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UNDERSTANDING THREAD TENSION ON YOUR SEWING MACHINE

‘Thread tension’ is the resistance that you feel on the thread as it goes through the sewing machine. The perfect ‘thread tension’ will lead to lovely, flat and even stitches that look the same on both sides of the fabric. This perfectly balanced stitch is what you should try to achieve with all of your sewing projects. If your stitches are not like this, then you will need to find out why and correct the issue.

All sewing machines have a series of ‘tension devices’ to ensure that the top thread and bobbin thread have the tension they need to produce flat and even stitches. The most prominent of these is the tension regulator. You’ve probably noticed the tension regulator on your sewing machine. It’s usually a dial with the numbers 3, 4, and 5 highlighted or circled. This regulator tightens, or loosens, the tension discs that the thread passes down through before it goes up and through the looper.

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There are many factors that can cause problems with your stitches, and so before you move the tension regulator you must first check a few things…

Incorrect threading is responsible for more tension problems than any other factor. If there is an obvious problem with your stitches, such as baggy, messy stitches that don’t hold the fabric together sufficiently, or tight stitches that ruche the fabric up, then you’ve probably not threaded your machine up properly. See if you can figure out whether the issue is with the top thread, or the bobbin thread, and go through the checklist below to see if you can fix it. If you can’t easily find the problem, then it is a good idea to unthread your sewing machine and thread it again!

  • Did you use all thread guides? If the top thread comes out of the looper, you will get a big noisy mess! The hook near the needle really helps to stop the thread bouncing out of the looper as you stitch.

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  • Did you thread your top thread with the presser foot up? The tension discs, operated by the tension regulator, open when the presser foot is up, and close when the presser foot is down. If the top thread isn’t able to get between the tension discs, then it will have no tension and create a very loose top thread.  Make sure the presser foot is up when threading the top thread.

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  • Is thread unwinding freely from the spool?  If it is catching somewhere, it will lead to a very tight top thread.
  • Is the thread on the bobbin flat, and evenly wound? You must make sure you wind the bobbin using the bobbin tension guide. Messy bobbin = messy stitch!

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  • Is the thread unwinding freely from the bobbin case? Remove any thread from the outside of the bobbin, as it could get caught and stop its flow. This would create a tight bobbin thread.
  • Is the bobbin inserted into the bobbin case correctly? If not, you will have a very loose and messy bottom thread. On front loading machines, make sure the thread is going clockwise as you drop it into the bobbin case. Also, the thread must go behind the flat bobbin-case spring, which squeezes the thread against the bobbin case as it comes out, creating the necessary tension for a flat stitch. This is a common mistake, so please check, even if you think you did it right!  On a top loading sewing machine, check the bobbin thread has tension on it.  If not, take it out and pop it in again, following the directions indicated.

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Other less common factors could be…

Damaged machine parts… Check for rough or damaged surfaces where the thread passes through and could get caught. Some parts, such as needles, are easily damaged but easily replaced.

Clogged up Machines… This could restrict the flow of the thread. Fluff and thread ends can get stuck between the tension discs, under the needle plate, and around the bobbin/bobbin case. “Floss” between the tension discs, and check in the bobbin area and under the needle plate for fluff (lint) and thread ends.

Needles, threads, and fabrics…  A needle that’s too large or small for the thread can effect the stitch because the size of the hole adds to, or reduces the total top tension.

 

USING THE TENSION REGULATOR

So, any major problem should be fixed by going through the checklist above, but to get a perfect stitch, you may still need to adjust the top thread tension using the Tension Regulator. Many sewers are nervous to touch the Tension Regulator, but actually it’s very straightforward. There is a way to adjust the bobbin tension too, but only if absolutely necessary!

First of all, to know which way to turn the tension regulator dial, you first need to inspect a sample of stitching on the default tension setting (number 4). It may help to have a different colour on the top thread, to the bobbin thread.

  • If the bobbin thread shows on the top side of the fabric, the top thread tension is too tight (or bobbin thread is too loose).
  • You can loosen the top thread tension, by turning the tension regulator dial a little towards a lower number. 
  • If the top thread shows on the under side of the fabric, the top thread tension is too loose (or bobbin thread is too tight).
  • You can tighten the top thread tension by turning the tension regulator dial a little towards a higher number.

