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Determining Tension Problems

Posted: 19 May 2016 at 6 a.m.

Determining Sewing Tension Issues

Sewing frustrations are the worst.  We don’t like it.  That’s why we use the best thread.  To avoid the frustration caused by using lower-quality threads.  Using quality thread should solve half the battle with a sewing machine and yet, we all experience moments and days when things just don’t go right.  What’s the most common culprit?  Tension.   Let’s talk about a few common issues that can be tension related.

Issue:  The top thread frays.

Probable cause:  When is the last time you changed your needle?  Old needles often cause fraying due to worn surfaces.  If you’re using a new needle which is the right size (see our Home Machine Thread Guide) and you see fraying, the bobbin may be too tight or the top too loose.

Issue:  The bobbin thread shows through on the top.

Probable cause:  The bobbin tension may be too loose or the top tension too tight.  If you have a metal bobbin case, there could be dust or lint trapped under the bobbin tension spring.


Issue:  The bobbin thread does not show on the bottom

Probable cause:  The bobbin tension may be too tight or the top tension too lose.

Issue:  The top thread snaps and leaves a small hook at the point of the break

Probable cause:  The top tension may be too tight.

Issue:  The thread gathers under the needle plate

Probable cause:  There are a few reasons why thread gathers under the needle plate.  The top tension is too loose or your machine is threaded incorrectly, bypassing the take-up lever. 

Issue:  Thread loops

Probable cause:  What side are you seeing loops?  This side is winning the tension tug-of-war.  Loosen the tension on the loopy side and/or tighten the tension of the opposite side.

Have you been experiencing tension issues?  Let us know if the comments below—we’d love to help answer your questions!

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  • 4. LilyBee (07 May 2017 at 11:22 a.m.)

    Use Bottom Line in the bobbin.
  • 3. Cathy Junga (24 February 2017 at 8:59 a.m.)

    When adjusting the top tension on my machine, should the presser foot be up or down? I've always heard that it should be down, but then I saw a video where they said it should be up when doing this. Which is the correct way, or does it matter?
  • 2. Celeste @ Superior Threads (20 May 2016 at 11:36 a.m.)

    Louise--how frustrating! We'd love to help you find a solution. Please contact us at so we may continue this conversation.
  • 1. LouiseG (19 May 2016 at 8:14 p.m.)

    I tried using King Tut on top and Omni in the bobbin recently. I got through about a third of my quilt and then I could no longer bring up the bobbin thread. I changed needles, adjusted tension (tried both top and bobbin tension changes), tried a prewound bobbin, tried winding using a bobbin from the first part of the quilt, and thoroughly cleaned all lint out. Nothing worked :( I had to switch to King Tut in my bobbin. Any ideas of what I could have done differently?

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