How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine in 9 Easy Steps

Mastering the art of sewing begins with a fundamental skill: knowing How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine. Achieving the perfect stitch is an essential aspect of any sewing project, and understanding tension adjustments is the key. This comprehensive guide unveils the intricacies of tension control, from recognizing signs of improper tension to making precise adjustments for different fabrics and threads. 

Whether you’re a seasoned seamstress or just starting your sewing journey, this guide is your go-to resource for achieving impeccable stitches every time. Join us as we demystify tension settings and empower you to take your sewing projects to new heights.


  • Familiarize yourself with the standard tension range (usually between 4 and 5) on your sewing machine.
  • Adjust the upper thread tension using the machine’s dial and the lower thread tension with the bobbin case screw to achieve even stitches.
  • Sew test pieces with different colored threads to identify and correct tension issues, ensuring a balanced stitch appearance.
  • Recognize that different fabrics and threads may require specific tension adjustments, following the machine manual for optimal settings.

What Is a Sewing Machine and How Does It Work?

A sewing machine is a versatile device designed to efficiently stitch fabric together, revolutionizing the way garments and textiles are created. Essentially, a sewing machine operates by creating a continuous stitch through the interlocking of a top thread and a bottom bobbin thread. The machine achieves this through a series of precise mechanisms.

At the heart of a sewing machine is the needle, which moves up and down rapidly, piercing the fabric. Simultaneously, the top thread is pulled through the needle, forming a loop. The bobbin, located beneath the fabric, releases the bottom thread, creating another loop. As the needle rises, the two loops intertwine, securing the fabric layers together. The feed dogs, small metal teeth, then move the fabric forward, ensuring a consistent stitch length.

To regulate the stitch length and tension, a sewing machine typically features adjustable controls. These controls allow users to customize their sewing projects according to the fabric type and desired outcome. For example, thicker fabrics may require a longer stitch length, while delicate materials might benefit from a shorter one. Understanding the machine’s settings and experimenting with different configurations empowers users to achieve optimal results.

In summary, a sewing machine simplifies the labor-intensive task of hand stitching by automating the process. It efficiently combines top and bottom threads, creating a secure and uniform stitch. With adjustable features, users can tailor their sewing machine’s settings to meet the specific demands of various fabrics, making it an indispensable tool in the world of textile craftsmanship.

Why Is It Important to Adjust Sewing Machine Tension?

Adjusting sewing machine tension is a crucial aspect of achieving well-balanced and high-quality stitches. Tension refers to the tightness or looseness of the thread as it passes through the sewing machine.

Incorrect tension can lead to a range of issues, affecting the overall appearance and durability of your stitches. When the tension is too tight, it can cause the fabric to pucker or gather, resulting in an uneven and unprofessional finish.

On the other hand, if the tension is too loose, the stitches may appear loopy or uneven, compromising the strength of the seam. Balanced tension ensures that the upper and lower threads work together seamlessly, creating neat and durable stitches.

The primary reason for adjusting sewing machine tension is to accommodate different fabrics and thread types. Thicker fabrics may require looser tension to allow the threads to penetrate the material easily, while lightweight fabrics often need tighter tension to prevent the stitches from becoming too loose or uneven.

Additionally, the choice of thread thickness can impact tension settings. For example, using a thicker thread may necessitate a slight adjustment to prevent issues like skipped stitches or thread breakage.

Regularly adjusting the tension is also essential when switching between various sewing techniques. Quilting, for instance, might require different tension settings compared to decorative stitching or creating buttonholes. Moreover, routine maintenance and cleaning of the sewing machine can impact tension, as dust and lint buildup can interfere with the proper functioning of the tension discs and springs.

In summary, properly adjusting sewing machine tension is vital for achieving professional-looking and durable stitches. Whether working with different fabrics or employing various sewing techniques, understanding and making necessary tension adjustments will contribute significantly to the overall success of your sewing projects.

Perfect Stitches: How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine?

How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine?

Adjusting the tension on a sewing machine is crucial for achieving neat and even stitches. Incorrect tension can lead to loose or tight stitches, affecting the overall quality of your sewing. Follow these steps to properly adjust the tension on your sewing machine.

