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Sewing Machine Tension: Small loops of thread

by Georgia

Sometimes when I am quilting I get small loops on the back that resemble small seeds from the top thread.

Cause and cure?


Check your sewing machine tension adjustment.

If the loops are forming on the back side of your quilt sandwich, either:

  • Your needle thread is too loose. Increase your needle tension by increasing the setting number with your knob, dial or button. If it's a dial, just remember 'righty-tighty' to increase or tighten.

    If the loops are always present, increase by a whole number and test...repeat until the loops disappear.


  • Your bobbin tension is too tight. If your bobbin tension is fine for regular piecing, it is probably NOT the culprit. In fact on my machine, a Viking D1, I can't remember ever having to change my bobbin tension for regular sewing or quilting (only a couple of times when I've used a heavy decorative thread in the bobbin...but that's not what you're doing here).

    To reduce your bobbin tension, remove the bobbin case from your machine and locate the small tension screw. Note the current position of the screw as you'll want to be able to return it to this exact position after you're finished quilting this quilt. (If you're not sure or can't find the screw, consult your sewing machine manual.)

    Loosen the screw to reduce the tension by turning it to the left (remember 'lefty-loosey'). I wouldn't do more than an 1/8 turn at a time and then test by stitching on a sample or practice quilt sandwich.

    Again, once you've finished quilting this project, return the screw to it's original position.

The majority of your tension adjustments can be made to the needle thread only.

Eyelashing or Railroad Tracks

If you find that these loops are appearing only as your stitch around curves, I suspect that you may be moving the quilt sandwich faster through these sections and perhaps pulling on it more. This would effect your tension. Quilters call this problem 'eyelashing' or railroad tracks'. (A good descriptive name!)

What to do?

Tighten your needle thread just a smidge, maybe by .25 or .5, and test on your practice sandwich by stitching curvy lines. You'll still want to have all the stitches of the rest of your quilting to look nice, however, there is usually a 'range' and not just a single, specific, 'on-the-nose' setting where all your stitches will look good.

A final bit of advice...

If you've been quilting along and all of a sudden your sewing machine starts to give you stitch problems, change to a new needle.

Buying them on sale with coupons makes them really cheap, and your needle can be the root cause of so many problems.

Now I am a perfectionist in my own work. I'm going to spend a lot of time testing the threads and settings that I'll use on a practice quilt sandwich before I even start quilting for real.

But if it comes down to it, I'd rather have my tension problems show up on the back rather than the front of my quilt. I have purposefully chosen settings will produce a good looking front and sacrifice the 'look' of the back to get a project done so that I can move on.

It is YOUR quilt and YOUR time and money. YOU get to choose how to complete the project and need not offer any explanations to anyone. (I hope that doesn't sound too preachy, but that really is how I feel!)

Good luck on your quilting. I'd love to see the finished quilt. Think about adding it to our Share Your Quilt page so that our readers (and I!) can enjoy your work!


Julie Baird

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