This tension is making me sew angry!
September 4, 2011 6:01 PM   Subscribe

New sewing machine rawr! I am trying to take in my pants, but I can't get the correct tension no matter what I do!

This sewing machine is new as of today. It's a Brother XL-2600i. I've followed the instructions on how to top and bottom thread the machine and redid them both several times. I checked to make sure that my needle size was correct for the material I was sewing and for the thread. However, no matter how I try to fine tune the tension or stitch length, the bottom of the stitch is always a mess.

Top of stitch

Bottom of stitch

I did a bunch of other test strips and adjusted the tension, but it didn't seem to matter how high or low I went, it looked the same.

Advanced sewers and seamstresses, do you have any ideas? The fabric is a heavy blend of 98% cotton and 2% spandex. The thread is size 50 mercerized polyester. The needle is 90/14. Any advice, even stupid stuff, would be appreciated. I had a sewing machine years ago and was great at using it. I'm feeling discouraged with this!
posted by two lights above the sea to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Make ABSOLUTELY sure you have the thread path absolutely correct. Go over it with a fine toothed comb.

Go through the manual and make sure that you have threaded the bobbin correctly and have the bobbin placed in the machine specifically as the manual says. Mine is very specific. Chaos erupts if the bobbin isn't just so.

Make absolutely sure the needle is inserted in the correct direction. I have spent an hour cussing missed stitches/not sewing only to discover I placed the needle in wrong, even though I was sure I did it correctly. Oops.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:07 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Change the needle. Every time my tension goes to hell, when I change the needle, it magically sorts back out again. Although, if it's new as of today. . . did it come with a needle in it?

Also try with a newly wound bobbin.
posted by KathrynT at 6:07 PM on September 4, 2011

Ugh, that stuff is so annoying!

First, what hecho de la basura and KathrynT said. I ave spent hours trying to fix "tension problems" only to realize that I skipped a step in the threading path, or that the bobbin is in wrong, or my needle is in backwards, etc.

Once you're sure it's not that, you might try stitching a few inches on a random piece of cotton, just to check that it's not the fabric. If it's not that - It looks like the bottom tension is too loose. Does your machine have a bobbin case? If so, there should be a tiny screw on the bobbin case that adjusts how hard (or not) the machine has to pull to get the thread to come out. (If your machine has a drop-in bobbin, I'm not sure how this works.) But do try the other stuff first, because adjusting bobbin tension is really fiddly (and, although maybe I am exceptionally clumsy) something I feel nervous doing and prefer to leave to my friendly local sew-vac guy.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 6:11 PM on September 4, 2011

Response by poster: I just double checked the the threading of both. Examined both meticulously. It is perfect (darn!).

I had already thought to check and subsequently switch the needle that came with it. Nothing changed there.

AND I wound the bobbin right before sewing, as I had just taken it out of the box.

Arg! Thanks for the suggestions so far, though!
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:12 PM on September 4, 2011

Are you putting the presser foot down? I always get a mess on the bottom when I forget.
posted by wwartorff at 6:13 PM on September 4, 2011

If you manually advance the machine with the hand wheel, is the tension OK?

Are you extra special 100-per-cent certain that the bobbin isn't in the bobbin case upside down? Turn it over and see if things change.
posted by KathrynT at 6:16 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a *very* similar Brother sewing machine that I was given as a Xmas gift a few years ago. It does the SAME THING, and it was so frustrating that after three tries I put it in in the back of a closet. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it - I'm hoping someone has a magic answer here. I figured it was just a cheap machine made cheaply and therefore didn't work well.
posted by flex at 6:17 PM on September 4, 2011

Best answer: I have a cheaper Brother and I get a similar sort of problem if I wind the bobbin too slowly. If I hold the foot down and let it speed on, the bottom stiches are obscenely tight. I'd suggest varying the speed at which you wind on the bobbin.

Also, when was the last time you had your machine serviced? The whole problem may well be internal and beyond your control.
posted by Jilder at 6:18 PM on September 4, 2011

1. Check to be sure you are threading the bobbin properly. Seriously. There are small notches and the bobbin has to go in the proper direction per your manual and in all unkiddingness, my friend just realized the other day that the reason she hates her machine and loves mine is that she has been improperly threading her bobbin for YEARS. Are you threading the bobbin with the presser foot up? The foot has to be up in order to properly disengage the tension for threading.

2. Check that in all of the what the what you've not managed to somehow lose the proper threading up top. Take the whole thing out and just do it again.

3. Are you drawing both the upper and lower threads under the presser foot when you start?

4. Are the feed dogs down, or up in the proper place?

5. Is there lint or other junk in the bobbin case? Clean it!

6. Is the thread on the bobbin wound well or poorly? A poorly wound bobbin is a menace.

That's all I can think of. In general, a patient re-threading (usually by someone less frustrated than myself, which applies to all machines I use regularly [Kenmore, Singer, White, Husqvarna, Pfaff].)
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:27 PM on September 4, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, foot is always down when sewing. I have used a sewing machine before, but I lived in an IMPOSSIBLY small apartment for a few years and had to get rid of my machine during that time. I've been doing this since I was a kid. I'm so stumped!

