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Sewing Machine Tension: What Is It and How to Adjust?

by Alice Davis

Are you having trouble getting perfectly even stitches? If you are, then you will find the solution to all your problems in this article.

Undeniably, sewing is a work of art, and many have used sewing to make beautiful and elegant works. Each of those works says many beautiful tales. And to produce such fine arts, you must have a clear mind as well as a fully functioning sewing machine.

The reason for this article is to enlighten you with what is a sewing machine tension and how to adjust it for a perfect sewing experience along with relevant information that will enhance your sewing skills to the next level.

Sewing Machine Tension: What Is It and How to Adjust?
Sewing Machine Tension: What Is It and How to Adjust?

What Is Sewing Machine Tension?

Before we can start discussing how to adjust the tension, it is necessary to know what the tension of a sewing machine is. A fully functional machine has to have the right amount of tension in it. So the importance cannot be undermined.

Sewing machine tension is a collective term. All the devices such as the thread guides, tension discs, tension regulators, and bobbin-case together provide the tension for your sewing machine.

Sewing Machine Tension
Sewing Machine Tension

But, the most important parts are the needle thread’s tension and the bobbin’s tension. All of these in with correct adjustments are required for an even stitch as it makes sure that an equal amount of thread flows into the bobbin and needle.

So for an even and finer stitch, the right amount of tension on a sewing machine is very important.

See also: Best Knitting Machines Of This Year

Indications of Problems with Sewing Machine Tension

These are the indications that there is a problem with your sewing machine tension.

1. Visible Bobbin Thread towards the Top

When the tension of the thread coming through the needle is too strong, it will pull the bobbin thread to the top, and if it is too weak, the needle’s tension thread will become more dominant and take over.

2. Visible Needle Thread at the Bottom

Needle thread will become visible if the adjustment of the tension of the machine is not right. Too strong or too weak, incorrect adjustment of the tension will force the thread of the needle to go under the sides.

How to Adjust It?

How to Adjust It?
How to Adjust It?

Adjusting the tension is not rocket science. And in this section, we will cover all the necessary details of that work.

Part 1: Adjusting the Top Tension

Let us start by adjusting the tension on the top thread. Making adjustments to the top is the most common way of increasing or decreasing the tension of a sewing machine.

Step 1: Locating the Dial

Start by finding the tension regulating dial. It should be shown in your manual. If the manual doesn’t have it, then start looking for a knob-like regulator on your machine with digits.

Step 2: Making Adjustments

Turn this regulator. The numbers should be increasing; this signifies that the tension is being increased and the vice versa signifies that the tension is decreased. Now, start with a small number.

Rotate the knob. If it is too loose, rotate it clockwise, and if it is too tight, rotate it counterclockwise. Test the stitching on a fabric that is different from that of the thread.

Step 3: Testing and Conclusion

Keep going until your stitches look even on both the top and bottom. If this doesn’t change anything, that is, the stitches don’t seem balanced. It indicates that your bottom bobbin thread tension is the problem.

Part 2: Adjusting Bottom Tension

If adjusting the top tension doesn’t give you that balanced stitch, then it’s time to check the bottom tension. It is unlikely for you to make this adjustment until you do very heavy or light thread. The heavier fabric needs more tension, and the opposite is true for lighter versions.

Step 1: Bottom Loading Bobbin

To increase the tension on the bottom thread, there is a device called bottom loading bobbin. It is a small device and should be located near the bobbin case.

Step 2: Making Adjustments

Take a screwdriver. Lock the driver on the screw and turn it. Turn it clockwise to tighten, which means increasing the tension and turn it counter-clockwise, which will decrease the tension.

To ensure you have perfect tension, the thread will unwind, and the bobbin will drop a few inches. When the thread is too tight, the bobbin will not unwind, and you will have to turn the screw to the left to lessen the tension. And, if the thread unwinds too easily, the tension is less, and you would have to tighten it.

Step 3: Finishing

After the adjustments are finished, and the sewing provides even stitching both on the back and the front, then, you are ready to start your work.

Consequences of Not Giving Attention to the Sewing Machine Tension

Many pros, especially quilters, fear and avoid this part of adjusting the sewing machine. Perfect sewing machine tension is very important as it provides the perfect stitches. Too tight, and you’ll ruin the fabric, or the seams will tend to fold inwards, and too loose will give an ugly stitch.

So it’s very important to have the ideal sewing machine tension.

Factors That Affect the Tension of Your Sewing Machine Tension

Factors That Affect The Tension Of Your Sewing Machine Tension
Factors That Affect The Tension Of Your Sewing Machine Tension

When your sewing machine exhibits perfectly balanced stitches, it means you have perfect tension, and there is no need to tamper with it! However, if there seems to be a problem with the stitching, then it is highly recommended that you check these before making any adjustments to the tension of your sewing machine.

  •  Lack of Lubricant

Your machine might lack lubricants. Due to this, the fluid motion of its components is hindered and prevents you from having good stitching results.

  •  Right Presser Foot

The right presser for the right fabric and work is essential. Not using the correct foot presser for the job at hand will provide uneven stitches, un-straight stitches, etc.

  •  Improper Threading

Threading is an essential process for a perfect stitch. You must be sure that you have to guide your thread through all the guides, tension discs. Also, you need to check if the unwinding of the spool is clean. If the thread from the spool gets stuck anywhere, then the sewing machine won’t function properly.

Make sure that the bobbin is inserted correctly and also ensure that you are not using the bobbin for placing the spool.

  • Uncleanliness

As you work on your machine, dust, remains of threads, and other minuscule waste can get stuck in the discs and other moving parts of the machine. These impurities add to the friction and increase the resistance of the parts. So the part’s fluid movement is hindered and, ultimately, the flow of the thread along with it.

Clean these areas with a light lint-proof cloth before starting your work.

  • Broken Machine or Compartments

It is very necessary for all the compartments that are being used to be in tiptop condition. Any bent needles or bobbins, and uneven or cracked surfaces on the needle eyes, take-up levers, bobbin case, thread guide, foot presser, bobbin area, and tension disc will hinder the functionality of the machine.

The compartments of a sewing machine are highly sensitive. Over time the bobbins, needles, or any other parts can get harmed. And, no matter how insignificant the harm might seem, the slightest distortion can hinder the movement and tension of the machine.

So it is highly advised that you check and replace these parts after using them for a certain period of time.

  •  Others

You will be using your machine for a variety of works. Different works require different types of needles and bobbins. This is enough to set the tension off slightly, which needs to be adjusted all over again.

Also, before you change the adjustments to the tension, make sure that you are using the right tools for the work in hand. For example, if you have puckers on lightweight fabric, change the foot presser to straight-stitch presser along with a shorter stitch length.


Stitching requires patience and accuracy of the highest kind, and the tension of the top and bottom bobbin on your sewing machine will affect that.

The main purpose of this article was to provide you a clear knowledge of what a sewing machine tension is and how to make proper adjustments to it for a great and accurate sewing experience. Not only it provides other relevant information, but it also will keep you prepared for anything in your next sewing project.

Just follow our article and enjoy a smooth and amazing sewing experience.

About Alice Davis

Alice is a writer who lives in the City of Long Beach. She has a husband, an exceptionally small chihuahua, and 15-pound Maine Coon. Alice got her bachelor of science in biological science from UC Berkeley. Now, she likes writing about a lot of things; including but not limited to technology reviews, science stuff, and anything food-related.

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