Correcting Sewing Machine Tension for Free Motion Quilting

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Sewing machine tension can be frustrating to deal with because it can determine how good or bad your stitching looks. While you may have your tension set correctly for piecing and sewing, you may find that you need to make adjustments when switching to free motion quilting. Heather Thomas shows you how to adjust your sewing machine tension for free motion quilting to achieve the best stitching possible.

Know Your Machine

Whether you are dealing with tension issues or are doing any other kind of sewing machine troubleshooting, it is important to know your machine. Sewing machines have tension on both the bobbin and needle thread. Most machines have some kind of dial located on the top of the machine that allows you to make adjustments to the needle tension. Heather explains that the needle tension dials will be labeled with numbers anywhere from zero to nine and will usually have what the manufacturer considers to be ‘normal’ tension marked in some way.

For the bobbin tension, machines will have either a front/side load bobbin or a drop-in bobbin. Front and side load bobbins can be adjusted by turning a small screw located on the side of the bobbin case. Drop-in bobbins don’t have the same kind of bobbin case and therefore you are generally limited to making changes to the needle tension to adjust your sewing machine tension.

Adjusting Sewing Machine Tension

Heather demonstrates what bad tension can look like when free motion quilting on a small sample. She explains what a common tension issue called ‘eyelashing’ is and shows what it can look like on both the right and wrong side of the fabric. She then explains how to fix the issue by adjusting the needle tension in small increments and test stitching after each change. She explains how important it is to make all changes to your sewing machine tension in small numbers and how and why those changes have to be made while the presser foot is in the up position.

Discussion
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17 Responses to “Correcting Sewing Machine Tension for Free Motion Quilting”
  1. Judy Roberts

    This is a great help. I like free motion quilting but never knew what to do about the “eye lashes” Thanks so much Judy

    Reply
  2. Nancy

    I get “eye lashing” when I turn curves. I have tried going up on tension and down…slowing my sewing and speeding up. I have a brand new Babylock Destiny II…so I am still learning how it works….different suggestions have me frustrated as some say speed up others say slow down, and go up on tension….go down…..
    My old machine used to be perfect….
    What gives??

    Reply
  3. Kay

    NB Ticket#20207 You indicated that you changed the tension, but didn’t show us what direction you adjusted it. Can you share that please?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Kay,

      Thank you for your patience. In regards to your question-

      How you adjust the tension can differ from machine to machine, and it can also differ depending on how thick your quilt sandwich is. In general, you will know if you need to adjust your tension if you are having stitch quality issues. If you are seeing your bobbin thread on the top of your work your needle tension is too tight, and vice versa.

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first-year membership.
      https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C14379

      Cheers,
      Ashley

      Reply
  4. jeannieholler126

    This “free video” is framed with American Cancer Society” video and 2 other distracting companies information. This keeps it from being user friendly. The ACS ad is taking a long time to load and I cannot get past it to see the Sewing Machine Tension video – frustrating.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello,

      I am sorry, I just tested the video and I am not seeing the same thing. Please make sure your browser window is open all the way. If you continue to have issues, please reach out to our customer service team at 1-855-706-3538, and they can help troubleshoot the problem with you.

      Thanks,

      Becky
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      Reply
  5. Jacqueline

    Ok, I agree, but what number do you put it on : higher (bigger number) or lower (smaller number). or do you have different on other machines. I have a Bernina 750QE and find a smaller number better !
    Jacqueline Bonnier

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Jacqueline,

      It is hard to give an exact number for you to put it on- as this can vary from machine to machine and also vary depending on what you are sewing. You may need to test out several tension settings with some scrap materials to find the one that works best with your project.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      Reply
  6. J

    Does it take any time, or stitching length, for th energy tension to apply? Does some amount of thread have to pass thru the disks for the new setting to ‘settle in’, or is it fairly immediate?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello,

      Once you adjust your tension it should be fairly immeidate- however, the length of thread between the tension disks and the needle may need to be pulled ‘taut’ before you start so it is held at the same tension as the rest of the thread being used going forward.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first-year membership.
      https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C14628

      Reply
  7. maryjobo

    Great information and excellent presentation! I never knew about raising the presser foot before changing the tension but it makes total sense. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Brett Schiewe

    This is one of the worst and misleading bit of advice on tension I have ever seen, you never advise anyone to adjust the bobbin case as the first thing for a tension problems you start with the upper thread first and only go to the bobbin tension as the next step if adjusting the top thread tension gives unsatisfactory results. This is my opinion only.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Brett,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      I appreciate your feedback and it has been forwarded to the proper department. Your comments are important to us and help with the development of our online video streaming community. We will continue to listen and work hard for your complete satisfaction.

      If you have any other questions, please contact us at 1-855-706-3538, or chat with us on our site.

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      Reply
  9. Patti Adams

    What causes skipped stitched on the top? I tried a couple different feet, threads and needles. What I’ve had the best stitching with is Isacord and klasse top stitching needles. This isn’t a practical solution, because I don’t want to have to buy Isacord for every free motion project. I have a computerized babylock.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Patti,

      Thank you for your patience, here is the experts response:

      Hi,

      Skipped stitches are generally caused by dull needles or improper threading of your machine. You don’t necessarily have to buy a special type of needle, just ensure that you have a new, sharp needle in you machine before you start your free motion stitching.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle

      Reply
  10. Angela Croutze

    I have a Brother Nouvelle 1500s. After FMQing for at least 30 plus minutes my upper thread has suddenly started tangling on the bottom of the quilt. This has never happened before. All I did is move to a new position on the quilt to start again and suddenly tangles. I’ve tried to adjust the tension, I’ve changed the needle, and I made sure the side loading bobbin area is clean and the bobbin is correctly in place. I am stumped and would appreciate some advice. TIA

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Angela,

      Thank you for your patience while I reached out to the expert, here is the reply:

      Typically thread jumbles on the under side of the fabric point to an issue with the needle thread. Ensure that the machine is still threaded correctly and that the thread didn’t slip out of a tension disk somewhere. If you have re-threaded your machine, changed the needle and checked everything else you have mentioned and it still is not working- you may need to consult your machine manufacturer for further help and/or take your machine in to be serviced.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle

      Reply

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