When is Tension Really the Problem?

We Carry
by Sara Snuggerud in Archives

We hear it all the time. An all-knowing husband brings in his wife’s sewing machine, plops it on the service counter and announces, “The tension is off.”

“OK, sure, mister, of course.”

Actually, tension is not usually the problem with most machines.

It could be the fact that this sewing machine’s insides have never seen the light of day in its entire 10-30 year life time.  No, that could not be it.

Or the fact that the needle looks like the original one that came with the machine.

And it sure couldn’t be that the thread’s price tag says 5-cents. No, that could not be it at all!

Tension is usually not the problem. If it has been eons since a machine has been professionally serviced, there are usually other issues that prevent the machine from stitching a perfectly balanced stitch. Over time the combination of dust, lint and ancient oil begin to congeal into nasty, golden-yellow goo. Gears begin to freeze up and stiffen. Belts become brittle. Old threads left from a thread jam starts to jellify with the golden-yellow goo. And the packed lint from the last flannel project appears to be growing eyes and horns! We then wonder why our lovely machine growls at us when we try to sew. The tension must be off!

So when is tension really the problem? The tension needs to be adjusted only when the machine:

Has had new needle of the proper size and point style inserted.

The leftover residue from the last sewing project has been removed.

Is threaded correctly with quality thread, passing correctly through all the thread guides.

The bobbin is wound properly, placed in the holder and spins the right direction

A drop of oil has been added to the hook area (when applicable).

The correct presser foot is attached for the technique and fabric.

Only then should we look to see if the tension needs to be adjusted.

Perfect tension does exist! When our service technicians completely clean, adjust and check every working part of a sewing machine, their final test is the tension setting. Want to try their tension test on your own machine?

1. Place a COLORED spool of quality thread such as Mettler polyester in the needle.

2. Wind a bobbin with WHITE thread of the same brand.

3. Select a zigzag stitch set to the widest stitch width and longest stitch length the machine allows.

4. Sew on two layers of medium to heavy weight WHITE fabric.

At this extreme zigzag setting, look on the back side for a small, tiny dot of the top colored thread at each point of the zigzag. If no top thread shows on the back side, loosen (smaller number) the top tension. If too much top thread pulls to the back side, tighten (higher number) the top tension. Continue to adjust the tension until it is perfect.

(See Sara’s Tip “A Sewing Machine Technician’s Check List” for a complete list of everything that is checked during a regular service).

Sewing machines around the world beg for basic attention. No matter if they live in closets, in cabinets, and beautiful sewing studios, they all need the love of a professional cleaning from time to time. Our lawns get fertilized; our cars receive regular oil changes; why don’t we take care of our sewing machines? If we expect them to run for us when we need to mend a pair of blue jeans, we must give them a fighting chance.

A true sewer knows that to have successful sewing results, we must take care of our equipment. Have it professionally cleaned once a year. No matter what machine you have, for best results select quality thread, and change the needle for every project, or for every 4-5 bobbins.

A well cared for sewing machine is a happy sewing machine!

© 2007 SewSara, Sioux Falls, SD. All Rights Reserved.