  1. Understand Tension Settings:
    • Familiarize yourself with the tension settings on your sewing machine. Standard tension is usually set between 4 and 5.
  2. Thread the Machine Correctly:
    • Ensure that the machine is threaded correctly by following the threading guide in your machine’s manual.
  3. Insert the Bobbin Correctly:
    • Place the bobbin in the bobbin case following the machine’s instructions. Make sure the thread is flowing in the right direction.
  4. Perform a Tension Test:
    • Sew a test piece with a different colored thread in the bobbin and the needle. This helps you identify which thread’s tension needs adjustment.
  5. Check Upper Thread Tension:
    • If the upper thread is too tight, reduce the tension by turning the tension dial to a lower number. If it’s too loose, increase the tension by turning the dial to a higher number.
  6. Check Lower Thread Tension:
    • Adjust the tension of the bobbin thread by turning the screw on the bobbin case. Clockwise tightens the tension, while counterclockwise loosens it.
  7. Test Stitch Again:
    • After making adjustments, sew another test piece. Continue adjusting until the stitches appear even on both sides of the fabric.
  8. Balance the Tension:
    • Aim for a balanced tension where the upper and lower threads meet in the middle of the fabric. This ensures a uniform and professional-looking stitch.
  9. Consider Fabric and Thread Types:
    • Different fabrics and threads may require specific tension adjustments. Refer to your sewing machine manual for recommended settings based on the materials you’re using.
How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine

Let’s discuss these steps in detail now.

Understand Tension Settings:

Understanding the tension settings on your sewing machine is the first step in achieving optimal stitch quality. Tension is typically controlled by a dial, ranging from 0 to 9 or marked as L (lower tension) to H (higher tension). The standard tension setting for most sewing machines is between 4 and 5.

To locate the tension dial on your machine, refer to your sewing machine manual. Once you’ve found it, take note of the current setting before making any adjustments. This initial setting serves as a reference point as you work towards achieving the right tension for your specific sewing project.

Thread the Machine Correctly:

Proper threading is fundamental to achieving the correct tension. Consult your sewing machine manual for specific instructions on threading your machine. In general, follow these steps:

  1. Raise the presser foot: This releases the tension disks, allowing the thread to seat correctly.
  2. Place the spool of thread: Ensure it is positioned on the spool pin with the thread unwinding in the direction specified in your machine’s manual.
  3. Thread the machine: Guide the thread through the machine’s threading points, such as the thread guides, tension disks, and the needle. Be attentive to any numbered guides, ensuring you follow the correct sequence.
  4. Thread the needle: From front to back, thread the needle according to your machine’s threading diagram.

Insert the Bobbin Correctly:

Correct bobbin placement is crucial for achieving balanced tension. Follow these steps to ensure the bobbin is inserted correctly:

  1. Refer to the manual: Familiarize yourself with the bobbin insertion process outlined in your sewing machine manual.
  2. Open the bobbin case: Depending on your machine, this may involve sliding a cover or opening a door to access the bobbin area.
  3. Place the bobbin: Insert the bobbin into the bobbin case, following the directional arrow indicating the thread’s path.
  4. Pull the thread into the tension spring: Ensure the bobbin thread is properly seated in the tension spring. This helps maintain consistent tension as you sew.

By threading your machine correctly and placing the bobbin accurately, you set the foundation for achieving balanced tension, leading to high-quality stitches in your sewing projects.

Perform a Tension Test:

Before diving into adjustments, perform a tension test to identify any existing issues. This involves sewing a sample piece using different colored threads for the upper and bobbin threads. Follow these steps:

  1. Select contrasting threads: Choose a different color for the upper thread and the bobbin thread. This makes it easier to observe the tension balance.
  2. Sew a straight line: Stitch a straight line on a piece of scrap fabric. Examine the stitches to determine if there are any tension-related issues.
  3. Analyze the results: Check the top and bottom sides of the stitch. If the upper thread is too tight, you’ll see loops on the underside. If it’s too loose, loops will appear on the top side. The goal is to achieve balanced stitches.

By conducting a tension test, you pinpoint whether adjustments are needed and which thread’s tension requires modification.

Check Upper Thread Tension:

Adjusting the upper thread tension is often necessary to achieve balanced stitches. Follow these steps:

  1. Locate the tension dial: Identify the tension adjustment dial on your sewing machine.
  2. Lower tension for loose stitches: If stitches are too loose (loops on the top side), decrease the tension by turning the dial to a lower number. Start with small adjustments.
  3. Increase tension for tight stitches: If stitches are too tight (loops on the bottom side), increase the tension by turning the dial to a higher number. Again, make incremental adjustments.
  4. Test and iterate: After each adjustment, sew another test piece and evaluate the stitches. Continue this process until you achieve even stitches on both sides of the fabric.

