Not everyone is fortunate enough to begin sewing right away without having to adjust their machine’s tension to achieve those perfect stitches that stun everyone.
If your machine doesn’t include an automatic tensioner, you’ll need to do it manually, particularly as you experiment with various types of stitches and cloth. Your sewing machine’s wrong tension is to blame for sloppy, tight, or unstable stitches.
Luckily, setting the correct tension isn’t a hard job and can be achieved in a few seconds. Simply follow this guide, which includes a quick sewing machine tension chart for various fabrics and a few helpful pieces of advice for dealing with tension issues while sewing.
Related: Why Your Sewing Machine keeps Jamming & How to Fix it
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Does Sewing Machine Tension Matter?
- 2 What’s The Ideal Sewing Machine Tension Setting To Stick To?
- 3 Sewing Machine Tension Settings For Different Fabrics + Sewing Tips
- 4 Sewing Machine Tension Chart – Summary
- 5 How To Troubleshoot Sewing Machine Tension Problems?
- 6 Sewing Machine Tension Chart FAQs
- 7 Conclusion
Why Does Sewing Machine Tension Matter?
Your sewing machine’s tension refers to how tightly the threads are tugged when it sews. In other words, the quantity of thread that can fit into your sewing machine to make the stitch is referred to as thread tension.
When the tension is correct, your sewing machine’s needle goes up and down, the bobbin thread is lifted, and you get neat, tidy, and even stitching. In another scenario, when the tension is incorrect, all you’d get is untidy stitches, either too tight or too loose.
What’s The Ideal Sewing Machine Tension Setting To Stick To?
For sewing machine tension, there isn’t a single ideal setting. Instead, you frequently need to run a fast test whenever you start sewing with a new fabric type. Moreover, the tension setting also varies from brand to brand.
Note: For a trial, briefly set your machine with upper and lower threads of various colors. Sew a few inches, and then check your stitches.
Related: Why Does My Sewing Machine Skip Stitches? How to Fix It
Sewing Machine Tension Settings For Different Fabrics + Sewing Tips
For many sewers, especially beginners, setting the correct tension on their machine is the most challenging part of sewing. Although there are other factors to consider, such as needle size and material weight, the tension is paramount.
This is because you’d need to change it to suit your working material and preferred stitch grade.
Let’s look at the varying tension settings you may have to deal with for different fabrics.
Lightweight Fabrics (Lawn, Cotton Voile, Etc.)
Adjust the dial to a lesser tension level, such as 2 or 3, if you’re stitching thin or light textiles like cotton voile or lawn. The recommended stitch length ranges from 1.5 to 2.4 mm.
Whenever stitching with thin materials, you can use a few techniques to change the tension on your sewing machine. One task is to confirm that the bobbin is positioned correctly and threaded.
Alternatively, you might try to use a thinner needle or a little less tension. If the problem persists, you might need to modify the presser foot’s tension. When sewing thin fabric varieties, a 70/10 needle size is advised.
Thick Fabrics (Leather, Denim, etc.)
While stitching thick fabric, such as denim or leather, a tension of 3.5 to 4.5 is recommended. This is to sew through the fabric and maintain neatness throughout easily.
Inspect your sewing machine’s attachments and adjust the tension before beginning to sew any thick cloth. Always practice your sewing strokes on a piece of cloth beforehand to give your fabric a little softening. This will surely be a game-changer for you!
Coming to the needles, the largest size needles are what you want to employ while stitching thick knit material, like polar fleece or hoodie fabric. Otherwise, be prepared to replace the needles more often.
There are several sizes of stretch needles as well. Consider 90/14 or 100/16 to start with. Try using the straight stitch mode on your machine and stretch the stitch size to about 3.5 or 4.5.
It’s crucial to work hard to keep everything organized. With a presser cloth and steam iron, press forcefully at all times. Thick textiles require more time spent ironing and greater caution when opening seams than thin fabrics.
Stretchy Fabric (Chiffon, Terrycloth, Etc.)
To stitch your flexible fabric, you must use the correct tension setting. Ideally, a greater tension level of 2-3 is recommended for stretchy fabrics like lycra or elastane.
It’d be wise to exercise caution when adjusting the settings since a stiffer or looser setting could harm the integrity of your stitches and impact their seam.
Related: What is Polyamide Fabric?
Using sewing needles with a ballpoint might be beneficial. It would be best to consider the kinds of needles your sewing machine can utilize. Different materials need varying amounts of it.
When sewing polyester, tension settings should also be taken into consideration. The automated polyester setting on most modern sewing machines often works perfectly to accept any polyester.
