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Sewing Machine Tension Problems

Argh!! Thread Nests!!

How can I prevent the thread nests that form on the bottom of my quilt. They are formed with the upper thread not the bobbin thread. I bring up the bobbin thread and secure with a pulse of stitches when ever I start sewing.


Since you can take those first couple of stitches to lock your threads in place, your tension is fine at that point. But somewhere along the line, your thread is coming out of the tension disks or is feeding unevenly, I think.

To figure out what to adjust, an easy trick is to thread the needle and bobbin with the same kind of thread, just different colors...say white Aurifil in the needle and black in the bobbin. On a practice quilt sandwich, stitch until the thread nests, or "thread throw-up" as I call it, appears.

Try These Ideas!

If the white needle thread is all messy on the bottom, then it's your needle tension. There are four possibilities.

  1. Your needle tension is too loose. Simply increase your tension number by 1 and test again. Keep adjusting until you are satisfied.

  2. The needle thread pathway snags or catches. If you're using a spool with a nick on one end to catch and tame the thread when it's in storage...turn it so the nick is on the right as the spool sits on a horizontal pin. The thread may be snagging on this nick and then suddenly releasing creating first tight, then loose tension. (This is probably the least likely possibility.)

  3. If you are using a thread stand to hold your thread, are there enough thread guides to control the thread. If not the thread may be coming off the spool or cone in big loops, without guidance, this could decrease your tension. I've added a safety pin with duct tape to the far right of my sewing machine to work as an extra thread guide. It's not classy, but it does do the job.

  4. Your thread may be coming off or out of the uptake lever. Once in awhile I have this happen. Thread throw-up everywhere. I learned a neat trick today that you might try if this is the problem. Instead of threading through the uptake lever from right to left...

    Thread from underneath from right to left and then through the uptake arm from left to right and then through the remaining guides to the needle.

    What this does is to wrap a loop of thread around the uptake arm. Now doing this increases the tension on your needle thread and you have to reduce your sewing machine's tension a bit. Test as before. But if this works for your type of sewing machine, it will keep the thread in its proper place

Now if it's the black bobbin thread that's creating the nest, it is possible that your bobbin's tension screw has failed.

If you use lots of different weights of thread in the bobbin and adjust the bobbin screw frequently, the screw does wear out. It is very tiny. If that's the case, you might be able to replace just the screw, but be prepared to replace the bobbin case, itself.

Do You Need to Floss?

Next, try 'flossing' the tension area of the bobbin. Sometimes lint and fuzz gets into the area and holds the tension mechanism open so that it doesn't work properly.

Finally, check that you have nice, snugly wound bobbins. I need to add a bit of tension on the thread as I wind my bobbins so that they wind evenly.

I hope one of the remedies works for you.

Readers, do you have any suggestions? Let us know with the 'Comment' link below. Thanks!


Julie Baird

Comments for Sewing Machine Tension Problems

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Thread Tension Help
by: Peggi

I would try a new needle. Usually completely un-threading and re-threading my machine works, but I was at a neighbor's house recently, and her stitches were skipping. We re-threaded and played with the tension for a bit with no results. I suggested she change needles, which she did and it worked! I realize skipped stitches are not the same as thread nests, but it can't hurt to add it to the list of things to try.


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