How Does Fabric Affect Tension?

Posted by on October 19, 2017

Most of the time when tension is the topic of a discussion the focus is on thread.  While this is where we start when adjusting tension, it is not the only element to achieve correct tension.  Perfect tension is when the stitches lock inside the batting of the quilt sandwich.  The thicker the quilt sandwich, the greater the leeway for locking.  The thinner the quilt sandwich the smaller the allowable locking area.  As a result, it is easier to achieve good tension with a thicker batting.

Fabric also has an effect on tension adjustment. It is easier for the thread to be pulled through loose weave fabric like flannel or homespun.  Painted or dyed fabric is more dense and requires a harder pull (or tighter tension) on the thread to lock it in the batting.  Cotton that is commonly used for piecing is about 66 threads woven per millimeter.  Sometimes quilters like to use sheets for backing to avoid piecing the backing.  Some sheets are more or less dense than the 66 threads per millimeter. Keeping in mind that there are 25 millimeters in an inch, a 800 thread count sheet is less dense than 66 thread per millimeter (1650 per inch).

Less dense fabric needs lighter tension and more dense fabric needs a tighter tension.  When different density fabrics are combined in a quilt it is more difficult to achieve a consistent quality tension.  If the tension is set for good tension on dense fabric, sewing over the less dense fabric may cause the stitch to lock on the top or bottom of the quilt, depending on which fabric is a looser weave.  This does not mean that fabrics cannot be combined in a quilt.  It simply means that when you are aware of your differing fabrics it is easier to find a happy medium to have satisfactory tension throughout the quilt.

Thread weight, thread fiber, batting and fabric fiber and density all work together for specific adjustments to achieve pleasing tension on each project.

Filed under: Blog,TinLizzie18 Quilting Tips

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