If you are a longarm quilter or you use a computerized embroidery machine with a bobbin case, a Towa gauge is either in your tool kit, or you have probably heard of it. I have to admit that for several years I resisted buying one. They are not cheap, and I just couldn’t see the benefit. It didn’t help that there wasn’t anything out there to tell me why I needed one. Many longarmers would recommend that I get one, especially when I would complain about broken threads, but no one explained why. I had a hard time believing the bobbin was the issue when it was the top thread that usually broke. So what if I knew the pressure number, what did it tell me? And how did I use that information? No one would explain. So, now here are the answers to my questions, and maybe I can help someone else understand. The bobbin tension on a longarm isn’t like a domestic machine, it is finicky and needs more precision because of the high speed at which these machines sew. The same is true of embroidery machines that have a bobbin case (not a ‘drop-in’ bobbin) and sew at a higher speed than is used for straight line stitching in piecing or garment making. That tension needs to be ‘just so’ – too loose and the thread will jump out of the tensioner on the bobbin, too tight and it hangs up snapping the top thread.
Using the method of pulling on the thread until the bobbin stands up in your hand but doesn’t lift off your hand is really imprecise, and although lots of people use this, it will still result in broken threads while sewing. Jamie Wallen has a video on this, and it is the method I used for a long time, feeling like if it was good enough for him it was good enough for me. But it doesn’t work all the time. Change your thread and you’ll change the tension needed. Even bobbins wound from the same thread spool one after another will need adjustment between them. Change brand or thickness of thread and you have to readjust too. I frequently go from Bottom Line to Aurifil, and back again. Since I began using the Towa (about 2 years ago) each time I put in a new bobbin, I have reduced my thread breakage by 99%. I’m not exaggerating. The amount of breakage has virtually reduced to next to none, down from several per quilt, and sometimes even several thread breaks per bobbin. My frustration level is greatly reduced too, and longarm quilting is a pleasure again.
So let me show how it is used. I loaded a bobbin with red thread to make the steps easier to see. Load the bobbin as usual through the tensioner. I have removed the check spring from my bobbins and put in the silicone discs (affiliate links size L or size M) for a smoother operation.
Place the bobbin in the gauge, snapping it in place just like you do when loading the bobbin case in the longarm. The thread should be coming from the bottom.
Place the thread on the bottom of the first wheel.
Wrap it around the top wheel from right to left over the top.
Then thread it back down to the guide at the bottom.
Then pass to the left along the groove in the gauge.
Now pull with a steady even pressure and note the reading as the top wheel moves down and the red indicator shows the tension. Here is is about 100.
This is too loose, as I find that the right tension is about 180 for the threads I use most – Bottom Line and Aurifil. Without taking the bobbin out, place a screwdriver in the tension screw and turn clockwise to tighten.
Pull again and note the number. I only turn a quarter of a turn at a time, so it didn’t move much.
Another half turn, and I am now getting about 150. The gauge will sometimes waver, so pull in a smooth motion to get the most accurate reading.
Just a bit more, and now I am at 180, just where I want it to be.
Raise the bobbin bar to release it from the gauge, and flip the Towa over so it comes out without dropping the bobbin.
Now, the next thread is a different manufacturer, and to illustrate the difference it is purple thread. I did not change the bobbin tension, just popped in the next bobbin and took a reading. It is 260!!
Turn the screw counterclockwise to loosen the tension to 180. Here I overshot just a bit, so will tighten it back just a smidgen. But I think you get the idea from this.
Now you see why you have to do a measurement on every single bobbin. The thread on the second bobbin was very close in weight to the first, both are 40 wt threads. If you use a heavier weight, the thickness of the thread will usually mean a loosening the screw to get the optimum 180 setting. I find that Bottom Line is slicker than Aurifil, so it has to be a bit tighter to get the same 180 reading.
Superior Threads produced a chart for the ideal Towa gauge tension for all of their threads. Download the chart on this page. Most of their threads do best in the range of 180-200. Madiera threads recommends a bobbin tension of 180-220 for their threads for bobbins in an embroidery machine. Although I have not found any other thread manufacturer recommendations for tension, I have found by trial and error that 180 works for Aurifil and Essentials threads as well as Superior. If I use King Tut in the bobbin, a slightly higher tension of 200 results in less thread jumps out of the bobbin tensioner. It doesn’t seem to matter which brand of longarm or embroidery machine you have, the bobbin tension matters more to the brand and weight of thread. There is some speculation that certain Gammill machines work better at 200-260, but I think the best thing is to start at 180 and adjust to your machine as you gain experience with the numbers.
Usually retailing around $68, Amazon has a lower price on a Towa gauge, purchasing by using my affiliate links may give me a tiny commission to help support the blog. Thank you for clicking! Towa Gauge M Size. Towa Gauge L Size. Or see all the Towa Gauges by clicking on this link and then entering the word Towa in the search box HERE. If you use a lot of Best Press, the price per ounce is the cheapest by the gallon, plus it will qualify for free shipping. Click on my Amazon affiliate link – Best Press Unscented Gallon size. Get the Karen Kay Buckley 4-Inch Perfect Scissors while you are there.
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Easy Threading Needles are great stocking stuffers, they are available with my affiliate link at Fat Quarter Shop HERE. You can find the needles in a large pack to share with friends at Amazon Self Threading Needle Pack.
If you want to get some of gorgeous fabrics for your holiday sewing, check out the Fat Quarter Shop’s Moda Line. Get spools and cones of the fantastic Aurifil Threads at Fat Quarter Shop Aurifil Threads. You’ll love the extra light with the Sewing Machine LED Lighting Kit. If you would like to have a pair of wonderful serrated edge scissors, click on Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Scissors to get your pair from Fat Quarter Shop. Get your Olfa Splash Cutter at FQS too – Olfa Splash.
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