Tension Headache




"I have a headache," Darling Wife said as she stood in front of me with as small piece of white thread dangling from her fingers.

"A thread headache?" I asked. She had headaches from time to time, and the majority of them seemed to have been quilting headaches, so I assumed this was another one.

"A tension headache," she said.

"Attention?" I asked. Not sure what she had said, I snapped my heels and stood straight. I paid her attention, too.

"Not attention," she said. I have a tension headache."

"Does it have to do with the thread?" I asked. Of course it did. Why else would she have asked me to stand at attention, pay attention, and dangle a thread in front of my eyes.

"My machine keeps shredding the thread," she said.

"It doesn't look shredded," I said. If she was talking about the thread she was holding, it looked more like the thread had wrapped around itself. It was very thick for thread. Now, I know there are different sizes of thread. Thread has numbers, and though I never could understand whether size 40 was thinner or thicker or stronger or tasted better than size 60, she knew, and she was the one who had to know. All I had to know was how to say, "Yes, dear" to anything she asked for.

"It's not shredded-shredded," she said. "It's kind of jammed together on-top-of-itself shredded."

"I can see the difference," I said as I looked more closely at the thread. It certainly looked more jammed.

"So what causes that?" I asked. I suspected from the beginning of the conversation that it had to do with tension.

"Tension," she said.

"Did you adjust the tension?" I asked.

"Two-four-six-eight," she said.

"I appreciate that," I said, wondering what kind of cheer she was trying to lead when she had just complained about an attention headache.

"I tried all the tensions on the thread and all the tensions on the pressure foot," she said.

"Maybe it has a tension deficit disorder," I said. I was trying my best to be a good husband.

"Can you take a look at the machine," she said.

"You want me to look at your sewing machine?" I asked. Not that I hadn't looked at it before. I was Mr. Lint.

When every once in a while she yelled out something like, "Gosh darn befumbled, drat-faced lint," she was calling for me to remove the bobbin case cover to dig out, sweep out, and vacuum out, all the lint her quilting had deposited into the horror chamber under the feed dogs and behind the bobbin holder.

"See what's wrong," she commanded as if by my looking at her machine I would know exactly what was wrong.

"The thread's shredding," I said. "You just told me that," I said.

"Stop standing at attention and find out why the thread's shredding," she said, patient with me no longer.

"All right," I said, and I relaxed and followed her into her sewing room and looked at the machine. I sat at the machine. I turned the small dials that adjusted the tension. I lifted the pressure foot and lowered and raised the feed dogs. I put in three layers of scrap muslin and ran the machine. "Works fine," I said.

"Does not," she said.

"Does so," I said.

"Does not," she said.

"You try it now," I said. I left both tension dials set at six. I could have left them at one and six or three and three or four and four. I had no idea what the settings meant, but the last settings had just worked for me.

She sat down and tried it. I watched as she sewed. She sewed fine. The machine sewed fine. "Headache gone?" I asked.

"I'll try it for a while," she said, and so I backed out of the room and went back to what I was doing, except I couldn't remember what I was doing when she yelled.

It didn't matter. In less than a minute she yelled again. "Attention," she yelled. I ran to her side. She held a small piece of shredded, jammed, squished, and smashed white thread in her hand.

"Change the thread around," I said. "Maybe it's coming off the spool, the wrong way." She groaned at my suggestion, but she did it. It didn't work. The thread jumped around and shredded.

"Change the needle," I said.

"I changed the needle three times. I changed the thread twice. I tried all the tensions. I kissed the machine. Nothing works," she said. "It's time," she said.

"Time?" I knew what that meant. Time to take it in for repair and a fifty dollar charge.

"Time to take it in," she said. She didn't mention the cost.

"Let me look at it again," I said.

She looked at me as if I were just a bit shredded myself, but she moved aside and let me sit down. "Flashlight," I said. She got me the flashlight. I turned it on and looked at the spool of thread, the path the thread took, the tension disks, the loops, the hooks, the needle. All seemed normal. I say that because they all looked the same as they always looked. I had no idea how they should have looked.

"Surgery," I said.


"Just exploratory," I said.

"If you hurt my machine I'll explore your funeral arrangements," she said. Hah. She was a great kidder.

"I'll be gentle," I said as I pulled and tugged at the plastic part over the thread mechanism. She covered her eyes.

"Pop," the machine said as the plastic part came off. "It's made to come off," I said when I saw the snap that held it in place. Whew!

"Is it all right?" she asked. Why didn't she trust me?

I used the flashlight and looked inside the machine. I turned the wheel to move the needle up and down. I saw blue. "I see blue," I said.

"I'm not interested in colors," she said.

"There's blue thread wound around the shaft where the thread goes," I said.

"I'm not using blue thread," she said.

"You did yesterday."

"You see blue thread there?"

"Miles of it." Some, at least. "Scalpel," I said.

She looked at me. She looked at the machine. She handed me her flat-bladed seam ripper. I began surgery.

Afterwards, with the blue thread I had cut out filling the trash basket, with the cover back in place, with the tension set normally, she began to sew--and sew--and sew. I stood by her side and waited for a reaction from her.


"Headache's gone," she said.

"Mine, too," I said.

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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