How to adjust upper and lower thread tension on a sewing machine



How many times has your sewing machine started to make stubborn monster-like noises and proceeded to pull your fabric towards the bobbin? Or maybe only managed to sew some you, useless, loose stitches? Do you still think your sewing machine “doesn’t sew knit fabric”?

In this post I am sharing what I know about thread tension. If you have your own tips or you have a different opinion, I would love to hear it!

How to adjust upper thread tension on a sewing machine

Adjusting the thread tension for the thread on top should be a pretty straightforward thing. Or at least it the most obvious tension to play with; getting to know how it actually works and what results you can get by playing with it – is another story.

You adjust the tension of the thread that comes from your thread spool depending on the fabric and thread you’re using.

The tension assembly consists of small discs that squeeze (softer or harder, depending on your adjustments) the thread passing through and another piece called the tension regulator, which keeps that pressure constant. On cheaper or more basic machines you will use a numbered wheel/knob and on newer/more expensive machines you will have a dial or a digital display.

In a nutshell: the higher the number on your wheel/dial, the stronger the squeeze and vice versa. If you use a fine thread your tension should be high; on the contrary when using a thicker or decorative thread, your tension should be lower.

When sewing cottons, you can use a medium-high tension; if a cotton is a loose weave, decrease the tension so you don’t wrinkle your fabric when sewing.

If you’re sewing knit or Lycra, decrease the tension to create a more elastic seam.

Adjusting tension will be easier on some machines than others. Newer machines even self-adjust their top thread tension when changing your thread. If you find yourself going crazy over getting the right tension, check the lower (bobbin tension).

As a general tip: your upper and lower thread should be the same type (acrylic, cotton, silk) and the same thickness.

If that doesn’t work, check if there’s dirt caught inside the tension disks. If you’re brave clean it yourself: decrease the tension to 0, un-thread and unplug your machine and pass a thin cotton rag oiled with sewing machine oil (cooking oil won’t do, get a proper oil for your machine and you’ll thank yourself later) through the disks until all the dirt sticks to the rag. Then adjust back your tension to a medium tension (3 or 4), thread your machine and practice a few seams on a cotton scrap.

How to adjust bobbin tension for sewing with elastic thread

For a long time I didn’t even know you could adjust bobbin tension. I thought there was a lever somewhere and that my sewing machine being a simple, older model didn’t have it. I meddled and twisted and swore at the upper thread tension and had no idea what great relief that little screw on the latch lever can bring.

The latch lever is the part that comes out with your bobbin. The part in which you push your bobbin and through which you take out the thread. There is a small screw near the opening through which the thread comes out and that’s how you adjust the bobbin tension. By unscrewing it you create less tension in the bottom thread; this is a handy adjustment for sewing with elastic thread or thicker thread. Once you’re done with the thick bobbin thread remember to screw it back (always test that the thread comes out comfortably).

Do you have any tips? How do you get the perfect thread tension?

Ooh, I Like That – Some DIY Inspiration

pumpkin candles

I don’t know about you but lately it feels like I never get the time to sew. Or enough time anyway. Tracing the pattern, cutting it, making the muslin, it all takes a lot of time. My future fall projects are all new patterns, new techniques (I want to learn to make shirts and to finally sew a coat for myself) which means they need a lot of time to be brought to life (so to speak, not planning any Dr. Frankenstein adventures).

Yet sometimes I feel there’s nothing better at bringing back the sewing mojo than some instant gratification quick DIY projects. Here are a few that inspire me right now:

For the Home

Have you seen this bundt cake inspired pillow tutorial from Craftstorming? I love the grey linen, the pleats, everything. I want to make a couple for my living room sofa!

a pretty pillow

A touch of sparkle

I don’t wear much jewelry and almost never wear necklaces so this embellished pearl shirt collar from Transient Expression looks like the perfect way to give a simple outfit a bit of glamour. I think I would try this with smaller beads though.

I also have two other bead projects in mind that I will share in the next posts.

beaded diy shirt collar

This clutch purse rules!

I love it when people find new ways to use otherwise common items, like this ruler clutch purse from Hands Occupied.

