Tackling Tension: Nine Factors that Influence Tension

Good Morning, Quilters and Sleuths…

Any clue what’s happening with our Mystery Quilt? (Please Note the new tab at the top of the Menu Bar with all the clues/assignments.)

Any theories what C50 and P50 stand for?  How about the M? or the X?

“Tackling Tension” Mini-series...

Last week we began our discussion of tension and we reviewed the difference between good and not-so-good stitches.

The perfect free motion quilt stitch:

  • The top and bobbin tensions are balanced and the knot is hidden in the quilt sandwich.
  • Individual stitches can be seen.

Free Motion Quilt Tutorial, Double Heart Leaf Vine


1.  You can’t find your car keys.

2.  You’re late for work.

3.  It’s -25 F outside.

Oh, okay….Let’s be more specific:

Nine Factors that Influence Sewing Machine Tension

1. You can’t find your car keys; you’re late for work…Yes, these are still on the list.  YOUR tension influences sewing tension.  Start by relaxing.  Take a deep breath before you sit down at your sewing machine.

Threads, Sewing Room

2.  Thread-Sewing machine manufacturers set tension for 50 wt Polyester thread.  Properties such as weight, fiber, ply and how the thread is  wound all create different coefficients of friction as the thread passes through the tension discs.  Consequently, the stitch tension is highly dependent on thread type.

Free Motion Quilt Tutorial, Double Heart Leaf Vine

3.  Fabric-The density and weave of each fabric influence sewing tension.  Looser woven fabric produce less friction than tightly woven fabrics like batiks. Adding a layer of batting adds more friction as well.

Needle Choices for Free Motion Quilting

4. Needle-The shape, tip and groove of the needle all impact the thread’s path as it passes through the fabric and joins with the bobbin thread to create the lockstitch.  Needle selection is critical to both top and bobbin tension.  Also, any imperfection, burr or bend in a needle will alter the mechanics involved in creating the stitch.Bernina1.web

5. Machine mechanics-Tension discs, thread guides and bobbin mechanics all help establish tension. Computerized sewing machines have internal tension settings set by the manufacturer. Loose threads and lint build up alter machine mechanics.

6. Stitch type-Zig zag and decorative stitches have different tension requirements than straight stitching.

Free Motion Quilting, Tea

7. Sewing Application-Hemming a pair of jeans, free motion quilting through layers of batting, and flat felling a silk seam all have different tension requirements.   Free motion quilting often requires a lower top tension to adjust for the slight pulling and pushing of the quilt as it maneuvered under the needle.

8.  Environmental-Humidity and temperature effect the textiles and thread and may have an effect on tension.

9.  Desired Result-For creative reasons, you may choose a non-standard balance of tension.  “Whiskers” created by unbalanced tension, could be a desired effect when thread painting a dandelion, for example.

Creating a perfect lockstitch is very complicated business!  While it is frustrating when tension goes awry…we must take a little pity on  our sewing machines… a little sympathetic understanding will go a long way in avoiding Tension Headaches.


  • The next time you are having tension troubles, considering all the factors affecting your stitch. 
  • Rethread your needle and your bobbin.  This step will fix most tension problems.
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak your tension.  Begin by adjusting the top tension in 1/2 setting increments.  

Free Motion Quilting


Next Thursday, we will continue our Tackling Tension Mini-Series with a Troubleshooting Checklist to use when re-threading and top tension adjustments aren’t enough.

Tomorrow:   Open Line Friday…If you have any questions…bring them on!

Hope your stitches are Happy!


PS…All tutorials, information and images are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt.  Feel free to re-blog and share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!


Mystery Quilt-a-Long: A Pattern Emerges…

Spool Pattern

Good morning and welcome back to Quilter, Tailor, Seamstress, SpyThe Inbox Jaunt’s Mystery Quilt-a-Long.

If you haven’t started yet…don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to catch up.  I’ve added a Tab on the Top Menu Bar with each week’s clues.  If you need to review, you’ll find everything in one place…

There is no stitching required this week.  We are going to use our detective skills to search for patterns…


In our last episode we used an ERASEABLE MARKER to add a few notes in our grid:

  • an ‘X’ in the upper left corner
  • the message C50 in the center square…
  • our signature in the bottom right corner

Today, add the following marks–again with an ERASEABLE MARKER!

  • the message ‘P50′ in the block two spots to the left of C50
  • the letter ‘M‘ in the upper right hand corner



There are many ways to make a pattern or template for quilting.  Today, we will discuss a simple method using readily available materials.


On any sheet of paper, draw a rectangle, 1-1/4 inches wide by 1-3/4 inches tall.

If you have graph paper it’s even easier…

Spool Pattern

Draw a diagonal line out from each of the corners.  (Do not fuss too much about the angles–Perfection is not required here. –We’re quilters, not architects!)

SpoolPattern.LKennedy002Connect the lines on the top and on the bottom to create a spool.

