Vintage Singer tension stuff


Following on from the two recent epistles concerning the top tension on a 201 …

First off, a little tip for those of you who are new to the ways of vintage Singers.  In order for the top tension adjustment to work properly, the two discs between which your thread passes on its way to the needle need to be able to “squeeze” it between them just like Mr.Singer intended.  They can’t do that if there’s rust on the inside faces, and neither can they do that if there’s a buildup of fluff, lint or the grot of ages in there.

Assuming that the mating faces of the two top tension discs are clean and if not shiny, at least smooth, the only other requirement is that your thread actually passes beween them properly.   And the way to ensure that it does just that is get into the habit of always raising your presser foot before threading your machine!  When you raise it, the tension releasing pin releases the spring pressure holding your tension discs together, so that when you pass the thread round between them, it can end up in the right place – which it’s unlikely to do if the discs are pressed together.

The other matter arising is that a couple of people have asked if there’s a definitive way of setting up the check spring tension when you have absolutely no idea at all what it should feel like.  As far as I know, there isn’t really, so in the absence of any other machine handy to compare one with, the best suggestion I have is …

1   Start with some tension on the check spring, but not much at all.

2  Thread your machine as normal, set the stitch length to midway between shortest and longest, and start sewing some ordinary medium weight material

3  Adjust your top tension to get the best stitch possible

4  Turn the balance wheel by hand and do a few stitches really slowly

5  On the down stroke of the take-up lever, watch the thread between the eye of the take-up lever and the check spring

6  That thread should stay under enough tension to keep it straight until just after the needle enters the fabric

If it does, all is well.  If it doesn’t, you need more check spring tension.  And if in doubt, more is better than less.

And finally, if, for whatever reason, you’re beset by tension troubles, beware of one method of checking for correct tension which seems to be all over the internets.  You may read that the proper way is to take a small square of medium-weight fabric, fold it, stitch diagonally across it, remove the piece from the machine, hold each end of the line of stitching and pull evenly until a thread breaks.

Allegedly one of three things will happen.  If your top tension’s tighter than the bottom, the top thread will break first.  If bottom’s tighter than top, the bottom thread will break first.  Or if both threads break together, your top and bottom tension are balanced (but not necessarily correct).  If nothing happens, both tensions are supposed to be balanced but too loose.

What nobody ever seems to point out is that unless you’re using identical thread top and bottom and those threads are cotton, this venerable test is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

(Elsie’s just pointed out that I really ought to do a post about how to set up the bottom tension if that’s gone way out.  Or you took the spring off the bobbin carrier and you rather wish you hadn’t …)


2 responses

  1. What’s the serial number? And when you alter the tension control, does the tension on the thread actually change?

  2. I have aquired a vintage singer ( its black lol that’s about as much as i know) i cannot get it to sew more than a couple inches without the thread snapping. I’ve bought gutermann threads, tried loose tension, tried tight tension and somewhere in between. I do sew paper thought, which can be thick but can get a new machine to do without any issue but was told to get the singer as its got stronger mechanics ( i K.O ed a new machine in 5 months) any advice?