Patience and Tension

Are you a patient person? I’m not, generally. Having a kid is helping to teach me to have a little patience, but in contexts where Josephine is not involved I fall back on my old ways.

Last night I was ready to flip my table after struggling with a sewing machine problem for several minutes.

Princess Bubblegum loses her sh*t

Yes, I know I said “minutes” and not “hours” or “days” – a more reasonable length of time to struggle before losing my patience. But when you have limited time for your hobby, you just want your machine to work properly. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK??? Okay, calming down. Here is the problem I was having and the embarrassingly easy fix that made me realize I should maybe have a little more patience next time around.

Untitled drawing.jpg
Offending seam with lose stitches

It’s a little hard to see in this crappy cell phone photo (the memory card in my camera died, and I’m waiting on a replacement), but every 10 stitches or so my machine would create a loose stitch, where the upper thread appears to suddenly have lost tension. Then everything looks fine again for several stitches, and then the problem repeats. I did some searching for answers online and tried a few remedies – using dental floss to clean the tension disk area, changing my needle, cleaning out the bobbin area. None of it worked, and table flipping almost ensued. I walked away from my sewing room to fume. Then while taking the photo above, I noticed that the thread on the backside (the bobbin thread) was pulled pretty tight. I went back to my machine, tightened the upper thread tension to compensate, and voila. The problem was solved.

dunce cat should know better

Most experienced seamstresses know that most sewing machine problems can be solved by trying the following things:

  1. rethreading your machine
  2. changing out your needle for a fresh one
  3. checking your tension settings

Somehow I didn’t think to try #3 until I’d lost my patience. Friends, don’t be like me. If your sewing machine is giving you grief, take a deep breath, and go through this checklist.

Also, I’d like to share two tips I’ve learned for checking thread tension, for any newbies out there.

Tip 1 – Sew a sample. A looooong sample. I learned this sewing my crepe de chine blouse. I always start a new project (particularly one with a tricky fabric) by testing my machine on a practice swatch to make sure I have the right tension. But sometimes you can’t really gauge tension from a short line of stitches. You need to sew a nice long sample – maybe as much as 12 inches – to really assess your tension. Very little tension problems only accumulate to something visible over a long stretch. On my silk blouse, my thread tension was too tight, but I could only really notice this after sewing a long line of stitches and seeing that the fabric was beginning to bubble.

Tip 2 – Go by feel. Sometimes you can look at your sewing and see that there is a problem. The diagram below from this helpful Threads article explains how.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 9.10.29 AM
From Threads magazine online – recognizing unbalanced thread tension

But sometimes things look okay to your eye, when in fact your tension is still off. If you ever feel your stitches with your fingertips and they feel rough, this is a clue. I’ve noticed that when my tension is too tight on one side, that side will have a rough feel when I run my fingers over it. It’s because you can feel the little bumps of thread that are getting pulled through from the other side.

I hope these lessons help some other frustrated seamstresses out there. And if you have any tips for building patience, I’m all ears!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s