How to Adjust Sewing Machine Settings (Quilting, Cotton…)

When you need to cut the tension in a room, you tell a joke. Usually, the joke helps and things return to normal. But when you need to cut the tension, or add to it, in sewing, there could be a problem. Not always but adjusting the tension on your sewing machine may not always end up with desired results.

The purpose of having the proper tension when sewing, is to form the best and strongest stitches possible. There are dials to help you control the tension on the upper and lower threads. All you do is turn the dials to the right number and the tension has been adjusted.

To learn more about thread tension and how to adjust it, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you may get those perfect stitches all the time. Take a few moments to catch up on this important sewing topic.

How to Adjust Sewing Machine Settings


The first step in adjusting the tension is to look for key signs. The first sign you need to identify is when the bottom thread is pulled to the top of the fabric. In this situation, the top thread tension may be too strong while the bottom tension is too weak.

If the top thread is pulled through to the bottom of the fabric, then the reverse is true. The bottom tension is too strong and the top is too weak. When it comes to the top thread tension issues, if it is too strong, you weaken the tension by turning the dial to a lower number.

If it is too weak, you do the opposite and turn to a higher number. Altering the bobbin or lower thread tension is a little bit more involved as you need to find the screw that controls the tension. It is not usually a dial.

To lessen the lower tension, you turn the screw counterclockwise. Then to strengthen the tension, you turn the screw clockwise. That is all there is to it, except you may have to do some test runs on scrap fabric to make sure the tension is balanced.

Average Sewing Machine Settings

The average settings may vary depending on the age of your sewing machine if it is mechanical or computerized, and who made it. Then, the average setting will depend on the type of stitch pattern you selected. there will be some overlap with different stitches but some may be different than others.

The length of the average straight stitch length would be 2.5 mm or about 10 stitches for every inch. The straight stitch width should be at 0 because there is no real stitch width when it comes to this stitch pattern.

Then the average stitch tension for the straight stitch is 4. Some machines may have a universal setting but you would have to read your owner’s manual to see if you own one of those machines.

Also, computerized and automatic sewing machines may have the tension built-in and all you have to do is let the sensors handle the problem for you. This is hard to say as each machine whether mechanical, automatic, or computerized are different even though they may be part of the same series.

What Tension Should My Sewing Machine be On?


There may be many who have decided that they better not adjust the tension because they may ruin their machine. Those are often stuck at 4 for a long time and do not realize their error until they change the type of fabric they are going to sew.

While 4 is a good number to be on, that level of tension does not work on all fabric types. If the material you are working with is lighter or heavier than the one that likes the 4 setting, then you will have to adjust the tension according to the fabric you are working on.

You can look at your owner’s manual for exact numbers to set your tension dial or you can simply following the rule of thumb. That rule is the thicker and heavier the fabric, the higher the tension setting. That means that sheer material will be on the low end of the tension scale.

To set the tension, the upper thread usually has a dial that goes from 1 to 9 with some machines making it all the way to 10. You just have to do some trial and error when you set the dial and sew a stitch or two on a scrap piece of fabric to make sure the tension is just right.

If it isn’t you keep repeating the process until you get the balanced stitched you need.

What is a Good Thread Tension?

A good thread tension is one that fits the fabric you are working on. If you are sewing a heavy fabric and you have the dial set at 2 or 3 then that is not going to be a good tension thread for that fabric. It is a good one if you are working on lightweight fabrics like cotton or sheer materials but not for heavy fabrics like canvas, duck, or denim.

The same holds true for when you are working on a lightweight fabric. If the dial is set at 8 to 9 then there is too much tension and you will have some sewing issues to deal with. The tension has to be much, much lower when working on lightweight fabrics.

Then do not always expect the dial to remain on the same setting even when you are sewing another heavy or another light fabric. Each fabric may have a different setting you need to turn to in order to get those perfectly balanced stitches you need.

When you have good thread tension your sewing project will turn out much nicer. Make sure you read your owner’s manual on the tension setting and where you should be for which fabric. Each brand makes its own recommendations.

What is The Normal Stitch Width?


It is hard to gauge the stitch width size as it will change with every stitch pattern you use or have on your machine. Most articles on this topic do not give an average number except to say that 0 is for the straight stitch.

