Thursday 4 January 2018

Tension Trials and Tribulations - Part 1

I spent the last 2 days trialling a new thread on my Sweet 16. I have had the machine now for just about 6 months and after my initial meltdown over the adjustment of tension (see this post) have settled in to the new machine. It is starting to feel better but I am by no means as comfortable as I was on my DSM. Still struggle with speed, locking stitches in a tidy fashion and in general not being ‘in sink’with the machine.
But it’s getting better...I followed Jamie Wallen’s advice on one of his videos and stuck to just one thread for the last 6 months. Aurifil, of course! It’s the thread I love, I know how it behaves and I was able to get that to work most of the time on the Sweet 16. However, when I got the machine I also got a box full of thread from Superior...yummy colours, all sorts of types of thread, so I finally found the courage to give that a go. I chose Magnifico to start with...a 40/2 trilobal Polyester thread. The sheen on that thread is just out of this world. Very beautiful.
Looked on the Superior thread chart which gave me a Towa gauge number (find information about the Towa gauge HERE) to guide me in the right direction. Those numbers are measured with prewound Superbob bobbins. As I had some of those, tried that and got my first taste of how finicky that thread is...must emphasize that it is finicky to me and that is probably because I have only rarely used Polyester thread. Not sure I like the feel and how slippery they are.
I then used my (not prewound bobbin) Bottomline thread as I needed a cream colour for my practice wholecloth. Here is where the Towa gauge becomes particularly useful. My wound bobbin behaved quite different to the prewound one, i.e. I needed to tighten the bobbin severely on the one that I had wound on the bobbin winder (I did not question my bobbin winder as I feel it is set quite right - the bobbins are not spongy but also not super rock hard, so I did not adjust this as I feel the bobbins are wound correctly). So I started at about 200 on the Towa gauge...should have taken photos of the next steps but it was one of those slightly frustrating processes. However I got through that in about an hour...a huge improvement in contrast to my earlier experiences. It went something like this:

- bobbin thread poking through the top, so reduced top tension
- bobbin thread still poking through, so reduced top tension to a level where it was just too loose (was pleased as I definitely can feel that now by pulling the thread towards me above the needle)
- tightened bobbin tension, however still being pulled to top (how strong is this thread?)
- looked at my thread path; the Superior guide talked about a thread net-tried this but this increased the top tension even further
- decided to only guide the thread through 2 we were getting somewhere. Here is a bit of a practice run using the different colours (blue, cream and red Magnifico), but more on the colours later.
Can you guess which web site I have been looking at recently?

Over the next 2 days I did manage to get the tension acceptable and started my wholecloth with my new toys, the circle and arc rulers.

I must be the world's worst marker...a plan would have been good, but I am a bit hopeless when it comes to marking. Always start off really tidy (marked the main frame on the fabric and attempted to mark the arc in) and then the creative mind takes over and ...oops, this needs to be different, let’s just draw over this or even better, wipe away with some water etc...always end up incredibly messy and the need to put in special marks to work out where I am going. Hilariously annoying!

The wholecloth is a practice run for the different thread, but also to
- try out my rulers and I mean really try them out, i.e. explore the markings, look at how to best hold them and generally getting a feel for them
- work on a more puffy quilt scenario (used cotton and a thin layer of wool on this piece)
- continue to work on more tidy beginning stitches and backtracking over stitches when doing the feathers
- try to find a comfortable speed level for the feathers.
Maybe a bit too much all at once...maybe just a little😜

My rulers worked well, except I did not consider the puffiness and subsequent compaction. First learning! As I did stitch out the inner feathers after the first circle I had enormous problems with the next circle. Yep, pays to think this through a bit. Frame first, and then the filling in of detail!
This looks very much like one that Patsy Thompson had on her blog recently...did not mean to copy, sorry about that, but as I had not pre-planned the arc that I had wanted to do, it did not work out...should have made the inner circle a bit smaller for that, so ended up just doing a normal, straightforward arc around it. Haha...then realized if I wanted to make a channel, I should have stitched the inner arc first, then aligned the ruler and did the channel. Obviously did it the wrong way around and ended up with a tapered channel. Also looks good so I was not too worried about that. Here is a close up of the stitches.
Not too bad at all. I thought that the arcs would be difficult to do, but they went in quite easily. I stitched this with a needle size 14 even though the thread guide says to use a needle size 18. I figured that it probably needs a stronger needle when used on a longarm with high speed, but seeing that I rarely go over speed 20, I thought a smaller size should accommodate the thread just fine. A needle size 18 is just too big for me...I have stitched with a 70/10 or smaller needle on the DSM for the last 5 years or so, so that needle 18 looks like a big nail to me. Had no problem with shredding or breakage and while I feel I am making this up a bit as I go along, it seems to work, so why not.

This has been good fun until I changed to a different colour, but more of that in the next post...



  1. Sorry to see you have tension issues figuring out the tension when you use different threads! I keep my fingers crossed that once you figure out for a couple of thread brands/weights it is then fairly easy to switch back and forth (again I hope). Your stitch out following Patsy's work is amazing. I definitely need to pick up these rulers and give this a try. I so love this design (and her work in general).


  2. I feel your pain! I usually stick to Aurifil but have started using some different threads also. I think it does get easier. I've been using King Tut lately which is also a Superior thread. My machine seems to like it. I don't know why tension is so difficult on these machines. I think we have to be patient with ourselves and just keep trying new threads.

  3. It’s certainly true that you have to have a lot of patience with these machines….I often spend so much time adjusting that I get tired, or my sewing time is up! I bought a used Tiara (original model) in September, and since then have watched countless Youtube videos and read everything I could find online. I’m getting better at it. There is a Yahoo group which is very helpful….
    It was very active when the machines first came out….the posts have tapered off but there is good info in the archives.
    Thanks for sharing your path to tension perfection....your wreath looks great!


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