Too much tension

And now back to our regularly scheduled program – quilting!


I’m not talking about the kind of tension you get when you are sitting in the dentist chair awaiting that root canal, or the kind of tension needed on a yo-yo string to make it walk the dog .

I’m talking about sewing machine tension – top and bottom, or, for those of us in the know, bobbin.

We have all, most likely, had problems with this, at one time or another.  If the top tension is too tight, the bottom thread comes to the top.  If the bobbin is too tight, it draws the top thread down.  Either way, your stitches aren’t meeting in the middle of your quilt sandwich and don’t have that bumpy feel to them on one side because it’s just a straight line of thread!

Having a Brother PQ1500 hasn’t saved me from this.  On the contrary – trigger warning – you may experience moments of deja’ knew (I had that happen to me once or more!).

Whether free-motion quilting or sewing seams, occasionally, something goes wonky.  Usually, for me anyway, it was a line of thread on the bottom, meaning, the bobbin tension was too tight or the top tension wasn’t tight enough.  But, since my top was set at 3.5-4, I figured that wasn’t the problem, was it?  I had heard once that when it comes to sewing machine tension settings, you want the least amount needed to get the job done.

So, the theory is, if you have the straight line on the bottom, tighten your top tension or loosen the bobbin tension.  And vice versa, if you have the straight line on top, loosen your top tension dial OR, heaven forbid, tighten your bobbin tension.

Rule of thumb, typically, what I found in numerous internet searches – DON’T MESS WITH THE BOBBIN TENSION!  Adjust the top tension accordingly.

I know, this is confusing isn’t it! Not if you sew or quilt, though! You know, YOU KNOW what I’m talking about!

Oh, and I forgot to mention the other thing that can happen – your thread breaks, often.  Wait, what?  Yes, you know, you are quilting along, free motioning all over the place, and you hear a funny sound on your machine and thwack! Your thread not only breaks, but kind of shreds.  The only thing to do is hit that cut thread button which is supposed to mean you are done, and figure out what the heck just happened.  Maybe the bobbin was wound too tight – take a few yards off the bobbin to get back to normal.  Maybe a loose piece of fuzz got caught in the bobbin – clean bobbin area with brush and brush and brush, oops, there was a tiny piece of lint!  That must be it.  Maybe the top thread got caught on something, is near the end, or horror of all horrors, somehow it got out of one of the guides! Fix it, all good now, right?

Do dah do dah day, everything goes along swimingly, and thwack! It happens again. Sh**!

Well, darn, you’ve done everything else, the tension looks fine, so, now it’s time to change the needle. Yadda yadda yadda, done,… so…

Do dah, do dah, day,  THWACK!  AGAIN?  WTF!  Now, what could it possibly be? Mustn’t like this thread, no wait, I quilted a whole frigging king sized thing with this same thread – frigging, uh? Now what?

Clean everything once again, oil the machine profusely in all spaces, especially the bobbin hook, put in a newly wound bobbin, re-thread the top, bigger needle.

Do dah, do dah, day –  THWACK!   Aaaaagggghhh!  Must be too humid today, or this fabric is too thick, or I shouldn’t have tried this new batting!

OR, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.   Shhhhhh!

But, really, don’t keep it a secret- spread the joy, spread the news!  The wicked old witch at last is dead!

Long, long awaited, but you want to know, don’t you?   What, what do I do?

Frigging loosen the bobbin tension.  Yes, take your little screwdriver that came with the machine, and take that bobbin casing out, and turn that screw, not just a little tiny 1/16 of a turn, but try this – 1/8th or 1/6th or even, saints be with you 1/4th of a turn.

I know, I know what you are saying – but that’s wrong, it will cause me all sorts of problems.

Yes, if you hold the thread from the bobbin in your hand, in the bobbin casing, and let the casing fall, it’s supposed to drop a wee little bit without the bobbin falling out.

Well, I thought so, too, until I watched a YouTube video where they were setting the tension on a long-arm, yeah, I know, a long arm isn’t the same, but, instead of letting the bobbin fall just a bit, it fell smoothly, like a spider spinning a web. No problem, no bouncing, no jerking, just dropped right into her hand, slowly, and I was like “WTF? That’s not what I heard was right.”

Another way you can do this is to lay the bobbin case with bobbin inside in your hand, either way, up or down, lift the thread, and the bobbin casing should first upright itself, and then the thread as you pull gently and smoothly, should just come right out. If the bobbin casing lifts off your hand, the tension is too tight. If it doesn’t upright itself, it’s too loose. Watch this video to see what I mean.

Well, I said, why not? Friggin A.  It was like a miracle! All this time, I had been NOT touching the bobbin tension, and sometimes, things were fine, and sometimes, they weren’t.

Now, I can use whatever thread I want, don’t have to change my needle mid-quilt, loosened my top tension quite a bit, and guess what?  Thread breakage – not so much anymore.  Wow! Thank you YouTube.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera said the King of Siam. Yay me!

So, there it is, too much tension.  Try it. I found what works for me.  Let me know if it works for you.

Q-Tip #17 – Bobbin tension, don’t be too afraid to mess with it.

Adding the Daily Prompt, as this was a “favorite mistake” that was life-changing when I fixed it! I already thought of this one before the prompt, too – spooky!

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