Thread tension on the Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen

5 09 2013

On the Yahoo! Group for the HQ Sweet 16 (and now Babylock Tiara), Mary asked about tension and threads.

Here’s my response:

Threads are unlikely to be your problem (except at the very thick and thin ends of the thread spectrum). The main problem with tension is getting to know your machine. For the first few weeks, I got very frustrated with incorrect tension, and then it seemed to click.


Many factors affect thread tension:

  • thread path to the needle – I use 1, 2, or 3 of the little holes after the thread mast or horizontal spool, depending on the thread
  • incorrect needle size – thick thread = larger needle; thin thread = smaller needle
  • tension knob – don’t be afraid to turn that baby several times when testing tension. The better the result, the smaller turns you need to make to get it perfect
  • possible lint/fluff caught in the top tension disks
  • incorrect thread path – did you ‘floss’ between the top tension disks or did you miss them and the thread is in the spring? Have you put the thread through ALL parts of the thread path?
  • thread caught on thread path – thread on the horizontal spool can come off and get caught on the spindle and wrap around it, causing tension to go wacky. I’ve now put one of those felt pads from my domestic sewing machine between the spindle and the spool to help prevent this
  • thread getting twisted — the three holes at the top are meant to prevent this, but some threads don’t go through all three holes, or just don’t behave. I use a thread net for those
  • not getting the bobbin tension right – Jamie Wallen’s excellent video on bobbin tension: You should not have your bobbin tension too tight

Keep a practice sandwich next to the machine to test the tension every time you change threads or bobbins – even if the bobbin was wound at the same time with the same thread and settings as the previous bobbin.

The only threads I’ve haven’t been able to use successfully (yet!) are 12 wt Egyptian cotton threads (my needle sizes only go up to 18, so I need to buy a bigger needle size for that thread) and 100 wt threads (my size 14 needle is probably too big for that and so I may need to buy smaller needles for that thread weight). I’ve used two 40 wt rayon threads going through the needle at the same time, and I believe you can use three threads (using the horizontal spool holder too) if your needle size is big enough.

Tension is a matter of time and patience. Threads are only one part of the story.

See also:



8 responses

5 09 2013

Great post! I haven’t had any issues with such settings but I’ve seen (in several different places) discussion about needles and, I know, that on my DSM a topstitch needle (longer/larger eye and deeper groove) prevents so many thread issues (shedding, breaking, skipped stitches, etc). Unless I am using a very fine thread, I stick with the size 16 needle. It makes a larger hole but that goes away when the quilt is washed. I haven’t had any tension problems at all since I referenced Jamie’s YouTube demo.

5 09 2013

great post Rhonda, thank you , i have been slowly working through the issues and have ” discovered” the solutions as you have listed them… The fluff in the top tension was a surprise, i had never thought to clean in there. It has been a lot of trial and error , but the “errors” are getting fewer and i am beginning to feel confidant with my S16 Even used a monofilament (invisifil) thread with a 14 needle for the first time ever, to ditch stitch, brilliant results. I found Jamie’s video a few weeks ago and it made a huge difference to my understanding of bobbin tension.

26 04 2014
Threads and tension: Practise before quilting | Rhonda Bracey: At Random

[…] Looping thread (see 2 and 3 in the photo below) and eyelashes (1 in the photo below) mean my top tension is too loose, so I turn the top tension knob at least one turn (depending on how much […]

3 05 2014
20 10 2015

Am having tension problems and have watched several video on the subject. The biggest frustration is getting the tension set and sew for awhile, take a lunch break and come back only to have to reset the tension again. Any one else have a similar problem? Thanks

23 10 2015

i’m a new quilter with sweet 16. I have a thread nest with some of the stitches on the bottom of my quilt but other stitches are good.. ive changed the needle and tightened the tension. What else can I try? thanks

19 02 2019

Is it normal to have clicking sound from the top tension knob while sewing? Have played with tension, as I’ve had top thread breakage, but still have clicking.

19 02 2019

Hi Andrea

Not as far as I know. However, my Sweet Sixteen is nearly 9 years old, so I don’t know about the newer models, which have features like a tension number. I suggest you chat with your dealer, or if you’re in the US, call Handi Quilter’s customer service.


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