How to Set Tension on a Sewing Machine

A sewing machine offers a gateway into a world of unique and creative clothing and home furnishings. Many people love to sew because of the versatility that it provides. In addition, it is often a cheaper option than buying clothes; it makes it possible for the maker to create an outfit that is one-of-a-kind and that fits like a glove.

However, sewing machines require some get-to-know time, and first-timers might become frustrated while trying to figure things out. The good news is that the possibilities are endless once you have become accustomed to your sewing machine.

How to Set Tension on a Sewing Machine

A sewing machine that has been poorly threaded won’t be able to produce a stunning creation. The reason for that is because improper thread tension will create seams that are unstable and puckered. Instead, sewing machines with good tension result in stitching smoothly interlocked on both sides of your material. An easy way to spot the wrong tension in your sewing machine would be small circles or loops on either side of your fabric.

Is a Pre-check Necessary?

Yes, you must check your tension before you start any project. There are various reasons why a sewing machine could have improper tension settings. When people encounter tension issues, they most commonly go straight for the machine settings. However, it isn’t the best first step. Other issues could be causing your tension-setting problem. So before you start adjusting the settings of your sewing machine, always check these things:

  • a bent needle
  • a burr on the needle’s tip
  • the wrong needle size
  • poor quality thread
  • a damaged bobbin
  • improper threading

Since most sewing machines we work with today have bobbin case springs that control the tension of the bobble-tread, you can check that your bobbin case spring isn’t damaged. In addition, check your tension regulator, disks, and guides. Follow the thread as it runs through all these elements to see whether your machine is, in fact, threaded correctly.

It is essential to keep in mind that most sewing machines have been designed to close their tension disks when their feet are down, so always thread your sewing machine while it is raised. Experienced sewers recommend putting your spool on your sewing machine first and then pulling out at least 18 inches of your chosen thread. The thread must be held tightly and firmly, so it is best to use the hand that you aren’t using for threading to hold it in place. Keeping your thread held firmly makes it a lot easier to place it in the disk properly.

Once you have made sure that you have adequately threaded your machine and you are still having tension issues, check whether your tension disks are clean. It isn’t uncommon for tension disks to collect lint over time. Therefore, it is good advice to keep your sewing machine covered between uses to prevent any collecting of dust in your sewing machine.

How Do I Diagnose Wrong Thread Tension?

If you have worked your way through all the possible reasons listed above and still have tension issues, you can try this test. Start by preparing some small pieces of fabric that you can use for testing purposes. It is best if you have fabric that is light in color so that you can easily see that stitching.

Now you can continue to thread your sewing machine with two different colors of thread in your bobbin and your needle. Sew as you usually would, stop after you have sewed about 6 inches, and check the fabric to see which color shows loops. This will show you whether it is your upper thread tension or your bobbin thread tension that is wrong. It is most common that the upper tension is wrong and that it requires an adjustment.

How Do I Adjust My Upper Thread Tension?

The dial on your sewing machine should be kept in mind when you are concerned about your upper thread tension. A high number on the dial will result in tension that is tighter, whereas a lower number will provide you with a looser tension. Changing the dial only one unit higher or lower is recommended, and then try the exercise again.

Continue with this process until you have a perfectly balanced tension and no longer see any loops on either side of your fabric. When you run your hand over the material, both sides should feel very smooth.

How Do I Adjust my Sewing Machine’s Bobbin Thread Tension?

If you need to check the tension of your bobbin thread and your bobbin is front-loading, you can do it by following these steps.

  1. Start by removing your bobbin and the case that it is in.
  2. Check if the bobbin thread runs through your bobbin spring.
  3. Hold on firmly to the thread and then let go of the bobbin case. Make sure you hold it over a padded surface because it is possible that your bobbin case can become damaged, resulting in improper functioning if it falls on a hard surface. If your bobbin falls only a short distance of only a few inches, your tension is perfect. However, if your bobbin falls very far, the tension in your bobbin is too loose. Lastly, if your bobbin hardly moves, the tension in your bobbin is way too tight.
  4. If you find that your bobbin tension is wrong, remove the small screw that you will find on the side of your bobbin. You must use your sewing machine’s tool kit and the accompanying screwdriver to remove the screw so that you don’t damage it with a different tool. Use the screwdriver to turn the screw. If you want to tighten your bobbin tension, turn it to the left. If you’re going to loosen your bobbin tension, move it to the right. It is essential to be patient during this process and only make minor adjustments.

Machines that feature bobbins that are top-loaded in bobbin cases and that are not removable can’t be adjusted. So if you are using one of these machines, you need to find the balance as you change your upper thread tension. It might sound like you have a lot less control with this option, but it is possible to do it successfully.


Creating your own clothes that fit your style is rewarding and fun. Getting to know your sewing machine will make it possible for you to create the perfect outfit for any mood and any occasion.