How to achieve perfect quilting in the hoop results, part 2

So you’re busy quilting in the hoop and you’ve been increasing the top tension so that the back looks good, but the top thread keeps breaking. What are you to do?

In part 1, I suggested that you will need to back off the top tension a little bit (reduce it again!) and adjust the bottom – or bobbin tension.

Most people are reasonably comfortable adjusting the top tension on their sewing and embroidery machine. There’s usually a knob or a dial or a button to press, all with a scale attached so you can see exactly how much change you’re making. When it comes to adjusting the bottom/bobbin tension, that can be a frightening experience. Like most things, a little knowledge can go a long way to reducing the anxiety, leading to a much easier experience and more pleasing results. Here goes…

The thing to remember is…

righty tighty, lefty loosy.

This is the bobbin casing in my BERNINA 880 (and the B830’s too).

Bottom Tension - BERNINA 8 Series

The bobbin snaps into the bobbin casing. On the top of the casing you can see 2 white dots. The one at the front is stationary (can’t be moved). The one on the top can be moved using the “all purpose tool” that comes with the machine. I think this is the easiest machine to change the bobbin tension as the dot on the top can be moved one click at a time to the left and to the right.

To increase (tighten) the bobbin tension (pull more of the top thread down) move the dot click by click to the right.

To decrease (loosen) the bobbin tension (allow more bobbin thread to go up) move the dot click by click to the left.

When threading this machine for embroidery, there is a little clip underneath the bobbin casing that the bobbin thread needs to be caught in. This clip adds a significant increase to the bobbin tension which is necessary for doing embroidery. A question that is often asked about this machine when quilting in the hoop is: can I just thread the bobbin for regular sewing and not for embroidery, i.e. not putting the bobbin thread in the clip? The answer is: no matter what kind of embroidery design you are stitching, ALWAYS thread the bobbin for embroidery. For quilting in the hoop, you are wanting to fine tune the bobbin tension which you can do my moving the little white dot to the right and left. Not threading for embroidery is too big of a change and will lead to very unwelcome results.

This is the embroidery bobbin case for my BERNINA artista 200.

Bobbin Case - BERNINA artista 200It has a gold colored latch on the front to differentiate it from a regular sewing bobbin. It also has a little pigtail wire just above the gold latch which is not present on a regular sewing bobbin. When doing machine embroidery, the bobbin thread needs to be wound through this little pigtail.

On the bottom left of this bobbin case is a little screw (see to the right in the photo). This is the screw to use to make fine tuning adjustments to your bobbin tension.

With the bobbin case oriented as shown in the photo above, the screw on my bobbin case has the center line just to the right of vertical. Turning this screw clockwise – the top of the center line moving to the right – will increase (tighten) the bobbin tension, bringing more of the top thread down. Turning this screw counter clockwise – the top of the center line moving to the left – will decrease (loosen) the bobbin tension, allowing more of the bobbin thread to go up.

If you’re at all concerned about messing up your regular embroidery tension, use a Sharpie marker to mark the position of the top of the center line on the screw. Adjust by 1/8 of a turn, keeping a record of how many adjustments you make. This way, it will be easy to return the bobbin case to the tension needed for regular embroidery.

This is the embroidery bobbin case for my BERNINA artista 165E.

Bobbin Case - BERNINA artista 165On this bobbin case, there is a little hole in the end of the piece that sticks out of the top of the bobbin case. When threaded for embroidery, the bobbin thread needs to be inserted through this little hole.

Similar to the BERNINA artista 200 bobbin case, there is a little screw on the side (see to the right in the photo). Turning the screw to the right will increase (tighten) the bobbin tension. Turning the screw to the left will decrease (loosen) the bobbin tension.

Just in case you’re wondering why the two BERNINA artista machines have different bobbin cases (and different bobbins to go in them), the BERNINA artista 200 machine has what is called a Rotary Hook. The BERNINA artista 165E machine has what is called a CB Hook (BERNINA’s patented oscillating hook). The differences between the two hook systems are a whole other story!

For both of these types of bobbin case, it’s always necessary to thread for embroidery regardless of what you are doing in the hoop. Use the screw for fine tuning the bobbin tension when quilting in the hoop.

Quilting in the hoop tension examples

Testing Bottom TensionThe photo shows a sample I created using a design from the new Happy Quilting Collection. Have you tried them yet? They stitch beautifully 🙂

The design in the center of the hoop was stitched with no changes made to the default embroidery settings on top or for the bobbin.

For the design on the top, I increased the bobbin tension by moving the white dot on my BERNINA 880 by 4 clicks to the right. The top tension was unchanged.

For the design on the bottom, I decreased the bobbin tension by moving the white dot on my BERNINA 880 by 4 clicks to the left. The top tension was unchanged.

This is what it looked like on the back:


The results are decently extreme, so be sure to click on the photos below to see a larger version.

Default top and bottom tension settings

For the design stitched with no changes to the default embroidery tension settings, the top tension looks very decent.

The bobbin thread would be perfect if nobody was going to see it. However, it could be loosened a tiny bit if I was after perfection. It’s not so much the way the bobbin thread looks, it’s more that it feels tight if you run your finger across the back of the project.

Increasing (tightening) the bobbin tension

Tightening the bobbin tension by 4 clicks made a very noticeable difference to the back, but not a huge amount on the front.

It’s very easy to tell that this bobbin tension is way too tight. As well as being able to see the top thread, the bobbin thread is laying on the surface of the fabric.

Decreasing (loosening) the bobbin tension

Loosening the bobbin tension by 4 clicks did make a positive difference to the back, but it had a bit of a detrimental effect on the front in that the bobbin thread started to show. You can see this quite clearly in the photo below.

In order to achieve a perfect result, with the back looking as good as the front, 1-2 clicks to the left would have worked well.

Be sure to 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. Using the information shared here, you’re sure to achieve perfect results!


  1. Thank you
    I feel comfortable changing the tensions and I will practice this to achieve perfection. I would like to buy the Happy quilting collection, but I am concerned about quilting an entire quilt with this collection. Do I have to embroider all the blocks first , then go back to the quilting part?

  2. Thanks so much for this demonstration. Sometimes we’re not quite sure what effect we’re aiming for. The article is well=written & examples are very good (if the threads had more color difference it would help even more). I have a friend with a new Bernina 880, so I’m send this to her. My machines are Husquavarna-Vikings, so the instructions don’t apply (although the explanation does help a lot). Again, thank you so much for the clear instructions.

  3. Thanks so much Sarah. I have a new 880 and have not been happy with the quilting results so will follow your instructions and try again. I never knew about the bobbin tension so it has stayed put as I adjusted the top tension to what I could live with but was never happy with the results. You site has been where I come first for advice and designs. You are an excellent mentor and designer!
    Many thanks.

  4. I just learned about the bobbin tension fix the other day and I’ve had my 2 830’s for several years. Thanks for the demo, I’m off to quilting.

  5. Hi Sarah
    Thanks so much for your excellent articles. Most helpful even though I have Janome and Brother machines it still works for me.

  6. Thanks again, Sarah. Informative, as always. Can’t believe I didn’t know I could adjust the bobbin tension on my 880. Wonder how many other goodies I don’t know about!

  7. I had no idea how to adjust the bobbin tension on my 830LE, or even that it could be, so thank you for this info!

  8. Thank you so much for the information Sarah. Your designs are beautiful. I do have the Happy collection and look forward to exploring its uses. Always following.

  9. Pingback: T is for Thread - Machine Embroidered Applique by Sarah Vedeler Designs

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