I’ve got a cure for your tension headache. Tension is the first thing you need to learn when starting out with longarm quilting. It’s not hard to learn. Many quilters have a bit of a mental block about it. We have been told repeatedly to not touch the tension on our domestic machine’s bobbin. Fear of breaking our machine kept us from ever touching that part. Now, with a longarm, we are told in order to adjust the tension we need to start by setting the bobbin tension.
There really is nothing to be afraid of. Getting over that mental block is key. And there are lots of resources to help you get more comfortable with tensioning.
Last week, HQ Watch and Learn aired an episode all about the ABC’s of TNT.
Nothing explosive here, TNT stands for Thread, Needles and Tension (even though the information you’ll get will blow your mind!). Be sure to watch it here.
Here are the 5 most helpful tips from the video:
1. Put the bobbin in the case correctly
Denise shows how to have the thread coming off the bobbin form the letter “b” . It’s easy to remember – b for bobbin! Proper placement of the bobbin is super important for good stitch formation.
2. Set the bobbin tension first
Follow the video to learn the “drop” test to set your bobbin tension. Once you have that set properly, you can balance the tension with adjustment of the top thread tension. Set it and forget it. Remember this: righty tighty, lefty loosey.
Once you set the bobbin tension, it is time to do some stitching so you can examine your stitches and make adjustments. Just like Goldilocks, you might have to stitch several samples til you get the tension “just right”. Follow the video for Denise’s recommendations.
3. Sample stitching needs to be small curves and points
Straight lines of stitching might look like the tension is good. But when you start quilting curves, you can see eyelashes. And when you quilt points you can see gobs. (See illustration below for definition of eyelashes and gobs) Testing by quilting small loops and points will expose bad tension so you can make adjustments.
The photo below shows the back of the quilt with the top thread (blue) getting pulled to the back. The yellow thread is the bobbin.
4. Thread throw-up happens
The most likely cause of thread throw-up: the top thread has come out from between the tension disks.
5. Check the thread path
When you have a UE. (UE=Ugly Event, like thread throw-up) The first thing to do is check the thread path, starting at the cone or spool and make sure the thread is exactly where it should be all along the way to the needle. Check all the thread guides.
In the video you saw these helpful guides. Here they are, so you can study them and learn even more.
Now that you have all the information, it’s time for you to practice. Pull out some of your threads. Load up your practice fabric sandwich and thread your machine with the thread you fear most. Keep trying until …
No more headaches!
Quilt every day!
by Mary Beth Krapil