How to Adjust Tension on a Sewing Machine

One of the questions that we see a lot in the sewing community is “how to adjust the tension on a sewing machine”?

The answer: it depends (sorta)

We honestly thought that adjusting the tension on a sewing machine would vary by sewing machine brand. Adjusting Tension Diagram


In our research we’ve found that adjusting the tension on most sewing machines is pretty much the same.

In this post we will discuss the following:

  • Why you need to adjust the tension on your sewing machine
  • How to Tell if your Tension Is a Problem on your Sewing Machine
  • A List of Things to Check Before Adjusting the Tension on Your Sewing Machine
  • How to make upper thread and bobbin tension adjustments on your sewing machine

Lets dive off into the post. 

Why You Need to Adjust Tension on Your Sewing Machine?

Here’s the thing:

Having the right tension on your sewing machine is essential to the success of your projects and here’s why:

  • The correct tension ensures that all of your stitches will look the same on both sides of your garments.  
  • Bad tension on a sewing machine can lead to problems with poor seams that fall apart. This will ultimately lead to stitches that look disheveled and just downright awful. As we’ve mentioned before, Machine stitches sewn correctly on a sewing machine with the correct tension look identical on both sides of your garments. Whereas stitches sewn on sewing machines with tension problems may have small loops in the seams. If you see this on any of your sewing projects, you need to adjust the tension on your machine. 
  • If the tension is not set correctly or is too tight it can stop the thread from moving in your sewing machine. (Which is a total bummer) 
  • Tension keeps your top and bottom threads equal to one another. These two areas of your sewing machine must work seamlessly to form the correct stitches and seams on your garments.


How to Tell if Your Tension is a Problem?

If your sewing machine tension is problematic the best way to tell is this:

Run a test on your machine.




The easiest way to run a simple test is to get a piece of scrap fabric and add a couple of test stitches from your sewing machine.

If your stitches look good on both sides of the fabric you are good to go and there is no need to adjust your tension. 

However, If you see small loops and the stitches look bad it may be time to adjust your sewing machines tension.


A List Things to Check Before Adjusting the Tension on your Sewing Machine

Adjusting the tension on the sewing machine can be a little scary for some people. 

However, with the right tools and proper guidance, making these types of adjustments to your sewing machine can be a breeze.


Before making any adjustments here is a list of a few things that you can check for or do to your machine that could potentially cause possible tension problems:

  • Check for damaged needles. Damaged needles can cause a ton of problems with stitches and seams in sewing projects. The best thing to do is to use a needle that works well with your sewing machines brand or a Schmetz needle.  
  • Make sure you’re using the right thread for sewing. As we’ve mentioned in a previous post, the wrong thread will cause lint build up in your machine and can sometimes cause issues with other parts of your machine.   
  • Be sure you’re using the right presser foot for the type of project you’re planning to sew.   
  • Check for lint and dust buildup around the bobbin area of your sewing machine, tension discs and around the bobbin itself.   
  • Make sure that your sewing machine is threaded correctly. And incorrectly threaded sewing machine and can cause massive balls of tangled thread. If this is the case we recommend checking your sewing machines manual to make sure that you are threatening your sewing machine correctly.  
  • Make sure that you’re not threading your sewing machine with the presser foot down. This can cause the tension discs to tighten in your machine and create issues with poorly sewn stitches and seams.  
  • Check for bent bobbins and tension discs. Damage to the sewing machine parts can cause problems that may appear tension related when in fact it’s a malfunctioning functioning part issue.


After you have checked these items and run a few test stitches on scrap fabric if issues still crop up, it may be time to move forward with adjusting your tension.

How to Make Tension Adjustments on your Machine

Before we dive off into the step by step instructions for making tension adjustments to your sewing machine, here’s a helpful video tutorial that you can follow: 


Now onto the post.

Fixing Tension Issues on Your Sewing Machine

To fix tension issues with your sewing machine you will first need to figure out which size of your sewing machine is off.

