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Zig Zag stitch/Bobbin Tension

cy991 | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello everyone….

I just purchased a Janome 4623 LE and I’ve been having trouble using the zig-zag stitch to finish raw edges (in this case a single thickness of cotton poplin)….

The needle seems to draw the fabric up into a ridge between the zig zag stitches…

The manual says to lower the tension for zig zag stitches, which I tried ; but it didn’t really seem to help… I noticed in the Sewing Machine Review in the current issue of Threads that the reviewers mentioned that it was more difficult to adjust bobbin tension in a machine with a drop in bobbin rather than a vertical bobbin. Could this be the problem ? The tension dial on my machine only seems to control the needle tension……. I purchased the machine out of town and would really like to avoid a trip to the dealership , but I might have to…..

                                Any suggestions ? Thank you for your time…

                                                      Christopher Yost




  1. sanderson | | #1

    Most bobbins have their tension adjustments on the bobbin case...usually a small unmarked screw. Check your manual.  My experience has been mixed in adjusting bobbin tension.  One coworker kept several color coded bobbin cases for her machine, each adjusted for a particular stitch...rather than adjust bobbin tension when changing jobs.  If you do decide to adjust your bobbin tension and are happy with how its set for straight stitching, be sure to mark with a fine tipped permanent pen your setting before you begin to adjust.  Good luck.

  2. BYDEZINE | | #2

    the problem might not be the tension in the bobbin as much as the thread and type of stitch. Does it pull too much when you are doing a zz on two pieces not on the edge? If not the problem isn't the tension; you simply need to stabilize the edge with fine seam tape or use finer thread in top AND bottom. and a smaller needle or a sharp.

    If you find you are finishing tons of seams, a serger might be what you need to speed your work and make it look better.

    1. carolfresia | | #3

      That tunneling problem can sometimes be fixed by messing around with the upper or even bobbin tension, but in truth, during our test of the machines included in the Threads comparison, we found that many machines caused tunneling when stitching a wide stitch on a single layer or even two layers of lightweight fabric. It's often more a matter of the fabric not having enough body to support a wide stitch.

      You can try making the zigzag a little narrower, or, as the previous poster suggested, add a bit of stabilizer along the edge when stitching. Depending on what you're sewing, you can even use a tearaway, soluble, or heat-away stabilizer, so you'll be able to remove it from the fabric when you're done stitching.

      Changing the tension on the bobbin case is, in my opinion, best done by someone with lots of experience on the machine. It can be difficult to get it back to "normal", and you don't want to affect the tension dramatically for straight-stitching seams.

      Let us know what works for you!


  3. SewingSue | | #4

    How about increasing the stitch length, decreasing the stitch width or using a multi-stitch zig-zag?  Or, use a little stabilizer.  I have found using wax paper or even printer paper will stabilize the fabric and tears away easily.

    Best of luck.


  4. ClaireDuffy | | #5

    Hi, This is probably not much but I was once advised by a sewing machine tech never to adjust the tension on the bobbin because it is very  tricky getting it right.

    So that is what I have done. Maybe I'm chicken but I don't want to flirt with danger. I have too many projects going at once to tempt a disaster.

    CLAIRE in Oz 

    1. cy991 | | #6

      Thanks everyone for responding ... What a cool forum !

      I've kind of solved the problem by using a shorter, narrower zig-zag stitch.

      I promise that I won't try to adjust bobbin tension, although I really like the color coding idea... Also, by stabilizer do you mean fusible interfacing  ? Or an actual product like Seams Great ? ( I have a package of this I bought last Halloween and never used) . 

      Thread type also might be the problem, because the stitch works fine on double thicknesses of the same fabric. Luckily, these were all just stitch "tests" , not actual projects....

                                                  Thanks Again !

      1. carolfresia | | #7

        Christopher, what I meant by stabilizer is the tearaway stuff that is used mostly to support fabric during machine embroidery. It comes in different varieties, but a common type looks like a non-woven interfacing (read Pellon or similar); however, it can be torn away from stitching pretty easily, so that you could use it during the stitching process, and then remove it to keep your seams supple and non-bulky.

        There are other types available as well, including a couple that look sort of like saran wrap. Some of these dissolve in water so you can just wash them away, others disintegrate when heated with an iron. Needless to say, if your fabric is delicate, TEST carefully before using!!

        And, as someone else suggested, regular old paper (including adding machine paper) can be used, and then torn away. I think this is not a bad solution of you're not using too much of it, but my impression is that plain old paper can dull your needles pretty quickly. But in a pinch, it's a great way to recycle all that paper that comes out of the computer printer!

        And the other "stabilizer," as you have found out, is another layer of fabric. Two layers of fabric will often behave quite nicely with a zigzag, when one layer gets irreparably globbled up! In some cases, it's desirable to zigzag both seam allowances together for this very reason (though of course you can't always do that if you need to press the seam open).

        What are you working on? If you're already planning this year's Halloween costume, take a picture of it for us and post it in the Photo Gallery---I'm hoping to start a Halloween folder in the fall!


        1. SewingSue | | #8

          Carol,  I've never had a problem with printer paper dulling the machine needle.  There was a time not to many years back when this was about all there was and some modern stabilizers are pretty heavy duty and aren't very easy on needles either.  I will usually use printer paper when I need to control a knit fabric.  For example, I've made a couple of knit tops with an overlay of lace fabric to create "mock yokes" and did a little meandering stitching to keep the layers together.  Placing the knit fabric on the printer paper keeps the feed dogs from stretching the fabric and everything behaves nice.  Now, I wouldn't do this and then sew on a fine batise with the same needle. 

  5. SallysF | | #9

    Ziz Zag problems

    Well this is pretty old, but I had the same problem.

    The bobbin was improperly loaded with thread, or there was an issue with the bobbin itself. A change of bobbin and thread solved the zig zag stitch showing on the bottom but a kind of "feather stitch" on top.

    Hopefully this helps someone else.

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