Check Lower Thread Tension:

Adjusting the tension of the bobbin thread is equally crucial. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Locate the bobbin case screw: Find the small screw on the bobbin case that adjusts the bobbin thread tension.
  2. Clockwise for tighter tension: Turn the screw clockwise to increase the bobbin thread tension, preventing loose stitches on the underside.
  3. Counterclockwise for looser tension: Turn the screw counterclockwise to decrease the bobbin thread tension, preventing tight stitches on the underside.
  4. Test and fine-tune: Sew another test piece and assess the stitches. Adjust the bobbin tension incrementally until you achieve a balanced stitch with the upper thread.

By testing and adjusting both the upper and lower thread tensions, you can fine-tune your sewing machine to produce consistent and high-quality stitches on various fabrics.

Test Stitch Again:

After making initial adjustments to the tension settings, it’s crucial to test the machine again to ensure that the stitches are consistently balanced. Follow these steps:

  1. Prepare a test piece: Cut a small piece of scrap fabric similar to what you’ll be working with in your project.
  2. Sew a straight line: Stitch a straight line on the test fabric, observing the stitches carefully.
  3. Examine the stitches: Check both the upper and lower sides of the fabric. Ensure there are no loose loops on either side, indicating a well-balanced tension.
  4. Fine-tune if necessary: If you still notice tension issues, go back and make further adjustments to the upper and lower thread tensions accordingly.

Balance the Tension:

The ultimate goal is to achieve a balance where the upper and lower threads meet in the middle of the fabric. This creates a clean and professional-looking stitch. Follow these steps:

  1. Inspect the stitches: Examine the stitches on your test fabric. Ideally, the upper and lower threads should form a straight line between the fabric layers.
  2. Adjust as needed: If one side has more visible loops than the other, make minor adjustments to the corresponding thread’s tension.
  3. Continue testing: Sew additional test lines until you achieve consistent and balanced stitches.

Achieving a well-balanced tension ensures that your sewing projects look neat and professional, regardless of the fabric type or thread used.

Consider Fabric and Thread Types:

Different fabrics and threads may require specific tension adjustments. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  1. Refer to the manual: Consult your sewing machine manual for recommended tension settings based on the type of fabric and thread you’re using.
  2. Make incremental adjustments: When working with a new fabric or thread, start with the recommended tension settings and make small adjustments as needed.
  3. Test on scrap fabric: Always perform a test stitch on a scrap piece of the actual fabric you’ll be using in your project. This allows you to observe how the machine behaves with the specific combination of fabric and thread.
  4. Be patient: Finding the perfect tension for different materials may take some trial and error. Be patient and make gradual adjustments until you achieve the desired results.

For instance, if you’re working with lightweight fabric like chiffon. You might need to decrease the upper thread tension to prevent the fabric from puckering. Conversely, when working with heavy denim, you may need to increase the upper thread tension for a secure stitch.

By considering the specific characteristics of your fabric and thread, you ensure that your sewing machine is set up for optimal performance in each project. Regularly refer to your machine’s manual for guidance on tension settings for different materials.

Signs that You Need to Adjust Tension on Your Sewing Machine

Sewing machine tension is crucial for achieving well-balanced stitches. Incorrect tension can lead to various issues, affecting the quality of your sewing. Here are some signs indicating that you might need to adjust tension on your sewing machine:

Uneven or Loopy StitchesIncorrect tension settings can cause stitches to be too tight or too loose, resulting in uneven or loopy stitches. Adjust the tension to achieve a balanced stitch.
Puckering FabricIf you notice fabric puckering, it may indicate that the upper tension is too tight. Loosen the tension to prevent the fabric from being pulled too tightly.
Visible Knots or Threads on the FabricVisible knots or threads on the top or bottom of the fabric suggest tension imbalances. Check and adjust both upper and lower tension accordingly.
Difficulty in Threading the NeedleDifficulty in threading the needle may be a sign of improper tension. Ensure proper threading and make tension adjustments as needed.
Breaking or Snapping ThreadsIf your threads break or snap frequently during sewing, it could be due to excessive tension. Reduce the tension to prevent thread breakage.
Stitches Skipping or Fabric Not AdvancingSkipping stitches or fabric not advancing may occur if the tension is too tight, hindering the smooth flow of the fabric through the machine. Adjust as necessary.

Remember, maintaining the correct tension is vital for achieving professional-looking and durable stitches in your sewing projects.

Troubleshooting Common Sewing Machine Issues

Sewing machines are essential tools for crafting and repairing garments, but encountering issues can be frustrating. Let’s explore some common problems and how to troubleshoot them.

