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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

Comments for Sewing Machine Tension: Small loops of thread

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by: Ambria Richards


My grandma sent my a Pfaff 297 a couple of months ago and I noticed that the top stitch was always tight and pretty but when I would turn it around to clip my strings the back was nowhere close to looking as good.

So the bottom is very looping and I can also pull the bottom thread completely out like a straight line and I have no idea how to fix it.

I have replaced the needle

I have retreaded the bobbin and also made sure I was threading the needle right omg with pulling the bottom thread threw to be ready to sew. I’m so very new at this and my Grandma is states always.


From the Editor: When the looping is on the bottom side, it generally means there's no tension on the needle thread.

First, find the instruction manual...if you don't have one, Google it. You can usually find one that way.

Follow the directions for threading, making certain that you haven't missed a thread guide. Those thread guides don't just hold the thread along the path. Each one adds some tension to the thread.

What I believe the true culprit to be is that the thread isn't seated between the tension disks before you start to stitch. If it's not seated between the disks there will be no tension applied to the thread and you'll get that mess on the backside.

Make sure that the presser foot is in the 'UP' position so that the disks are separated. Then thread the machine taking special care to see that the thread is between the disks. Floss it in there like dental floss if you need to.

When you're ready to stitch and put the presser foot down, that is when the disks close on the thread.

A simple way to check when the thread is properly seated is to put the presser foot down (no fabric under the needle) and give the thread tails a tug. If there's tension, you'll feel it. If there's no tension applied, you'll feel that, too.

I hope this helps. Tension problems can be so frustrating.


Julie Baird

by: Nadine

I am having big loops on the back of my quilt that I wasn't having initially. I have re-threaded my machine, replaced my bobbin, adjusted my thread tension, even fooled around with the stitch length in the hopes of correcting this issue.

I am stuck - why would I initially have no problems free motion quilting - other than of course the need to practice, and now loops, loops, loops, and the stitches look awful.

From the Editor: I suspect that your thread has jumped out of the tension disks during stitching. Re-thread with the presser foot in the 'UP' position to make sure the thread is between the disks.

When you're free motion quilting it's easy to forget that the presser foot is down because the quilt sandwich slides around. I've done it myself plenty of times.

Big loopy loops on the back usually mean that no tension is being applied to the needle thread.

I hope this helps.


Julie Baird

by: Anonymous

Hello, I was having problems with the eyelashes on the back of my quilt. I had tried adjusting everything except the top thread tension!! Tried
it and the stitches on the back are near perfect!

Thank you so much.

Happy Quilter

From the Editor:

I'm so glad it's got you back quilting! The best advice as you work through tension problems (while I hope this is your last, it happens to all of us many times) is to change only one thing at a time and then test.

Aggravating to have to work through so slow—definitely—but it is the best way to diagnose the problem.

Onwards and upwards!



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