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Article: How to Adjust Tension on a Singer Featherweight

How to Adjust Tension on a Singer Featherweight


Learn how to easily and properly adjust the upper tension as well as the bobbin case tension on your Singer Featherweight 221 and 222.

Below is a transcript of the video above. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to assist anytime. If the video was helpful for you, leave a comment below.



Today I want to talk to you about one of the most important factors in your quest for a perfect stitch on your Singer Featherweight. Many elements determine what a stitch looks like - everything from the quality of the needle, the quality of the thread and fabric as well as the maintenance history of your machine. However, the fundamental factor to a nice looking stitch is proper tension. To get your stitch to look just right requires a balance between the upper tension and lower tension. Both the upper and lower tension have a spring that controls the tension of each one. The upper tension unit has a coiled spring that compresses these two tension disks and when the presser foot is lowered, this tension is engaged.  (See video above for an illustration of this.)

The bobbin case has a spring on the exterior that the thread passes under. This spring provides the tension on the lower thread. To get the tension balanced between the upper and lower tension requires a starting point, and it is always best to begin with the bobbin case tension. One way some adjust tension is to do the drop-test (or sometimes called the “yo-yo” test). It can work in a pinch but it is not exact and can vary greatly from person to person based on the amount of force used when "drop-throwing" the bobbin case.

So, we recommend using the simple, but accurate Bobbin Tension Meter, which measures (in grams) the amount of tension on your bobbin case thread. You can hang the tension meter from a small hook or nail by the top ring or even from your Thread Stand. Next, attach your bobbin case thread to the clip (I usually twist the thread to give the clip a little more substance to hold on to). Then, hold the bobbin case between your fingers making sure not to touch the bobbin or the tension spring. Pull down on the bobbin case until the bobbin starts to spin within the bobbin case.

The tension (indicated by the number on the bobbin tension meter), measured at the point when the bobbin starts to spin, will indicate how much tension is on your bobbin case thread. The correct tension of cotton thread on most household sewing machines falls between 23 to 25 grams.

A bobbin case on a Singer Featherweight has the proper amount of tension at around 23 grams.

Therefore, if your bobbin case has only 15 grams of tension, then the tension screw (this is the screw in the middle of the spring, closest to where the thread comes out) will need to be tightened just a little bit. Remember, righty tighty, lefty loosey. Most adjustments require an 1/8th of a turn of the screw or less. The reverse is true as well. If your bobbin case tension meter indicates more than 23 grams of tension, then the screw needs to be loosened until the tension is reduced to the proper amount.

For those of you with multiple Singer Featherweights, you will be able to have the same tension on all of your machines. Once the lower tension is set you only need to adjust the upper tension to achieve a proper “locking stitch”.

However, if you are changing to a different thread weight, type or brand, then the Bobbin Tension Meter will help you make slight adjustments to get the tension back to the proper 22-23 gram position.

With your bobbin case tension already set, it is easier to then troubleshoot the adjustment of “too loose” or “too tight” stitches. If there are loops on the bottom fabric, this means your upper tension is too loose and needs to be tightened. Likewise, if you see bobbin thread coming through to the top side of the fabric the upper tension is too tight and should be loosened. At this point in time, do not worry about the numbers indicate on your tension dial, but simply make adjustments until you are satisfied with how your stitch looks.

Once you have a proper lower and upper tension, and the stitch is locking correctly in between two pieces of fabric, you can then calibrate your upper tension unit so that it is set on number 4. A mid-range number allows you to tighten or loosen your tension as needed, depending on what you are sewing. Calibrating the tension unit is accomplished by pressing in on the numbered dial only and turning it until the number 4 is at the top.

The numbered portion of the dial has small holes perforated all the way around the center. The pin located on the back of the thumb nut will rest in one of those holes. You can then move the numbered dial to a new position without actually changing the tension. It is sometimes easier to do this process with a second set of hands to keep the large thumb nut at the front from moving.

Early Singer Featherweights had a non-numbered tension unit and were adjusted entirely from feel and appearance of the stitch.

As a point of troubleshooting, you may notice that while performing the test the indicator needle may bounce and not stay on a steady number. This is caused by a dirty bobbin case, lint under the tension spring, bobbins that are an incorrect size or are bent, and also lower quality threads.

Sidenote (not included in the video): Higher quality thread has longer fibers spun into the thread. If you look at high-quality thread under a microscope it will appear very straight and smooth. On the other hand, a lesser quality thread will have shorter fibers, and under magnification, the thread is wavy. The waves of the thread change the amount of tension as it passes under the tension spring.

Furthermore, it is important that the upper thread flow smoothly to the tension unit. The Singer Featherweight was designed in a day when small, wooden thread spools were the norm. Today, however, in a quilting environment, threads come on large cross-wound spools or on heavier cones. As the thread is fed into the upper tension unit from one of these heavier spools or cones, the machine struggles to feed the thread and creates a jerking action. This results in inconsistent, skipped or “too tight” stitches. A thread stand designed specifically for the portable Singer Featherweight is a must-have tool for your machine - and totes with you everywhere you take it! It lifts the thread off the heavy spool or cone and allows for a smooth, even flow of thread through the tension disks to the needle.

We hope this video tutorial was helpful and covers several areas of troubleshooting for a proper tension adjustment to your Singer Featherweight.

The Bobbin Tension Meter will be a valuable tool for your Singer Featherweight 221 and 222, but can also be used on most household sewing machines.


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