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!