SpoolPattern.LKennedy003Cut around the spool…


A quick, rough cut around the shape will do…..We will be more precise later. SpoolPattern.LKennedy006Glue the paper pattern onto a piece of tagboard, manila file folder, a shirt or cereal box, or anything you find around the house.

This time cut accurately around the spool.

That’s it!  A perfect pattern emerges!

SpoolPattern.LKennedy007If you’d rather not draw the motif…you may download the Spool Pattern HERE.


If you have any spare time this week, practice doodling and/or quilting these motifs:

Happy sleuthing!

(Hmmm…The Chief Minister was Xed out with the scissors on the 50th Floor Patio???)

Carolyn Keene

(aka Lori C K)

PS…All clues, tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to share, re-blog, pin with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!


A Day at The Beach–A Free Motion Quilt Tutorial

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingGood Morning, Quilters and Quilt Lovers!

Welcome to Tuesday–Free Motion Quilt tutorial day.

The weather…oh the weather!

Well let’s not think about it…Let’s have a day At the Beach!

Today is the third in a series of Seashells.  We started with Sand Dollars.  Last week we added Oysters and a few variations…

Today we are adding a Whelk...

The Whelk begins like  The Oyster:

Stitch a small loop.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingEcho stitch back to the beginning.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingAdd a row of scallop stitches.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingAdd a double row surrounding the previous row.  Then stitch a straight line.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingStitch a long triangle back toward the top of the Whelk.  Echo stitch back to the tip.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingStitch from the tip of the Whelk back to the circle.  Then Stitch around the seashell.  You may also echo stitch all the way around the shell.

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingCombine the Whelk with the other shells for a complex, but gorgeous fill pattern.  The Whelks add a nice contrast to the other motifs.

By the way…you may like to add Sweet Sunshine…many people thought it looked like a Starfish!

Seashells, Free Motion QuiltingHope the weather where YOU live is ….a Day at the Beach!

The Mystery continues tomorrow…


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at the Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, share, pin with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!

This and That

Good Morning, Quilters!

Just a little something for Monday…

Several weeks ago, our friend, Peggy offered a paper piecing pattern based on “A Girl Sewing” by Victor Hammershoi.  Find the paper pieced pattern HERE.  (Peggy can also be found at wisconsingquilting.wordpress.com

I thought you’d all like to see how quilt artist, Nicole Buckley, stitched the pattern…

(You can find Nicole on Instagram at saphre1964)

A Girl Sewing, Paper Pieced

Paper pieced Girl SewingLove the real needle and thread added to this quilt as well as the hand embroidery!

Paper Pieced, A girl sewingThe above quilt then inspired this watercolor by artist, Jennifer Rodriguez.  You can find her at All Things Belle or on Instagram at allthingsbelle.

A Girl Sewing, WatercolorINSTAGRAM

Also, if you’re not on Instagram, you’re missing the fun!  It is a very easy way to share your iPhone photos–(another way to share your Mystery Quilt photos!)

Follow us at theinboxjaunt.

If you are on Instagram…please leave your address in the Comment section or send me a note @theinboxjaunt so we can find YOU!

It’s going to be a busy week here at The Inbox Jaunt…so get your work done today…and fire up the crock pot!


PS…The images in today’s post are copyrighted and used with permission of the artists.  Please refer to the artists for any use.

Seamstresses in Fine Art

Child Sewing

A Child Sewing

Robert Barnes, Girl Sewing

Robert Barnes (1840-1945)


NOTE-Contrary to “Seamstresses in Fine Art” tradition, I was unable to find any biographical information on Mr. Barnes.  If there are any sleuths out there who can find information…we’d love to read more about these adorable images.

Open Line Friday – Fabric Markers

Micron Pens, Fabric markersHurray!  It’s Friday…

Time for another Open Line Friday…Please ask away…No question is too big or too small.   Also, please help answer questions…as a group we have a lot of experience.  So join in!  The More, The Merrier!

I’ll start by commenting on the Mystery Whole Cloth Quilt-a-Long.  (By the way, if you haven’t joined in, it is not too late…You could easily catch up with the group!)


I know a lot of you are struggling with the Zig Zag…and I think a little struggling is okay…that’s how we improve.  However, The Zig Zag is not critical to the design of this quilt and it is more important that you enjoy the process.  No one should be discouraged, nor should you spend inordinate amounts of time on The Zig Zag.  If you are struggling, replace the Zig Zag with a gentle wavy line.  Double this line IF it would be fun and a reasonable challenge for you.  If not, skip it.  Later in the project, you will be able to go back and add the extra line IF YOU WANT to do so…

I would rather see you do any free motion quilted line than a programmed stitch or a “feed dogs UP”  design.


Today, I have a question for the group:  What are YOUR favorite permanent marking pens for fabric?  Can you recommend any good articles, links, tips about using marking pens on fabric?


Last week someone asked about storing bobbins and you all had great ideas!

I have two favorites:  The Bobbin Saver  and a wooden bobbin spool rack.

