Adjusting bobbin tension on sewing machines

Tension setting on a sewing machine requires a little more than just adjusting the presser foot tension. Sewing machine bobbin tension plays an important part too and changing bobbin tension is crucial for the success of all sewing projects!

Bobbin tension

Tension setting

Did you know the success of your sewing projects is tightly connected to the right tension? Adjusting the sewing machine tension involves three aspects: setting the correct presser foot tension, setting bobbin tension according to your project and adjusting top thread tension.

This tutorial has been converted to a PDF file, available to purchase here. This article is completely free to read.

In this tutorial I showed you how to set the presser foot tension and now it’s time to see how to change the tension in your bobbin. We’ll talk about top thread tension on a future tutorial. Setting these to the correct level that is required by your project plays an extremely important role. But first let’s see why you need to make these adjustments.

Why bobbin tension is important?

It all comes down to the fabric, really. Every fabric is different in texture and thickness thus requiring different pressure from the presser foot. But they also require different threads to get the perfect stitch. You can’t obviously sew thick fabrics with lightweight thread and vice versa. I mean you can, but the result will be disastrous for the fabric, the needle, the sewing machine and your poor nerves. So you need to adjust the presser foot to apply the right tension and then you need to take care of the thread tension which is controlled by the bobbin tension and the needle tension.


Changing the bobbin thread tension is super easy and quick and testing if you’ve chosen the bobbin tension right in your bobbin case is also a breeze as long as you know where to start and how to do the adjustments. By not choosing the correct bobbin tensions for your thread will result in frequent thread breaks, broken stitches, erratic stitches, loose stitches, unraveling, loops in the back of the fabric, broken needle, jammed threads etc Save yourself from all the headaches and keep your machine happy by doing something that is so simple and easy and only takes a couple of minutes: choose the proper tensions settings for both the bobbin tension and the presser foot tension.

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When I say bobbin tension I’m actually referring to the bobbin case which is the little metal case your actual bobbin goes into. If you’re looking closely at the bobbin case, it features a teeny tiny screw on one side. At a first glance it may see like this little guy’s purpose is to keep the bobbin together but in fact it is the big brother when it comes to setting the bottom thread tension.

To differentiate between presser foot or top thread problems and tension problems in the bobbin case you need to look at the stitches first. If  the issues appear to the stitches on the front side of your project, these could be presser foot related or needle thread tension. If the affected stitches are on the back side of the fabric, the issue is in the bobbin (either tension, jammed thread or lint).

When to change the bobbin tension?

Most machines are set for standard tension, in all three places (top thread, presser foot and bottom or bobbin thread) and you usually don’t have to mess with those settings. But this doesn’t mean you never ever have to adjust them! Unless you plan on sewing with the same fabric over and over again for the rest of your life. Doesn’t sound like a great plan, doesn’t it?

Sometimes when you sew heavy duty fabrics you’ll need thick thread which might require a bit of adjustment of your bobbin tension. You’ll also need to change the tension when working with elastic thread for shirring, like I did here for this shirring project and then for this shirred dress. Some metallic threads might also require tension adjustments in the bobbin.

Below find how to make the correct adjustments so you get the proper bobbin tension for each project. This tutorial covers the front load bobbin, not the drop-in bobbins which is similar but slightly different (hopefully I’ll find some free time to touch that subject too).


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Adjusting bobbin tension

How to adjust bobbin tension


  • bobbin winded with thread
  • bobbin case
  • screw driver

How to adjust bobbin tension?

Before proceeding to making any adjustments, make sure your bobbin tension problems are not related to other issues, such as dirt, lint or small pieces of thread inside your sewing machine or the bobbin case.  And if you’re not very experienced it’s always a good idea to ask a technician to do this job.

Locate the tension screw

  • The bobbin tension also known as bottom tension is generally set at the factory for standard sewing thread and for most part of your sewing journey, shouldn’t need adjustment.
  • Adjusting this tension is controlled by a small screw, located next to the thread opening.

Thread tension

  • See that little plate with a hook that holds the thread? That’s what the little screw does, it makes that plate apply a tighter or a looser tension.

Adjust the tension

  • Before proceeding to adjust this screw, please note the screw doesn’t have any markings on so if you move the screw too much it may be difficult to reinstate to the original position. So first mark the original position using a marker on both the screw and the bobbin case.
  • To make the adjustments, get a tiny screw driver (your machine might come equipped with such screw driver), turn the screw to the right for tighter tension or to the left to loosen.


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Test the tension

  • To test your settings for the new adjustments, insert the winded bobbin into the case, hold the tail end of the thread with one hand, place your other hand under the bobbin to catch it and gently jiggle the thread. If the case doesn’t move at all, the tension is too tight. A case dropping quickly indicates a tension that is too loose. If the case moves just a little with every jiggle, you got the perfect tension.

