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“tunneling” when zigzagging

user-167104 | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I know this is a simple question. I have years and years of sewing experience, but this one has me stumped. I can’t figure out why my machine tunnels the fabric in zigzagging. If I zigzag for seam edges it almost looks like a rolled hem. I have tried widening and bring it in from the edge it still does.  If I sew a zigzag right down the middle it will still pull the fabric so that it rolls into the zigzag. I’ve adjusted tention which didn’t work.  I have tried using the overedge foot, which I thought would help…not.  I have seen nice flat zig zags so I know it can be done. I haven’t figured it out. Any suggestions?



  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    Is this on all fabrics?  Lighter fabrics may need support of stabilizer or interfacing.  Spraystarch was mentioned on an earlier thread for working with washable silkies, I wonder if this would help?

    1. user-167104 | | #2

      it does seem to be on all fabrics. If it was just lightweight I would just figure that it was the fabric. I will try starching. But I don't think it would make sense that I would have to stablize just to do a zig zag seam finish. thanks for your input. The starch may help.


      1. Evita | | #3

        My machine does that because of the automatic tension feature. The only cure for it was to get a $10 overedge foot (with a little finger on the right that keeps the thread in position).

        Hope this help!



  2. Ralphetta | | #4

    I used to have the same problem and never found a perfect solution.  I think I may have used adding machine tape under it and then removed it, have you tried that? That's one of my favorite things about a serger...no more zig-zag problems.

    1. PrincessKatja | | #5

      It really should be fixable by adjusting the tension.  But if it isn't, a strip of tearaway stabilizer (adding machine tape was mentioned - same function) should help.  Actually, it's a good idea to stitch over a strip of stabilizer whenever stitching any decorative stitch.

      Someone mentioned using a different foot - also a good idea.  Some feet allow the fabric to pull up in the middle.  Make sure the needle strike area is wide enough but the toe opening isn't wide open. 

    2. Catherine2 | | #12

      Hi all,

      I had the same problem with my Bernina every time it was serviced and the mechanic set the tension the way he liked it. I tried starch, too much of a pain to get out of the finished garment. Interfacing is not an option on a light weight fabric and the “sewer’s” paper tape is too expensive; for what it is. The solution was in the bathroom …. Toilet paper!

      <!----><!----> <!---->

      The really cheap nasty, slightly crisp type. It will stiffen the seam just enough that the zig-zag will lay flat and after stitching, a little steam from the iron and it dissolves so you can get it out of the garment easily. Another advantage …. by design it comes in a nice, easy to use roll.

      <!----> <!---->

      Not the most conventional of solutions, but it works.

      <!----> <!---->



      1. MaryinColorado | | #13

        Oh the extent that our creativity takes us!  That is a funny one!  I think sewists use more unconventional "notions" than anyone else out there!!! Mary

  3. Teaf5 | | #6

    If your tunnel is arching up (like a regular tunnel), then your bobbin tension is too tight--loosen the screw on the bobbin casing or adjust the bobbin tension as described in your manual.If your tunnel is upside down (like a ditch), then your thread tension is too tight.In either case, zig zags lie flattest when you use a minimal tension on both bobbin and thread, and you use the smallest needle for your particular fabric (as you are usually zigzagging a single layer).Try it on a sample and don't give up!

    1. MaryinColorado | | #7

      Great explanation of the tension adjustment needed!  Thanks.  Mary

    2. user-167104 | | #14

      It is so awesome to have such great help and people that are so willing to help.  I appreciate all input, but I have a slight suspicion that its the bobbin tention, since I can see the top threads underneath. I think a slight adjustment there will work. I have never adjusted the bobbin tention, but I will. If that doesn't work I'll try the bathroom tissue. I like that one.  I am so glad that I don't have to use the zig zag any longer either.  Recently, well, not recently, before Christmas got a serger. Have used very very little, but I needed this for a sample to teach sewing, but if I can't get it right, I need to at least be able to give them a solution to this problem. I do love the serger for those seam finishes though.

      Thanks for all your help. I'll let you know what worked for me.

      1. MaryinColorado | | #15

        If you put your bobbincase in a baggie (zip lock type bag) when you adjust the tension you are less likely to lose that itsy bitsy teenie tiny screw....these usually require very mini adjustments.  Mary

  4. surya | | #8

    I've found that thick and stiff fabrics do fine and the lighter weight ones don't always do so well and like you said, even the overedge foot did not help. I think the suggestions about adding interfacing, stabilizer or the machine tape are all good. Another thing I found helped the other day when I was teaching one of my young students was that I noticed she had sort of picked up a habit of holding a little tension on the fabric in front of and in back of the foot. I noticed it helped eliminate most of the tunneling. It may not work in every situation or with every fabric though, so I would keep the other suggestions too. But yeah, I love my serger for that stuff. I'd like to ask the others if the adding machine tape was easy to pick out or did it just come out over time in the wash?

    1. Ralphetta | | #9

      It's been a while, but I don't remember having too much trouble removing the paper tape from a med-large zig zag.  It might be harder with the stitches closer together.

  5. Betakin | | #10

    Have you tried adjusting your "foot pressure"  to see if that helps the tunneling problem? You might also want to try a satin stitch foot. 

  6. SewingWriter | | #11

    In addition to the great advice already given, see if your machine does a 3-step zigzag. It's less likely to tunnel.


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