There are two main places to check: the upper thread tension and the bobbin thread area.

In this section of the post we’re going to give steps for increasing tension in both the upper thread area and lower bobbin section of your sewing machine.


How to Adjust the Upper Thread Tension in a Sewing Machine

To increase the upper thread attention on your sewing machine here are a few steps that you can take:

Step 1:  Locate the upper tension dial on your sewing machine. You should see a little dial or knob that you can turn.


Step 2:  Start increasing the upper thread tension on your sewing machine by turning the knob and watching the numbers go up.  One thing to note is that higher numbers in your dial indicator tighter tension. Where as the lower numbers equate to looser tension.


Step 3:  Change the dial up or down a few numbers. Next take out a piece of scrap fabric and run some test by sewing a few stitches into the fabric.


Step 4:  Check both sides of the fabric to make sure that the stitches are good to go. If you see loose stitches or small loose in your thread continue adjusting the upper thread tension dial and running test stitches on pieces of fabric until the stitches look even on both sides of the fabric.


Step 5:  Once your stitches look even and there aren’t any weird patterns or loops in them, you should be all set. 

Adjusting a Bobbin Thread Tension

Checking your bobbin thread tension is going to be a little more cumbersome to adjust depending on where it’s located.

Most sewing machines have either a front loading bobbin or a bottom of the bottom. 

In this section of the post let’s take a look at how to adjust both. 

How to Adjust Front Loading Bobbins

Step 1:   Remove the bobbin and its case from the sewing machine

Step 2:   Next, while holding the bobbin make sure the thread is going through the bobbin spring

Step 3:   Hold a thread in the bobbin and release the bobbin over a soft surface. Do you want to be sure that you don’t drop the bobbin as it can damage and cause performance issues with your sewing machine.

Step 4:    Take a look at your bobbin case. If it falls a few inches then your attention is set correctly. If the bobbin falls a few inches is too loose and if you notice the bobbin hasn’t fallen at all then chances are it’s too tight. 

Step 5:   If you need to adjust the tension on your bobbin you will need to make adjustments to it.  To do this you need to use a small screwdriver. 

Step 6:   With your screwdriver in hand look for a small screw on the side of your bobbin. 

Step 7:    Next, turn the screw on the side of the bobbin. Turn the screw to the left to loosen and to the right to tighten it. You will only need to make small adjustments when loosening or tightening your bobbin screw.

That’s pretty much it! 

Adjusting Top Loading Bobbins

If you have a top loading bobbin on your sewing machine that has a non-removable case unfortunately you cannot adjust the bobbin thread tension.

Instead, you will need to make adjustments to the upper thread tension.

You can simply follow the instructions noted previously to adjust the bobbin.

These instructions will walk you through exactly what you need to do to get your bobbins adjusted correctly.

Wrapping Up the Post

As mentioned throughout this blog post, if you run across issues with uneven stitches and seams chances are there’s a tension issue with your sewing machine.

If you still run into issues with adjusting the tension on your machine, we recommend taking it in to a specialist for further examination.

We hope that you enjoyed reading this post and feel more confident with adjusting the tension on your sewing machine…if you need to. 

Oh and before we forget, be sure to checkout our sewing machine reviews and buyers guide to find the perfect machine for your sewing projects.

We also recommend checking out this awesome guide from Threadmagazine as well.

Happy Sewing! 


Shelly is the main editor and author of this website. She is passionate about helping fellow sewing enthusiasts find the right sewing machine for your sewing projects plus design beautiful sewing spaces that inspire your creativity. If you're ready to DIY a stunning sewing room (on a budget), be sure to check out the Sewing Room that Sizzles Workbook bundle (complete with a 50+ page workbook) and two Bonus Guides that will put you on the fast track to setting up, designing and organizing a sewing room that is TOTALLY you (on a shoestring budget).