Today’s Topic: Finding Perfect Tension for Machine Quilting
Welcome to Week Six!
of The Better Machine Quilt-a-long based on my book 25 Days to Better Machine Quilting.
Find all of the previous Lessons HERE.
Sign up for emails of the class HERE.
Good Morning, Quilters!
Every time I sit down to quilt, I start by testing my tension.
Every time, every quilt, every practice session.
Good stitch formation is more important than perfectly shaped motifs. A row of perfectly shaped circles with poor tension looks terrible, whereas a row of slightly wonky circles with pretty stitches looks hand drawn and great!
The moral of this story is–make your sewing machine do it’s job. Your sewing machine’s job is to make pretty stitches with proper tension.
Finding Perfect Tension
Set up your sewing machine for machine quilting. Proper set-up and threading is, of course, essential to finding perfect tension!
On a quick quilt sandwich, stitch two or three short (3-4 inches) wavy lines. Mark the tension setting.
Lower the tension slightly. Stitch two or three more rows of wavy lines. Mark the tension setting.
Compare the first set to the second set of lines and make a mental note.
Lower the tension. Stitch two or three more rows. Mark the setting.
Repeat this process until you get to the zero setting–even if you think the stitch looks great–keep going as you might find an even better stitch!
(If your stitch is obviously terrible, stop stitching rows.)
NOTE-Many modern sewing machines are well-calibrated even to zero tension setting. On the other hand, some machines do not stitch well when the tension approaches zero.
Inspect Your Sample
Remove the sample from the sewing machine and examine the stitches.
Which tension setting creates the best looking stitch?
Turn the sample over and examine the stitches on the back. Specifically check the section with the best stitches on the top of the quilt. In that area, does the top stitch show through to the back? If the stitch looks good on the back–this is your perfect tension for this project on this day.
On the other hand, if the area with the best looking top stitches does not look good on the back, then look at the area with the second-best top stitches. If that reveals good back-of-quilt stitches, you’ve probably found a good compromise. Use that as your perfect tension for this project on this day.
If none of the stitches look good (and your machine is threaded properly) repeat the process, increasing the top tension step by step.
If You Can’t Create a Balanced Stitch
Assuming the machine is in good working order and we’ve done everything else correctly, it still may be impossible to achieve a perfectly balanced stitch on a project. This is usually a result of the combination of thread, batting and fabric choices we’ve made for the project. In this case, choose a compromise. I recommend choosing a tension that creates a nice looking stitch on the top of the quilt.
For example, I recently used a 12 weight thread on the top of a bee vase quilt because I really liked the effect. The back of the quilt did not look great, but I felt this compromise was acceptable in a table-topper.
Matching Color Thread
When you cannot achieve perfect tension balance, use the same color thread in the top and bobbin. The small inconsistencies of tension will be less noticeable when the top and bobbin thread are the same color.
OR match the bobbin thread to the background fabric within the quilt. This also hides slight inconsistencies.
Perfect Tension is Fleeting
Sewing machine tension is affected by many things. The most obvious are thread and fabric. Weather (temperature and humidity) alter fabric, batting and thread and influence tension settings.
Therefore, test your stitch before quilting every day, every quilt, every practice session. You don’t need to stitch lines of quilting as you did above. Start with your usual settings and do a small test in the margin of the quilt.
Also, you may notice a change in tension within a quilting session. Free motion quilting pulls and tugs on a quilt inconsistently. Don’t fret about minor tension irregularities.
Learn What Good Tension Looks Like
The important thing is to observe and learn what good tension looks like!
I don’t bother keeping a notebook of tension settings. I just quilt a few stitches in the margin, make a few adjustments and then I’m off to the races!
Use 50 wt thread in the top and bobbin and do a tension test.
Repeat with 50 wt thread in the bobbin and heavy weight thread on the top.
Repeat the tension test on a quilt layered with denim or canvas.
Clean and oil your sewing machine.
Review tension adjustments in your sewing machine manual.
Troubleshooting tension problems! (Bring Tylenol)
Your well-balanced(?) quilting friend,
PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of LoriKennedyQuilts.com and are intended for personal use only. Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to LKQ. For all other purposes, please contact me at Lori@LoriKennedyQuilts.com. Thank you!