Adjusting Tensions on Your Embroidery Machine

Stitch It International
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

By Lacey Stephens, Supplies Specialist

If you’re new to embroidery or just not familiar with adjusting thread tensions, it’s important to know that they are vital to a successful sew out. Many people are intimidated with adjusting tensions on their own, but it really isn’t difficult if you have some basic knowledge of how they work. If you are having issues such as white showing through on your design, bunching or looping of the thread, the tensions are either too tight or too loose, here are a few tips to help you correct them.

There are three main tensions located on your machine:

1. The sub tension (pre-tensioner)
2. The main tensioner
3. The bobbin tension

Typically, once the sub and main tensions are set correctly, they seldom need to be adjusted.

Setting the sub tensioner: The sub tensioner is located at the top of your machine and is used to keep the thread tight and constant throughout the thread spool. You may also tighten this tension if you are changing to metallic thread or a lighter thread weight. Though don’t over tighten this tension, it will make your stitches pull and break.

Setting the main tensioner: The main tensioner will be located on the middle of your machine where your thread wraps around on the larger knob, and it will need to be adjusted occasionally. This tension will be adjusted in cases of looping or pulling of the thread, changing thread weight, and is used to set the quality of your stitches. It can also be adjusted depending on the amount of top thread showing on the reverse side of the garment. If you are having thread breaks, please check the tension with a tension gauge. If you are using polyester thread, make sure your gauge is showing 120-150 for correct tension. If using rayon thread, your number should range from 100-120. Tension gauges are very convenient, saves time and takes the guesswork out when tensions are needing adjusted.

Setting bobbin tensions: The bobbin tension will be the one that requires the most attention and frequent adjustments. This is mainly due to the bobbin casing getting clogged with lint or debris. Take a small piece of backing and gently run through the bobbin casing to remove the dirt. Always make sure your casing is clean before checking your bobbin tension. To check the tension on your bobbin, you need to do what we call a yo-yo test. Thread your bobbin into the case like you would normally but not through the spiral; lift the bobbin case by the thread and lightly bounce the case. If it drops too quickly, your tension is too loose and needs to be tightened. Take a small flat head screwdriver and slightly tighten the larger screw on the side, clockwise. Repeat this until it shows the yo-yo effect. If your casing doesn’t drop at all, your tension is too tight and needs to be loosened by turning the screw counterclockwise. Also, check the reverse side of your embroidery to make sure you have about one third of your bobbin showing.

After running your embroidery machine for a little while, you will learn more about how the thread should feel when pulled and become more familiar with the bobbin casing. If you feel like this is something that you won’t catch on to, trust me, you will. Try to remember to use a good quality thread before setting your tensions. This will make a difference how your machine will run and it will be one less thing to worry about later. I hope these tips help and remember that a tension gauge will give you a good start for this process.

You can always find embroidery supplies at our online store at

Click below for our recommended items for best use when adjusting tensions:

 Embroidery Bobbin Cases   Embroidery Bobbins    Embroidery Tension Gauge.  Isacord Thread

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