Sewing Machine Tension

Sewing machine tension

Probably the most common sewing problem is getting correct sewing machine tension. By thread tension, we mean the amount of thread that can pass through the machine to create the stitch. The more thread in the stitch, then the looser the stitch.  The less thread, then the tighter the stitch.

Top thread tension is controlled by a dial on the machine’s thread path. So make sure the thread sits correctly between the tension discs when you’re threading your machine. If it doesn’t, then the machine won’t be able to sew properly. When your presser foot is up, the tension discs are open and there is no tension on the top thread. That’s why you get lots of loops when you try to sew with the presser foot up. But it does help to get the thread between the discs when you have the foot up as you thread the machine. Thread tension is such an important issue but is commonly misunderstood, so that’s why I include it in my Beginners Sewing classes.

Adjusting tension on sewing machine

Sewing machine tension - tension dial or tension knob on sewing machines
Know where your sewing machine tension dials are

To make a correctly-formed stitch, the machine needs a top and bottom thread. These threads need to work in harmony with each other so they interlink exactly in the middle of the fabric. If there is an imbalance, then one will pull the other through to the other side of the fabric. This will cause a poor quality stitch that may not hold.

As the bobbin thread tension is factory-set and wouldn’t usually be adjusted for normal sewing.  So we’ll be talking only about the top thread tension since that’s where you’d usually make the adjustments. The dial settings run from 0 to 9, so 4.5 is generally the ‘default’ position for normal straight-stitch sewing. This should be suitable for most fabrics.

If you are doing a zig-zag stitch, or another stitch that has width, then you may find that the bobbin thread is pulled through to the top.  It may show at the sides of the stitch and the fabric is slightly raised or bunched. If you see this, slacken off the tension slightly (perhaps to between 3 and 4).   Then the fabric will lie flatter. It also helps to loosen off the top tension a little if you are topstitching and want the stitches to be more of a feature. Tension settings vary slightly between machines. The thickness of the thread and weight of the fabric will also have an effect on the tension. So don’t be afraid to experiment and find the setting that’s best for your specific project.

How to test thread tension

It can be difficult to know what’s wrong with your sewing machine tension. So if you thread up using a different colour in the top than you’re using in the bottom, it’s easy to diagnose sewing machine tension problems.

Perfect sewing machine tension

Sewing machine tension is perfectly balanced.
Thread tension is perfectly balanced

Top tension too loose (or bottom tension too tight)

Sewing machine tension - top thread pulled to underneath
Top tension too loose so the top thread will be pulled to underneath

If you can see the top thread underneath, then the top thread is too loose (or the bobbin thread is too tight)

If a thread is too loose, then it’s not connecting with its partner in the fabric to form the stitch correctly. In the diagram above, the bobbin thread is lying along the fabric instead of being pulled up into it. It may even be able to possible to pull out the bottom thread.

Top tension too tight (or lower tension too loose)

Sewing machine tension - bobbin thread on top means top thread is too tight
Top thread is too tight so bobbin thread showing on top

Bobbin thread tension

If you have a drop-in style bobbin, then you shouldn’t ever need to change the bottom tension. It’s unlikely to have been altered from its factory setting unless you’ve done it yourself. To do so, you’ll need to remove the needleplate, which will enable you to take out the bobbin case. You’ll then have access to the bobbin tension screw.

If you’ve got a front-loading bobbin that has its own removable bobbin case, it’s more likely that the screw can be moved – even accidently. So it may not be at the factory settings. To test if the tension is correct, insert a bobbin in the bobbin case. Then hold it up by just the thread, the bobbin case shouldn’t move. Give a little jerk on the thread and if the bobbin case slides down slightly, then the tension if perfect. If it drops freely, then it’s too loose. If it doesn’t move at all, then it’s too tight.

To adjust the bottom tension you need the tiny screwdriver that comes with the sewing machine, as it is all controlled by a small screw on the spool case. Turning clockwise tightens the tension and turning anti clockwise loosens it.(Right to tighten, left to loosen)

Final note:   Exciting effects can be achieved by utilising tight and loose tension settings on your sewing machine when doing free-machine embroidery. If you don’t understand the effect each thread tension has on the other, then consider my taking my Free-Motion embroidery workshop which will teach you a lot about how to use your sewing machine.

Overlocker tension

How to get perfect Overlocker tension


How to get the correct overlocker tension is the most common issue when using these machines. An overlocker is a fantastic machine and can be extremely useful.  It trims and neatens fabric edges much faster than you can using a sewing machine. But don’t just keep it for neating edges, it also sews the seams in a fraction of the time too.  When they work well, your overlocker is your best friend.  But if the tension is wrong, they are the devil to use.  There’s not an overlocker-owner on the planet who hasn’t wanted to throw theirs out the window on at least one occasion.

