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Sewing Machine Tension Troubleshooting

by Ruth

I'm having a terrible time with tension while trying to free motion quilt.

The front of my work looks great, but the back is a mess. I get "eyelashes" & it just generally looks like my tension is too loose. Help!!


Your problem may be either tension, speed or both.

"Eyelashing" is when your needle thread is pulled to the back of your quilt and is pulled to look just like eyelashes. In fact this is such a good name, for when it happens, you'll know exactly what it is.

Take a look at your quilting so far. Is the eyelashing only on the tight curves? If so, it is quite possible that as you stitch through curves, you unknowingly are increasing the speed of your hands and "whipping" around them. If this is the case, this "whipping" action is pulling on your needle thread and it shows up on the bottom of your quilt.

NOTE: My sewing machine can be set for different maximum speeds. For free motion quilting, I tend to set it at 60% of top speed. That way, once I've warmed up and am relaxed, I can put my foot pedal to the floor and just concern on moving my hands at an even rate...for curves and straight lines, I move my hands at the same speed. It takes a bit of getting used to. There are some shapes, like curves, that one naturally wants to "speed" around. But it leaves me with one less thing to think about while I'm free motion quilting.

Take a practice quilt sandwich made from leftovers from your quilt and do some curvy free motion, but this time pay close attention to the speed you are moving your hands as you go around the curves. Pay close attention to keeping an even speed around those curves. It'll take a bit of practice because you may be "un-learning" a habit and replacing it with another.

Now check for tension quality on both the top and the back. How does it look?

Loops on the back of the quilt mean the needle tension is too loose. Adjust it by increasing the number on your tension dial...a half to a whole number at a time...and then test again. Continue in this manner until you are satisfied.

If the bobbin thread shows on the top, the needle tension is too tight. Reduce the tension number on your machine, again slowly, and testing for each adjustment. Fine tune.

A couple of general suggestions:

  • Replace your needle with a new one. Needles are so cheap and are the culprit of so many problems.
  • If possible use the same thread in the needle and bobbin. This results in the fewest adjustments.
  • Test, test, test. In the long run, testing on a practice sandwich saves time. You find the proper needle, threads and tension for your project before you start so there's no ripping. Take notes right on the practice sandwich and keep them for future reference.

For more information, see Adjusting Sewing Machine Tension to Prevent Problems.

Ruth,I hope this info has helped. Good luck to you!


Julie Baird

Comments for Sewing Machine Tension Troubleshooting

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Bunching batting
by: Anonymous

I use to have this problem when I was pin basting I got rid of the problem by using a fabric spray basting.

I do the back first. I spray an area then put on the batting smoothing the bumps as I go after I finish the back I then do the front.

I have not had a bunching problem since I started this. I have issues with my hand from a disease so I cannot handle the pins very well.

Bless you and I hope your next quilt comes out perfect.

Maching quilting problems
by: Nancy

I am currently machine quilting a baby quilt. I have used a cotton batting and have used a quilt gun to secure the three layers. My machine tension is on 5.5 and the stitch width is at #3. As I am quilting, I am having problems with the three layers bunching up so that I have to use something similar to a stiletto to flatten the layers. When I finish a row, I look at the back to see that some of the stitches are very very tiny, while others are at the correct width. I check to see if this is happening because I am sewing over joined seams but it isn't. I am very frustrated. Any ideas? Thank you.

Editor's Note:

Nancy, I've given your question and my reply it's own page at:

"Quilt is bunching up when I machine quilt.

Let me know if it helps!

Julie Baird

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