Sewing Machine Repair : 10 scenarios and what you can do

A Sewing machine is just that – a machine, with lots of hardware parts and sometimes software. It can develop all kinds of hardware problems in the course of its use and disuse (and misuse). So, what to do, as soon as you see something is wrong with the sewing machine?

First 5 steps of sewing machine repair

1.Evaluate the specific problem

You can first of all check out this post – What to check if sewing machine is not stitching – the basic scenarios for trouble shooting sewing machine problems are dealt with specific instructions you should follow for solving them.

If your machine, god forbid, falls down, immediately check whether your needle bar wiggles or not. If it does, the timing of your sewing machine may be off, or something may be shattered inside or the tension dial may have stuck or the bobbin case displaced. 

2.Do a thorough Sewing machine cleaning

Clean up gunk and lint out of the bobbin assembly area

Some problems will go away as soon as you do a simple sewing machine maintenance. You can clean up lint and dust from the parts you can access inside and outside.

You can take out the top thread and bobbin, remove the plastic bobbin cover and the bobbin, the needle plate, take out the bobbin case if you can and brush all the lint and dust build up there, thoroughly, properly. If the bobbin hook has unseen thread tangles you can remove them with tweezers. If the hook has small cuts polish with the finest of sand paper. You can learn more in detail about sewing machine maintenance here. 

All sewing machines ought to be taken to a repair shop for deep cleaning every 2 years or so.

3.Ensure that basics are taken care

Usually most minor sewing machine complaints need no repair as such. Some simple actions, other than the above mentioned cleaning, will deal with them.

  • First and foremost change the needle to a new one and see. Ensure it is appropriate for the fabric and thread you are using. Insert it so that the flat side is to the back (depending on your machine) and it is pushed all the way up. You can read more on selecting sewing machine needles here.
  • Ensure that you are using top quality thread and that it has no tangles. Learn more about selecting sewing machine thread here. 
  • Rethread the machine through all the slots (after taking out the whole top thread out).
  • Is the tension well adjusted? Badly made stitches, fabric getting sucked inside, etc. are mostly due to badly adjusted tension. Check out how to adjust it properly in this post on sewing machine tension adjustment. 

4.Evaluate whether the machine is worth repairing

Some of the problems you encounter can be self evaluated. Most modern sewing machines are hopeless for DIY repair as they cannot be opened or they may be too fragile for clumsy repair. 

Some machines are not worth it to take to a sewing machine mechanic. The repair cost may be more than or just about what it would cost you to get a similar machine. Ask beforehand how much it would cost to repair the particular problem.

Ask if it would cost anything to bring it there for evaluation. Some places charge for even that and give you a bill for service charge. Your problem may still be there, when you get back home.

A machine with metal parts like a metal bobbin case and the oscillating hook is any day more worth repairing than one with a plastic drop-in bobbin case and other plastic parts. The plastic inside parts of the modern machines is usually too flimsy for repair and revival.

A tailor or a seamstress who sews for a living needs a working machine in tip top condition, at all times. And it is heart breaking when the sewing machine decides to go on a lockdown.

Here are some sewing machine repair scenarios and what you can possibly do about them. 

Sewing machine repair scenarios

What to do if – There is something wrong with the tension dial of your sewing machine

Clean inside the tension dial area ; thread parts, dust etc

When the tension of your sewing machine is off, everything is off. Like your temper. Your stitching is not at all what it should be, the thread bunches up on the bottom of the fabric, and all the troubles you always had nightmares about ensues.

Maybe the timing of your machine is off or the bobbin case may have unseated itself. 

Timing of a machine is something you cannot repair unless you are a mechanic. 

But before giving up hope, change the bobbin to a new one and see if it helps. Try to repair or replace the bobbin case. 

Most of the time, cut thread stuck between the tension disc can cause these problems. Open the plastic part to get access to the area. Do the cleaning when the presser foot lever is up.

You can clean in between the tension discs with a thin sheet of paper. You can blow air with an air compressor to get whatever is caught in between. 

Rethread the machine; Ensure that when you thread the machine the pressure foot lever is still up – This is necessary for the proper insertion of thread through the tension discs. 

Change the tension and see if everything is working. 

Sew on a spare fabric continuously changing the stitches and stitch length width etc. This may dislodge if there is still something stuck inside.

If something is shattered inside the tension dial, I would not repair it myself on my machine. The tension unit will have to be replaced at a repair shop.

