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  1. #1
    Ramblinrev's Avatar
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    Bobbin Tension - A Personal Viewpoint

    There is a lot of controversy about the need to adjust the bobbin tension. My viewpoint comes from 50 years of sewing myself, some of it professionally. In addition I have spent 35 years in and around professional stitchers of all types. My wife has made a living sewing professionally making custom garments such a wedding dresses, suits and tuxedos. Combining our experience we have agreed that while there are times when adjusting the bobbin tension makes sense, most of the time it is either not needed or an obstacle to proper machine operation.

    Background: Unless you have the specs and the equipment to measure it, bobbin adjustment is inaccurate at best. Dangling the bobbin case is a helpful tool, but the range at which it is "properly" tensioned is pretty vague and inexact. Most manufacturers warn against bobbin adjustment of their home machines. This is not because the process can cause damage to the machine, but rather because for the most part it is not needed if the machine is threaded and maintained correctly. More on this later as gear making is beyond the expectation of most home machine manufacturers.

    Why not to: The top thread tension is made to cover a wide range of applications and situations. In most cases of major sititching problems the top thread tension should provide enough range to at least diagnose the problem with a stitch line _if_ the problem comes from a tension problem.

    Increasing/decreasing the bobbin tension may solve the symptom but the danger here is you may also cover up an internal problem which will only get worse. Particularly with older machines of unknown history there are burrs and spurs and grooves and etchings that occur inside the machine. These can raise a great deal of problems with tension that can not be resolved by the usual tension adjustments. Simple normal corrosion on the hook caused by normal humidity and constant temperature fluctuations over time can alter the way the machine sews. While adjusting the bobbin tension might resolve the symptom, it will not remove the corrosion or burrs/spurs which come by normal use. Removing the symptom allows the the problem to continue to build until it is beyond simple polishing and buffing to repair. For some machines that means replacing parts that may not be available any longer. You then have a nice paperweight.

    The only thing the bobbin tension affects is the fine quality of the stitch. For major adjustments I would look for other causes before I relied on the bobbin tension adjustment.

    When it makes sense: If you know the machine has been properly maintained and you have a history of good results then there are certain times when adjusting the bobbin tension makes sense. If you have changed the weight of the thread and the top tension needs to be adjusted into the extreme ends of the range, either high or low, then you might want to alter the bobbin tension to fine tune the quality of the stitch. The machine normally works best if the top thread tension can be set about the middle. High or low extremes do not give you flexibility you need to get a really nice stitch. But please note... this a fine adjustment. If you are still having major looping problems and dropped stitches at the extreme ends then there is something wrong with the tensioning system for the top thread. This is particularly true if the problem arises suddenly in the middle of a project.

    For fine adjustments to the stitch quality adjusting the bobbin tension might be the way to go. For major problems, you run the risk of concealing problems that need professional attention. Of course those decisions are up to your personal comfort and choice.
    I may be slow... But I sure am gimpy.

    "Bless you child, when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t'other way."
    Mrs. Loftus to Huck Finn

    We Don't Sew... We Make Gear! video series

    Important thread injector guidelines especially for Newbies

    Bobbin Tension - A Personal Viewpoint

  2. #2
    Senior Member Just Jeff's Avatar
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    Great response, Rev.
    “Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.” ~Judge Joseph Story

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  3. #3
    WV's Avatar
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    Thumbs up

    We're lucky to have someone with all your experience and the ability to distill it into such a clear and helpful description.

  4. #4
    Ramblinrev's Avatar
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    I want to expand on something here. Please do not understand me to say the bobbin is not important when you are trying to diagnose a stitch problem. It is easy to get the bobbin inserted into the case backwards. Some newer machines use bobbins that are marked on one side. It is important to check and make sure the thread comes off the bobbin and through the case correctly. If it is backwards it will mess you up something fierce. There is no universal way the thread unwinds from the bobbin. You really need to check the manual or threading diagrams to be sure.

    Check the bobbin case carefully. The tension spring is usually a variation of a leaf spring on the machines where the bobbin case is removed to install a new bobbin. That spring can become corroded or worn and cause no end of frustration. If that happens it should be cleaned carefully or best yet be replaced. Unless you have a shop do that you will certainly need to adjust the bobbin tension to bring the machine back to working order.

    The bobbin case should be smooth and clean inside and out. Any corrosion or lint in the case will be enough to throw the machine out of whack.

    Make sure the bobbin case is locked into place properly. I have had occasions where I have loaded a new bobbin but not locked the case into the machine properly. What a disaster.

    Finally make sure you are using the correct bobbin. Contrary to common sense, there are no universal bobbins. Some machines will take commonly available bobbins, but even within manufacturers different models can use different bobbins. Bobbins that do not fit the machine are impossible to use. They will bind or wobble in ways that disrupt the thread feed. Sometimes allowing the thread to wind around the central shaft of the case.

    One closing point is to wind you bobbins carefully and according to the directions given by the manufacturer. Watch carefully to make sure the thread winds on evenly and smoothly. I have had experiences where the wrap of the thread has overlapped cause the thread to feed poorly. Do not overfill the bobbin or it will bind in the case.

    All these thoughts apply to removable bobbin cases. Drop in bobbins have a different set of specifics, but it should be clear which cautions do not apply in that situation.

    None of these has anything to do with the bobbin tension per se. But can give the same result as a poorly adjusted bobbin. Once again, changing the tension may relieve some symptoms but won't address the underlying problem if any of these errors are the cause.
    Last edited by Ramblinrev; 08-09-2010 at 11:10.
    I may be slow... But I sure am gimpy.

    "Bless you child, when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t'other way."
    Mrs. Loftus to Huck Finn

    We Don't Sew... We Make Gear! video series

    Important thread injector guidelines especially for Newbies

    Bobbin Tension - A Personal Viewpoint

  5. #5
    Senior Member Lonely Raven's Avatar
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    I wish I understood more about the sewing machine to follow all that you're saying. I learned a little in Highschool (great class to meet girls! LOL), but that was 25 years ago...so I'm relearning everything.

    I'll come back to re-read this, and go through your video series when I have the sewing machine setup in my workshop!

  6. #6
    Fronkey's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting this. I'm new to sewing and the bobbin tension was always in question to me. Thanks again.

    Fronkey

  7. #7
    Senior Member wirerat123's Avatar
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    Thus far with my Necci machine, everytime I change threads and such, and need to adjust tension, simple top stitch adjustments have remedied every issue. I agree that VERY rarely will most ever need to tool with the bobbin tension.
    Fulfillment is living a life that makes the lives of others worth living.
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