Troubleshooting Sewing machine tension - 5 simple steps - Constantine Quilts

Troubleshooting Sewing machine tension – 5 simple steps

Free-motion machine quilting 1-2-3

Hi all

How can you get the perfect thread tension before you start machine quilting? Look no further than Lori Kennedy’s book Free-Motion Machine Quilting 1-2-3!
In Lori’s book, you’ll learn all you need to know to create 61 whimsical motifs, including how to set up your machine, how to doodle to refine your technique, and yes—how to get that perfect thread tension before you begin.
Today we’re sharing Lori’s five-step process from Free-Motion Machine Quilting 1-2-3 for finding your machine’s sweet spot when it comes to thread tension. These tips will help you today and years from today. Read on to learn Lori’s secrets! Thanks to Martingale & Co blog for permitting us to share this with you.


The perfect machine-quilting stitch should be balanced between the top and bobbin threads. In other words, the bobbin thread shouldn’t show on the top of the quilt, and the top thread shouldn’t show on the back of the quilt. It’s almost impossible for any sewing machine to create perfect balance at all times while you’re machine quilting, because of the mechanics of moving the quilt in many directions. Using the same color of thread in the bobbin as on the top will conceal most issues as long as the tension is properly adjusted.

For most sewing machines, stitches will look better when the top tension is lowered. Adjust the top tension first, adjusting the bobbin tension only if necessary. If it’s impossible to balance the tension completely, it’s better to have top threads pulled slightly to the back than to have bobbin threads showing on the top. Here are some examples of my machine quilting after adjusting my thread tension.

Here are the steps Lori takes to balance tension:

1. Using the same fabrics and batting that will be used in the quilt project, free-motion stitch a 3″ line without changing the tension settings. Inspect the line.

2. Lower the tension one step or number and stitch another 3″ line. Inspect the line. Does it look better or worse? If it looks better than the first line, lower the tension again and stitch another line.

3. Inspect this line of stitching. Does it look better or worse?

4. Continue lowering the tension and stitching lines until the newly stitched line looks worse than the previous one.

5. Tweak the tension between the final two lines to find the perfect sweet spot for your stitches.

Take the time to set your tension before you stitch—it will relieve a lot of tension in the long run!

Martingale & Co caught up with Lori at Quilt Market and she showed them how she stitches her Flower Power motif from Free-Motion Machine Quilting 1-2-3. Watch her work her magic (with a little practice, you can conjure her magic too):

Here’s a FREE tutorial for the Flower Power motif from Lori’s book that you can start with (it’s her favourite). Just be sure to check your tension first!
Download Lori’s Flower Power tutorial—print it out and try it for yourself!

What’s your tension-checking trick: a scrap of fabric, a practice sandwich . . . a seam ripper? Tell us in the comments below!

Until next time…Happy quilting

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