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Taming Serger Tensions

Gail Brown and Nancy Zieman

For many, adjusting serger tensions causes just that: tension. Unlike conventional sewing machines, sergers may require fine-tuning of tensions with just about any change of fabric or thread. Take heart--the adjustments are logical and easy, and far fewer when using today's newer serger models. Some tension-relief tips:

  • First, follow your manual how-to’s for tension adjustments. Most manuals show balanced stitches, as well as steps and solutions to common inconsistencies.

  • If you are a serging neophyte, test threading and tensions using a different color thread for each position, and if possible, match the threads to the color-coded machine diagrams. (For example, if the path for the left-needle position is marked in blue, use blue thread in that position.) This simplifies accurately identifying portions of the stitch.

  • Know how your tension controls work. For most (but not all) sergers: Knobs--turn right to tighten, left to loosen. Lay-in discs--turn up to tighten, down to loosen.

  • Adjust only one knob or dial at a time. Test-serge and assess the results. Make further adjustments if necessary.

  • Loopy threads indicate too much thread: tighten tensions.

  • To expose more thread, loosen tensions.

  • If tightening or loosening the tension doesn’t change the stitch configuration, troubleshoot the threading paths. Are the threads fully seated in the tension knobs or lay-in discs? Is a thread caught under a cone or spool? Is a thread guide skipped? Is a thread wrapped around a thread guide twice? Is the needle in good condition, the right type and size, and inserted properly?


  • Understand how stitch, thread, and fabric characteristics affect tension.

  • Shortening the stitch loosens looper tensions. Lengthening the stitch tightens looper tensions.

  • Narrowing the stitch loosens looper tensions. Widening the stitch tightens looper tensions.

  • Heavier threads create more drag in the tension controls, and require loosened tensions.

  • Stretchy threads stretch as they pass through tension controls and threading guides. Loosen to balance tensions.

  • Heavier fabrics, or extra layers of fabric, require more thread for coverage; loosen tensions.

  • Lightweight fabrics require less thread for coverage; tighten tensions.

  • Before deadlines loom, tinker with tensions. In no time, you’ll tame tension, and the idiosyncrasies of your particular serger model.

For answers to this and other serging questions, order The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide Book by Naomi Baker, Gail Brown, and Cindy Kacynski and The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide Video by Nancy Zieman and Gail Brown.

© 1999, Nancy’s Notions®
For personal use only.