Embroidery Library

Curing threadaches: shredding, nesting, and tension troubles

Most of the time you and your embroidery machine will be perfectly in sync with each other. But sometimes your machine will have thread tension problems. You may experience nesting, where the top thread is pulled under the fabric, forming a knot or nest. You may see too much bobbin thread on the top, or loops in the stitches.

Sometimes tension problems can be resolved by changing stabilizer, fabric, or cleaning the tension disks. And, sometimes adjustments to top thread or bobbin thread are necessary.

Here's how to sort that out:

First, determine how "off" the thread tension is. Hoop a piece of quilter's cotton with one piece of medium-weight cutaway stabilizer. Stitch a design that has a column of satin stitches, like the letter I. Then, look at the back of the embroidered piece. In a satin column you should see 1/2 to 1/3 bobbin thread on the backside (and no bobbin thread on the front side).

If you see bobbin thread on the top, then your bobbin thread tension is either too loose, or your top thread tension is too tight. Sometimes it is a combination of both factors. Adjust the settings on your machine, and restitch the design until the balance is correct.

Conversely, if you see no bobbin thread on the backside, that means that the top thread is too loose, or the bobbin thread is too tight. And, sometimes it's a combination of both. Adjust the settings on your machine, and restitch the design until the balance is correct.

When adjusting the bobbin thread tension, it may be helpful for you to mark the "starting position" with a pen or dab of nail polish. Turn the screw 1/4 turn at a time until you have the correct balance. One embroiderer, Joyce, sent in this helpful hint:

Remove the bobbin and casing intact, keeping the bobbin thread in the tension springs. Dangle the casing by the pigtail of the thread. If the casing remains in place and doesn't move, give the thread a light jerk, like a yo-yo, to see if you can get the casing to slide down the thread. If it rapidly slides without stopping, it's too loose. If it doesn't move at all, it's too tight. If it slides a couple of inches and stops on its own, it's just right. Use the corner of a business card to clean between the springs.

If you're using tear-away stabilizer and seeing looping, bobbin tension on the top, or thread nesting, then change to cutaway stabilizer. If an embroidery machine has a slight imbalance with thread tension, tear-away stabilizer exacerbates it and turns it into a BIG problem.

Multiple thread breaks can occur when thread is old, dried, or over-dyed. You may find that you see more thread breaks with dark colors -- navy blue, dark brown, or black. Some dying processes weaken thread fibers, making the darker colors more prone to breaks.

Those that are new to embroidery may think that editing a design would affect the machine's thread tension. This isn't the case. Thread tension issues are generally caused by using incorrect stabilizer, having a threading problem on the machine, or a problem in the bobbin area:

1. Incorrect stabilizer

Thread tension problems can occur when using tear-away stabilizer. Tension on embroidery machines is set with the assumption that you'll be stitching through two layers -- fabric and stabilizer. If you are working with a complex design and using tear-away stabilizer, then the needle perforations will disintegrate the stabilizer during the embroidery. That means that you're stitching through just one layer, and you may find thread tension troubles. If this occurs, try cutaway stabilizer instead of tear-away.

2. A threading problem on the machine

Always thread the machine with the presser foot up, and make sure that you're catching all of the guides along the way. If you miss one, you'll have numerous thread breaks as well as tension problems.

3. A problem in the bobbin area

If you've had a thread nest, there may be stray bits of thread remaining in the bobbin area. This may cause a tension problem. Open the bobbin area and use a small vacuum (like the kind for keyboards, or use a flexible straw with a regular household vacuum cleaner) to remove any lint, dust, or stray bits of thread. (We have used compressed air before, but some machine technicians recommend sucking with a vacuum rather than spraying.)

Other notes and tips:

If your thread spool has two positions (vertical and horizontal), use the vertical position. Also, a thread net (or use florist's mesh and cut to size) will help to keep the thread from puddling around the pin.

Use a dollar bill, or unwaxed dental floss, to "floss" the thread guides and tension disks on the machine. This helps remove any stray bits of thread that have been caught. One embroiderer, Sue, takes a long piece of floss and threads her machine with it. Then she pulls it through, several times. After doing that, she had no more thread or needle breaks, and the bobbin thread stopped being pulled to the top.

When changing colors, always pull the thread forward through the needle, not backwards towards the spool. That way no fuzz or lint will remain in the tension disks.

Sometimes polyester thread can cause looping. This is because polyester thread has a stretchy core.

Looping may also be due to using sticky-stabilizer. Sometimes the adhesive from stabilizer (or adhesive spray) can gum up the needle, and the thread will catch on that and loop.

Store thread out of sunlight, and in an air-tight container, to avoid dust, fading, and weakening of the fibers.

Clean the bobbins! One embroiderer, Joyce, found that her looping and birdnesting was due to a sticky adhesive residue that was on the bobbins. She cleans the bobbins regularly with rubbing alcohol and a fabric scrap.

When your machine is not in use, cover it to keep dust from settling.

Check the needle plate, needle tips, and thread spools for any burrs. Use a piece of fine sandpaper to smooth the burrs before stitching.

If you've tried the tips and techniques above, but are still having trouble with nesting, it may be time to have the machine serviced. But if you have concerns about a specific design, and the fabric/stabilizer combination you're using, let us know! Send an email to support@emblibrary.com. Include the following details:

- Your order number
- Name of the design
- A description of where the thread nesting or problem occurs
- Type of fabric (if applicable) and stabilizer that you are using
- Needle type

We'll be glad to help you troubleshoot the issue.

If you have questions or comments, let us know! Send an email to support@emblibrary.com.