Getting the Right Tension on a Sewing Machine: A Comprehensive Guide (2023)


Getting the right tension on a sewing machine is crucial for achieving high-quality stitches. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, understanding thread tension is essential. In this comprehensive guide, we will explain what tension is in terms of a sewing machine, discuss the factors that impact tension settings, and provide detailed instructions on how to adjust tension for different fabric types. By following these guidelines, you'll be able to achieve smooth and professional-looking stitches every time.

What is Thread Tension?

Thread tension refers to the amount of thread passing through a sewing machine for creating stitches. It determines how tight or loose the stitches will be. When you increase the amount of thread in the stitches, the stitches become looser, and vice versa. Achieving the correct tension is crucial because it ensures that the top and bottom threads interlock properly, resulting in balanced and secure stitches.

Factors Affecting Tension Settings

Several factors can impact the tension settings on a sewing machine. One of the most significant factors is the type of fabric you are stitching. Different fabrics require different tension settings to achieve optimal results. For example, the tension settings for sewing fleece will not be the same as those for sewing leather. It's important to consider the fabric type when adjusting the tension on your sewing machine.

Sewing Machine Tension Settings for Different Fabric Types

To help you achieve the right tension for different fabric types, we have compiled a guide on tension settings for various fabrics. Here are the recommended tension settings for some common fabric types:

  1. Thick Fabric: When stitching thick fabrics, such as upholstery fabrics, it's best to set the tension at 4 to 5 to ensure smooth stitches [[SOURCE 1]].

  2. Denim: For sewing denim, the normal tension setting is around 4. However, you may need to adjust it to a higher number, up to 6, to accommodate the thickness of the fabric [[SOURCE 1]].

  3. Polyester: Sewing polyester can be challenging due to the different types of polyester fabrics available. Start with an upper tension setting of 4, which should work well for most polyester fabrics. Make minor adjustments if necessary [[SOURCE 1]].

  4. Lightweight Fabrics: When working with lightweight or thin fabrics, it's important to loosen the tension. Start with a tension setting of 4 and gradually decrease it to 3 or even 2, depending on the fabric's thickness [[SOURCE 1]].

  5. Cotton: Cotton fabrics, such as quilting cotton and knits, require a moderate tension setting. Set the tension between 3 and 4 to achieve balanced stitches [[SOURCE 1]].

  6. Leather: Adjusting tension for leather can be tricky. Start by tightening the top tension until you consistently pull each knot to the top. Then, gradually back off the tension until the knot is pulled into the hole. Remember the adjustments you made for future reference [[SOURCE 1]].

  7. Flannel: Most flannel fabrics found in the market work well with a standard tension setting of 4. However, the quality and thread count of the flannel may affect the tension required. Slightly loosening the tension and using a 3.0 mm stitch length is recommended [[SOURCE 1]].

  8. Fleece: When sewing fleece, increase the stitch length to 3 mm and reduce the stitch tension. Pay attention to the presser foot dial and consider using an extra pair of feed dogs to prevent shifting [[SOURCE 1]].

  9. Satin: Satin fabric requires careful tension adjustment. Excessive tension can cause seams to pucker and pull. Dial back the tension and run a test stitch on scraps until you achieve satisfactory results. The tension dial usually goes below the standard 4 for satin [[SOURCE 1]].

  10. Stretchy Fabric: Stretchy fabrics, such as Lycra and elastane, require a tension level of around 2 to 3. Be cautious with the tension settings, as anything looser or tighter than required can significantly impact the seams [[SOURCE 1]].

Adjusting Tension on a Sewing Machine

Now that you know the recommended tension settings for different fabric types, let's discuss how to adjust tension on a sewing machine. We will cover two common adjustments: adjusting tension on the bobbin and fixing the tension knob.

Adjusting Tension on the Bobbin

  1. Find the Screw for Tension Settings: Locate the small screw that controls the tension of the bobbin. It is usually located beside the thread openings on the machine [[SOURCE 1]].

  2. Start Adjusting Your Tension: Use a small screwdriver to make adjustments to the tension screw. Turn the screw to the right to increase tension and to the left to decrease tension. It's important to mark the screw's original position before making any adjustments [[SOURCE 1]].

  3. Test Out the Results on Scraps: Insert a wound bobbin into the bobbin case and hold the end of the thread with one hand. With the other hand, gently pull the thread. If the bobbin doesn't move, the tension is too tight. If the thread slides off easily, the tension is too loose. The ideal tension is when the case moves slightly with each pull. Adjust the tension until you achieve balanced stitches [[SOURCE 1]].

Fixing the Tension Knob

  1. Start with the Presser Bar Lever: Lift the presser bar lever of the machine. This ensures that the tension discs are not pushing the top thread [[SOURCE 1]].

  2. Loosen the Set Screws for the Tension: If the tension knob doesn't rotate or change the tension, you may need to loosen the set screws to remove the tension assembly. Rotate the screws to the left to loosen them [[SOURCE 1]].

  3. Pull the Tension Knob Towards You: Remove the tension assembly and pull it towards you. Make sure to mark the assembly sequence to ensure proper reassembly [[SOURCE 1]].

  4. Mark the Sequence Assembly: Before disassembling the tension assembly, mark the sequence of the parts to ensure they are put back together correctly. Clean the parts and reassemble them in the correct order [[SOURCE 1]].


Achieving the right tension on a sewing machine is essential for producing high-quality stitches. By understanding the factors that affect tension settings and following the recommended tension settings for different fabric types, you can achieve professional-looking results. Remember to adjust the tension on the bobbin and fix the tension knob when necessary. With these guidelines, you'll be able to master the art of tension and create beautiful sewing projects with ease.

Note: The above article is a comprehensive guide on tension settings for sewing machines. It provides detailed instructions and recommendations for achieving the correct tension for different fabric types.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rubie Ullrich

Last Updated: 31/01/2024

Views: 5768

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rubie Ullrich

Birthday: 1998-02-02

Address: 743 Stoltenberg Center, Genovevaville, NJ 59925-3119

Phone: +2202978377583

Job: Administration Engineer

Hobby: Surfing, Sailing, Listening to music, Web surfing, Kitesurfing, Geocaching, Backpacking

Introduction: My name is Rubie Ullrich, I am a enthusiastic, perfect, tender, vivacious, talented, famous, delightful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.