If you can’t find a way to cut a wooden ruler you could make the pieces from polymer clay or paint it directly on the fabric.

wooden ruler clutch purse

Let’s go dancing

Is color-blocking a summer thing? Even if you use fall hues? I’m not sure, but this vintage looking colorblock circle skirt from Simple Simon & Co sure looks dandy. You could wear a neutral color for the body of the skirt, like black or grey and add a bright fat hem in purple, green or mustard.

fall swing skirt

Veggie to conversation piece

October is the month of the pumpkin. I’ve seen amazing things on blogs lately: pies, smoothies, soups, chips; I want to try them all. A quick pumkin DIY are these pumpkin candles from the Free People Blog. Easy to make and so pretty if you can find pumpkins of different colours and sizes.

pumpkin candles

What about you? What inspires you lately?

How to make a beautifully draped batwing tunic

draped blouse sketch

bat blouse s


This draped batwing tunic is very easy to make and a perfect project for the weekend. It only took me a couple of hours from sketch to finish and you don’t need any sewing pattern to make this.

When you choose your fabric choose blouse fabrics with a drape, light cottons, like batiste, silk, georgette, etc, but nothing too boxy, unless that is the look you are going for.

draped blouse sketch


First, take a tank top that fits you well but it not too stretchy. You want tank top and not a t-shirt because it will be easier to see where the armhole sits on your pattern. You can use paper if you feel more comfortable, but I just pinned the tank top over the fabric and cut my blouse pattern on the fabric folded in four, keeping the folded sides at the top and at the left of the fabric.

I folded the tank top once, then snipped of the shape of the neck area and created a bat-like wing, cutting the sleeves and that V. The longer your V, the more your blouse will drape. You can play with this shape and create many other blouses or dresses.


how to make a draped blouse the sewing  pattern

The second things I sewed were the neckline and the arm-holes, then I sewed the V’s, making sure I sandwiched inside the ties for wrapping the batwings on the finished piece.



how to sew a draped bat blouse

And that’s it! Easy ! I’d love to see your end result if you decide to make this top.

And don’t thing this is a summer-only piece, you can even take this blouse into autumn by wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath or even a body-con dress.



11 things you could do now for becoming a better garment designer in 12 months

tips for becoming a better garment designer

So you want to be a fashion designer, a pattern maker or the world’s best sewist? Good for you! If you’re just starting to learn about sewing and garment making, you’ll be happy to hear it takes very little time to learn the basics of sewing and start making your own clothes using patters.

Learning how to adapt and transform existing commercial patterns is another level in sewing. And then there’s making your own patterns, following your own designs – that’s the most tricky part, as you will need many skills, from sewing basics, to draping, sketching and other things that are not always mentioned in sewing, but should be the most important: basic anatomy, body shapes, movement knowledge (supposing you want to create garments that are also comfortable, not only pretty).

I know user experience is not something you hear a lot of sewists talking about, but for me it is the most important: the way your clothes make you feel when you wear them. This should be the ultimate goal of the garment designer: to understand first how their garment will make the wearer feel; will they feel extravagant and bold (like costumes and evening dresses), will they feel relaxed and serene (summer sleeping garments, silky tank tops, beach wear) or energized and ready (workout gear, structured jackets)etc. I think you should always start with how you want your end product to feel when worn.

become a better garment designer

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was those things you could start doing now that will make you a better garment designer in the next 12 months:

  1. Find people who are passionate about the same things. Look at what they make, learn from there. Get to know them.
  2. Start a small notebook for all your thoughts and ideas about sewing, fashion and garment design. At the end of the week transcribe, scan or capture everything in a digital file, or a blog. Add extra notes and ideas.
  3. Read sewing and pattern making books. Read everything you can with the notebook on hand. Write down any genius ideas or must remember tips.
  4. If you’re sewing for many hours adjust your desk and chair to prevent back pain. If possible don’t cut fabric on the floor and don’t press fabric on a surface that’s lower than your waist. If you do, include 5 minutes of exercises or stretching to protect your back.
  5. Take 5 minutes everyday to daydream about making thigs that you can’t make yet. Write these ideas down.
  6. Be mindful when you are creating and make things that you will enjoy for many years.
  7. Sew or make something for another person at least every few months. It doesn’t have to be something big, just put in a lot of love and see your loved ones enjoy your master skills.
  8. Travel. Look at what other people wear, eat, how they move in their clothes. Learn from them.
  9. When you ruin a garment, go out for a run, then put the garment in the recycle box and wait for an idea to come to reuse that fabric. Make rugs or donate leftover fabric.
  10. Sew less and enjoy more. If you want to learn, don’t limit yourself to making 4 blouses of the same pattern you already master. Move on and experiment. Think about what you’ll sew next, think about what you want.
  11. Go shopping and make a list of things you dislike. Take photos if you want. Make notes about fit, fabric, brands; as you learn more and more about garment making, this will further help you to create better clothes for youself and who knows, maybe for the entire world.

