Sew, What's New?

Curating sewing and quilting talent, techniques, and tutorials, since 1997.

What would you say to someone who told you: "I love to watch TV but my TV only gets one channel so that's all I watch. I'd really like to watch other channels but the reception just isn't very good. I'm afraid if I adjust the antenna too much, I might break it."  

My response would be: "Are you content to be in a one-channel rut or would it be better to learn how to adjust the TV so it operates as it was meant to operate? You might worry that if you try to adjust it, you'll damage it and lose the single channel you now have. However, if you learn how to properly adjust the TV, you will have a TV that gives you many choices instead of just one."

I sometimes hear, "My machine only likes one type of thread. It doesn't like that thread." If your sewing machine is not providing the full range of channels, including the metallic channel, the heavy cotton channel, the hologram thread channel, the ultra fine thread channel, and so on, why not learn to make a few safe and simple adjustments so the machine operates at its potential?

Most of our machines, whether intended for embroidery or quilting, are first and foremost sewing machines. They are programmed to sew using a strong, fine polyester sewing thread. Quilting and embroidery are secondary considerations. When we change channels by adding a heavier or sensitive thread, the machine is still in sewing mode and sometimes does not accommodate the new thread. This is the critical point where we decide whether to give up and stay in the plain thread rut or to learn to make adjustments to accommodate the more appealing threads.

Making adjustments is surprisingly simple. 99% percent of the time adjustments involve increasing the needle size or loosening the upper tension setting.

1. Needle size. Small needles shred medium and heavy threads. Using a too small needle is like trying to force a heavy shoelace through a small eyelet. A larger needle is not going to leave a huge h*** in the fabric. Medium and heavier threads require a larger needle h*** and they will fill it. The fabric will gather back around the thread and close up the needle h***.

2. Upper tension setting . Everywhere the thread touches along the thread path adds tension to the thread. Some longarm machines have six or seven touches, each one adding additional tension. Some home machines also have more thread guides than are necessary. Adjust the tension by reducing the number of places the thread makes contact with any part of the machine. It is OK to bypass some of the thread guides. The guide that usually causes the problem is the last one near the needle. Try skipping that one. Next, reduce the tension setting. Even if the person who sold you the machine told you to never touch it, don't rely on the automatic tension control. All machines have a manual tension override function for a reason. The more you learn to use it, the more versatile your machine will become. An auto tension control may help some but rarely does enough. One a scale of zero to ten, machines are factory preset to about a five. Reduce the tension not by small fractions but by three or four whole numbers. It is better to go way down and then ease back up than to go down one tiny step at a time. You will know when the tension is too loose when the top thread loops on the bottom.

These adjustments are easy and safe. The result will be more versatility in your machine. No more one-channel sewing. When I go to Baskin-Robbins, I don't want a double scoop of vanilla ice cream. I want to try those delicious fancy flavors. Give your quilting and embroidery a break from vanilla.

Reprinted with permission from Bob Purcell, Superior Threads.

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