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How to Check Thread Tension | Video

An easy way to test whether the machine needle and bobbin threads are balanced

Poor thread tension makes seams that are uneven, unattractive, and weak. For great-looking seams that hold your projects together securely, check thread tension on your machine before you start to sew on your project.

It’s all about balance

This video tip shows an easy way to see whether the sewing machine needle and bobbin threads are properly balanced for good thread tension.

Sew diagonally—along the bias—on a square of plain-woven fabric. Then pull the stitching line ends to break the threads. If the needle and bobbin threads break at the same spot, the tension is correct. If only one breaks, it is too tight compared to the other. Adjust the needle thread tension up or down to balance the threads. Be sure to make small, incremental adjustments to get the tension just right.

Editor’s note: This reader tip was submitted by April Mohr and featured in Threads #113 (June/July 2004).

More information to check thread tension

Find out more from Threads about sewing machine thread tension in “Understanding Thread Tension on Your Sewing Machine,” by couture sewing expert Claire Shaeffer and excerpted from Threads #78 (Aug./Sept. 1998), and “How to Achieve Ideal Sewing Machine Thread Tension”  by Ruth Ciemnoczolowski.

Keep your machine in working order

Maintain your sewing machine, as it is essential for achieving proper tension and professional-looking sewing. This does not necessarily mean you need to take it to a pro, however. You can take some steps at home, which are detailed in the articles and podcast below, to keep your machine operating smoothly.

“How to Clean and Oil Your Sewing Machine,” by longtime sewing machine technician Bernie Tobisch, Threads #212 (Dec. 2020/Jan. 2021)

“Troubleshooting and Maintaining Your Sewing Machine,” Sewing With Threads podcast, Episode 34, featuring Bernie

“Preventive Sewing Machine Maintenance” by Sally Hickerson, Threads #91 (Oct./Nov. 2000)


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