Image by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER via flickr.

Basic watercolour paint techniques

paintbrushes in a glass jar

paintbrushes in a glass jar

Learning a new skill can be both fun and frustrating. Fun as you explore the possibilities and feel proud of your results and frustrating when what you imagined doesn’t fit the reality. This will also happen when you’re playing with watercolours: some things will look really nice, while others… rather disappointing. In this blogpost I will sum up some of the basic watercolour paint techniques I learned recently.


watercolours on a newspaper

I don’t believe in buying the most expensive tools when you’re just starting to learn something. Many tutorials on YouTube start with the different brands of paint you should buy; I think you should first get the most basic tools as you learn and when you get to the point where you really understand the difference, switch. Don’t make things more complicated than they should be.

I use:

  • kids watercolour set from Ikea
  • watercolour pencils from Ikea
  • acrylic paint for washes and accents
  • a mix of old and new round tip and flat brushes
  • a repurposed glass coaster
  • a reusable and handmade cotton cloth
  • watercolour paper (the cheapest I could find)

Basic techniques:

How to make a watercolour wash:

There are 4 very basic watercolour painting techniques and they all depend on the amount of water you use on the brush or on the paper: wet on dry (a wet brush on a dry surface), wet on wet (a wet brush on an a wet paper), dry on wet (a dry brush on a wet paper) and dry on dry (a dry brush on a dry surface).

How to paint your first watercolour

From all the beginner watercolour videos I watched on youtube, this is the one that really cliked for me. The teacher and painter Stan Miller explains in a very clear, to the point way how to get started with painting. No fluff.

To sum up his lesson:

  1. find an image you want to paint
  2. turn it black and white and increase contrast
  3. draw a sketch lightly (i like using a watercolour pen for this)
  4. start by filling in the background with black
  5. look at your model drawing/picture and make a note of the light areas, the shadows, the medium greys and try to replicate it on your paper

Congratulations, you’re painting with watercolours!

black and white watercolour with khaleesi daeneris tagaryen and dragon

This is the portrait I made following his technique: (can you recognise the character? 🙂

Large tropical leaves: 3 ways to use them in your wardrobe

large tropical leaf top


large tropical leaf top


vintage white shirt with tropical leaves


tropical leaf like dress

For centuries, the tropics and the jungle have fascinated us; for both their beauty and their well… deadliness. Banana, papaya, mango, they all have large, tropical leaves. We often talk about these fruit in terms of coulours, when it comes to garment making (ok, not sure about the banana, but humour me) but it’s about time we talked about their opulent and full of life foliage.

And there’s nothing that says summer more than tropical leaves!

1. Townsen Tank – Rattan from Bloomingdales, €124

This top has a very simple shape, almost completey square, with lines neckline and armhole facings. The black tropical leaves are applied on the shoulders, but you could also paint them if you make this in cotton or batiste. The top closes at the back with a metallic zipper, but you could use a keyhole back cleavage and a button.

2. Vintage white shirt with green tropical leaves from Etsy, €21

3. Mimesis green leaf dress by Kamila Gwawronska Kasperska from Not Just a Label, £750

(Image credits: As linked above.)

Bonus: a tropical skirt and palm leaf pants.



Two delicate and feminine, no pattern blouses

Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 4.15.55 PM

As a person who owns much more patterns than she will ever get to use and still remembers the exact number of the now lost Burda magazine she lent a friend over 6 years ago, I am fascinated by garments that don’t need patterns. More specifically about boxy, square-ish shapes that have never seen a french curve in their life.

That’s why I really like these blouses and dresses from this Kitting, Crochet and Sewing Magazine (I can’t find this magazine anywhere else, do you know if it has a different name?)

Look at this blouse below, for example: it’s basically a trapeze shape, but the crochet straps and hems only barely drape it to create a wonderful and simple blouse. If you’re good with crochet, this should be very easy to make.

delicate no pattern summer blouse

This second blouse follows the same style: crochet upper bodice and soft flowy body.

delicate blouse with crochet trim

I really like how delicate the crochet looks against the modest napkin-like fabric.

delicate crochet and cotton blouse in japanese style

The magazine has instructions at the end, showing you how to create the very very simple patterns.