Read more

Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 Sewing Machine – Review

Best Sewing Machine?

Husqvarna Emerald 118 Sewing Machine Review

I had to find the best sewing machine for my teaching studio. I needed something that was easy-to-use,  versatile, robust, and great value.  My local specialist dealer Andrew Pemberton recommended the Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118.  Prior to that, I was aware of Husqvarna as a high-quality brand but I hadn’t used one before.  So I was happy to go along to test it against some of its closest rivals in the same price bracket.

I tested the Janome CXL301, and the favourite of the Great British Sewing Bee, the Janome 525. I also tested a Singer and a Brother. The best sewing machine I tested overall was the Emerald.  I chose them for their ease of use, pleasure to use, and durability.  My previous high-ranking favourite brands, Pfaff and Bernina, make top-class quality machines too but are a little on the pricey side by comparison. Read more

Pattern Ease – Why is my sewing pattern bigger than my measurements?

What is ‘Pattern Ease’ and why do I need it?

Pattern Ease is the allowance made over and above the body measurements when making a pattern. It enables natural body movement. If patterns were exactly the same size as your body measurement, the garment would literally be skin tight. Pattern ease is added to the body circumference measurements, but not to any vertical measurements.

Although your shop-bought clothes may say ‘to fit bust 36″‘, if you measure them, you’ll find that they are considerable bigger.

There are three basic kinds of pattern ease:

(1) Wearing ease
(2) Design ease
(3) Negative ease


Wearing or fitting ease

The minimum amount added to enable comfortable movement and sitting. This is usually no less than 5cm (2″).

Design ease

The extra amount added to create a particular shape or silhouette.

Negative ease

Applies to garments made from stretchy fabric such as jersey or lycra. It is a deduction from the actual body measurement so the resulting pattern is smaller than the wearer’s measurements. The garment will therefore stretch to fit and be tightly-fitting. Negative ease applies to sportswear, swimwear and underwear.

Guide to the amount of Fitting and Design Ease

The average total amount added to body measurements to allow for wearing and design ease is as follows:

Close fit 9cm
Easy Fit 13cm
Loose fit 17cm
Baggy 21cm
Oversize 25cm

How do I know how much ease has been added?

Paper Pattern manufacturers don’t make it easy to know how much ease has been added. Sometimes the garment might be described as ‘Easy fitting’ or ‘Loose fitting’.  But each manufacturer will have their own idea of what those words mean.  Just as they all have their own set of sizes!  They usually won’t tell you on the pattern envelope how much ease has been included but they may tell you the finished garment measurements.  If it’s not on the envelope,  look at the pattern pieces themselves.  Generally upper body garments such as blouses will show the finished bust size, whilst skirts and trousers may show the finished hip measurement. For example, the hip measure of an A-line skirt in size 14 will actually be 110cm, although the pattern envelope suggests it’s to fit a size 97cm hip.

Another very general indication will be the nature of the garment.  Underwear or tops worn close to the body will have less design ease, and an overgarment such as a coat will have much more design ease included to enable it to fit over several other layers of clothing.

The design itself should tell you whether the item is supposed to be close-fitting or baggy. So if you’re making a cocoon dress, don’t skimp on that ease, or it will be a sheath dress instead!

To learn more about pattern ease, why not take a dressmaking course?

Songs for Winter is an exhibition by Quiltmaker Pauline Burbidge and sculptor Charlie Poulson

Songs for Winter; a two-person exhibition by Quilter Pauline Burbidge and her sculptor husband Charlie Poulson

Songs for Winter

At: City Art Centre, Market Street Edinburgh  until 4 March 2018

Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12 noon-5pm.  Free entry

I was lucky enough recently  to be invited to a curated viewing of ‘Songs for Winter’.  The special viewing was organised by Thistle Quilters, and limited places were offered to Embroiderers Guild and EDGE Textile Artist members. So I obviously jumped at the opportunity.  The Textile Artist Pauline Burbidge was giving the tour herself.  It was insightful and inspiring to listen to Pauline talking about her techniques and working processes, and to have the opportunity to ask questions.

Read more

Travelling Books Project

Travelling Books Project

I’ve often mentioned the Embroiderers Guild ‘Travelling Books’ project on my Facebook page. There’s about 24 members of our Guild branch involved and we started last October by all being given an A5 sketchbook. The idea is that we each choose a theme for our book, and do a small piece of embroidery inspired by that theme.

I’ts been a great opportunity for me to work in some my favourite creative textiles techniques.
Read more

Sewing jersey fabric. A dresssmkaing pattern for jersey stretch knit fabrics

Sewing jersey fabric

Sewing jersey fabric can be fun and very satisfying.  You can make all types of clothes from T-shirts, leggings, dresses, tunics, pyjamas and more.  Jersey fabric is soft to wear, drapes well, and tends to crease less than wovens.

Read more