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Bobbin Tension Tips

Posted: 9 February 2016 at 6 a.m.

Guest blogger Martha Milne shares her favorite tips on how to get perfect bobbin tension.

Superior Threads are so pretty

I love thread!! All kinds; cotton, silk, gorgeous light reflecting tri-lobal polyester, metallics, even glow in the dark. As a quilter, sometimes I like thread to blend in so I might use a thin very fine thread. Sometimes I may want thread to stand out so I use a thicker thread for a bolder line. But I also use thread for piecing and binding, appliqué and embellishing. This is why we need to adjust thread tension. 

Most tension problems can be fixed by adjusting the top tension dial on your sewing machine. But sometimes you will need to adjust the bobbin tension to balance your tension. I'll always try the top tension dial first, if that doesn't solve the problem then I move on to the bobbin. Adjusting your bobbin tension is easier than you think. I'll show you why and how.

Sometimes the bobbin tension has been set too tight at the factory. This is a common problem and is easy to fix. Take your bobbin case out of the machine. Hold the tail of thread firmly and give it a short sharp shake. It should drop a couple of inches and then stop. 

If it doesn't drop then the bobbin tension is too tight. Get a small screw driver. Look at the screw. Think of the line in the screw like the minute hand on a clock. You are only going to turn the screw in very small 15 minute increments. Remember righty-tighty and lefty-loosey. Turn the screw a quarter turn to the left and give it another shake. If it still does not drop, repeat the process. If it drops too far or too fast then tighten it up a bit righty-tighty. Be sure to keep track of how many quarter turns you make so that you can get back to where you started.

Bobbin Tension Diagram

For free-motion machine quilting I am finding that a looser bobbin tension works best for me. If my bobbin tension is loose enough then I am able to maintain a good thread balance by simply adjusting the top tension dial as I work with a variety of different threads.

Visit Martha’s blog to learn more about her and her company.

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  • 2. Celeste @ Superior Threads (07 March 2016 at 12:01 p.m.)

    Judith-- good question. As a general rule, we like to run our bobbin tension on the looser end of the spectrum and find that a 170-200 reading on the TOWA gauge is a fantastic place to start.
  • 1. Judith (05 March 2016 at 2:52 p.m.)

    I'm new to long arm quilting and just purchased a TOMA tension gauge, my thread pulls easily at 200, would that be too loose? How would I know at what reading is just right.

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