IssuePossible CauseSolution
Thread Breaking or SnappingTension too high or low, dull needleAdjust tension settings and replace the needle
Uneven StitchesIncorrect threading, bobbin issuesRe-thread the machine properly and check the bobbin
Machine Jamming or Skipping StitchesOld or incorrect needle, tangled threadReplace the needle with the correct type and check for tangled thread
Machine Making Unusual NoisesLoose parts, debris in the bobbin areaTighten any loose parts and remove debris from the bobbin area
Fabric Not Feeding ProperlyIncorrect presser foot, feed dog issuesEnsure the correct presser foot is used and check the feed dog
Bobbin Thread TanglingIncorrect bobbin winding, bobbin tension issuesRewind the bobbin correctly and adjust the bobbin tension

Remember, regular maintenance, proper threading, and using the right needles can prevent many of these issues. If problems persist, consult your sewing machine manual for specific guidance.

If interested you can read about fabrics you can use with sew cool here. Moreover, you can read what to do if your sewing machine keep skipping stitches here.

Sewing Machine Maintenance Tips

Here are some top sewing machine maintenance tips:

  • Cleanliness is Key: Regularly clean the machine to prevent lint buildup. Use a small brush to reach tight spaces.
  • Change Needles Regularly: Worn-out needles can cause uneven stitches. Replace them after 8-10 hours of sewing or if you notice any damage.
  • Oil the Machine: Keep your machine well-lubricated to ensure smooth operation. Use high-quality sewing machine oil and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Check Tension Settings: Adjust the thread tension as needed for different fabrics. Incorrect tension can lead to stitching problems.
  • Inspect Bobbin Case: Check the bobbin case for lint and debris regularly. A clean bobbin area promotes proper thread tension.
  • Thread Quality Matters: Use good-quality thread to avoid breakage and snags. Cheap threads can cause tension issues and damage the machine.
  • Store Properly: When not in use, cover your sewing machine to protect it from dust. Store it in a cool, dry place.
  • Follow the Manual: Always refer to your sewing machine’s manual for specific maintenance instructions. Different machines may have unique needs.
  • Test on Scrap Fabric: Before starting a project, test your machine on scrap fabric. This helps identify any issues before working on your actual project.
  • Professional Servicing: If you encounter persistent problems or if it’s been a while, consider getting your machine professionally serviced.


In conclusion, How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine is a vital skill that forms the foundation of successful sewing endeavors. Mastering tension control allows you to create flawless stitches, regardless of the fabric or thread you’re working with. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to experiment and fine-tune your tension settings as needed. 

With this guide as your companion, you’re equipped with the knowledge and confidence to tackle any sewing project with precision and finesse. Elevate your sewing skills, one stitch at a time, and witness the remarkable difference that proper tension adjustments can make in your creations.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know if My Sewing Machine’s Tension Is Too Tight or Too Loose?

One can determine if the tension on a sewing machine is too tight or too loose by examining the appearance of the stitches. Loose stitches may indicate that the tension is too loose, while tightly pulled and puckered stitches may suggest that the tension is too tight. To troubleshoot and fix loose stitches on a sewing machine, one can adjust the tension settings according to the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring that the upper thread and bobbin thread are properly threaded and correctly balanced.

Can I Adjust the Tension on My Sewing Machine Without Using Any Tools?

Adjusting tension on a sewing machine without tools is not recommended. Tools, such as the tension dial or screwdriver, are necessary for troubleshooting thread issues and ensuring precise tension adjustments in a technical manner.

What Should I Do if the Upper Thread Keeps Breaking or Fraying?

Troubleshooting thread issues such as upper thread breaking or fraying can be addressed by several measures. These include checking for correct threading, ensuring proper bobbin tension, using the appropriate needle size and type, and adjusting stitch length.

Is It Normal for the Lower Thread to Bunch up or Create Loops on the Fabric?

In cases where the lower thread bunches up or creates loops on fabric during sewing, troubleshooting common tension issues is necessary. Achieving balanced tension on different types of fabric requires careful adjustment and knowledge of the machine’s settings.

How Often Should I Clean and Oil My Sewing Machine to Maintain Proper Tension?

To maintain proper tension on a sewing machine, it is recommended to regularly clean and oil the machine. Best practices suggest cleaning lint and debris after each use, and oiling the machine every 8-10 hours of operation or as instructed by the manufacturer.

What should the tension be set on a sewing machine?

The default position for normal straight-stitch sewing is around 4.5 on the tension dial, which ranges from 0 to 9. This setting is generally suitable for most fabrics when adjusting the top thread tension.

What does good tension look like?

Achieving correct thread tension results in a smooth and flat appearance on both sides of the seam.

Why is my sewing machine looping underneath?

If there’s looping on the underside of the fabric, it indicates that the top tension is too loose compared to the bobbin tension. This imbalance causes the bobbin thread to pull excessive top thread underneath the fabric.

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