

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March 12, 20100 found this helpful

Double check that you have the bobbin turning the correct direction. That was a problem a friend found out was causing her problem. Start from the beginning to make sure evrything is threaded right. Don't give up!

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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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By 0 found this helpful
September 21, 2010

I have a Janome 423s. The bobbin thread runs along the bottom of the material. What is causing this? I have tried fixing it but with no luck.

By karen65ae from UAE


September 21, 20100 found this helpful

http://www.fixy  tags/janome_423s

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September 21, 20100 found this helpful

You can try and see if you can get any info. It's free.

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September 22, 20100 found this helpful

The top tension is too loose. It may not be working correctly. Also check to see if the machine is threaded correctly. Sometimes the thread is not properly seated in the groove between the two disks.

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By 0 found this helpful
April 14, 2016

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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November 30, 20140 found this helpful

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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November 25, 20140 found this helpful

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


November 28, 20140 found this helpful

Your machine may not be designed to sew through 4 layers of some fabrics. You can take the machine to a repair shop for an explanation of just what the machine is able to do and if a repair will help.

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November 23, 20130 found this helpful

I 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


November 23, 20130 found this helpful

I typed an answer out and lost it! Arggh! Here's a link to another answer though.

http://www.thri  ing-Machine.html

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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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By 0 found this helpful
December 15, 2015

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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January 30, 20150 found this helpful

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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January 7, 20150 found this helpful

My stitch on top is messing up; the bottom stitch is fine.

By Marcie

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June 18, 20140 found this helpful

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.


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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April 4, 20140 found this helpful

I have a relatively new Brother x-5. It was working fine til my latest project when my upper thread seemed to gradually loosen. Adjusting it with the dial did nothing. Now it's a complete mess and I have no idea how to fix it. I re-threaded, cleaned the mechanism and even adjusted the bobbin, but no improvement. How do I fix this? (photo is of the reverse side of stitching)

By Jane


April 7, 20140 found this helpful

You may have a problem with the tension discs inside the machine. Since you write it's a fairly new machine it may still be under warranty in which case a visit to the Brother sewing repair tech is in order and shouldn't cost you anything. If not still under warranty, a repair will likely cost you under $100 (closer to $50USD).

But first, are you absolutely certain you have seated the bobbin correctly? Use your manual to go step by step through the process of seating it correctly - if that doesn't solve your problem, and you can answer YES to the following questions, it's definitely time for a trip to the repair tech:

Are you using the correct thread, needle, and presser foot for the fabric?

Have you followed the user manual instructions for clearing lint and thread bits from the bobbin case area?

Again, are you certain you are seating the bobbin back into the machine correctly?

Are you sure you've got the settings on the machine correctly chosen?

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December 27, 20130 found this helpful

I just got my sewing machine. It is a Singer Seventy. I am very inexperienced with sewing and am just learning. I just filled my bobbin and threaded my machine. Everything was fine until I got to the part of setting my thread tension. Right now the dial is set on 8. I need it to be on auto, but the dial won't turn at all. I read in my manual that the foot needs to be down. I put it down and it still won't move. I've tried turning it off, but still no luck. Please help!

By Sarah c


December 30, 20130 found this helpful

Usually you have to push it forward (or press it) and then turn it to the right position.

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October 22, 20130 found this helpful

My top thread is not tightening around my bobbin thread. I've done everything I could probably think of and it's so aggravating. I don't know what to do. I'm a semi-new machine user. My sewing machine is a Singer Simple.

By Courtney


October 23, 20130 found this helpful

First of all, here is a link to a free download of your manual from the Singer website:

http://www.sing  wnload/1180_2263(eng_spa_fre).pdf

Right then, try answering the following questions while sitting at your machine:

Have you just wound a bobbin and forgot to snap the pin back so that the machine is back to sewing mode? (If not, simply snap the pin back towards the head, should solve the problem)

Have you got the front load bobbin case properly loaded and seated? (This one is VERY hard to do! The front load bobbin system is the reason a lot of new sewers give it up - seating a bobbin case whilst holding the bobbin in the case is very, very difficult and takes even experienced sewers several tries sometimes. I always steer my new sewing students to the top drop in bobbin system machines for this reason.)

The way to be sure it's seated is to listen for the 'clicks' that happen when the bobbin is properly loaded into the case, and when the loaded case 'seats' correctly into the machine.

Seating the bobbin case incorrectly, and incorrect threading of the bobbin to the case are almost always the reasons upper and bobbin threads don't lock in the seam.

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June 7, 20130 found this helpful

My sewing machine won't sew and the loop from the spool is coming through the material, but the cotton from the reel is just threading through the loop without making a stitch. Also the cotton from the reel is very tight. What should I do?

