Have you book-marked the 6 Steps to Perfect Tension post? The #1 question we get here at Handi Quilter is about tension. It takes a little practice to get skillful at balancing your tension. But once you get it, you’ve got it forever. Just like riding a bike. There are tools that can make the job quicker and easier. For bobbin tension that tool is the TOWA guage.
What is it?
The Towa guage is a device that allows you to read the tension of your bobbin case. It gives you a number to go by.
How does it help?
It can take the guess-work out of setting the bobbin tension. When you know your bobbin tension is set perfectly every time, you can easily proceed with adjusting the top tension to achieve that perfect balanced stitch.
What’s the catch?
You have to determine the bobbin tension that makes your machine happy. It’s not hard to do, just takes a little time. Once you have that number, you can set every bobbin to that tension and you will be good to go.
How do I use it?
Begin by loading a fully wound HQ metal bobbin into the bobbin case. Make sure that the bobbin case is clean of all lint and that the bobbin is loaded properly.
Place the bobbin case into the Towa gauge with the latch pointing up. Click it in, just like you would do at your machine.
Pull the thread under the lower wheel.
And over the upper wheel.
Bring the thread down under the little arm and pull off to the left.
When you pull, the needle of the guage will move. Make sure you are pulling with a nice smooth consistent pull. Watch the red needle to see what your reading is.
If you need to make an adjustment to the tension, you can access the screw while the bobbin case is still in the guage. Use your screwdriver to adjust your tension somewhere in the 150-250 mN (mili-newtons) Remember righty-tighty or lefty-loosey. Make note of the number.
Have your machine loaded with some test fabric. Place the bobbin in your machine and adjust the top tension until your stitches are balanced. Read the 6 Steps to Perfect Tension post or watch the video to learn how to do that.
Stitch for a while with that bobbin. Use the time to practice your feathers. Are you having any thread breakage or shredding? If so, take the bobbin case out, put it back in the gauge and lower the tension slightly. Try stitching again. Is all going well? Do your stitches look consistent? If so, you have found your number!
Once you have found your number, every bobbin should be set to that number. Write it down, memorize it!
Where can I get one?
You can purchase a Towa gauge lots of places. Try your local quilt shop or Handi Quilter retailer. I purchased mine from Superior Threads. Remember to get the M-size gauge that works with our M-size bobbins for Handi Quilter longarms. The package and the gauge will be marked TM-3.
Do I have to have a Towa gauge to set tension?
No. It is a really helpful tool, but it is not a necessity. Even though I have mad tension-setting skills, I use my Towa with every bobbin. It speeds up the process and gives me accuracy and precision. I love accuracy and precision.
If you struggle with tension, try a Towa. It might get you to smooth sailing!
Quilt Every Day!
by Mary Beth Krapil
Thank you ! I did not realize until now that I could not use a pre wound bobbin in the Towa gauge.
Hi Debbie, you CAN use the Towa Gauge to tension prewound bobbins. It works great with all the different types and brands of prewounds.
Wonderful. Thank you!
I am disappointed in this info, because I think it over simplified the TOWA gauge number and is not thorough enough. It also contradicts Superior Threads publication which states what the TOWA number range should be for each of their threads, which appears to be dependent on the thread weight. HQ machines are capable of handling all bobbin tension numbers. I find it hard to believe that each machine has its own secret happy number.
Hi Alexandria, I appreciate your comment. Sorry for your disappointment. The information I shared comes from 20 years of longarm quilting experience and 20 years of using the Towa gauge. I learned how to use my Towa gauge directly from the makers of the gauge when there was no information on Superior’s website or anyplace else for that matter. Using a Towa is subjective. There are variables like how the bobbin is wound and how fast or hard you pull the thread. These variables can result in a different reading for the same thread.
Yes, it is true that Handi Quilter machines are capable of handling many bobbin tensions, but it is also true that each machine will have a “sweet spot”. There are variables in machines, such as how the timing is set that can determine the best tension for beautiful stitch quality. Once you find your machine’s sweet spot, you certainly can tweak your tension setting for various threads. Using one number for all bobbins is an efficient and effective way to set your tension.
In quilting there are many ways to get the results you are looking for. If something works for you, then you should continue to use that technique. It’s always good to keep an open mind and try new things too. Who knows? you just might learn a new technique that works even better. That’s what I love about quilting, there are lots of ways to arrive at a beautifully finished quilt!
I love my Towa gauge and have used it for 17 years now. My machine likes 75-100 for bobbins or the tension gets too tight on the top while trying to get it balanced. I know the techs always set everything to 200 when they service the machine, but as soon as it comes home, all bobbins go to where I like them. I have discovered that I like to wind my own bobbins much better than buying pre wound, just because the tension is more consistent. I won’t use a pre wound bobbin that the tension starts swinging over several hundred while I’m pulling. I’ll still use them if they swing about 25 but that’s my limit. All the ones I wind might swing 1 or 2 tops.
Can I hold the Towa gauge in my hand while I set the tension or does it need to be on a surface to do that?
I hold mine in my hand and get great results. Some of my students have told me they prefer to place it on a table to get consistent pulls. Do what works best for you!
Love all the comments and info. I just purchased a TOWA and learning how to use it. I thought you had to reach a certain number like 200, but now I’ve learned it’s the number that works in your machine. Thank you.