Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tension Headaches - A Common Complaint?

If there's one complaint I've heard the most from customers about machine quilting it's the thread tension. I know many other machine quilters read this blog so I'll offer a few insights and hopefully some help. Tension is a headache! There, I've said it. I've had times when no matter what I try the tension seems off. Most often it's the bobbin tension that is the struggle. If you have a different color of thread in the bobbin from the top and the tension isn't right, it can be a nightmare. I recently had a customer drop off a quilt that she didn't take to her usual machine quilter because she said the tension on the bobbin thread is always too tight and she wants this quilt quilted with the backing fabric on top (so the bobbin thread will be what shows on the top). That set the bar pretty high to get that quilt's tension right.
So here's a few hints:
--find a type and brand of thread (or a couple of types) that run well on your machine and stick with those. I only venture into other kinds of thread when I really have the time to work with something different. My favorites are Perma-core by A & E and Aurifil.
--test out tension if it's a new thread or if there are other factors (batiks, thin battings, applique work, fabric content other than cotton, etc.) I keep a test piece close by and sometimes also test right at the edge of the quilt (not on the actual top).
--keep a bobbin case set for different kinds of thread. I use some bottom line thread and have a bobbin case just set for that thread. It's so fine that my bobbin needs to be different than for most other threads.
--don't be afraid to experiment with tension settings. Start with either bobbin or top and set it really loose and then tighten it up by moving the tension dials ever so slightly. Same with the bobbin, tighten the screw just a fraction. Keep testing it out on a scrap of fabric. I always use high contrast threads in top and bobbin so I can see what is happening when I'm adjusting tension.
--check to be sure everything is functioning properly. If you have mis-threaded somewhere that will most likely affect the tension. If your bobbin case has a burr or is just really worn it will affect your tension. (I struggled for months with tension and finally bought a new bobbin case and instantly the tension issue was solved).

Hopefully that will be helpful to someone and those tension headaches can be avoided.

No comments: