How to achieve perfect quilting in the hoop results, part 1

When you’re quilting, are you usually as happy with the back of the quilt as you are with the front? How about when you’re doing embroidery? Most of the time, nobody’s going to see the back of an embroidery project – unless you’re using your embroidery machine to quilt, in which case you want to make sure the back is as nice as the front.

For quilting in the hoop, you need to know how to adjust the tension on your embroidery machine. I’ve noticed that the mention of changing the tension on an embroidery machine can bring up a lot of anxiety for many people. Let’s see if I can reduce that anxiety!

When you’re doing “regular” machine embroidery, the default tension setting on your embroidery machine is designed to bring the top thread down to the bottom. If you do a satin stitch, when the tension is set correctly, on the back (wrong side) of the embroidery you should see mostly bobbin thread (shown in pink in the diagram below) with a little bit of the top thread (shown in blue) on either side. On the front (right side) you should see only the top thread.

Tension for machine embroidery

To achieve this tension, the bobbin thread is set at a higher tension than for regular sewing. For my BERNINA 8 Series machines, I have to thread the bobbin for embroidery by getting the bobbin thread inside a little clip. For my older BERNINA artista machines, there’s a different bobbin case to use for embroidery. One has a little pigtail to wind the bobbin thread through, one has a tiny hole that the thread needs to go through.

For quilting, whether it’s in the hoop or not, you want for the top thread to stay on the top and the bobbin thread to stay on the bottom, meeting somewhere in the middle of the batting.

Tension for quilting in the hoop

There are two ways to make this happen:

  • You can tighten (increase) the top tension OR
  • You can loosen (decrease) the bobbin tension.

On most embroidery machines, it’s much easier to adjust the top tension.

On my BERNINA 8 Series machines, the default tension setting for doing embroidery is 2.75. To increase the tension, I want to make that number bigger. I might try 3.5 as a first increase. If that doesn’t achieve the desired result, I’ll keep increasing the tension – raising the number – by increments of 0.5.

There’s a caveat to increasing the top tension. If the tension gets too tight, you run the risk of the top thread breaking. If you get to this point and you’re still seeing top thread on the back of your quilt, you’re going to need to back off the top tension a little bit and adjust the bottom tension.

Watch out for part 2 – how to adjust the bottom or bobbin tension – in a few days!

Beautiful Top Tension…

Beautiful Top Tension

Beautiful Bottom/Bobbin Tension

Beautiful Bottom Tension

Check out the Happy Quilting Collection – beautiful quilting in the hoop designs that are a perfect match with the embroidered appliqué designs from the Happy Popups Collection and the Happy Tuffet Collection.


  1. thanks for this tutorial. Always good to know about tension, esp. for the 830 🙂

  2. I have a Pacesetter by Brother. Can this tension be changed?

  3. Thank you for such clear information

  4. I am in love with the happy collection. I have your tuffet pattern and will soon be adding the remainder of the collection in another week or so….thank you for such beautiful patterns! PS… I adore your choice of colors!

  5. Thanks for the great info.

    • Thank you Sarah, for taking the time to share this very helpful information with us! Those of us who are newer to this, appreciate it especially ! I appreciate the care and precision you put into everything you do, so that we can have great results when we embroider your designs! Amazingly, you can be so relaxed and pleasant while still being so precise! GREAT qualities in a designer and teacher. Keep the instructional videos and tutorials coming! I love every one.

  6. Thank you for the info. Always learning!

  7. Thanks for the information. I will check this out.

  8. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for the info. When the bobbin thread lays flat and the top thread is loopy underneath, but looks perfect on top. What tension needs adjusting?

    • I would clean your bobbin case thoroughly and add a touch of oil. If it’s still loopy, then increase the top tension until the loops disappear.

  9. Great info Sarah. How about the bobbin thread showing in the top thread stitching? If not discussed in part 2, I need your input please.

  10. Sarah, on your 8 series machine, do you thread the bobbin for embroidery or regular sewing when you are quilting in the hoop?

  11. Thank you for this information. We all need to know that we can change our tensions while doing embroidery and quilting on our machines. I have a Bernina 830 and a 200 and have found there are times when I need to adjust my tensions and I mainly adjust the top as it is the easiest.

  12. Sarah I always look forward to your tidbits of info. I have often wondered how to/which tension to adjust when Quilting in the hoop. Thanks bunches. I love the happy collection and am working on the table runner now. Again, thanks!

  13. Thank you for this info I am one of these people that does not like to change my tension setting

  14. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge. I always enjoy reading your emails/posts and have learned so much. You do beautiful work! Hope you are enjoying your new home.

  15. Pingback: How to achieve perfect quilting in the hoop results, part 2 - Machine Embroidered Applique by Sarah Vedeler Designs

  16. Thanks for giving us really great information, clear and precise. I would like to know how to deal with the little bits that are cut off by my machine on the back of embroidery for quilt. My machine has an automatic cut and tie. Should I disable this? Thanks again Joanna

  17. Do you also suggest using the same thread top and bottom? That is what I have been doing, even with tension adjusted as you describe.

  18. I agree with Mary’s comment (1/23/17). May I just say “ditto ” and thanks. This info came via my mentor Valerie. I love the way quilters share !!

  19. Thanks so much for sharing this info. I have been struggling with this exact issue while embroidering in the hoop. Very helpful.

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