  • Another way to check the tension is to thread the needle, lower the presser foot then tug on both threads simultaneous. If they come out even you have set the perfect tension.
  • Always do a test stitch before engaging in a larger project!

If you found this tutorial helpful and informative I would love to know it so please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts! Thanks and happy sewing!

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about petro


Hi, I’m Petro, author and founder of Easy Peasy Creative Ideas. Sewist, crafter, avid DIY-er, foodie, photographer, homemaker and mommy to one. I’m an expert at coming up with quick, clever sewing tips, recycling crafts and simple, easy recipes! You can find my ideas featured in reputable publications such as Country Living, Good House Keeping, Yahoo News, WikiHow, Shutterfly, Parade, Brit & Co and more. Thanks for stopping by and hope you’ll stay for a while, get to know me better and come back another time. Stick around for real fun projects! Read more…

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  1. Thank you for all your information. I really need to put some of your organization tips to use. Thanks again. Looking forward to some of your other ideas.

  2. I’ve been sewing for over 50 years, but I still learn stuff from you all the time!

    1. Aww, thanks so much, Margie! That’s one of the things I love about the sewing community, we learn something new from each other all the time, even after years of sewing! xoxo

  3. Jacqueline says:

    I’ve been sewing for my own family for years. Now for 8 grandchildren! I’ve never known that this was a problem or thought to fix it! I’m making 4 pillowcase dresses and I am following your pattern. You give great instructions and good pictures. Thank you from a cape cod girl.

  4. Poohville says:

    Not even close to what mine looks like.

    1. You probably have a drop in bobbin which has a slightly different mechanism for adjusting tension.

  5. Thanks so much! I was told ‘There is no bobbin tension, you’ve messed up your thread tension!’

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Diana! Glad to be of help :)

  6. I had to move on from my 40 year old machine due to lack of finding bobbins, needles, and whatnot. So sad. My sister gave me a sewing machine with an adjustable bobbin. I have spent so much time searching for and asking others who sew, how to adjust it with no success until now. I went out and bought a machine with a drop in plastic bobbin. Thank you so much for this information! I now have two great working machines. YEY!

  7. Susan McNulty says:

    Thank you – I’ve been sewing for years but didn’t know that!
    I’m really grateful:)

  8. Thank you! Your tip on pulling the two threads at the same time was just what I needed. Problem Solved!

  9. Jacqueline says:

    Thank you for the helpful advice on bobbin tension. I have been using a sewing machine for65 years and never new what that little screw was for.

  10. Very helpful and easy to understand the video. Thank you

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I’m glad you liked my tutorial :)

  11. Great presentation (2020). I did learn some tips. I have a bobbin case with no screw. One “expert” was charging me $20up for an ordinary case. Where can I buy one reasonably?

  12. Savannah Jobes says:

    Thanks, GREAT information, every sewer needs to know how to adjust.

  13. Do you have any advice for drop in bobbins

    1. Linda, it should pretty much be the same. The bobbin casing in the drop in should have a little screw on a side that you can adjust as needed. I would not advise messing with that screw until you eliminated all other possibilities.

  14. Beth Nettles says:

    Thanks for the explanation regarding testing the tension and how to fix it. . Right to tighten. Left to loosen.

  15. Hi, my Godmother (91) gave me her 60 years old Bernina! It’s still working like before and I guess that the thread tension is more important than on the Brother sewing machine I usually use. So thank you very much for your tips! I already checked the upper thread tension and it was too tight!
    Thank you all the way from Geneva – Switzerland

  16. C Gilfoil says:

    Thanks, this was perfect. I have an older machine (about 60yrs) and have been trying to figure out the tension. This should fix my problem. Thank you so much.

    1. Happy I was able to help! Thanks for stopping by :)

  17. Fixed in under 2 minutes!!! Who knew?! I’ve been sewing for over 50 years on different machines, the last 2 with this type of bobbin. I’ve had this issue before and taken it to be repaired. Of course, the repairman never told me I could fix it myself. Now, during COVID 19, the repair places aren’t open and the manual doesn’t show this. I’m sewing face masks and was very sad that the machine suddenly started misbehaving. Thank you for the help. Now I can continue my project. THANKS!!!!

    1. Happy to help, Marge! And thanks for letting me know this tip worked great for you! Happy sewing and stay safe!

    2. Me too!!! I was getting agitated and found this post.

      1. Peggy Musial says:

        Me to. So excited when I fixed it myself in under a couple of minutes. Who knew all these years. Wow!

  18. Good job! I needed that lesson