Thread Tension

So I’m reading one of my older newsletters from Superior Threads – who, by the way, make my favorite machine quilting thread, King Tut – where they talk about thread tension.  And it hits me; that’s why I never did enjoy quilting, my thread would always break. I would change the thread, change the needle and still my thread would stitch, stitch, stitch … BREAK. I never thought to adjust my tension.

I’m sure someone told me to never ever move that tension dial!

It makes perfect sense, if the thread is thicker or thinner, then those discs inside the machine need to be adjusted.  Here is what Bob Purcell from Superior Thread says about tension:

EDUCATION: Top 10 Questions of 2009

1.  Is it OK to piece with polyester?

Although we recommend MasterPiece for piecing because it is extra-long staple Egyptian-grown cotton, piecing with polyester is fine if you remember to turn down the iron temperature when ironing the seams.  Cotton is iron safe.  Polyester can melt at high temperatures.

2. My machine has automatic tension.  Do I still need to adjust the tension settings?

This is a big YES.  The newer machines are coming with tighter and tighter tensions.  Most machines are preset with fairly tight top tension and adjusted to sew (not quilt and embroider) with a 50 or 60 wt. polyester  thread.  The preset tension is too tight for most quilting and embroidery applications.  Learn to override the automatic tension and loosen it to the point that works best.  On most machines, we set the top tension between 2.0 and 3.5.  When using metallic thread, we go all the way down to a 1.

3. How can I tell if the problems are with the thread or with the machine?

Our Troubleshooting Guide will tell you.  You will love this guide.  You will know if the problem is with the thread, the needle, the tension, or the machine.

4. What tension settings are recommended for each thread?

See our Thread Reference Guides.  One is for home machines and one is for longarm machines.

5. Why do we recommend Topstitch needles?

Because that is the needle used and recommended by many professional quilters and full time educators.  They use and like the Topstitch style.  It has a larger eye, a deeper and wider groove, and a nice sharp point.  Superior Topstitch needles are titanium coated.

6. Are titanium-coated needles OK for home machines?

Definitely yes.  Most industrial machines around the world use titanium-coated needles because they last much longer.  The titanium coating is micro-thin and prevents normal wear and tear at the friction points. If you hear the rumor that a titanium coated needle will cause more machine damage if it breaks due to the titanium coating, ignore it.  The micro-thin titanium coating does not make the needle super strong.  It just provides a very hard surface coating to reduce wear.  Any needle breakage can cause damage and the titanium-coated needle will not cause more damage than other types of needles.  If that were true, industrial sewing companies would not use them.

7. Prewound bobbins. Sides on or off?

It depends.  For example, most Pfaff machine users remove the cardboard sides.  Compatible machines can use prewounds either with the sides on or off.  When making prewound bobbins, the sides are attached after the bobbin is wound to keep the sides smooth and clean.  If the sides interfere with the rotation of the bobbin, remove them.  If your machine has a bobbin sensor device which warns when a bobbin has run out of thread, remove the sides if you like that feature.  Click here for a list of home machines that are compatible with prewound bobbins.

8. Does it matter how I position the spool of thread on the machine?

Yes.  Spools of thread which are wound with a straight or parallel wind are made to unwind from the side of the spool and not over the end or top of the spool. (Cones are meant to unwind over the top.)  Most machines have a vertical spool pin.  Position the spool on the vertical pin and the thread will unwind straight from the side of the spool with the spool rotating.

9. What is the best way to store thread?

Store thread out of direct sunlight and away from settling dust.  There is no need to keep thread in the freezer or refrigerator or in a ziplock bag or in a humidor.  (I’ve heard them all.)

10. Why don’t you have solid colors of King Tut?

Of the 100 colors of King Tut, only six are true solid colors.  However, about 60 of the remaining colors are tone-on-tone colors which is kind of between a variegated and solid color and these are much more popular than solid colors.  For example, instead of a single medium blue shade that one would try to match the perfect shade, the King Tut medium blue has four very close shades of medium blues.  This makes a much better color match than a single solid color.  Fabric has evolved like this also.  A plain solid color fabric is very hard to find today.  A blue fabric today is almost always a print design, a mottled color design, marbled, or a hand-dyed design.  Thread, just like fabric, has evolved and the colors today are much more versatile.

Used with permission from Bob Purcell