What to do if the bobbin area shows problems. 

Thread tangling or bunching up on the bobbin area, a loud noise from the bobbin area as you sew, the needle getting stuck in the bobbin case, etc are indications that you have a problem in this area.

The cuts and holes on the bobbin case, hook around it etc point that the needle is hitting the case.

First, see if the hook area outside the bobbin case turns properly as you turn the hand wheel.

Then you will have to take out the bobbin case to see what is wrong. There may be screws or retainer springs to take apart the bobbin case. You can open the machine near the bobbin area, remove the bobbin case, and watch how the needle is going inside the bobbin case as you turn the hand wheel. 

Needle should go down to the bobbin area and take up the thread at the correct time without interruption

If the machine is operating fine without the bobbin case, it means the problem is at the bobbin area. You will have to repair/ replace the bobbin case.

Your bobbin area may have an Oscillating Hook System or a drop in bobbin system. A drop-in bobbin machines are the most fragile. They usually have plastic parts that damage easily, especially when you sew thick heavy fabrics etc.

When you have got the bobbin case out, see if it has any holes or cuts. Check the hook (the pointed thing that is around the bobbin case which rotates when stitch is formed) for any cuts, holes. Many machines have plastic hooks. 

You can repair the cuts by sanding the area using a very fine sand paper. 

The hook is the pointed part that rotates around the bobbin case. Check that point for burrs. If the point is rough, polish it very gently with  very fine sandpaper. See that there is nothing shattered or bend under the bobbin case. 

You can buy a new bobbin case in shops that retail sewing machine parts. 

What to do if  – the foot pedal of the sewing machine is not working

Instead of repairing a defective foot pedal you can buy a generic foot pedal or a company specific one from a spare parts shop. It depends on your machine model. Some machines work only with foot pedals of the same company.

You can even get the generic foot pedals on amazon under Sewing Machine Foot Control Pedal with Cord

What to do if – the bobbin winder is not working

You may feel frustrated if the thread is not getting wound on the bobbin  properly or the thread is not distributed evenly on the bobbin as it winds or the needle is going up and down as you are winding the bobbin

Maybe it is just a problem with your threading the machine for winding or using the wrong bobbin.

Usually you have to wrap the winder tension in a figure 8 before taking it to the winder. Ensure that this is followed. Check that the bobbin winder is not bent or that the tension spring is not damaged. See that there is nothing stuck on the bobbin winder which prevents the switch from being engaged. Try turning it by hand – if there is something stuck it would not turn. You can see if a stray wound thread is causing it

If you have a machine with screws to remove the hand wheel you can get to the winder clutch and that area can be cleaned.  You can check out this post for details on how to do this 

What to do if – the machine is not moving when you step on the pedal

When the machine stops working it can be two scenarios – either it signals the end of your sewing machine or it is all about a very simple solvable problem.

First and foremost see if the foot pedal is working or not. See if it is plugged on properly. Is the foot pedal jammed. It may stay in this position if it is not corrected.

Check if the machine and the pedal humming?. If it is not working, If possible exchange with a foot pedal that works.

Next see if the bobbin winder is on or off. If it is on, most machines would not work.

 Ensure that the feed dogs are up.

Then see if the needle is stuck in the bobbin area. Remove the bobbin case and turn the hand wheel. You will be able to see if this is the case. You can try to replace the bobbin case.

If all else fails deduce that maybe something is wrong inside the machine.

What to do if – no stitch is forming at all

Machine is working, foot pedal is working, but you just do not get stitches on your fabric. Do the necessary cleaning, bobbin area checking etc. See that the thread is correctly set in the bobbin with the thread passing through the necessary slots.

If the bobbin area is working, the hook area is turning properly, bobbin case is alright, and still if the problem persists, this usually indicates that there is a problem with the timing of your machine or that something is shattered inside somewhere or that something is stuck inside.

The timing of a sewing machine has to be fixed by a sewing machine mechanic.

What to do if – hand wheel is not turning 

Maybe something is shattered inside or something is stuck under the needle plate. If you have cleaned the whole machine and still this is persisting you may have to take the machine to repair shop. The smashed things inside needs to be taken care of.

