Free Machine Embroidery Guitar and Blog on Tension Savy



There is “tension” in a lot of things, some good and some bad. Tension in marriage and on the job, not so good. Tension on guitar, violin and piano strings. Totally necessary or the melody will be off tune and unpleasant to the ears. Tension on a sewing machine. Absolutely required. Nothing is more frustrating than to ruin a garment by having white bobbin thread show up on the top of the garment or having looping.
I recently purchased a new embroidery machine and assuming the factory had the settings “perfect”, I hooped and started sewing my design on a $10.00 T-shirt, only to find that the entire edge of my design had white bobbin thread “decorating” the design. I salvaged the shirt by using my good old Tulip fabric dye pens by dying the white edge red to match the design.

I was extremely annoyed as this would have been totally unnecessary had the tension been adjusted correctly from the factory. But then, we know that “quality” is lacking in this day and age and clearly I should have done a “test sew”. Live and Learn they say!
Obviously, if you have white bobbin thread showing on the top edges of your embroidery, your tension needs adjustment. As well, if loops form in the stitches on one side of the fabric, the suspects are normally (1) the upper thread is not threaded correctly, (2) you did not move the upper tension to the manufacturer’s recommended setting (assuming it is not “auto adjusted) or (3) the bobbin tension is off.

How To Adjust The Tension

Finding the correct balance of the tension or tautness between the top embroidery thread the bottom (bobbin) thread can be frustrating. Some dealers will tell you NEVER touch the bottom/ bobbin tension. Bring the machine in. I, for one, do not have time to drive 70 miles to take my machine to have the tension corrected nor do I find it necessary to pay money to have the repairman adjust the tension for me. Pre-embroidery machines, I was aware of how to adjust the tension and it has not changed that much, other than most of them having a “built-in” bobbin case.
A bobbin-case, built in or removable, has a “bobbin-case spring” which regulates (places pressure) on the thread as it exits the bobbin case. The pressure on the spring is regulated by a small screw in the bobbin case. Tension should ALWAYS be adjusted with the thread in the bobbin case.

To get access to the built in bobbin case, you must remove the metal plate covering your bobbin by using a screwdriver to remove the screw shown below:

Remove the metal plate:



Carefully view and make note of the position of the bobbin case before removing it so you can replace it. DO NOT turn the wheel or change the position of anything after removing the bobbin case as you will not have it in the correct position to replace it.


On most models, you will see two screws one metal, one plastic. Do not move the metal screw. the plastic screw is the spring screw to the bobbin:

Imagine that the bobbin-case is a clock. Changing the pressure on the screw should be done in very small increments, between 1/8th of a turn and 1/4 of a turn. (5 minutes to 15 minutes to tighten or 15 till to 5 till to loosen). Just 1/8th of a turn can make a big difference. The screw is tiny and it is recommended that you work over a towel so that if the tiny screw accidentally comes out, hopefully you can find it in the towel as you never will find it in the carpet (except when your vacuum does). Changing the bobbin tension requires a very miniature screwdriver as well. Just remember, (righty-tighty, lefty-loosy).




(1) The easiest “test” I found is to use your built in embroidery block letters at approximately 1 inch size and sew out a letter such as a “C”, an “I” and an “M” in a satin stitch. Looking at the underside (back) of your embroidery piece, should reveal approximately 1/8th to 1/3rd of the top thread color thread on both sides of each letter and the balance should be the white bobbin thread color. In other words, if you look on the underneath side of your embroidery, if your tension is correct, there should be 1/8th to 1/3rd of an inch of the upper (colored) embroidery thread being pulled down (to the back) by the bobbin thread on both sides of the “C”, “I” and “M”. The balance (in the middle) should be the white embroidery thread.
Janome machines recommend 1/8th of an inch and other brands state 1/3rd of an inch, referred to as the “1/3rd rule” meaning you have 1/3rd Color thread, 1/3rd Bobbin Thread and 1/3rd Color Thread on the back of each block letter . Not to be redundant but if you sew the “I” and look at the back, you would have 1/3rd color on the left side, 1/3rd white in the middle and 1/3rd color on the right side. There may be some variation of more or less going around curved letters such as A’s, C’s, S”s or the like, but with this as a guideline you should have a good tension stitch.
A. If you see any of the bobbin thread being pulled up on top (front) of the design (such as happened on my shirt design) then your bobbin tension is too loose and needs to be tightened (turn adjustment screw to the right).
In other words, if your bobbin thread is being pulled up by the upper (colored) embroidery thread and you have your upper tension set to the Manufacturer’s recommended setting, then your bobbin tension is not tight enough to pull the top thread down properly and you need to tighten the bobbin spring (turn the adjustment screw to the right).
B. If your colored embroidery thread is being pulled down by the bobbin thread by more than a 1/8 to 1/3rd of an inch and your upper tension is set to the Manufacturer’s recommended setting, then your bobbin tension is probably too tight and you need to loosen it (turn adjustment screw to the left).

(2). There should be a very “slight” drag on the threads, both the upper and the bobbin thread. You can test your bobbin by placing the bobbin case in one of your hands. With fingers slightly curled (but not holding onto the bobbin case), pull on the bobbin thread with your other hand. The thread should drag (barely), but not so much as to pull the bobbin from your slightly curled fingers.

Return the built-in bobbin case to your machine, replace the metal face plate and replace the set screw. Do a test embroidery to check the tension.
These are just general guidelines and most of the time fixes tension problems. While you have your bobbin case out, use your little lint brush and give it a good cleaning. You should regularly clean out lint from your bobbin case as lint can “weedle its way” in the bobbin case and affect the bobbin tension.
If you have tensioned everything and are still having bobbin thread loops on the top of your design, you may have a damaged bobbin case or you may have a damaged needle. Old needles can produce sharp edges or burrs that lead to frequent thread breaks and looping.
If you are not comfortable doing it yourself, then you will need to make a trip to the repair shop to have it adjusted but tension is the most important part of embroidery. If the tension is too tight, it will also pucker your design and you will have a “soup bowl”!
Keep your “tension” in check….Happy Embroidey