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issue with thread tension - help needed
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G Dup
(lococoyo) - F
issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/09/2008 00:23:58 MDT Print View

I'm having a serious problem with balancing the thread tension.

From the top: stitch appears balanced
Bottom: thread is straight and the knots are clearly visible

According to the thru-hiker page, the "bottom thread too tight, tighten top tension".

I have adjusted the sewing machine according to the manual's specifications. And tried all of the suggested adjustments I could find online. The bobbin tension is perfect - when it is removed from the machine and swung by the thread, only about an inch of thread is released then it stops. I have adjusted the bobbin to both ends of the tension spectrum and STILL have the same problem.

I have adjusted the top thread tension to the tightest or loosest settings and STILL have the same problem. All combinations of top and bottom tensions still have the same problem shown in the images below.



The machine is a Riccar 906E. It is a basic but quality machine. Not brand new but still well cared for. I am using a 70/10 needle. The package says "Schmetz Universal 130/705 H 15x1H 70/10". I have tried many other types of needles with the same result. I am using a synthetic thread purchased from the sewing shop. I have also used gutermann thread with the same problem. Same problem with other fabrics.

Does anyone have any suggestions? It really sucks having the stitch like this on everything I sew, and i'm reluctant to start large or expensive projects with the machine in its present state.

Maybe someone can refer me to an active sewing community that might better address this? I couldn't think of anywhere else to seek help - i'm really desperate!

Edited by lococoyo on 08/09/2008 00:32:04 MDT.

Linsey Budden

Locale: pugetropolis
RE: "issue with thread tension - help needed" on 08/09/2008 04:50:56 MDT Print View

Once I was having a similar issue and went to RJ has a sewing tip/troubleshooting/overview of the maintenance of worn parts essay that gave me the answer. Somehow I had managed to install the needle backwards (flat side pointed 180 degrees off) and correcting this solved my problem.

If you have the manual for this machine, verify the needle position is correct. If that doesn't work, see the above mentioned essay.

It may be that you need a shop, but do get it fixed--when I was having my issue I proceeded but was disappointed with my seams and ended up redoing alot of work.

G Dup
(lococoyo) - F
issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/09/2008 06:08:02 MDT Print View

Machine is set up precisely according to manual (as far as I know). Needle is correct, thread through all the guides correctly and everything. I've read the RJ guide before as well, its very comprehensive. I'm thinking maybe it needs some sort of oiling or cleaning of some deep hidden internal parts that I missed. This really sucks.

Any other things to check? I've quoted sewing machine shops for parts, tune ups, etc in the past and the cost is always so ridiculously exorbitant that I may as well go out and buy a new machine every time there is a problem. I had a couple gears crack on my other machine, an old singer. They wanted around $60 just to look at the thing, plus cost of the parts, plus labor. I couldn't believe it. Turns out I could order the parts for about $30, but then upon further inspection there were other gears with stress fractures. I gave up. Now i'm working with the present, supposedly quality machine. Just one thing after another.... I want to get back to sewing already! /rant

Matt Mahaney
(Matt_Mahaney) - MLife

Locale: In the District
Re: issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/09/2008 07:47:10 MDT Print View

Hi. Sorry to hear about the sewing hold up. Damn, that's frustrating. This may be a stupid question. But what type of threads are you using? I know gutermann, but you also mention a thread from the store? I was using something called "outdoor synthetic" from coats and clarks. I was too thick for the needle I was using (90). I noticed it left some type of white residue on the needle and in the machine. That thread looks a lot like the thread in your pictures. It balled on the underside of the stitches a lot like it seem yours is as well. I've also experienced some of the gutermann thread to be to large a diameter for my bobbin housing as well. Not sure this will make any difference, but I've had great success with metrosene thread. I'm interested in what Roger will have to say about this. Also, you may want to slightly loosen your bobbin tension. It doesn't take much. Good luck.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/09/2008 11:51:14 MDT Print View

It's hard to guess your problem without seeing the machine, but chances are, you are doing something wrong. No offense.

First, I would make I was inserting the bobbin in the right direction. It's an easy mistake.

Next, check to make sure the top-thread tensioner is operating correctly and that you are putting the thread in it correctly. It tightens as the needle comes up, so you have to rotate the flywheel as you pull on the thread.

After checking all that carefully, I would forget the manual and try loosening the bobbin tension - it is the small screw that goes through the flat spring on the bobbin holder. Back it off 1/2 turn at a time, testing after each adjustment.

If none of that works, then you need to visit a repair shop. The next possible fix is that the machine's timing has slipped so the top-thread tension is applied at the wrong time so when it should be tight, it is loose.

G Dup
(lococoyo) - F
Re: Re: issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/09/2008 15:09:43 MDT Print View

Great eye Matt. Thanks for taking the time to take a look at my post and give your thoughts. Yes, in fact I believe we are talking about the same 'outdoor thread'. Haven't noticed any white residue however... maybe it is a wax coating? The person who purchased it for me mentioned that is was labeled as outdoor something or other. They also bought it from some big box store. Very happy to hear this, hopefully getting new thread will resolve this!