The softer and fabric you use it, the more delicate the finished garment will look like. If you use heavier fabrics, you will end up with boxier blouses.

how to make an easy blouse in less than one hour

If you want to take a look at the other blouses in the magazine, here it is:

Minimalist sewing: weekend reads

minimalist laundry

minimalist laundry

As a sewist you probably own a lot of clothes and fabric. If I look at my own clothes, I have those that I made and love and actually wear outside the house, then the clothes I’ve made and like but don’t fit with anything else in my wardrobe or don’t actually fit my lifestyle (frosting anyone?), then the clothes I bought and love, the ones I’ve bought and still love but don’t wear because they change shape, they’re difficult to iron or I just keep postponing their wear for “a better occasion”, the ones that were a gift, the unfinished sewing project and last but not least the clothes that I’ve said I’ll refashion.

That’s a lot of clothes.

Do I need all those clothes? Definitely not. Here are 3 inspiring reads about simplifying and understanding how we could own less to get more from the things we own or make:

The case for fewer—but better—clothes by Keila Tyner. Even though Keila focuses on the North Americal market, I think this is still true for a great part of the rest of the world: we buy more than we need, we buy more than we wear, we buy more than we can store. This could also be the case for sewists: because making clothes is so easy, there’s no need to limit the amount of clothes you have. Does minimalistic sewing exist?

33 Things to Eliminate From Your Closet by Courtney Carver. Project 33 challenges people who want to simplify, declutter and who know, maybe find new inspiration to live with 33 items for 3 months. The idea is that by owning less and keeping only what works and what you love you’ll be able to focus on more important things in your life than tomorrow’s outfit – while style looking your best. Not sure what to keep? Start with the things you could take out.

An 8 week checklist for simplifying your home by Trina from Beginner Beans. If you liked Apartment Therapy’s Home Cure, you might also like Trina’s version, that focuses on simplifying your home and your life. Not directly sewing related, but I am sure your sewing studio would benefit from a bit of simplifying… I know mine does.

What about you? What are you going to donate, give away or simply remove from your closet this weekend?

How to make a dress or blouse bodice: the easy way

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 10.27.05 PM

Today I was thinking about ways in which I could simplify the making of the bodice. Now, I have a bodice that I’ve made following the instructions in Helen Joseph Armstrong’s book, Patternmaking for Fashion Design and another from Sarai Mitnick’s book, The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress but I wanted to see how I could make one fast and easy, if, let’s say I am too lazy to look for them 🙂

And then I found this video with Peggy Sagers who explains pattern-making by draping. I always thought this was difficult to do, but she explains it very clearly.

One point she makes about the bust darts is that they always have to reach to the bust point (the nipple) and that they have to end somewhere within the bust circle, which is a 3in radius circle, with the centre at the bust point. If a dart does that, then it can be safely positioned in a multitude of ways, either vertically or horizontally.

See how to draft the bust circle below:

sewing patterns drafting the bust circle

Another point that’s actually something I wish I had understood sooner is that the bodice always stops at the real waist. So if you want to make a blouse, you should add as much length to your bodice as you need (maybe you want it to only touch the hipline or to pass it completely, you always need to add that length). It’s funny now because when I first created my bodice following Helen Armstrong’s instructions, I had commented that the bodice fitted me more or less well, but it was way to short.

Measuring the body takes much longer than draping the body, she says. It’s true, how come I didn’t think of that before?

How does she drape? She pins the square piece to the mannequin (my recent madness about owning a body form is bubbling up here, but let’s put a lid on it for now), marks the neck points and the shoulder, then she drapes the paper at the bust point, horizontally, creating a bust dart. She then repeats from the bust point to the waistline, vertically, creating a waist dart.

how to make sewing patterns bust darts

Another quote that sounds a bit funny in the beginning, but makes a lot of sense: an armhole is created the same way as a neckline: down and out.

She sews the darts starting from the bust point down, arguing that it’s easier to get that first part right, like that, and that if you get wrong the foot of the dart, then that’s going to be encased in a seam anyway. Plus, she sews darts with an overlocker!

A french dart is a combination of the bust dart and the waist dart: you start with your basic bodice with the two bust and waist dart. You then mark the new french dart starting with a few inches up from the side and drag it to the bust circle. Slash open and close the old darts:

how to make a french dart

Would love to know your thoughts on this technique!