Mastering Top Thread Tensioning for Quality Embroidery

By Sal Lucchese

Proper thread tensioning is essential for achieving high-quality, trouble-free embroidery. Most thread breaks and other stitching issues are due to poor tensioning. Understanding and adjusting top thread tension can significantly improve your embroidery results. Here’s a comprehensive guide to mastering top thread tensioning for your embroidery projects.

Importance of Proper Thread Tensioning

Top thread tensioning is crucial because:

  1. Prevents Thread Breaks:
    • Incorrect tension can cause frequent thread breaks, interrupting your workflow and increasing downtime.
  2. Eliminates Looping:
    • Proper tension ensures that the top thread does not loop, maintaining a clean and precise design.
  3. Balances Thread Visibility:
    • Correct tension prevents the bobbin thread from showing on the top side of your design, ensuring a professional finish.

Basic Steps for Top Thread Tensioning

  1. Set Bobbin Tension First:
    • Before adjusting the top thread tension, ensure your bobbin tension is set correctly. Use a bobbin tension gauge for accuracy.
      • Standard Bobbin Tension: 18-22 grams
      • Bobbin Tension for Caps: Up to 25 grams
  2. Adjust Top Tension:
    • Use a top tension gauge to set the top thread tension. The recommended settings vary based on thread type:
      • Rayon Thread: 100-120 grams
      • Polyester Thread: 120-150 grams
  3. Test with a Satin Stitch:
    • Stitch out a simple satin stitch to check if your tension is correct. The ideal tension should show 1/3 of the bobbin thread running down the center with 1/3 of the top thread on either side.

Identifying Proper Tension

  • Too Loose: If the top thread is too loose, you will see more top thread on the underside of the fabric.
  • Just Right: Proper tension will show an even distribution of 1/3 bobbin thread and 2/3 top thread on the underside.
  • Too Tight: If the top thread is too tight, the bobbin thread will be pulled up too much, showing on the top side of the fabric.

Tools for Thread Tensioning

  1. Bobbin Tension Gauge (TOWA Bobbin Tension Gauge “L” Style):
    • Item #200-50
    • This tool helps set the precise tension needed for your bobbin thread.
  2. Top Tension Gauge (TAJIMA Top Tension Gauge):
    • Item #200-10
    • This gauge helps in accurately setting the top thread tension to achieve the best results.



Achieving the correct top thread tension is vital for producing high-quality embroidery. By setting the bobbin tension first and then adjusting the top thread tension using the appropriate tools and gauges, you can ensure your designs are clean, professional, and free from common stitching problems. Regularly checking and adjusting your thread tension will lead to smoother operations and better embroidery outcomes.

For more information and tools, visit Madeira USA or call 800-225-3001.