The other thread i've been using is from Ray Jardine. I thought it was Gutermann but it could be any synthetic - not really up on the terminology. I used it with one of those new expensive electronic 'quilting' type sewing machine to sew one of his quilt kits together. I don't recall the needle size at the time, but the stitch was balanced beautifully. However i'm having problems with this exact same thread on the Riccar - I was recommended this needle size for the thread but who knows.

Vick, yes of course I am at fault. I can't think of a situation where I wouldn't be... Whether that means setting up the machine incorrectly, using the wrong thread or needle, failure to notice faulty mechanism, improper threading, etc. Just have to find out which one/s it is. I'm not spiting the sewing gods for preventing me from sewing, i'm trying to figure out what I need to do to get a nice stitch.

Thank you for the suggestions. Bobbin is inserted into the bobbin case according to the manual. The bobbin case itself only clips in one 'way'. But just for kicks, I put the bobbin into the case in the opposite way and had the same problem.

Top tensioner appears to work. The tensioned discs tighten at that time in the cycle.

I tried all the configs for top tension of course. Then tried many many different configurations for lower tension (adjusting the screw on the bobbin). I charted out a way to test just about every conceivable tension. Started with the bobbin tension all the way loose and then in intervals to tight (but not overtight as to damage it). At each interval I would sew a long stitch, adjusting the top tension as I went along, writing the tension # on the fabric at the corresponding location on the stitch. The stitch would get really f'd up on the back and get loose and make loops, but I couldn't get the knots off the back side as shown in the image.

I have gone through the manual over and over, scoured the net for tips, talked to other people who have used this machine, fiddled and stitched for countless hours. Nada. I'm just hoping someone has some tip that will solve this. Taking it to a shop is not an option. I will look into trying to verify the timing myself - thats a good lead.

Looks like Matt might be spot on, and i'm really hoping he is. Where did you get your metrosene? Do I need to get a particular type or is it all the same? Does Jo-Ann Fabric have it or something? Or should I order cones of it online?

Matt Mahaney
(Matt_Mahaney) - MLife

Locale: In the District
Re: issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/10/2008 20:32:12 MDT Print View

I live in DC and I can find Mettler metrosene at my local Jo-Ann and Hancock. Also, I've seen a few cones for cheap online. I know The Rain Shed and Rocky Woods carry metrosene. Just takes search. I hope I'm right and that's all the problem is, if not I'd say only get a spool or two. If it doesn't help, then I would have to fully agree with Vick. Take 'er to be looked at. If you do find yourself in a position to replace the machine and not fix it, might I suggest Pfaff for your next machine. I've got an old Pfaff Hobby 301. It's not a great machine by any means but &#%$ if its not in perfect timing and reliable. Just a thought. Good luck. let us know how things go.

G Dup
(lococoyo) - F
issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/15/2008 14:50:26 MDT Print View

I purchased some medium-weight polyester Metrosene thread from a local sewing machine store. It seems very thin and fuzzy, but it is quite strong. It has has helped greatly and I think with some tension adjustments I will have a perfect stitch. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction guys (and girls?)!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: issue with thread tension - help needed on 08/15/2008 17:36:42 MDT Print View

I am just back from what was meant to be a long snow shoe trip, but it got aborted. A story for another day.

Now, your sewing. As far as I can see from your pics, the machine is set up correctly, the needle is in correctly, the needle size is fine (I use #60 on silnylon and #70 on slightly heavier nylons), and the thread is OK. I prefer a lighter thread than Gutermann for silnylon, but I do use Gutermann for Taslan fabric for clothing. And your description of the bobbin tension is good.

Now, what is happening? The sewing machine is running fine and doing its thing. I think the bottom tension looks OK (for now). But the top thread is lacking in tension. It is not being pulled very hard at all when the needle is retracted, and that is why the stitches look the way they do.

OK, if so, why? The same thing has happened to me a number of times. In each case I was able to fix the problem immediately by cleaning out the upper tension system. I slackened off the tension dial and ran some fabric strips and/or heavy thread through the tensioner thread path to clean out accumulated fluff and muck. It seems that stuff can accumulate in there and prevent the tensioner from putting the right drag on the thread. Also I took the opportunity to take the top plate off the machine so I could oil the moving shafts inside, including the little thrust shaft in the middle of the tensioner itself.

In an extreme case you might have to disassemble the tensioner to clean it, but this is to be avoided if possible as re-assembly is sometimes a bit tricky. Been there, done that...

You can tweak the bottom tension to compensate for manufacturing differences and huge variations in thread tension, but in general this is not necessary. You might want to tweak it a bit until you have a satisfactory setting, but after that it should not need touching.

However, I do tweak the upper tension a fair bit, to compensate for the different fabrics I am sewing. I prefer a quite light tension for most UL fabrics, to avoid puckering the fabric. Puckered seams are a failure point imho.

Hope this helps. If (and when) you get it sorted out, let us all know!