stitching homework ~

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When it comes to knowing your machine, your tension and your stitches; here’s a valuable resource you can make for yourself. I take my own sample to the classes I teach, and show my students how valuable  it is to take the time to ‘know your machine.’  This is how to begin… but you must be willing to take some time to actually do it! Begin by stabilizing some muslin, or if you don’t have stabilizer, put together four layers of muslin, and then start stitching!
  • first, make a straight stitch; start with cotton threads; write the brand/type/weight on the muslin, right next to your stitching line.  Do it for as many types/brands as you commonly use…
  • also, for those same lines of stitching, write down your ‘default’  top tension setting on the muslin
  • stitch another line a few inches apart, only with a zig zag stitch; again, writing down the same info
  • then start another line with polyesters; the same for metallics and then for bobbin play…
  • with each line you make, record in writing, next to that stitching line, the top and bobbin tensions,; notes like “too loose” or “top too tight;” the type of threads you are using, and any adjustments you may need to make. We’re talking TOP tensions…VIP:  you must be willing to touch and change the top tension dial!  The sewing machine manufacturers would NOT  put the tension dial in front of your face if they didn’t want you to actually use it!
  •  Keep stitching until you find it’s either correct, or it is the type of stitch you desire.  Make good notes, so you understand what you did, and why or why it did not work.  The whole point is to help you understand tension, and how it changes your stitches.

THEN… switch to free motion stitching, (you may want to use a separate piece of muslin) and do the same thing… see where you may need to adjust tension with different types of threads… write down your changes on the muslin as you make adjustments, etc.

Here is my own sample on free motion one evening when I was struggling with the metallic threads all of a sudden.  I keep it right next to my sewing machine, in the same spot, so I can always find it!  I don’t know how your mind is, but sometimes mine can’t remember two hours ago, much less two days ago!  I turn to this time and again, when I am wondering why things aren’t going well… and it helps me sew much!  I hope this helps you as much as it has me.

The next picture below shows my stitches for a normal, balanced zig zag stitch.  This is  a big tip, and what the professional tech people do when you bring in your machine for it’s annual check-up… (you ARE doing that aren’t you?! — more to be said about that later!)  They start analyzing stitches from a zig zag to examine what needs adjustment.  So if you experience trouble finding a free motion stitch that looks good, start first with default settings for a zig zag, feed dogs up, decrease length until you get a satin stitch, and until it looks right… which means some of the top thread (in a satin stitch) should wrap to the bottom of your fabric.  Once you get that looking good, and all is well… then switch to free motion, and adjust your tensions as needed given your applications, threads, etc.  I hope you will learn more about tension, and more importantly, how they work on your machine, with your preferred threads!

By the way, there is a great chart at the website with this link: that refers to TENSION, and how to adjust it… free for the downloading!  (and there is WAY more on threads-all free!)

I welcome your comments!

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