Sewing Machine Tension Balancing Tips for Beginners

Whether you are just starting out, or you are an accomplished sewer, learning to control and balance tensions on a sewing machine is an integral part of the skill. Proper tension balancing delivers a perfect stitch, as well as, the capacity to adjust tensions for different types of fabrics and materials.

Although it requires years of practice, experience, and trial and error, eventually you will get tension balancing just right. In the meantime, it is always helpful to review tips and tricks for balancing tensions on a sewing machine. Continue reading to do just that!

Indianapolis Alterations 317-845-9077
Indianapolis Alterations 317-845-9077

Sewing Machines and Tension Balancing

In order to learn how to properly balance tensions on a sewing machine, you must have general sewing machine knowledge and be able to locate and utilize their features; like the bobbin and bobbin case, bobbin tension screw, upper tension assembly, presser foot lever, presser foot, stitch length and width dials, needle plate, and so on.

Before balancing the tensions, it is best to first start with some standard preparations and a few tricks of the trade. For example, be sure to use a light-colored thread shade on top and for the bobbin. It is recommended to always use high quality mercerized threads. Next, insert a brand new needle.

Many people choose to use a size 14, but use whichever size you are most comfortable with, or the size the alteration calls for. Do this while keeping the needle bar in the “up” position. Go forward by threading the machine and the bobbin case. Then finish by bringing the bobbin thread upwards and through the needle plate as if you are preparing to sew.

Now, set your sewing machine to its widest and longest stitch settings it allows; for straight stitch machines, set it at the longest basting stitch. Upper tensions should be between 3 and 5 for older setups; while newer machines should be set to auto.


The bottom thread tension should easily pull out of the bobbin, and slide smoothly from the needle plate opening. You can check this by using your hands to feel for smooth and easy accessibility. Although it takes practice and experience to know what proper tension feels like, you at least get the idea of what to check for.


Go ahead and place a tester material underneath the presser foot. Try to use a dark colored fabric and fold it in half. Use this to test the stitch quality by sewing one length. Longer test fabrics allow more room for stitch testing.


Once you have tested the stitch, inspect the finished stitch quality. If there seems to be some stitches that are skipped or abnormal, then you probably need to repair your machine. It is not a tension balancing issue at this point. If the stitch is pulling off, or the knot is showing, then your tensions are too loose. Tighten bobbin cases in 1/8 increments for accurate adjustments. Once the knot is no longer visible, then your tensions are well-balanced.

Need Sewing Help?

Yong's Alterations 317-845-9077
Yong’s Alterations 317-845-9077

Call Yong’s Alterations at 317-845-9077 for professional sewing alterations in Indianapolis, Indiana. We are expert tailors who provide affordable alterations for men, women, children, and home décor. Bring us your costumes, coats, suits, dresses, formal wear, team jerseys, curtains, upholstery, and more! Request a free quote for Indianapolis clothing alterations, today.