Thread Tension Dial Problems (4 Common Issues)

When you turn the tension dial on your machine, you create more or less pressure on the thread’s tension disks.

These disks may be visible to you or concealed inside your machine depending on the make and model. If you run into problems with the dial and disks, you can struggle to get your tension where you want it to be. 

Let’s look at the top issues you might experience with your tension dial or disks and how you can get started solving them:

Your Thread Tension Dial is Stuck 

Your thread tension dial works in combination with two metal tension disks to apply the right pressure to your thread.

When your thread tension dial is working properly, it should easily change through the different settings, giving you complete control of the tension. 

Machines have settings between 0 and 9, but these numbers can vary depending on the make and model of your machine. When your dial is working properly, you should change the setting with minimal effort.

However, from time to time, this dial can get stuck. If you are trying to adjust your tension dial, but it feels jammed, it is time to get your machine serviced. 

Thread, lint, and dust can build up inside the machine around the dial. Over time, the oil inside your machine can mix with this debris and slowly solidify.

As this oily mixture hardens, it can impact the moving parts of your machine and cause jams. 

By bringing your machine in for service, the inside of your machine can be clean and freshly oiled. This will help all of its moving parts work properly and prevent issues with dials, levers, and other important parts.  

If it has been a while since it has been serviced, you will want to make an appointment to bring it as soon as you can. You can check with the manufacturer for more details on when and how to get your machine serviced. 

Thread is Getting Caught in the Disks

If your dial turns smoothly, you might run into another problem where your thread is getting caught in its disks.

This can happen for several reasons, including too much lint, thread, or debris buildup in your machine. 

One way to help solve this problem is to clean out any debris between your tension disks. Even if you can’t easily see the disks from the outside of your machine, you can still clean them easily with basic materials. 

You will need to understand where your tension disks are located to get started. If you are using a serger or another machine with visible tension disks, this will be easy.

If you’re unsure where the tension disks are located in your machine, you can easily find them using your instruction manual. 

Once you have found the location of your disks, you will need to find a thin, clean scrap of fabric. Fold the fabric in half and guide the folded edge through the slit in your machine that corresponds with your tension disk. 

Once you have placed your folded fabric in the right place, gently move it back and forth. This will floss out any debris that you might catch inside the machine.

You can repeat this movement between the disks and on either side of them, if possible. 

If you use a serger, remember that you have many more tension disks to worry about. Sergers have a separate tension disk for each spool of thread that they can potentially use.

The exact number will depend on your machine, but it is usually between 3 – 5 different disks.

Because sergers work so fast, it is easy for these machines to accumulate lint and bits of thread inside. Making sure you clear out the disks frequently will help you keep serging smoothly. 

Tension is Engaged While Threading

If your tension is engaged when it is not supposed to be, you will have difficulty threading your machine. If your tension disks prevent you from threading your machine, you will want to check to see where your presser foot is. 

You will always want your presser foot to be up when threading your machine as a rule of thumb. When the foot is up, the tension is disengaged.

This makes the best possible environment for your thread to go where it needs to and be accepted by your machine. 

If you are trying to thread your machine with the presser foot down, you might create different problems. The tension will be engaged, and the tension disks will have a harder time accepting the thread.

Sometimes, the presser foot is up, but you might still have trouble getting the thread through the tension disks. For some reason, the tension mechanisms have not fully disengaged.

To help remedy this, you can lower the tension setting before threading. 

If your machine has tension disks visible to you when threading, it should slide easily between the two metal tension disks. If you are struggling to get the thread through these disks, it is a sign that your tension is too high.

Try turning it down to the lowest possible setting and see if you can effectively thread the machine. The lower the tension, the easier it will be to engage the thread.

You can adjust the setting to be higher once you have successfully threaded your machine. If this problem persists, you can contact your manufacturer or local repair shop for further help and repair. 

Tension Setting Doesn’t Match the Stitch

When everything is working correctly, where you have set your tension dial should match the stitch it is creating.

This can mean different things when looking at your stitches—the lower the setting, the less tension that thread will contain.

If you notice messy, loopy stitches that are not being held in place, your tension is too low. Usually, this stitching line will look like a bird’s nest or even come unraveled with one tug at the end of the thread. 

The higher the setting, the more tension you apply to your thread.

If your tension is too high, the stitches will be too tight. These taught stitches can force your fabric to become bunchy and puckered around each stitch.

Your sewing project won’t lie flat with this type of stitching. 

Thread Slipping:

However, sometimes you might find that your stitches should look different than they should, based on your current tension setting. 

This can happen when the thread slips to the side of the tension disks instead of right between the two. This is particularly common when using a machine with exposed tension disks that you need to thread, like a serger. 

Sometimes, you can accidentally thread the disk to the left or right of the two disks instead of between the two.

When this happens, your thread isn’t engaged and will make stitches that do not match your chosen tension setting. 

No matter what you do to your tension dial, you won’t see a response in your stitches. The thread must go through the disks properly to respond to your custom tension settings. 

If you are experiencing this problem, you will want to make sure any tension disks in use are threaded correctly. Once they are, you will be back in control of the tension by turning the dial. 

Final Thoughts

Thread tension directly impacts the smoothness and accuracy of your stitches.

Problems with your tension dial or disks can make it seem like your thread tension is out of your control.

Be sure to clean your disks regularly, thread the machine correctly and have it serviced regularly to avoid any problems. 


The Spruce Crafts: Adjusting Tension Disks on a Sewing Machine

Tilly and the Buttons: Seven Steps to Perfect Thread Tension

Youtube: Cleaning Tension Disks

Youtube: Serger Tension Disk Help