What the stitch width control does is move your needle from left to right and the 0 setting is over the center of the needle plate and it means no-stitch width. You will have to check your owner’s manual on this portion of the sewing machine.

Each machine will have its own settings for the stitch width and the owner’s manual will give you some guidance on that. The normal setting will be the one specifically for that stitch pattern.

Other machines may simply have + and a - symbol on two buttons helping you to narrow or widen the stitch width. This is why it is important to keep your owner’s manual handy. Until you master the different fabrics, you may need them for easy reference and to avoid making a mistake.

Even Singer did not mention a number for the stitch width on its machines. Play it by ear until you find out how your machine works in this situation.

What is a Good Stitch Length?

The stitch length is a bit different than the stitch width. You can adjust the length on almost any stitch pattern built into your machine. Some sewing machines may even have a little dial to help you find the right length for your stitches.

For a straight stitch, the average length would be 2.5 to 3.0 mm but you can change that depending on what you are sewing, the purpose, and the material you are using in your project.

The 2.5 to 3.0 mm stitch length gives you about 8 to 12 stitches per inch. The 4 to 5 mm is more of a length for when you are basting or doing a top stitch pattern. a 2 is more for a lightweight fabric where you need smaller stitches to grab the fabric better.

The length of your stitch will depend a lot on the purpose of the garment you are making and some people have gone as high as 7 before. Just make sure you know the right stitch length for your fabric and stick with it. There is no need to make a lot of adjustments on this portion of the sewing machine adjustment topic.

Always follow your manual especially if it is on warranty. That way the company can’t avoid paying for any repairs that may arise. This includes using the right stitch length for the right fabric.

Stitch Length Dial


These dials will not be the same on every model series or brand of sewing machines. They come in all shapes and sizes and they may not even be in the same place. Some may say ‘stitch length’ on them while others may be blank or have a symbol to let you know what the dial is for.

The design of the dial will depend on the era it was made and by the brand that made it. While some may be different colors from the rest. Then some machines may have you push a button (it says push and is located above the dial) before you can alter the stitch length.

Then you will find that the dials do not all go up to 9 or 10. Some stop at 4 or 5 while others may stop at 8. All these dials do the same thing-- they tell the machine exactly what size to make the stitch.

Double-check the owner’s manual to make sure there are no hidden features or buttons to push when you want to change the stitch length. Then your project will help you decide the length of your stitches.

Singer Sewing Machine Settings

The settings may be different for the different sewing machines this company makes. The ability to change the setting on a Singer sewing machine can be a dial, it can be a push-button set up or on vintage machines, there may be no way to set the stitch length.

Also, each machine has a different look to the dials and buttons with at least one model having an LCD screen letting you know where your settings are at. According to Singer itself, the settings are different for different models.

For the top stitch, it is at 3 or 3.5 mm while the twin needle pintucks is below 2 for the length. Basically, you will be doing a lot of trial and error when it comes to finding the right tension setting. While the common setting may be about 3 or 4, the setting you use will depend on the type of fabric you are sewing on.

To do the proper tension setting, look for the right dial and on some Singer models, look for the bobbin tension screw. When you have found those, you are good to go and can make changes quickly. Consult your manual for your particular sewing machine model.

Brother Sewing Machine Stitch Settings


One good thing about Brother sewing machine company is that they have very good help pages when you get stick. Do a little search with the Brother name in it and these pages pop right up and are ready to lend a hand.

On most Brother sewing machines, to get the stitch pattern you want, all you do is turn the stitch pattern selection dial and that is done. To select the right width, you raise the needle by turning the handwheel until the mark on the handwheel points up.

Then locate the stitch width dial and turn it to the width that you want. Sometimes the dial is in the middle of three and sometimes it is the last of 2 at the top of the machine. A 5 setting moves it all the way left and a 0 setting move it all the way right. A 2.5 setting keeps the needle in the middle.

To adjust the stitch length, again turn the handwheel till the needle is all the way up. Then locate and turn the stitch length dial to the desired length. The material will not be fed into the machine if the stitch length dial is set at 0.

The F1 setting is for the satin or buttonhole stitch. Turn the dial to the left when you want to shorten the length and to the right when you want to lengthen it. If you see your stitches bunching together just raise your setting a little higher and continue to sew.

