Been having this problem since I received the machine. I hope its just something I've done wrong and can be fixed easily. It seems I can never get the tension to work properly. It is either completely loose or very tight. It rarely works enough to become tight though. When I sew, most of the time the top thread will loop under the lower bobbin until the thread breaks. This is when I have the tension set between 3 and 5.
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The tension control has a screw on the inside wall of the sewing machine. It probably came loose and will not allow the tension to pull taught. If you take the top off you can look down to where the tension knob is coming from. There is a screw that you can tighten while you push forward on the tension knob while set to zero. Keep the presser foot up.
.... if it was sewing fine before the bit 'dropped off' it probably doesnt need the other thing done - they just are standard type check / adjust things done with a service. Weigh up how much a new machine will cost you v the repair. How happy are you with it? How often do you use it?
I am not familiar with this model, but the 'clutch' is generally a very simple setup. If you feel confident and can get the end cover off , have a peek - find the bit that dropped off ......
The only tension you should need to adjust is the bobbin tension - which I am sure you already know how to. Top tension is normally just a clean out of fluff etc.
Make sure your needle and tread match your project. There simply isn't such a thing as a "universal needle." Also try lengthening your stitch. Heavier fabrics typically need a slightly longer stitch. Upon commencing to sew always grasp the 2 threads and slightly pull as you begin your seam.
I assume your garage sale find has a manual. Be sure your bobbin is unspooling in the correct direction. If it didn't come with a manual.. http://www.singerco.com/uploads/download/430_8280_es.pdf
Try decreasing your stitch width and this should help. Put your tension dials on 4. Also make sure when you thread your machine your presser foot lever is up to allow you to get your threads through your tension discs properly. To test the tension (usually set at 4 on all 4 knobs) when you thread around the knobs pull the thread on both ends like you're using dental floss around the discs under the knobs so you can feel the pull (tension) on the thread. Let me know if this works for you.
there are generally two variable controls .. one adjusts the stitch length (distance between stitches measured in stitches per inch) ... the second is stitch width .. that adjusts how far the zigzag moves left and right .. thats usually just a number from 0 to 10 or so .. 10 would be maximum width .. 0 would be used for straight stitch ..
so you need to adjust the stitch width control to make the stitching narrower .. the controls are called different things on different brand sewing machines .. if you have the brand and model number then there may be instruction booklets available ...