by Bernie Tobisch
I have been a sewing machine technician for 42 years and have enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t have found a better career to match my personality and skill set. I have had the opportunity to work on every kind of sewing machine from 200-needle mattress quilters to the latest household computerized embroidery machines.
For the last 20 years, my focus has been on household machines. Along with my wife, Shelley, I have taught many hundreds of classes. She teaches the techniques, and I relate them to the sewing machine. This has worked very well and has been a lot of fun for us.
Over the years, I have come to understand and appreciate that most sewists have a very strong relationship with their sewing machine. The connection is not like one with a toaster, microwave oven, or dishwasher. This is much more personal. I’ve heard it said that in a fire, the sewing machine would be the first item to be saved. I have seen this relationship be the source of much joy and the cause of many tears.
In our many classes, I have started to see myself as somewhat of a relationship counselor and always do my best to reestablish trust and understanding. But at times where there were irreconcilable differences between sewist and machine, I have also had to facilitate separation and divorce. My goal with this book is to help you gain a better understanding of your sewing machine—its needs and what it is trying to communicate to you.
I hope that this new understanding will allow you and your machine to become best friends. I have tried to include enough styles of sewing machine so you find one that is similar to yours; but as always, the manual that came with your machine should be the final authority. If you don’t have a manual, many manufacturers have downloads available from their websites.
Tension in the Relationship
Bad tension can ruin any relationship. You are trying to sew a simple seam and are getting a nest of thread under the fabric. You might be using two colors of thread, and you are seeing the bobbin thread being pulled to the top of the fabric. Last week, when you were working on this project, the tension was perfect. What is your machine trying to tell you today?
Your expectations are not being met, and that is frustrating. The key is knowing what you are dealing with. Is the machine misbehaving, or is this simply a misunderstanding? Let’s explore how tension mechanisms work.
The top tension mechanism is actually a very simple thing. It really doesn’t want to give you any grief, and it rarely does.
Basically, two metal discs provide the tension on the top thread. On one side, a spring regulates the amount of pressure to the thread. In the photo, I am using two pie plates to symbolize the metal discs. My hand on one side represents the spring. The harder I push, the more tension there is.
That spring is controlled by a dial or, in the case of some computerized sewing machines, by the computer itself. Increasing the number increases the amount of pressure on the thread. Decreasing the number lessens the amount of pressure on the thread. The control dial can be found on top of the machine on some brands and on the front of the machine on others. On older machines, you might find the dial on the left side. On machines where the tension is controlled by the computer, there will be an icon on screen that allows adjustment when touched. Your instruction manual will indicate where the tension control is for your machine.