It is important to turn the dial a tiny bit at a time, as even a tiny turn makes a difference to the tension.

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Adjusting the bobbin thread tension…

As I said before, you can adjust the bobbin tension too, but only as a last resort! This usually gets tweeked back to perfection when you get your machine serviced, and is unlikely to be the issue. However, for those of you who would like to know, you can adjust the bobbin thread tension by tightening or loosening the tiny screw that holds the flat bobbin-case spring in place and squeezes the thread as it comes out of the bobbin case. Again, it is important to turn the screw a tiny bit at a time as even a tiny turn makes a difference to the tension.

 

I hope this little blog has been helpful, and you can now understand how to get perfectly flat and lovely stitches! Happy Sewing x

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SEW PATTERNS . SEW DAY

new and revised classes

SEW PATTERNS is a new class designed to give an introduction to dressmaking patterns and SEW DAY has been modified so that it is now just a sewing day… turns out we needed more time to sew!!  You can now  choose what you need more help with… the cutting out or the sewing together.  If you come to just a SEW DAY, the cutting out of the fabric pieces must be done before you arrive.

 

SEW PATTERNS – MORNING SESSIONS

£40.00

Please have a look at the BOOKINGS page for dates.

It will take place on either a Monday or Thursday morning from 10am till 1pm. Due to space, this class will have a maximum of three students.  

On a SEW PATTERNS session, you will learn how to use a simple pattern.  You can either bring your own simple pattern or use one of mine. I will explain how to work out your size,  IMG_7530work out fabric amount and type,  and make simple alterations to the pattern. With my help you will cut out your paper pattern, pin it onto some fabric and cut it out.

You will need to bring some calico fabric or cheap cotton fabric with you. 
Calico is an unbleached cotton fabric that is often used to make a toile/mock up of a garment.  Until you know how a pattern actually fits it’s wise to have a trial run in a cheap fabric!

At the end of the session it will be ready to sew together at home or on one of my SEW DAYS.

 

 

SEW DAY – ONE DAY DRESSMAKING CLASS

£80.00 

Unfortunately the SEW DAY is only available to those who have completed a SEW BASIC Course or attended a private lesson with me. It would be a good idea to attend a SEW PATTERNS session prior to the SEW DAY.

Please have a look at the BOOKINGS page for dates.

It’ll be a long day, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 5.30pm with a one-hour breakIMG_2599.JPG for lunch. There is a Waitrose and several cafés just 2 minutes walk away if you want to stretch your legs!

Sewing Machines are provided, but you can bring your own machine to use if you’d prefer.  

On the SEW DAY,  I will guide you through the process of making up your own personally chosen pattern, which would need to be pre-cut at home or with me before the SEW DAY.  You will be working at your own pace so I’m afraid it’s impossible for me to guarantee completion as it depends on your level and choose pattern. However, if you feel able, to save time you could start the process at home and come at a stage in the instructions where you need help.

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How to Sew Stretch Fabrics on a Basic Sewing Machine

As you may know using an Overlocker is the fastest and neatest way to seam stretch fabrics but these are expensive and take up valuable space in your home. I have collected together some essential information to help make sewing stretch fabrics on a basic sewing machine a successful experience!

First of all here are some terms you will hear when dealing with stretch fabrics…

 2-way stretch fabric

Fabric that stretches across the width but not the length

Common in dress making fabrics for it’s comfort!

4-way stretch fabric

Fabric that stretches across the width and the length

Common in garments such as swimwear, active wear, and dance wear.

Memory

How much the fabric stretches and if it goes completely back after it has been stretched.

Stretch stitch ‘+.S.S.-‘

A style of stitch that will not snap when stretched.

 

Needles

You must use either stretch or ball-point machine needles when sewing stretch fabrics. Because these needles part the fabric they don’t make holes where as universal needles can leave holes in some woven fabrics. They can also miss lots of stitches in very stretchy fabrics making it impossible to sew a seam.

You can use either ball-point or stretch needles for most projects but only stretch needles work when sewing very stretchy 4-way stretch fabric.

Another needle you may like is a stretch twin needle. This needle is commonly used to hem stretch garments. It sews two parallel lines on top with a zigzag underneath and will give your finished hems a lovely professional look.