By Carol


June 8, 20130 found this helpful

Refer to your user manual to learn where your tension adjustment dials/knobs/control pad is located. The manual will have photos or line drawings with examples of the appearance of too tight or loose tension, and will tell you how to adjust the tension accordingly.

If you don't have the manual you can usually find a free download at the manufacturer's website. Google the maker's name and the model name/number of your machine to find the website. Then follow the navigation links to find your manual.

Generally, loops on the bottom means tension is too loose; loops on the top that the tension is too tight.

Most machines use a numbering system to adjust tension so use the following formula:

To increase (tighten) dial to a higher number
To decrease (loosen) dial to a lower number

Use a doubled over scrap of your fabric as a practice swatch to run several inches of the stitches for each increase/decrease you make to the tension adjustment; when you find the right setting for your fabric, write that setting down for further reference during that project.

You'll want to write down the tension setting because in sewing, tension adjustments will vary depending on the stitch used and the thickness of the fabric you want to stitch at any given point in the project.

For example, let's say you are going to use a simple zig-zag to finish the raw edges of the seams. To make a really nice pucker-free zig-zag edge finish you need to decrease (loosen) the tension slightly; to stitch through several layers if you are using a flat-fell finish you would want to adjust the tension to a looser setting also. Decide your best tension according to a practice swatch.

So you are best served to write all those different tensions for each stitch setting down-makes it so much faster and easier to keep track between the different sections of your project!

**Looping, bunching, snarling, and threads that can be easily pulled from the fabric do not always indicate a need to adjust tension. Ask yourself, "Before beginning sewing, did I...":

Check the manual to be sure I am using the correct thread and needle size for the fabric I am sewing?

Make sure my needle is in new or good condition, is sharp, and is correctly placed in the machine?

Ensure my bobbin thread is also the correct gauge and type for the fabric I am sewing?

Make sure my bobbin case is correctly placed into the machine?

Check that my machine is set for the stitch I want to use?

Look to see that the automatic tension feature (if on your model) set correctly?

Don't give up:) There is nothing quite as satisfying as sewing garments or home furnishings but it does take practice.

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March 7, 20130 found this helpful

I have a Brother XL 3022 sewing machine. The tension on the bottom is loopy. Someone mentioned bobbin tension, but I don't know where on the machine it is.

By Lesley


March 8, 20130 found this helpful

First of all, download a free copy of your sewing machine manual here:
http://www.brot  _3010_EN_239.PDF

Now, look on page 2 to locate the tension adjustment knob on your machine-it's that wheel looking thing sticking out of the top of the machine a little-see it over there on the left of your machine near where the thread feeds down to the machine needle? That's your tension knob (the manual calls it a dial, the terms are pretty much interchangeable).

Next, look on page 19 of that manual for complete step-by-step directions for adjusting your sewing machine tension correctly including a diagram showing how to decide what is wrong and how to correct it.

Finally, based on what you are describing in your posted question, it sounds as though you are seeing loops of thread around the line of bottom thread stitching (better known as the bobbin thread, btw).

I notice that the Brother manual describes stitches as 'locks' which can be a little confusing but if you stare at those pictures and read the text several times you'll see that your problem is that your tension is too loose.

Note: The illustration for correct tension appearance is on page 20. It's a lot confusing because between the directions for increase/decrease and the illustration there is the bit about bobbin tension adjustment.

So you'll need to dial that tension knob to a higher number. Doing that will increase the tension on the threads as they pass through the tension discs inside the machine.

If the loops were showing on the top you would need to loosen (or 'decrease') the tension by dialing to a lower number.

Be sure you are using the right size needle, and run a test strip (or several) on the fabric you are trying to sew until you find the right tension for that fabric-needle-thread combination. Write that down on the pattern (if you are using one) so that you can restore those settings if you use my bonus tip below and therefore change the settings.

In addition to examining for loops and puckers, do the 'snap' test by holding the test strip in both hands and pulling the strip at both ends in a 'snap' motion. If the thread breaks it means your tension is too tight so you'll need to loosen (decrease) it.

Remember-to tighten (increase) you go up a number, to loosen (decrease) you go down a number:


BONUS TIP-when sewing a zig-zag stitch, for example to finish a seam or when sewing knits on a machine without a specific knit stitch setting, LOOSEN THE TENSION one number down from whatever you are using for the straight stitching. Doing so means your seam finish won't pucker or break:)

OH! Never-ever-never try to adjust the tension anywhere but at the dial atop your machine. The bottom tension (better known as bobbin tension) is set at the factory and only in extremely rare situations does it require adjustment by removing the bobbin case and turning a screw - DO NOT attempt. It's just too easy to over-turn that tiny little screw and then too easy to forget to set it back to the original position for the next project. See the manual page 19 for more on bobbin tension.

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