This post contains affiliate links for which I receive compensation

Thread tension for free motion quilting is totally wonky

by Kelly
(West Chester, PA)

Kelly writes...


First off, just want to say how helpful your site has been for me =0)

This is kind of a multiple part question.

I have recently purchased a Baby Lock Ellure. I learned to free motion quilt on my first machine, a Singer Confidence.

Now that I am FMQing on my Baby Lock, I am having tension problems. My first problem that was happening was when I was trying to use a different color thread on the top and bottom. No matter what I did to top thread tension I could not get one color or the other to not show thru on the other side.

I was going up one thread tension at a time and when I finally got the white to not show thru on the bottom, the brown would show up on the top. I gave up on that and decided to just use white on both top and bottom.

My main question high is too high for top thread tension?

I am getting loops on the bottom unless I put my top thread tension up really is currently at 7.6. My old machine didn't even have the option to go that high!

Let me say, I read your answer to this post Sewing Machine Tension Question and have done all of these needle, re-threading.

I seem to get correct thread tension, when I have it up this high, I'm just wondering if something else bad will happen having it so high. I have thought about adjusting my bobbin tension, but for the life of me can't figure it out on this machine and there is not a mention of it in the instruction guide. Sorry for the very long winded question!

To sum it up, here are my questions:
  1. Any suggestion for using different color threads on top and bottom without one showing thru?

  2. Is there such a thing as too high for top thread tension?

  3. Any idea how to loosen bobbin tension on a Baby Lock Ellure?
Thank you soooooo much!


Our reply...

I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying the site. It's a lot of fun to work on and hearing that it is helpful to you is icing on the cake!

There are a couple of things that occur to me as I read your information. I am concerned that you are having these tension issues when you are changing just the thread color...I am assuming that the type and weight of thread is the same. There should be virtually no tension change from color to color if the type and weight are the same. You did exactly what I would've done, adjust a bit and test, and repeat until the stitch is balanced.

To answer your question about what is too high a setting for your needle tension, I am assuming that if the number is there, it can be used. However... experience is that the tension settings for a particular combination of threads is pretty close to identical for both free motion quilting and quilting with a walking foot. There may be a little bit of tweaking depending on the density of the stitching and the curviness of the designs.

If you are using a 50 wt cotton like Aurifil, I would not expect to have to make the large adjustments that you are needing to make. I would also not expect to need to adjust the bobbin tension. (There is a screw on the bobbin case to make the adjustments--I've never used an Ellure, but I assume that you can lift out the bobbin case to make the change, you'll need to check your manual for the specifics.)

Given that you've double checked everything, what I would do at this point is (using the same threads) install a regular presser foot, raise the feed dogs and then stitch some straight lines through two layers of fabric. How is the tension then? Are you able to create a balanced stitch at normal settings?

If so, double check your manual for any other additional settings you may need to adjust to free motion quilting. Immediately switch back to your darning foot and try some stitches on a practice quilt sandwich. If you still find that you've got to increase your settings to (almost) the maximum, take your machine into the dealer for them to take a look at.

I wish I had the magic spell that would cure your problem, but I'm afraid it's more a matter of isolating where the problem is because you can fix it.

Readers, as always, your suggestions are welcome. Just use the 'Comments' link found below.


Julie Baird

Comments for Thread tension for free motion quilting is totally wonky

Click here to add your own comments

by: Lorna

I am new at FMQ and my bobbin thread is looping. Have same thread top and bottom.

Need advice

From the Editor:

If it's looping on the bottom, I suspect that somewhere you've missed a guide when threading the machine. Either that or the thread in the bobbin case isn't seated correctly in the tension spring.

Completely rethread the machine following the instruction manual to make sure every guide is threaded.



Tension headache!
by: Margaret

I am relatively new to quilting having made mug rugs and placemats and two simple (stitch in the ditch) quillows. I, too, have read all your quilting and free motion 101 tutorials and practiced diligently on samples.

However, when I start on the "real thing" it's a different story.

"Black Holes" appear on the top - at first I thought it was the needle being too large. But it is the bobbin thread just poking through.

Have changed to an 80/12 needle - no difference! Thread is Gutermann 100% polyester needle and bobbin.

Quilt (the cushion for a quillow) is 100% cotton top and backing with 100% bamboo batting. Feed dogs down; tension 4; stitch length 0; open-toed darning foot Janome DC6030.

What am I doing wrong?

From Julie:

Hi Margaret.

With the bobbin thread showing on the top, I suspect that either:
  • The needle tension is too tight. Reduce it and test. Or...

  • The bobbin tension is too loose. I don't like to mess with the tension spring on my everyday bobbin case (I keep a second bobbin case on hand and that's the one I adjust the screw on). However, if the problem isn't happening with regular sewing, it's possible that your thread isn't seated properly in the tension spring on the bobbin case. Rethread the bobbin.

