Sewing Machine Tension Guide For Different Fabrics: 8 Best Ways!

Last Updated on 12 months by Susan Mayrich

Do you want to know the sewing machine tension guide for different fabrics? The hardest thing about thick sewing fabrics for many sewers is getting the proper tension on their sewing machine. Of course, there are other considerations like needle size and fabric weight, but it’s hard to get around not having enough tension for this fabric.

sewing machine tension guide for different fabrics

Tension is the force in the sewing machine that pulls the fabric in to make a stitch. It can be adjusted according to your fabric and desired stitch quality.

If the tension is not set correctly, the fabric will not be sewn together properly and will be loose. There are a few things you can do to adjust the tension on your sewing machine. First, there is a knob or dial on many machines that you can turn to increase or decrease the tension.


Sewing Machine Tension Guide For Different Kinds Of Fabrics

For thick heavy fabrics such as denim, twill weaves, and linen, the best tension is a 4 or 5 on medium to medium-heavy fabrics. You should also use a thicker thread for thick sewing fabric. This means a size 100 needle is required but can vary depending on the brand of your machine.

If you are experiencing skipped stitches, try adjusting the tension of both the upper and lower threads. You should set sewing machine tension for thick fabric at a higher number than the tension used for thin fabric.

This is because the thicker fabric will require more force to pass through the needle, and too much tension could cause the fabric to break. The stitch length should be between 4 – 5mm or 6 for heavyweight or thick fabrics. Here’s a sewing machine tension guide for different fabrics:


#1. Adjusting the tension

Loosen the screw and move the bar toward a higher number (if you want to tighten it). If you need to loosen it, move the bar toward a lower number. Keep in mind that when the fabric is thicker, its pressure will be more significant. The more force needed to push through, the more tension is required (especially if multiple layers of fabric are sewn together).



#2. For lightweight fabrics

If you’re sewing light or thin fabric such as lawn, or cotton voile, turn the dial to a lower tension setting such as 2. The stitch length should be between 1.5 to 2.4mm.

You can do a few things to adjust the tension on your sewing machine when working with thin fabrics. One is to make sure that the bobbin is threaded correctly and seated.

You can also try using a smaller needle or loosening the tension slightly. If you’re still having trouble, you may need to adjust the pressure of the presser foot. A recommended needle size is 70/10 when working with thin fabric types.

For lightweight fabrics


#3. For cotton fabric

You should set the sewing machine tension for cotton fabric at medium-high tension. This is usually around 4 to 5 on most machines.

For most sewing machine brands, the standard tension is 4. The key to getting perfect tension is finding the right balance between too tight and too loose.

With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to find the right setting for your fabric and machine.

If the fabric is too tight, it will cause puckering and distortion. So may not adequately secure the fabric if the tension is too loose and can quickly come undone. When setting the machine tension, it’s essential to ensure that the fabric isn’t being pulled too tight as you sew.

If the fabric is constantly being pulled taut, it will quickly wear out and can cause the stitches to become loose. It’s also essential to ensure that the fabric isn’t too slack, as this can lead to skipped stitches and poor-quality stitching.

For cotton fabric


What’s the best needle size for sewing cotton?

You can use either 80/12 or 90/14 needles for medium-weight fabrics like cotton, wool, and terylene. Remember that the higher the number of threads per inch on your fabric, the smaller the needle you will need to penetrate those fibers correctly.


#4. For leather

Because leather is a heavyweight fabric, it needs a higher tension setting and a high stitch length. In addition, the sewing machine tension for leather should be tight because of its thickness.

The recommended tension setting for leather is around 5 or 6. When the leather is too thick, the stitches will be too tight and pucker. Conversely, if the tension is too loose, the stitches will be too loose and will not hold the leather together.

for leather


#5. For denim

If you’re sewing a heavyweight fabric such as denim, you’ll need to increase the machine’s tension. This is done by turning the dial past the recommended fabric thickness, as indicated by a number or symbol on the dial.

The ideal tension setting for handling thicker fabrics like denim is 6. You can also use the tension dial to adjust the stitch length. If you are sewing through denim, you will need to increase the stitch length. The standard width is around 6mm on most machines.

