Most of the time you and your embroidery machine will be perfectly in
sync with each other. But sometimes you'll encounter tension headaches,
such as thread nesting (where the top thread is pulled under the fabric
and forming a knot or nest) or bobbin thread will float to the top of
the embroidery, or looping of the thread.
To determine if your machine's current tension settings are correct,
hoop a piece of cotton with a medium-weight cutaway stabilizer. Stitch a
design that has a column of satin stitches -- like a letter "I." 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 the above does not resolve the problem, then more information is below:
Digitizing of a design does not affect thread tension. Frequent
or chronic problems with thread tension are due to incorrect stabilizer,
a threading problem on the machine, or a problem in the bobbin area.
First, 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.
Second, 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.
Third, 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 (like the ones
here, 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
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 are working with specialty designs, such as freestanding lace or
in-the-hoop designs, then take note:
When stitching freestanding lace, it is important to use a heavyweight
water-soluble stabilizer (we recommend Sulky Ultra Solvy) and a sharp
needle (not an embroidery needle). Freestanding lace designs tend to be
more dense than other designs, in order to give weight and body to the
design. Using a heavyweight water-soluble stabilizer, and a sharp
needle, should avoid all thread looping and nesting issues.
Thread nesting can occur when using a low-quality tear-away stabilizer.
Use a soft fibrous tear-away, nothing stiff or paper-like. Also, use a
sharp needle, not an embroidery needle.
If you have problems with thread nesting, and using the above tips and
information does not help, then please send an email to
**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
Include all of the above information.