Featherweight Tension adjustment by Alex Sussex
Again, thank you Alex Sussex for all your contributions about the Singer Featherweight!
Gail Pickens-Barger 3/2017
Gail Pickens-Barger 3/2017
From: AlexSussex@aol.com Subject: LOWER TENSION ADJUSTMENT PART ONE, ALEX ENGLAND Hi all, I am sending this message in two parts so look for the second part and join them up for a complete guide. Now that I have caught up a little I can get back to putting a few things on the digests. Today I am going to talk about one of the most misunderstood parts of the sewing machine. LOWER THREAD TENSION ADJUSTMENT. Only the brave or the foolish should read on. In many instruction manuals it will say something like, the lower tension is set at the factory and should not be adjusted. That is all and well, but twenty years have passed the factory closed and your tensions are all over the place, you have got sewing to do and you want it right. At the tender age of seventeen one of my masters took me through the basics of tension adjustments, then spent the next twenty years trying to hammer it into me how important it is to every sewing machine ever made. No matter if you have the latest all singing all dancing computer that talks to you and does the washing up for you or a hundred year old antique that simply looks lovingly at you but wont perform. If you are having trouble with your sewing machine stitch quality and you have done all the usual things, like played around with the top tension for a week, thrown the machine out of the bedroom window and then tried to see if it will still work before telling your husband that you were burgled and the thieves dropped your machine whilst escaping. There is the possibility that the lower tension of the machine is out of balance. Now before we go any further, do not, I repeat, do not adjust your machine if you are happy with your stitch. a simple test if your tensions are well balanced is to sew a piece of cotton fabric about six inches in length, then get the ends of the thread that are left and give them a sharp tug. Now if the tensions are good the thread should snap without pulling out of the work, in other words you have a proper LOCK STITCH. If you find that the thread is pulling out of one side or the other then you are out of balance and your threads are not locked into the fabric, leading to a weak seam. Tension balancing is a little understood procedure and many so called repair people will mess around with the wrong part of your machine and make little or no improvement. How many of you have taken your sickly machines into a shop for a service and received them back smothered in oil and not much better with a nice bill for nothing. Well, here goes I will try and explain the enigma that has eluded people for so long. Even the great inventor Isaac Singer had terrible trouble getting the tensions right on his first patent model, so you are not alone. The classic symptoms of lower tension collapse are quite obvious. Look at your stitch and see if the lower thread has pulled through to the top of the fabric, the underneath will look fine perhaps a little loose, however the top thread will be able to be pulled out of the fabric. This is because the lower thread is laying on the fabric, not pulling the top thread into the fabric. You will notice with this symptom that you have little or no effect by altering the top tension dial and often think that it is a top tension dial fault. O. K so here goes, hold on tight it is going to get nasty, have your painkillers ready. Step one, setting the top tension. Assuming that your top tension is working can be a fatal flaw but is easily checked. Most sewing machines even quite early ones have automatic top tension release mechanisms. This means that once the sewing foot is raised the top thread tension is automatically released so that you can pull your work out of the machine without the thread breaking. To test this simply raise your sewing foot and see if the thread pulls out easier than if it were lowered ready for sewing. To test if the thread is being held by the tension discs properly when ready for sewing, you need to pull the thread from where it comes out of the eye of the needle-with the foot lowered. The thread ON ALL MACHINES should be tight enough to bend the needle when pulled. If it does not then you need to investigate why it is not tight. The most common reason is a restriction between the tension discs themselves, caused by fluff, corrosion or trapped threads. a loose top thread leads to a bunching of thread UNDERNEATH the work (or looping on minor tension failure). Once you have done this put your numbered tension dial half way, for instance if you have a dial that goes from one to four put it on two, one to nine put in between the four and five, get the idea. on older machines with no tension dial numbers turn the dial clockwise until the thread bends the needle when pulled through as I have mentioned earlier. Then leave the top thread tension alone. Well, by now only the mad will still be with me the brave and the foolish have gone out for pizza, and we have not even got to the lower thread tension that we are going to discuss. That will be part two further down the digest. ALEX SUSSEX SEWING MACHINES EASTBOURNE ENGLAND =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: AlexSussex@aol.com Subject: LOWER THREAD ADJUSTMENT PART TWO, ALEX, ENGLAND This is the second and final part of lower thread adjustment. Now the lower tensions fall into basically two types for lock stitch machines. Ones with bobbin cases and ones without. We have to deal with each separately but both have common symptoms and cures. So I will take