If your machine doesn’t have any automated polyester setting, 4 is an ideal tension to go with.
When stitching with polyester on a sewing machine, needle selection is crucial. According to the weight, mix, and fabric construction of your polyester, I advise using 70/10-80/12 ballpoints, sharps, and stretch needles.
Note: A ballpoint should work great using loosely woven polyester material.
For densely woven materials, sharp needles work best, and stretch needles are excellent for polyester and spandex fabric. You’ll have to have a bigger needle the thicker your polyester is.
Related: Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 – The Ultimate Sewing Machine: A Full Review
Sewing Machine Tension Chart – Summary
The following table summarizes the sewing machine tension for all types of fabrics.
|Type of Fabric||Example||Ideal Sewing Machine Tension|
|Lightweight Fabrics||Chiffon, Cotton, Lawn||2 – 4|
|Thick Fabrics||Demin, Leather, Ottoman||3.5 – 4.5|
|Stretchy Fabrics||Lycra, Spandex, Elastane||2 – 3|
How To Troubleshoot Sewing Machine Tension Problems?
Minor issues related to the needles, thread, bobbin, or the machine’s overall condition often lead to improper tension in your sewing machine.
If you frequently face tension problems, check the following common yet important troubleshooting tips I’ve gathered after comprehensive research.
Get A New Needle
This is an unpleasant situation that has the potential to be dangerous. To begin a new project, always start with a fresh needle. Because of this, needles won’t become dull or get caught, which could harm your cloth or impact the tension.
Moreover, verify that you’re using the appropriate needle for the task at hand. As soon as your needle bends or breaks, stop sewing. Retrieve the damaged needle carefully, then place it in a container for proper disposal.
Double Check The Thread
Improperly threaded sewing machines frequently result in a massive nest of twisted thread.
After removing your top thread, read the machine and adhere to the threading diagram in your machine’s handbook.
Lowering the presser foot when threading a sewing machine is among the most typical errors individuals make. Doing so makes the tension discs engaged or tight, making it difficult for the thread to sit between them adequately.
Match The Top And Bobbin Thread
You can accomplish some beautiful features when topstitching, including one thread and a separate thread in the bobbin. However, once you take that route, be aware that you might need to adjust your sewing machine’s tension.
Spin a new bobbin with the thread you are using on top of tension issues with the sewing machine that is bothering you. Although I can’t guarantee it’ll solve the issue, it’s worth a try before moving on to the next item on the list.
Clean Your Sewing Machine (Oil If Necessary)
Depending on how much you operate it and the fabrics you stitch, you must maintain and regularly lubricate your sewing machine. You’ll be required to cleanse your machine considerably if you sew relatively frequently or work with fabrics like velvet that “shed.”
As a thumb rule, clean your sewing machine every couple of months, even if you use it lightly or moderately. Moreover, it’s ready for renewal if you detect squeaky or clinging sounds and observe buildup.
Contact A Technician
If you’ve tried every method on this list and still face the same improper tension issue, it’s time to opt for professional help. I advise you to buy your sewing machines from your nearest dealers so that you can always show up to them whenever you face problems.
This way, they can inspect the problem closely and resolve it immediately.
Sewing Machine Tension Chart FAQs
What Should My Sewing Machine Tension Be Set At?
Ans: The tension meter settings range from 0 to 9. In most sewing machines, the default setting for typical straight-stitch stitching is usually at position 4.5. Most fabrics should work with this.
Is A Higher Number Tighter Tension?
Ans: Remember that higher numbers on the scale indicate higher (tighter) tension, and fewer numbers show lower (looser) tension while setting the top thread tension on your machine. Check often until you get it correct.
How Do I Know If My Sewing Machine Tension Is Too High?
Ans: To know if your sewing machine tension is too high, insert a bobbin into the bobbin. The bobbin case shouldn’t move if you only support it by the thread. The tension is ideal if the bobbin casing slips a little after you give the thread a slight jerk. If it doesn’t move, it is too high.
What Should The Thread Tension Be For Cotton?
Ans: The recommended tension setting for cotton is medium, typically around three and four. Never change your tension levels without first correcting your upper tension.
And there you go! Sewing can sometimes get complicated, but once you’re into it, everything becomes smooth as butter, and the outcome indeed brings a smile to your face.
This post discussed everything, from the best tension settings for different fabrics to troubleshooting some common problems. Don’t forget to save the above sewing machine tension chart for the future.
Also, check your machine brand’s user manual for more clarity on the tension settings for all fabrics.