Understanding Thread Tension

Don't let your threads play tug-of-war!

As an embroiderer you want to achieve beautiful end results, no matter if you are doing it as a hobby, semi-professionally or professionally. There are many factors that can have an influence on how your embroidery ends up looking like when it comes off your machine. We have talked extensively about choosing the right needles, fabrics and threads previously here on our blog.


In this article we explain how thread tension can effect the final result of your machine embroidery. We also show you how you can check if your machine is set to the right tension by looking at your embroidery and how to adjust your top thread to ensure great final results. 

Top Thread vs. Bobbin Thread

To understand thread tension, first you need to understand how the the two threads, your bobbin thread and your top embroidery thread work together. Watch this great video below that demonstrates really well how a sewing machine works. It is exactly the same with your embroidery machine.

This infographic below also shows you the relationship between the bobbin thread and the top thread. Imagine it as if the two threads were playing tug-of-war. It is not a bad thing though. In order to form a lock, both of the two threads need to be slightly tense, but there has to be an optimum balance between the two.

How Can I Tell if My Thread Tension Is Right?

Once you have done your test stitch-out, you need to have a look at the back of your fabric and check how much of the top thread was pulled through it. The result will indicate if the tension of the top thread is too loose, too tight or just right.

How to Adjust Thread Tension on My Machine?

When you checked the back of the fabric on your test stitch-out and you noticed that your top tension is either too loose or too tight, you need adjust the top thread tension using the dial(s) on your machine. Although it is possible to change the tension of the bobbin thread, it is typically the tension of the top thread that gets adjusted and this infographic shows you how.

So to recap, the quality of your embroidery is influenced by the balance of the tension of the bobbin thread and the top embroidery thread. It is typically the top thread that gets adjusted to achieve the optimum balance and ensure that the ‘tug-of-war’ between the two threads is even. 🙂

Understanding thread tension is important because it also effects the pull of the thread on the fabric, which can cause distortions. In the next article, we will discuss this issue and how to use pull compensation to avoid that.

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Happy Embroidery

Bernadett and the Hatch Team

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