Stitch & Thread choice

Stitch choice plays a big part when sewing stretch fabrics. Because regular polyester thread doesn’t stretch but the fabric does you could end up with the thread snapping and holes in your seams! It is therefore necessary to use a stitch that stretches… unless you use a stretchy thread… more about that later!!

There are a few stretch stitch options you can use and you will need to practice these stitches in order to find the one that work best for your project. Below are a few of the most common stitches. Please look at the instruction manual to identify these stitches on your sewing machine.

 

Zigzag stitch is the most common. Adjust the stitch width and stitch length to get the right stitch. It needs to be as narrow as possible with a small stitch length to get the stretch.

Triple Stitch is a ‘stretch stitch’ and will be located at the top of your stretch stitch selection. It is basically a back-stitch… 2 stiches forward and 1 back, which works well but must be used with caution, as it is bulky and can distort the fabric. Triple Zigzag Stitch may be necessary when sewing super stretchy 4-way stretch fabrics! Again you will find it at the top of your stretch stitch selection. This is also a backstitch but a zigzag version and so it can also be rather bulky.

Over Edge Stretch Stitch is the domestic machine’s version of an overlocking stitch so if you want an overlocked look and small seam allowances this is the one to use. This is quite a time consuming process, as you have to cut away the excess seam allowance after sewing each seam.

Maxi lock stretch thread

There is now this amazing stretchy thread from America, which is available on Amazon. It is pretty expensive so I have just bought the Eggshell and Black colour to start me off.

This stretch thread is easy to use. You can wind a bobbin and thread your machine like normal. For sewing, set the stitch length to 3, and the tension to 4.5. You can then stitch a regular stitch… As the actual thread will stretch, the stitch doesn’t have to! Of course, you can still use a stretch stitch if you want to… all of the stretch stitches perform even better when you use stretch thread.

Finishing the Seam Allowance

Stretch fabrics tend not to fray so it is not always necessary to finish the seam allowance. If you want to make the seams extra secure or flat you can zigzag the seam allowance together as you normally would.

 

Exceptions

  • With a 2-way stretch fabric you can usually stitch down the length as normal because the fabric doesn’t stretch down its length, only across its width.
  • You can sometimes get away with just loosening the tension on slightly stretchy fabric, as this will give the stitch a little slack/stretch. I do this when top stitching a wider neckline or armhole that doesn’t need to stretch much as I prefer the look.
  • When you are sewing something non stretch like interfacing, seam tape or trim onto a stretch fabric you can use a normal stitch. It helps, where possible, to sew with the no stretch on top.

 

Use a Walking Foot

If you use a regular presser foot, which presses down on the fabric as it’s fed through the sewing machine, the fabric will stretch and the stitches will hold that stretch in place. The best way to stop this from happening is by using a Walking Foot. This foot bounces up and down while you sew, which is a bit off putting to start with but it works brilliantly with stretch fabrics. It’s also great for quilting, as well as sewing velvet and slippery fabrics that never seem to stay where they have been pinned! This is because the presser foot pushes these more challenging fabrics out of place! The Walking Foot is honestly one of the most useful feet I have ever bought. I absolutely love it!

Also known as an Even Feed Foot, the Walking Foot is quite expensive but if you plan to sew a lot of stretch fabrics and don’t want to buy an Overlocker I would really urge you to splash out and buy a Walking Foot.

 

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SEW BASIC INTENSIVE – One day Course

I have introduced a  one day Basic Sewing course for those who find it difficult to commit to a weekly course.  It’s a long day, starting at 9.30am and finishing at 5.30pm with a one-hour break for lunch. There is a Waitrose and several cafés just 2 minutes walk away if you want to stretch your legs!  Everything is provided, including the Sewing Machines, but you can bring your own machine to learn on if you’d prefer. The cost is £80.00

SEW BASIC INTENSIVE is a very condensed version of the Sew Basic Course. 

On this one-day course you will learn a variety of essential techniques. Rather than making something specific, the emphasis is on really understanding the techniques you have learnt and how to use a sewing machine to get the best finish possible. Please bear in mind that this is a faster paced course than the regular Sew Basic Course.

TECHNIQUES COVERED: THREADING UP, TENSION, VARIOUS SEAMS, TOP STITCHING, VARIOUS HEMS, BIAS BINDING, FACINGS, DARTS, BUTTONHOLES, AND A BASIC ZIP.

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