For denim


#6. For polyester

Check the sewing machine’s tension by threading a piece of polyester fabric through it. If the fabric is tight, the tension is too high. If the fabric slips through quickly, the tension is too low.

Adjust the tension accordingly. When working with a polyester type of fabric, the upper tension of 4 works great, but you can adjust if you do not get the best results.

Set the stitch length to 2.5 or 3mm if you’re using a straight stitch. Set the stitch length to 4 or 5mm for a zigzag stitch. Slowly lower the presser foot and guide the fabric under the needle.

Please keep your hands close to the fabric, especially as it approaches the needle.

For polyester


#7. For quilting

Quilting is a technique for sewing two layers of fabric together.

Generally, the top layer of fabric is larger or closer to what one would call “waste” after cutting pieces of fabric for quilt blocks. Sewing machine tension for quilting is significant for the overall look of your quilt.

Too much tension can make your quilt top look puckered, while too little tension can cause it to be less than smooth.

To get perfect tension, you’ll need to adjust the bobbin and needle tensions according to your weight and fabric.

For quilting


#8. For stretchy fabric

Adjust the tension on your sewing machine to match the fabric. If you are making a t-shirt, the best setting would be 3. However, to make stretchy pants, you would want to set your sewing machine to 4.

Be mindful of the type of fabric you are using and whether it is stretchy or loosely woven.

For stretchy fabric


Steps To Adjust Sewing Machine Tension

There is a wide range of tension settings on a sewing machine designed to handle different types of fabrics. For example, a high-tension setting is necessary for sewing through multiple layers of heavy fabrics, while a low-tension setting is needed for lightweight fabrics.

Anyway, here are the steps on how you can adjust the tension of your sewing machine:

#1. Make sure that the thread is threaded correctly through the machine.

#2. Then, locate the tension dial on the front or top of the machine. This dial is usually marked with numbers or symbols that indicate the level of tension.

#3. Turn the dial to the appropriate setting for your fabric type.

#4. If you are sewing through multiple layers, turn the dial past the recommended fabric thickness to increase tension.

#5. If you are sewing through one layer of fabric or need a looser stitch, turn the dial toward the lower number settings.

Note: When doing extensive sewing at high speed, it is advisable to drop your upper thread tension one notch slightly (e.g., if your machine is at 4, drop it to 3). This will prevent the thread from becoming too taut and causing problems with puckering or losing seams.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Let’s answer a few questions:


#1. What is the best sewing machine for thick fabrics?

Here are the best sewing machines that you can buy:

#1. Singer 4423 Heavy-Duty Sewing Machine

#2. Janome HD3000 Sewing Machine

#3. Brother ST371HD Sewing Machine

#4. Janome HD1000 Sewing Machine

#5. Singer HD4452 Sewing Machine


#2. What is the most accessible fabric to sew?

For beginners, fabrics with a crisp, smooth texture are the easiest because these are more likely to produce even stitches. Stiffer fabrics are also less likely to fray or show irregularities. The most popular type of fabric for beginners is the cotton blend.


#3. What is normal thread tension?

When we use other threads, we start with a tension range of 2.0 to 3.5, which necessitates a change in the tension setting.


#4. My thread bunches up when I sew

If the thread differs in weight, it is likely to pull on them at varying rates, resulting in bunching. Another possibility is that the bobbin casing is loose due to a loose screw. Re-tighten it and play lightly with the bobbin thread. It should have some resistance while still allowing the thread to slide smoothly.


#5. What should thread tension be?

A properly tensioned seam has little or no waves on both sides. The needle and bobbin threads interlock midway between the materials’ surfaces. If the stitching thread contains loops on the underside, you must tighten the needle thread. You may also be interested to know about thread width and tension for sewing jeans.


Related Articles

What Size Sewing Machine Needle For Denim

How To Sew A Patch On Jeans Using 2 Simple Methods


It’s A Wrap!

Now you have learned the sewing machine tension guide for different fabrics. You can do this with cotton, leather, denim, polyester, quilting, and so much more. Anyways, these things are discussed above. Hopefully, you’ve learned! Have a great day, my friends!

1 thought on “Sewing Machine Tension Guide For Different Fabrics: 8 Best Ways!”

  1. Your site is exactly what I was looking for. Upper thread tension has always been baffling to me. This will help


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