Sewing machine auto tension busted after servicing
September 30, 2020 3:08 PM   Subscribe

My 15-year-old sewing machine, a Kenmore 19606 (made by Janome), has automatic tension. I had it serviced because the top tension was off — but I brought it home and now the bottom tension is off. Repair person told me to manually adjust — but why should I need to, if auto tension always worked before? Can I fix it at home?

I’ve had this machine since it was new and have used it a lot — bags, quilts (including free motion quilting), both knit and woven garments. So I know it well. I’ve literally never touched the tension dial other than once when I was working with a finicky jersey. That also means I’ve never needed to learn about tension issues, so I don’t totally understand what’s going on now.

Recently, I was sewing along (halfway through piecing a quilt with a thread, fabric, needle combination I’ve used many times before). Everything was great. Then there was a big clunk and when I kept sewing, the top tension was super loose (i.e. stitches were loose on the top of the seam). So I change the needle, rethread top and bobbin, take off the needle plate and take out the bobbin case and clean everything I can reach. Tension improves, but isn’t quite perfect.

I call around to repair shops and only find one that has a turnaround of less than 4-6 weeks — an individual that works out of her home. She gets it back to me fast. She cleaned, oiled, and said she fixed some bobbin tension issue that she didn’t describe.

I bring the machine home. On the way, it falls over in my car because I’m stupid and didn’t secure it. Then I try it out (using same thread, fabric, needle combination as before) and now the bottom tension is loose (i.e. I can see the top thread on the back, opposite problem as what it had before). I dutifully change needle and rethread top and bobbin. No improvement. So I text the repair person and she sends me a link about manual tension adjustment. Um, thanks? I really don’t think I should need to manually adjust the tension when auto always worked perfectly with pretty much everything I threw at it.

That said, I got straight stitch to look okay by setting the tension dial to 6.5 (!), but zigzag is still a little off on the bottom (I can see a little top thread, so it makes a little Y shape). I’m still unhappy that I’ve had to do that.

So what’s going on? I’m not super keen to go back to that repair person, but I don’t want to take it someplace else and wait six weeks. (It’s entirely possible something went wrong when the machine fell over in my car, rather than the repair person screwing up, but her response turned me off.) Is there something I can do to fix it myself? Google is astoundingly unhelpful.

(sorry for the length of this fairly simple question, but I can’t restrain myself from giving all the background!)
posted by liet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
You might find some help here: She's A Sewing Machine Mechanic
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:13 PM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some tips can be found The Spruce.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2020

Best answer: There is a teeny tiny screw on the bobbin at the front (that model has a drop in bobbin from what I can tell from the internet). Most are "righty tighty", but you can google to be sure. Turn it about a quarter turn at a time. Should fix the problem.

Likely the service cleaned some fluff out of the spring and it loosened up.
posted by kjs4 at 6:36 PM on September 30, 2020

Her response indicates to me she may not know you are talking about a machine with auto adjusting tension. It is possible she is confusing you with another customer and just does not remember your specific machine. I think that is a simple mistake to make if she is moderately busy. I would send one more text about the machine, being clear it has/had auto tension.
posted by soelo at 7:15 PM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would read 'auto adjusting tension' as 'adjusts to most circumstances', like different thread thicknesses and types.

Assuming they want you to fiddle with a screw through the spring on the bobbin holder, there's a good chance you will have to do this precisely once and never again, because something about the (replaced?) upper tension plates is now a bit grippier than it used to be and that isn't what the auto adjustment corrects for. I'd think of it as 'calibrating' the auto tensioner, if that helps. Once you get it right it should be automatic from there on in. Mind, my machine isn't autotensioned, so this is an educated guess.

If it bothers you or you don't feel confident about it, you could easily make the case that it should have been tested before being returned to you and it clearly wasn't, and they can do the fiddling. But personally, I would probably try it myself first, because it shouldn't be hard and it would save a trip, and then take it back if I found that I couldn't get it right or it needed constant adjustments.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:01 PM on September 30, 2020

Response by poster: Belated update: so I was working up the guts to adjust the screw on the bobbin case. Took it out of the machine, looked at the screw... then decided to try one more test sample with auto tension before I bit the bullet.

My actual project was quilting cotton fabric with cotton thread, but I’d been testing with polyester thread on muslin (because a. I didn’t want to waste my limited scraps of this particular fabric, and b. I had a lot more colors of poly thread so I could do contrasting colors on top and bottom). When I finally did a sample with the cotton fabric and thread, lo and behold, the tension looked acceptable. So I’m stupid.

That said, while for now I’m moving forward without making any adjustments, I’m mentally prepared to have to fix something when I finish this project and want to use anything else. Which sucks, because auto tension worked on 99% of the fabric and thread combinations I’d ever used before the servicing (including the muslin and poly thread combo I was using to test).

Thanks, all!
posted by liet at 2:24 PM on October 14, 2020

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