Also, ensure that you avoid turning the hand wheel backwards to avoid any future problems with the machine. It should only be turned to the front (towards you)

What to do if – the machine is making weird sounds

Usually the sound comes from the bobbin area. Check the area thoroughly. The needle maybe hitting the bobbin case or hook. The timing may be off in a worst-case scenario. Rusty parts inside or stuck up parts or things like pins stuck inside, cut belt all can create weird sounds. 

If the needle is hitting the hook area there may be a knocking sound there – Re-read the above section on small repairs on the bobbin area for solving this problem.

What to do if – the light bub is not working

Changing a ruined light bulb on the sewing machine

This is a piece of cake when you compare it with other sewing machine problems. You can buy Sewing Machine LED Light Bulb from sewing machine spare parts shops or online shops like amazon.

Different machines take different types of bulbs, so be careful – it may be the screw in type or the press it up type. You can take out your old bulb, and then match it with a photograph on the website you are buying it from.

You can remove the old bulb by opening up the front top part of the sewing machine – it may have a screw at the back or sides. Loosen it with a screwdriver and take off the cover part. 

Take out the old bulb by pressing it up and turning it to the left. To put the new on, just press and turn to the right. 

What to do if – something is smashed inside

If there is anything smashed inside the machine, it would not run smoothly at all – the belt may have worn out, clutch is done with, the feed dogs may be damaged, brackets and springs maybe bent or damaged, the bobbin case or hook maybe cut. You will have skipped stitches, fragmented stitches and all such problems.

If this happens on a modern home sewing machine you may find it difficult to repair it yourself – you will have to take it to the repair shop. Some parts may be costly and some may even be unavailable. You will be better off buying a new machine. This depends on your repair shop and how much they would charge you for replacing smashed parts, and availability of replacement parts.

On old metal machines, you can replace the parts after opening them up. Those machines can be opened and taken down to their bare frame and then replace most of the parts – if you are a reasonably good sewing machine mechanic.

Final word

My husband drives his car so carefully that we sometimes see cycles passing by – we joke that one day we may even see runners pass by. But this is not me. When I sit behind the wheels of my car, I somehow become Charlize Theron (of the movie The Italian Job). Some reckless current passes through my brain and I start to drive in much the same way that she does, but with a lot less expertise.

Due to some miracle, I am still alive despite of close encounters of the horrifying kind with two trucks, one bus and many many cars. This recklessness is there in me when I use other machines as well, including my sewing machine. So everything that can go wrong, does.

And when it does, I bring out my repair ninja – small scale version.

This post shows you how to maintain, repair, adjust only the simplest of parts, nothing complicated. But let me tell you, I only know this much.

Plug off the machine before doing any repair. 

Disclaimer: This is just what I did when I had to, and what I would if I had to – as a nonexpert in sewing machines I take no responsibility for whatever you do to your sewing machines after reading this. But no use not trying to repair a bad sewing machine, right? 

Some machines never take DIY repairs very well – Some high end computerized sewing/embroidery machines have too many complications inside that you should never open it up for repair. Give it for repair to a person who knows how to repair, replace and adjust complicated elements in a sewing machine repair.

Related posts :

What to do if your needles get broken? ; What to do if stiches are skipping; What to do if thread bunches under the fabric; What to do when fabric puckers while sewing


Updated on November 23, 2022 by Sarina Tariq


Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Sewing Machine Repair : 10 scenarios and what you can do”

  1. HI Calvin,
    Would you please explain why to stay away from any Singer machine, the reason I ask is because I do have both a Singer and a Brother machine, I know the lower end computerised Brother that I have is not a very well liked machine but when it’s running good I love it, my Singer is a lower end machine I paid about $500 for it, it’s computerised also. I don’t enjoy using the Singer as much as I do the brother. I would really like to know what you really think of it and why and which sewing machine you would recommend,
    Thank you for your comment.

  2. Hello! I am a repair tech at a sewing machine store. I think you have written a great article! Very through and I like that you point out all of the sime fixes and acknowledge there are deffinately something not worth trying to fix yourself. I would like to add that most of the major brands have adopted the drop in bobbin and with the exeption of a few machines, they are fully metal on the interior. Just stay away from anything with the name singer on it, and the low end computerized brother machines. As those have the most plastic components. And on a side note, the reason for a plastic bobbin case is because it’s not uncommon with the diesgn for the needle to hit and puncture the bobbin case. And it is much nicer on the machine if it punches through plastic instead of metal. Great article! Just figured I’d give my two cents

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