Longarm Tension Adjustments
One of my sewing dreams was to purchase a longarm and it finally happened last year. It was a big decision and if you are thinking of doing it yourself, maybe this blog post will give you the confidence to move forward. There is of course the expense to think about and I am sure most people dwell on that for a while. Then the thought of where to place the longarm machine will probably haunt your thoughts unless you have a large room available. Once you get past those hurdles, the third thought will probably be fear of breaking the machine or not being able to operate it. If you have surpassed all of these and your machine is purchased and set up, congratulations. I am going to assume if you found this blog post by a search, you might be having tension problems. So let's see if we can get you sewing again.
Longarm machines are sewing machines that have been stretched to accommodate larger sewing areas. If you have sewn on a domestic or home sewing machine, you will already be familiar with how one should operate. There are differences though. I didn't realize just how much lint was produced from a quilt. Before beginning a new quilt and at each bobbin change, I will usually have to clean the bobbin area with a small brush. A drop of oil on the race of the bobbin area is a good idea at each bobbin change also. Make sure you clean inside the bobbin case also. I have noticed that my machine does not do well with slippery thread. When I first purchased mine, I will admit, I tried to use embroidery thread in it just to see what would happen. I didn't have great luck with the brand I use in my Happy machine. The thread would slip out of the upper tension assembly and no stitches were formed. This would cause repeated alarms to go off on the machine. Once I began using Omni thread by Superior Threads, I had much better luck. So if you are having tension problems, try another thread cone to see if that helps. It is an easy fix if it works. Make sure your thread path is correct and that there are no snags, twists or missed tension placements. Back to your bobbin. Winding the bobbin is very important if you are not using pre wounds. A spongy or loose bobbin that is uneven will give you problems. I received a winder with my machine and it took some practice. You want a nice even distribution of thread on your bobbin and if you can press the thread in and visibly see sponginess, you may want to try re winding it.
This is a Towa Gauge and it will become your best friend. It is used to measure the tension on your bobbin. I have one for my embroidery machine and my longarm. Each machine has a different bobbin size so make sure you purchase the correct gauge for your bobbin size. The bobbin case with bobbin is inserted into the Towa and thread is pulled through two small circular tension areas. Once you pull the thread at a smooth steady pace, a needle will move and the small red arrow shows you a measurement. Each machine brand will be calibrated slightly differently and factors will alter the best measurement. I have noticed that around 200 works with the 40 weight Omni thread I currently use. There are different weight threads and some people like to use a lighter weight in their bobbin. You do you. There is no "RIGHT" thread. It all depends on what you want your finished quilting to look like. It is ok to try many brands of thread until you find one you love and just stick with it once you get your settings in a place where you can consistently get results. Using the Towa will help you get brave because it is a way to test thread and get answers. Play with your Towa and find the best setting for your machine and thread.
I haven't seen a lot of people talking about this little tool in the Longarm community. I have seen it in the embroidery world and it is a good thing to have.
This Tajima Thread Tension gauge has a spring inside and a hook on the end. You wrap your thread around the hook and as it is pulled, the spring will retract causing the red needle to show a measurement. I will pull my thread out of the needle before wrapping my thread so you are pulling from the last tension area before the needle. This is a great way to learn what your upper thread "FEELS" like at different tension settings. The upper dial on your machine tension assembly can be tightened by turning right and loosened by turning left. Each time you turn it, you can wrap the thread and gently pull the gauge to see the measurement value. I find with the Omni 40 weight thread that around 200 works well. A different weight or brand of thread may cause you to alter your tension. It's good to have a tool that will assist so you can get a good starting point.
Here is a view of me using the tool and you can see how the thread is being pulled out away from the machine.
You need to be brave with your tension dials on the side of the machine also. Here you can see me turning mine. On this day, I had checked my thread path, my bobbin and needle but alarms kept going off every time I began to sew. I cranked my tension dial all the way down and then opened it back up using the top tension gauge; testing each time the knob was turned. I also opened the discs on the tension assembly and really flossed my thread into those discs. This will ensure the thread is seated well and also push any lint or debris that has accumulated in between those discs. Don't be scared that you are going to mess your machine up. You can always put a test piece of fabric, batting and backing on your frame and test your tension. In fact, the extra batting that you have around your quilt is a great place to do this before you start sewing. Just keep going and get friendly with your machine dials.
Your needle and it's placement are very important. Make sure it is inserted fully up into the needle bar. Also, if it is turned backwards, you will not be able to pick up your bobbin thread. If it is inserted slightly to the right or left, the bobbin thread may pick up but it might skip stitches. You can use another needle inserted into the eye to adjust either right or left and hold it while you tighten with your screwdriver. Change to a new needle for each new quilt also.
Get used to climbing underneath your machine. Here you can see me ducked under the frame and looking at my stitches. I can't stress enough checking this periodically as you quilt or if you have had a thread break or a bobbin issue. When the thread breaks on top, your bobbin thread will stay in the fabric. As you pull the machine to cut the thread and check your bobbin, the thread is long. If you don't trim those bobbin threads that are long, they may get caught up in your quilting. That is why you pull the bobbin up as you begin sewing so it is pretty on the back.
Here was my view underneath my fabric. The long stitches on the right are basting stitches. I usually lengthen my stitches when I baste my quilt. Some people choose to use a regular stitch length. It's up to you. I like to have those longer ones because they are easier to pull out later when I am squaring up my quilt. The stitches on the left are regular quilting stitches at a shorter length. You can see that they are looping and not balanced. When you are basting with a long stitch, it is difficult to see exact tension on your machine. You will have better luck once the stitch is shorter. Both of these were stitched before I got my tension adjusted and you can tell unless the alarm had gone off during basting, I would not have known I had tension issues. Looping can be caused by the bobbin being too tight/loose or the top tension being too tight/loose. This is a tug of war between those two threads. The looping tells you who is winning. I knew my bobbin tension was good because I had my Towa gauge and I always start with the bobbin first. I also thought my top tension should be good because I had adjusted it with my Tajima tool. It was good on both and the culprit was trash in my tension discs on that top assembly. Once I pulled the discs apart and flossed the thread really well, I think whatever was in there got knocked out. Such a simple thing and when it started sewing, it was happy with no alarms.
A beautiful balanced stitch finally formed on my quilt top. I will tell you that I did these steps; except opening the tension discs, TWICE. It wasn't until I cranked that knob down and then opened it wide flossing with thread and cleaning any trash that my problem was fixed. I worked for about an hour. Don't give up and if the alarm bothers you, turn it off until you get your tension adjusted. Take breaks, drink a cup of coffee and keep going. You never know what the fix will be but if you have the tools and the knowledge, you can adjust your longarm tension yourself. You will feel proud and accomplished. I have a video you can watch below that will show you each one of these steps. Watch it for moral support. I hope you have enjoyed this post, share what you learn and are generous with what you create. Someone will appreciate your hard work.
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Lagniappe Peddler believes that the process of working with our hands can be one of the best forms of healing the hurts in our lives and welcomes all who visit this safe little corner of the world.
What is a Lagniappe Peddler?
ˌlanˈyap,ˈlanˌyap - something given as a bonus or extra gift
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