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Lock stitch sewing
A balanced tension is when the locking knot is in the middle of your material being sewed. This will form a complete stitch on the top and bottom of your material.
The correct thread and needle are important to get a perfect stitch. If the needle or thread is too large for the material being sewed the interlocking knot will not sink (hide) into the middle of your material and "pop out". This can give the illusion of a small zigzag if you are sewing a straight stitch. This is due to the way a lock stitch is formed as the top and bottom thread twist around each other in the same direction. A finer thread and needle will help hide the locking stitch in lightweight material. If you are sewing a heavier material it is easier to hide the locking of the stitch. You want your upper and lower tensions balanced with the correct pull to hide the locking knot and obtain a uniform stitch without puckering.
If top stitching you want the locking knot to be pulled slightly to the bottom, this can be accomplished by loosening the top tension on the sewing machine.
Hint: Take a doubled piece of cotton fabric about 3"-4" square. Sew along the bias (corner to corner). At the end, remove the fabric from under the needle, and stretch it along the stitching. It the tension is not balanced, one thread will break first. If it is the top thread, loosen the top tension. If the bobbin thread pops first, tighten the top tension. When the tension is balanced, both threads will break at the same time, or neither will break. If it is balanced, but the threads look either too loose or so tight that they pucker, you will have to also adjust your bobbin tension, but that usually isn't necessary.