the machines with bobbin cases first. It is important to say at this stage that sewing threads alter a great deal in thickness and stickyness (that is definitely not a word but you know what I mean). I once had a call out to Brighton District General Hospital because twelve machines had all broken down on the same day, only to discover it was a faulty batch of new thread. If you look closely at, for instance a new polyester and put it against an old reel of cotton, you know the one that you just could not throw away from your grannies old stuff because you might just need a sunset orange thread one day. You will notice that the new polyester can be up to half the thickness of the old cotton. In simple terms this means that by switching from polyester to the old cotton you have instantly changed the thread tension by a huge amount and this can lead instantly to a poor stitch. How many times have you put your trusty old sewing machine away working perfectly, and a few days later it is messing about. What you have not realised is that it is possible that the change in thread has caused this problem. Some sticky old cottons are only fit for hand sewing or tacking or winding onto your husbands fishing reel so that he can tell you of the monster that got away. Always keep a reel of new White thread handy and if your machine plays up switch to it and see if the stitch is better, nine times out of ten the thread is the culprit and you just have to be brave and bin it, or chuck it at a neighbours cat that has just dug up your flower bed (perfect weight and size for that, so I am told). Now where was I, Oh yes back to the all important bobbin case thread adjustment. Wind a full bobbin of new white thread the same type that you normally sew with, it is not important if it is silk, cotton, polyester or a mix, just your usual thread. Place the bobbin into the bobbin case and suspend the bobbin by the thread, like a spider hanging from a thread. It is not so important which way you put the bobbin into the case, some find a machine sews better with the bobbin going one way some the other, only trial and error points this out for your machine (loads of people are going to disagree with this, never mind). Now whilst the spider, opps, bobbin and case are suspended by the thread simply jerk your hand a little and see what the case does. Now we are getting to the nitty gritty of tension adjustment the real bread and beans of the matter. If when you hold the thread the case simply drops to the floor you need to adjust the bobbin case screw clockwise until it just holds its own weight, So that when you shake it a little it drops a little. This is the MAGIC point known in the trade as the balance point for your type of thread. If the case does not move you need to adjust the bobbin case screw anticlockwise until it drops a little accordingly. Once you have mastered this adjustment you will be in great demand at all sewing classes as you transform misbehaving sewing machines in an instant. Hold on I am not finished, no happy dancing just yet, no running out and buying twenty lottery tickets because you feel lucky (remember me if you win). Although this is the balance point some machines need to be adjusted slightly tighter or looser for the perfect stitch. When adjusting from this point make only very small movements of the screw, about one sixteenth of a turn at a time. After each adjustment run a trial stitch and examine. Once you are nearly right you can go back to the top tension unit again and make final adjustments say from a four to a five to get it just perfect. Adjusting the newer type plastic cases that are set permanently into the machine, you know the ones where you just drop in the bobbin and hook it around the spring plate is much the same. You need to do this more by feel, you need to FEEL the thread resistance by pulling the thread. One of the ways to do this is to place a fine hand sewing needle into a cork (pinch one of your husbands or better still open up a new bottle of wine with dinner) so that about two inches of the needle is protruding from the cork. Then tie the thread from the machine case through the eye of the needle and whilst holding the bottom of the cork pull the thread. Now it should have a slight resistance and slightly, only slightly bend the needle. Once again if it does not you need to tighten the case adjustment screw clockwise. If it bends to much you need to loosen it a touch, remember tiny adjustments only. well, hey presto that is it, if you can master lower thread adjustment you will have a control of your machine rather than it controlling you. One final point (by now the painkillers for that pounding headache have started to work) if you mix your threads it is a lottery whether the tensions will work effectively. The worst culprits are the old wooden reels of cotton that can become hard, springy, weak and sticky they can really mess up your sewing machine, big time. Try and stick to the same threads, if in doubt about a thread, bin it, really all the grey hairs and profanities it can cause is just not worth it. I hope this has helped any of you that have a tension problem. It has taken me three hours to type out and explain something that really only takes a few seconds to perform. Now you know why instruction books hardly ever mention lower thread adjustments. One final note, thank you all for the wonderful comments about the millennium calendar, it has made all the hard work worthwhile, and NO, NO, NO I will not be doing another, it gave me way too many grey hairs. From ALEX SUSSEX SEWING MACHINES EASTBOURNE GREAT BRITAIN =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=