Double check, too, that you've got the presser foot in the down position when quilting. With a darning foot installed, sometimes it 'looks' like the foot is down when it isn't.

If the foot isn't down, the feed dogs aren't engaged and that means no tension is applied to the thread. If that was the case, you'd have something that looked more like 'thread vomit' on the quilt (trust me--you'll know it when you see it!). But it's worth a try if adjusting the tension and rethreading doesn't remedy the problem.

I wish I could be of more help.

~ Julie

loopy thread on back of quilt.
by: Anonymous

I have a Unity and I am having severe tension problems with free motion.

I am using the same thread top and bottom, doing thread art. I can get the tension right as long as I am stitching a straight line but as soon as I try to reverse or do a curve the tension goes haywire and is really loose and loopy on the bottom.

I have cleaned my bobbin case twice, rethreaded, and checked for threads in the upper thread path to no avail.

I am very frustrated at this time.

I am trying to do a wall hanging that will look the same on the back as the front and correct tension is a must.

From the Editor: You've done all the right things. I suggest also replacing the needle. It is the culprit in so many machine problems. Double check that the needle thread is seated in all the thread guides...each one adds a bit of tension.

If the tension problems are intermittent check how you've placed your thread spool. Crosswound threads are meant to come off the end of the spool/cone. They should be put on a horizontal spool pin or a thread stand so that the thread feeds off the top of the spool or cone.

If the thread is stacked, place it on your machine's vertical pin so that it feeds off the side.

A spool that's installed incorrectly could be causing the tension to tighten and loosen as the thread is jerked of it.

If that doesn't work, then switch back to your regular presser foot with the feed dogs engaged and stitch. First straight and then curve the lines as much as you can. Hit reverse and stitch backwards. What we're trying to do is establish that the problem is totally with the free motion part of quilting.

If your tension is good with the regular foot and every direction, then I'd go to the your dealer/repairman with the information. Bring samples so he's got somewhere to start from.

I wish I could be of more help.

~ Julie

Tension totally wonky
by: Anonymous

I was having the same problem. Now the wheel won't turn. I thought it was me but I was using the needle down button and it would sew, then break thread. Then I tried turning the wheel by hand and it was stuck or hard.

Something is wrong--taking it back for servicing again. It never did that until I had it cleaned about a week ago.

Hope this helps. It is not you, it is your machine. I have a Baby Lock Ellure.


by: Kelly

Thanks so much for the replies and advice! I will be close to the store where I bought my sewing machine later this week, so I think I will bring it with me and stop in. If feels to me like something is not right and I shouldn't have to be changing the tension so much.



From the Editor: Kelly, I'd be very interested in learning what they suggest. Please let me know how it goes!

Good luck!

Julie Baird

Thread Tension shouldn't be that hard to fix
by: Jo Goranson aka "The Thread Lady"

Julie sums up what I would advise when she says to take your machine to your dealer. There is something very, very wrong with your machine!

I have never sewn on that particular machine, but have used a Baby Lock for years and know how good they usually are. I taught classes for years at quilt shops on thread techniques and almost every student in the class used a different brand of sewing machine, or a different class of the same brand. The students who had drop in bobbins never had to adjust the bobbin tension.

Bobbin adjustments had to be made for certain techniques like bobbin drawing if a student had a bobbin that was in a case underneath the machine. But I never, ever had to have that person adjust the bobbin tension when she was free-motion quilting unless the tension was off when she sewed just a straight seam with a regular foot. My guess is you have a drop in bobbin and so do I.

I almost always am using a different weight thread in the bobbin from what I am using on top and I only have to adjust the top tension once in a while, and the only time I ever get as high as a 7 or 8 on top is when I am doing bobbin drawing where the thread in the bobbin is very heavy and I am using a 60 weight thread on top. The only reason I turn the tension up that high is that if I don't I get no definition in the way the bobbin thread looks. If I keep it at my usual setting of about 4, the stitches look like one long stitch, so I turn up the top tension and I get the bobbin thread to look right.

When I free-motion quilt I use a 60 weight thread in the bobbin no matter what weight thread I use on top. I adjust the top tension only slightly if I am using polyester or rayon thread on top and turn the top tension way down to 1 or 2 if I am using metallic thread on top. As long as you are using the correct needle size that you should use for the weight of the thread on top you should only adjust the upper tension up or down by one number or two at the most.

So you need to get that machine to your dealer and stop agonizing over what you are doing wrong!

You are not the problem, the problem is in the machine.

Click here to add your own comments

Return to GQP's Quilting Forum.

This article was printed from

Print Article

Follow Us