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
problems can be resolved by changing stabilizer, fabric, or
cleaning the tension disks. And, sometimes adjustments to top
thread or bobbin thread are necessary.
to sort that out:
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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'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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Include
the following details:
- Your order
- 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