Saturday’s Sewing Tips and Tricks, the TNT’s of SEWING

Sewing THREADS, Sewing Machine NEEDLES and Sewing Machine TENSION

SEWING THREAD – Quality Polyester Universal All-Purpose Sewing Thread will serve most of your sewing needs.  Polyester thread does not shrink or fade.  I prefer Mettler and Dual Duty brands.

  • Most stitching problems come from using the incorrect length of stitch for the thickness of the fabric being sewn.
  • Secondly, thread that easily breaks when you pull it (because it is old) will break as you stitch and can you imagine what will happen when you wear the garment!
  • Thirdly, problems arise from poor quality thread that is fuzzy, has knots or lumps in it.

Avoid stocking up on thread, it ages. Avoid buying threads at yard sales or factory sales because they tend to be too old. Check to see if your thread has aged.  Aged thread will break easily in your hands.  Fibers weaken under light and when exposed to heat.  This is true of your threads.

Silk thread is used for topstitching.  It is too strong for use in the seams of silk fabrics, causing the fabric to tear while the seam holds under stress.  Cotton thread ages quickly, weakens and fades and is used for quilting.. Topstitching thread are used for topstitching and surface designs, not seaming, Topstititching tread requires a Topstitching Needle. Embroidery thread is used for embroidery and surface designs, not seaming. Clear thread is used for surface designs, not seaming.

IMPORTANT – Serger or Overlock Threads are used for sergers and overlock machines, not home sewing machines.  The thread is formed with shorter staple fibers, causing too much fuzz in your machine’s tension discs.

SEWING MACHINE NEEDLES

Change your needles often, at least once for every garment. The cost of a needle is a lot less than the cost of your fabric.  A dull tip can snag your fabric and an overused needle’s eye will shred your thread because it’s upper edge has been sharpened by numerous threads going through it.

Needle Sizes

The basic rule of thumb when it comes to sewing machine needles size is  the lower the number, the smaller needle, the finer the fabric

The higher the size number, the larger the needle, which is best used with thicker fabric. They come in sizes 60/8, 65/9, 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, 110/18, 120/19.  The most common needles sizes used are: 

70/10 fine size for lightweight and sheer fabrics

80/12 medium size for medium weight fabrics

90/14 larger size for thicker heavier weight fabrics

Needle Types

Universal needlesa normal (slightly rounded) sharp-pointed needle is called a universal because it sews most fabrics well.  The point is slightly rounded so it won’t damage most knits. It is a good idea to have all three basic sizes 70/10, 80/12 (with a larger supply of this size) and 90/14 in your sewing box.

Stretch needlesThis needle has a slightly more rounded point than a universal need. The eye is small and high up on the shaft, restricting the thread and protecting it from too much movement and friction.  There is a tiny hump between the eye and the scarf that alls the thread to make a large loop on one side of the needle.  This loop makes it easy to complete a stitch. Whenever I have difficulty getting a good stitch or I get skipped stitches, I use a stretch needle.  It usually fixes the problem. I have size 75/11 and 90/14 in my sewing box.

Topstiching needles – These have larger eyes which can accommodate thicker topstitching threads.

Jeans/Denim needles – This needle is design for sewing very densely woven and heavily finished fabrics such as denim, corduroy, upholstery, and rip stop nylon.  It is the choice for getting perfectly straight stitches because it has a very stiff shaft, sharp point, and slender eye.  It will, however, cause great damage to knits.  Jeans needles are also a good choice for topstitching through several layers, plus sewing and embroidering heavy weight fabrics.

Microtex/Sharp needles– These needles have a thin shaft and slim, sharp point for smooth seams with little or no damage to lightweight and delicate woven fabrics such as Microfibers, batiste, sand washed fabrics, and silkies.  This helps creates great looking topstitching on any fabric. You many need several needles to complete a garment.  Microtex/sharp needed are a must for heirloom sewing.                                 

SEWING MACHINE TENSION

Don’t mess with it! The means don’t mess with the upper tension or bobbin tension.  The machines are set up for All Purpose Sewing Thread thickness.  Using thicker or thinner threads is like putting the wrong size tires on your car, you won’t get far.

Generally there is a mark, a red line, or the middle of the numbered tension dial that the machine will be set at by the sewing mechanic. Unless you are a skilled mechanic, only change it under the direction of an instructor. And they will have you reset it back to normal when you are done using a specialty thread.

Over time with a lot of sewing, the bobbin tension may loosen or tighten the tension. It is good to know what the correct tension feels like.  Your mechanic, sewing machine sales people and instructors can show you.


This is one of the most important tips I learned from Stan, my Bernina Man, was to not mess with the tension. Machines are set at the factory to the thickness of ALL-PURPOSE SEWING THREAD. In the past 30+ years, when ever a student brought in their machine that was not operating properly the first thing I do is set their tension at normal, red lines match or 5 in a 0-9 scale. Then I thread the machine and stitch. I have only had one machine come in with the tension dials stripped in all these years.

This information was provided by Stan Mower, retired, Bernina Mechanic & Bernina Dealer, Dr. Carolyn Schactler & Dr. Pearl Douce, Central Washington University, Schmetz Threads and Ryliss Bod.

2 Replies to “Saturday’s Sewing Tips and Tricks, the TNT’s of SEWING”

    1. My Bernina Dealer, Stan the Man, gave my students a class called the TNT’s to save money on machine repairs. I have repeated his words of wisdom over the years to students, members of quilting and weaving guilds, ASG guilds…

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