Make sure to stop sewing while making the length adjustment or you risk breaking your needle.

Sewing Machine Settings for Different Fabrics

Each setting will be different for different stitch patterns. The width may change between stitch patterns or it may stay the same and the same goes for the length. We will give you examples for one stitch for each fabric type.

Settings for stretchy fabric - zig-zag- the width is 6 and the length is 1.5

Settings for thick fabric - center the needle for stitch width and use about a 3.5 mm for stitch length. tension should be set at 4.

Settings for cotton - straight stitch- center the needle and use a 2.3 mm for stitch length and 4 for the tension.

Settings for terry cloth - straight stitch- 1.8 to 2.5 mm for length, needle over center, and a tension of 4.

Settings for fleece - zig zag- 4 mm for the length, 1.5 for the width, and standard tension.

Settings for denim - straight stitch- needle over center, a 2.5 to 4 mm for length and 4 for the tension or a little bit higher if possible.

Settings for spandex - zig zag- 1.4 for the stitch length, 2.5 mm for the width, and tension on the lighter side of the scale.

Settings for polyester - straight stitch- needle over center, 0.5 to 1.5 mm for the length, and 4 for the tension.

Settings for felt- straight stitch - 2.5 to 3 mm for the length, the needle should be over center and the tension should be about 3 to 4.

Settings for canvas - the same as it is for denim, 2.5 to 4 for length and 4 for the tension.

Settings for chiffon - straight stitch- needle over center for the width, 2 to 2.5 mm for the length and needle tension should be 0 to 2 and upper tension should be 5 to 7, lower tension between 2 and 4.

Settings for silk- zig zag - width 1.5 mm, length 1.5 mm, and the tension 2 to 3.

Settings for linen - much like cotton, the needle on center, length 2.5, and tension at 4.

Settings for leather - straight stitch, needle over center, length 3.5 mm, and raise the tension to 4+.

Settings for lycra - like spandex, length at 1.4, width at 2.5 mm, and lower the tension.

Settings for lace- straight stitch - needle over the center; length about 1.8 to 2 mm and bring the tension down to about 2 to 3.

Settings for lining - would need to be adjusted according to the fabric it is being sewn to. Lighter fabrics 1.5 to 2 mm for length, the width would be equally small and tension about 2 to 3. Heavier fabrics go high.

Settings for vinyl - ordinary length should be 3 and topstitching the length should be 4; tension should be 4.

Settings for neoprene - straight stitch- 2.5 to 4.0 mm for length; tension should be 4 and the width has the needle over the center.

Settings for nylon - needle should be over the center and the length should be between 1.5 mm and 2.0 and the tension down at 3 to 4 approx.

Settings for Minky fabric - stretch stitch pattern- length will be 3 mm, width, needle over center, and tension should be 3 to 4.

Settings for rayon- straight stitch - length is 2 mm, width, needle over center, and tension between 2 to 3.

Settings for tulle- straight stitch - width, needle over center, length about 1.8 to 2 mm, the tension between 3 and 4.

Settings for satin- straight stitch - length is 2.0 mm, width needle over center, tension should be between 2 and 4.

Settings for velvet- straight stitch - length is 2.5 mm and the width has the needle over center, the tension should be about 4.

Settings for velcro - velcro is a thin lightweight fabric so everything should be near the low end of the scale with the length at 1.5 to 2.0 mm, tension should be about 3 to 4.

Settings for upholstery- straight stitch - needle over center for width, length is set at 3 to 4 mm and the tension should be at 4.

Settings for gathering stitch - the width should be at 0, the length should be at 4, and the tension at 2.

Settings zigzag stitch - the width can be at 6 and the length between 1 and 1.5 mm and the tension should be around 3 to 4.

Settings for buttonhole - width for a manual is 3.0 to 5.o mm while the length is 0.2 to 1.0 mm, tension depends on the fabric.

Settings for basting - this is your longest stitch length and usually around 5 to 6 mm, the width should be zero and tension about 3 to 4.

Settings for free motion quilting - straight stitch setting and the length is governed by the speed of the machine and how fast you move the fabric.

Settings for quilting - tension should be between 3 and 4, the length at the average length size and the width set to 0.

Some Final Words

make sure to use your owner’s manual to get the right tension and other settings for the fabrics you will be sewing.

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