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!