Bobbin Tension and Sewing Machine Maintenance

Bobbin Tension and Sewing Machine Maintenance main article image
Posted on September 2, 2021 by Julie Richards
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If your sewing machine has started acting up, don’t panic. There are some simple things you can do at home, like learning to properly adjust your bobbin tension and do other sewing machine maintenance. These are the tips that may fix the problems you are having when you sew. These maintenance tips could save you hundreds in repair bills. They could also relieve some of the frustration we all face when our sewing machine decides to make sewing a chore instead of a passion.

Bobbin and Upper Tension Settings

Before you call the repair man try to diagnose and fix the problem yourself. Thread tension is done in two places, in the bobbin casing and the upper tension control mechanism. To determine which is one needs adjusted, you need to load your machine with contrasting threads, black thread up top and white thread on your bobbin. Both threads must be the same type and weight when doing this test. Now run seam down two pieces of fabric using a straight stitch.

If you see no white thread peeking through the top of the fabric and no black thread showing on the back of the fabric, that is good. Now run your finger across the stitching on the front and the back. It should feel as though the threads are a part of the fabric, no raised areas. If these are your results, your tension settings are perfect.

Black thread showing, looping, or getting tangles on the bottom or white thread showing on the top, looping, or getting tangles determines which part of your sewing machine is acting up. Can you guess which is which? Black thread showing or getting tangles means the bobbin tension is most likely fine, but the upper part of your sewing machine needs maintenance. If the white thread shows on top or is looping or breaking this probably means you may need to adjust your bobbin tension and perform some other sewing machine maintenance. By the way, most of this maintenance should be done at least once a month if you frequently sew.

The Needle

If the black thread is the problem the first two things to do is replace the old needle with a new one. A dull or slightly bent needle can wreak havoc on a sewing project. And always replace the needle with one made for the fabric you are sewing. A thin needle for silk will never work to sew denim. The needle just isn’t strong enough. A thick denim needle will puncture the silk. So, match the needle to your fabric for every sewing project. This will eliminate many problems. Run a test and sew two pieces of fabric and check the results. If you still have issues, move on to the next step.

The Right Thread

Once you replace the old needle, reload the thread and thread the new needle. Always use good, quality thread. Cheap thread can leave lots of fiber dust or lint through your entire sewing machine. Think of it as saw dust in fabric form. Every time the thread pulls through the tension discs, and various pieces of metal, lint gets deposited in your machine. Also, a quality thread that is the weight required for your project can save you from having to adjust your bobbin tension and do other sewing machine maintenance. You might simply need a slight adjustment in your upper tension controls.

Always keep the presser foot up when you re-thread your sewing machine so the tension discs open to accept the thread. If they are closed, the thread does not seat properly between the discs which can result in the upper tension being off or the thread slipping and getting wrapped up in the moving parts of your sewing machine.

Dust and Lint

You should also examine all the upper parts of your sewing machine. Loose or fragmented pieces of thread stuck in the upper nooks and crannies of your sewing machine can block the thread from passing through properly. Remove any loose threads with a pair of tweezers. You may have to open the upper casing of the sewing machine to check for loose threads and remove any dust or lint build-up.

Never use a hair dryer or a vacuum to remove lint, dust, or threads from your sewing machine. There are electronic sensors in many sewing machines that get damaged from heat. A hair dryer will send dust or threads into the inner workings of your sewing machine and cause even more damage.

Some sewing machines have a side panel that swings out on a hinge, another may require you to remove a screw or two along the side or in the back, and some side panels are held in place with a push tab. But once the side panel is removed, they all look almost identical inside.

Both the upper mechanism and the lower bobbin compartment have parts that should be cleaned and lubricated with sewing machine oil at least once a month if you sew on a regular basis. Instead of me explaining and possibly confusing you, I am linking this video so you can see what I am talking about when it comes to lubricating the necessary parts of your sewing machine.

Sewing Machine Maintenance Oil and Clean

Bobbin Housing

If you sewed the pieces of fabric together and the white thread had problems, it most likely means the bobbin tension is off or more sewing machine maintenance needs done in the bobbin housing compartment.

The first thing you should do if the problem is your bottom thread is check that the bobbin is wrapped properly. The bobbin could be over-filled or wrapped to loose. The easiest way to check is to change bobbins and see if the problem is corrected.

If the thread on the bobbin is wrapped properly, you may need to adjust your bobbin tension and do some other sewing machine maintenance in the bobbin housing.

Before you drop the new bobbin into the housing, always use the anti-static brush that came with your machine to brush away the dust and lint that may have collected in the housing and under the bobbin.

Once you have cleaned and oiled your machine, and replaced the bobbin, sew a practice straight stitch to see if the problem has been fixed. If you still need to adjust your bobbin tension, remember this phrase, “Left Loose. Right Tight”.

How to loosen the tension

The bobbin casing has a tension screw that can be turned to loosen or tighten the tension. If you need to loosen the tension, turn it to the left (left loose). If the tension needs tightened, turn the screw to the right (right tight). Only turn the screw a quarter turn left or right and run a straight stitch to see if the bobbin tension is correct. If the tension still needs adjusted, turn the screw another quarter turn. Do not turn the tension screw any more than a quarter turn at a time. Here is another video to help explain this.

How to Fix Tension Issues With Your Sewing Machine

Once you have adjusted the bobbin tension and completed the sewing machine maintenance, make a note of what you did and the date. This way you can keep track of when you need to clean your sewing machine, check and adjust your bobbin tension and perform other sewing machine maintenance. Once you set up a regular routine to service your sewing machine, it will last you for many years.


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Bobbin Tension and Sewing Machine Maintenance

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