10 Tips for Resolving Tension Issues – Quilting Daily

Around the Quilting Arts Community, people with “tension problems” don’t need relaxation techniques–they need a stitching specialist. Fortunately, we know several, and Susan Brubaker Knapp is one of the best. Susan is a quilt artist, teacher, and pattern designer who is a top-notch stitcher. You can see her work on the cover of the Quilting Arts 2010 Calendar and inside, as the October artist, as well. A rare achievement to have two quilts in one Quilting Arts calendar!

Because of Susan’s strengths as a thread sketcher, I’m very pleased to announce we have asked her to write a regular column on the technique in Quilting Arts, and she has accepted. You can read all about it beginning with the February/March 2010 issue, and for six issues after that.

On her Quilting Arts Workshop DVD, “Master Machine Quilting: Free-Motion Stitching and Thread Sketching,” Susan talks about how important it is to relax to achieve the best machine stitching results. So it made sense to ask her for her advice on relieving thread tension issues! Here are her top 10 tips. 

10 Tips for Resolving Tension Issues
by Susan Brubaker Knapp

Machine stitching tension problems are tricky to resolve because there are so many variables. Here are some things to try:

1. Completely remove the top thread and the bobbin thread, and rethread the machine. Always thread your machine with the presser foot up. It sounds too simple a solution to work, but sometimes that’s all it takes. 

2. Make sure the innards of your machine are clean and oiled (if recommended by your machine manufacturer). 

3. Change the bobbin thread. Try a different kind of thread (polyester or monofilament), or a finer (higher number) thread.

4. Try a different type or weight of top thread. Discard old, brittle thread. 

5. Use the correct spool pin. Cross-wound thread should be placed on a horizontal spool pin. Parallel-wound (also called “stacked”) thread should be placed on a vertical spool pin. 

6. Make sure your bobbin is wound correctly. It should be wound at medium speed, and, when done, should be firm and snug on the bobbin. 

7. Seeing bobbin thread on the top? Bobbin tension could be too loose, or top thread tension could be too tight. Tighten bobbin tension first. If you have a Bernina, try threading it through the little hole in the bobbin case “finger” first. Turn the bobbin case screw clockwise to tighten. Move it a tiny amount at a time. (Caution: Always note the position of the bobbin case screw before you change it. You can make a drawing, take a digital photo, or mark it with a fine-tip permanent marker on the case itself. Some people prefer to purchase a second bobbin case for tension adjustments.) 

NOTE: I’ve had people tell me I should never, ever change my bobbin tension by messing with the screw. To them, I reply, “If you were never meant to change the bobbin tension, why did the manufacturer put that screw there?”

8. If problems persist on the top, loosen the top thread tension (move it to a lower number, one number at a time until the tension is right). 

9. Seeing top thread on the underside? The top thread tension could be too loose, or bobbin tension could be too tight. First, tighten the top thread tension (move it to a higher number, one number at a time). 

10. If problems persist on the underside, loosen bobbin tension. Turn the bobbin case screw counter-clockwise to loosen. (See cautions in tip 7.) 

Need more machine stitching advice? Check out Susan’s DVD, and also be sure to download our FREE eBook, Free Motion Quilting-81 Free-motion Machine Quilting Techniques and Tips, with tutorials from master quilters Robbi Joy Eklow and Frieda Anderson.

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