This machine has TWO guides on the machine itself that tells you have to thread the bobbin, as well as the threading instructions in the book. I am 100% sure I am doing that correctly.

Here's the set of photos of what the top threading looks like. I believe this is 100% correct.

I hope this machine doesn't need servicing! I just took it out of the box. That would not be good.

And, so far the best idea is that I am going too slow. I'll try to be a bit more speedy on my next trial run.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:27 PM on September 4, 2011

Response by poster: Oh sorry, I didn't preview.

The feed dogs are up. You can probably see that in one of the shots in the flickr set I just posted.

And like I said, I just unpacked the machine. It is brand new.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:31 PM on September 4, 2011

Well I have a different machine so this may not work for you, but looks like you've exhausted all the easy answers, so... with mine, after I've threaded it correctly, I often have to hold the top of the thread and then pull down on the loose end, very firmly, to get the thread slotted into the notches properly. May be worth a try.
posted by evilmomlady at 6:35 PM on September 4, 2011

I restored an old Pfaff last year, and the manual had THE MOST HELPFUL tension adjusting guide ever.

Here is the last word on sewing machine thread tension. Here's the post it came from, which has a little more (self-link).

However, that doesn't solve your problem. I don't know needle sizing off the top of my head, but when I had a similar problem, it was due to the size of the hole in the needle causing its own tension issue.
posted by fake at 6:36 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Does your brother have the little silver part that the bobbin sits in before it goes into the machine? If so, tighten the tiny little screw on that silver part before you thread the thread through it and drop it in the machine. That works on mine =D
posted by Jayed at 6:41 PM on September 4, 2011

Jayed, this is a machine with a drop in bobbin, it doesn't have a case or "cage" as my mom refers to it.

I'm stumped, honestly. I'd rewind my bobbin.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:43 PM on September 4, 2011

It's brand new?

Return and get a replacement.

Alternatively - CALL THE COMPANY.

First off, I love Brother products. They might be very amenable to replace the sewing machine, even if you do not have a receipt. I've had great luck with this via Wustof and some other companies. I am a big Brother consumer because their stuff never breaks. I'd be surprised if they won't fix this for you, even if your receipts are not in order.

I'm planning to call the manufacturer of my car seat and stroller system tomorrow to ask for a similar remedy.

Sometimes, you get surprised. Call Brother.
posted by jbenben at 6:54 PM on September 4, 2011

The loops on the bottom look to me like the takeup lever isn't taking up the thread properly: the needle goes down OK, but when it goes back up the thread isn't pulled up with it. The bobbin thread looks a little loose but I think the real problem is with the needle thread, not the bobbin.

I looked at your threading pictures and it seemed OK, but it's hard to be sure. When you thread the machine, is the presser foot UP? When it's up, the tension disks move apart and the thread goes between them properly. When it's down the thread will detour around the pressed-together disks and you may miss other parts of the threading path that are not easily visible.

Try pulling on the needle thread. It should flow freely when the presser foot is up and be hard to move when it's down. If this isn't true, pull the thread out completely and rethread with the foot up. The bobbin thread should offer a little resistance to pulling, enough that the thread dents your fingertip a little but it shouldn't be really tight. You may need to adjust the tension screw of the bobbin case if it's too loose. The needle tension should feel tighter than the bobbin tension when you do the tug test - this will give a balanced tension when the machine is actually sewing.

Last thing - are you pulling the fabric through the machine faster than the feed dogs move it? Sometimes it's easy to get carried away with "taut sewing" and pulling the fabric can cause loops like that (I'm not sure why, exactly). A friend whom I was teaching how to sew had this problem constantly and I could never reproduce it until I watched her at the machine - she was dragging the fabric and as soon as she relaxed and stopped showing the feed dogs who was boss, it went away immediately.
posted by Quietgal at 7:12 PM on September 4, 2011

Best answer: 90/14 is a little tight for 50/3 mercerized cotton thread. Generally, a 100/16 or even a 110/18 would be better; a new needle simply threaded on a two foot length of thread should easily slide back and forth on the thread, with NO hanging, just by alternately raising and lowering each end of the lightly held length of thread. The larger "groove" in the larger needles also gives better protection for the needle thread during penetration of the fabric.

Also, the point style of the needle is important for sewing heavier "stretch denim" fabrics- the needle has to "open" the weave of the spandex fiber, without picking the fiber, to allow the following thread in the needle eye to smoothly penetrate the fabric. If that doesn't happen, a full loop won't be formed on the initial needle bar rise after bottom dead center of the needle bar stroke. So, try a denim point or a medium ball point type needle, preferably chromium finished, which is a much smoother needle, capable of sewing at higher speeds than normally finished needles, with less heating.
posted by paulsc at 7:14 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sewing machine: CONQUERED.

Thanks to everyone. I think it was just a matter or REALLY fine-tuning the tension (like, 7 wasn't good, 5 wasn't good, but six was PERFECT) and going much faster.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:15 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this thread, it helped us try harder figuring out that our problem was our bobbin tension was set way too loose. Probably came loose after years of non-use and moving from home to home. That or it came from the factory set too loose :)
posted by OwlBoy at 12:58 AM on June 14, 2012

« Older Novels, Stories, or Movies Like Planescape:...   |   Emulating people to improve productivity at work... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.