Thread Saver Bobbin HolderThe Bobbin rack is found at JoAnn Fabrics.  I use it of the Bernina 820 bobbins which are too large to fit in the Bobbin Saver above.

Bobbin HolderNow it’s YOUR turn…What are YOUR Questions and Answers!


PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only. Feel free to re-blog, pin, or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!

Tackling Tension – The Mini-Series

Free Motion Quilted FootballGood Morning, Quilters!

You’ve managed to find twenty minutes to do a little quilting.  You RUN up to your sewing room,  flip on the lights and the machine, take a sip of your tea and settle in for a little happy creativity…

You begin stitching…and your serenity is shattered by terrible looking stitches…

Sound familiar?

Free Motion Quilted FootballIt happens to ALL of us.

It doesn’t matter if your machine is old or new, computerized or treadle…

TENSION issues are a part of everyone’s sewing life!

Last week, in our QUILT ESSENTIALS:  Know Your Sewing Machine, we watched two videos demonstrating how a sewing machine creates a lockstitch.  These excellent videos demonstrate the precision required to create a perfect stitch.  There are many factors that can lead to poor tension and a poor stitch quality.

For the next several Thursdays we will tackle tension and put YOU back in control of your machine by:

  • Discussing the eight factors that influence tension
  • Create a troubleshooting checklist
  • Demonstrate how to test your bobbin tension
  • Demonstrate how to test YOUR sewing machine
  • Provide links to articles and useful information
  • Provide Tips and Tricks for adjusting your tension for Free Motion Quilting
  • Offering an Open Line Discussion on how to get help from your service person and dealer…

So let’s get started:


Poor Quality Quilting, Tension Issues

I chose the football photos as an example of IMPROPER TENSION–(how did this get past me?!!!)

The top tension is too tight and there is a “railroading effect”.  The top or needle thread is pulled tight and the bobbin thread shows on top.

Poor Quality Quilting, Tension Issues

Another problem is “whiskers”.  This can happen on either the front of the quilt (Needle thread too tight) or on the back of the quilt (Bobbin thread too tight.)


“Tension is a tug of war between the bobbin thread and the needle thread and you don’t want any winners.” –Paula Reid

In proper tension the bobbin and needle threads are in balance.  The Needle thread does not show on the back and the Bobbin thread does not show on top.  Ideally, the knot is buried in the quilt sandwich and does not show at all.

This graphic was taken from Superior Thread.  Read more HERE.

Sewing Machine Tension Tug of War

The following three photos are examples of better tension:

  • Individual stitches can be seen.
  • No bobbin thread is showing on top

Tying a Quilt001


Happy Blossoms-A Free Motion Quilt Tutorial

The Feathered Leaf Free Motion Quilt Tutorial



Examine your free motion quilting on quilts and on practice pieces:

  • Do you like the look of the stitch on top?
  • How does the stitch look on the back?
  • Any “railroading” or “whiskers”?
  • Do the stitches look perfect in some parts of the motif, but not perfect in other parts of the same quilt or motif?


To get started, try changing just one aspect of your tension this week–the upper tension dial…(Check your owner’s manual!)

  • Increase the top tension (higher number) if you see any top thread pulled to the back.
  • Lower the top tension if you see any bobbin thread pulled to the top of the quilt.

Adjust the tension slowly, 1/2 step at a time.


The Eight Factors that Influence Tension

Happy (Stress Free) Stitching,


PS…All tutorials, images, and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!


The Oyster Shell-A Free Motion Quilt Tutorial


Oyster Shell Free Motion QuiltingGood Morning, Quilters!

In my continued efforts to feel warmer…more seashells!  (See last week’s The Sand Dollar-Free Motion Quilt tutorial)

Today we will be working on another all over or fill pattern.  It can be used to cover large areas in your quilt.  One shell builds on the previous shell and does not have to be stitched in a line.


Begin by stitching a small coil.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ002Reverse directions and echo stitch back to the beginning.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ003Continue echo stitching back and forth around the central coil.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ004Stitch three to five layers and then begin a new shell.

Oyster Shell Free Motion QuiltingThe  new shell can begin either on the right or left of the completed shell.


Add shells on top of one another and shells on each side.  Also, the initial coil can be stitched to the right or left…

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ006To add a little more design, add a row of scallops between the layers.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ007Mix the “fancy shells” in with the plain oyster shells.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ008Or add a few loop-de-loops between the rows.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ009A little star-shaped spikes…

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ010To make a long shell:  Start with the Basic Oyster Shell and stitch back and forth in a taper shape.

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ011This adds more interest to a beach full of plain oysters.


OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ013A grouping of Oyster Shells is a beautiful way to embellish any quilt.  Don’t limit this beautiful motif to beach quilts…

This design is just pretty and will make a beautiful texture on your next quilt!

OysterShell.LKennedy.FMQ015It’s easy and forgiving so give it a whorl!

From the beaches of Minnesota to you,

Happy Shelling,


PS…All tutorials, information and images are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog and pin with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!