You have started your new project with great anticipation. But your sewing machine does not seem to be sharing your enthusiasm. It has decided to go on a lockout or a hiccup. This is one of the most common and frustrating scenario a sewist could experience (other than not getting the exact fabric in mind of course)
But if you know some of the common problems and their easy solutions you will be surprised that they can be resolved so easily. Many of these problems can be prevented by proper setting up of the machine and maintenance – but if you have developed problems help is at hand.
How to troubleshoot a Sewing machine problem
Do this first – Refer your Sewing Machine Manual
The sewing machine manual you got when you purchased the machine, should always be kept near your sewing machine at all times for easy reference anytime a problem arises. It should be thoroughly read before your first stitch. All the settings and maintenance information will be given in them. If you have lost it, you may contact the manufacturer through their online sites; some are available for download from their websites
Most of the time it may be small details that cause the sewing machine hitches. There are somet hings you should check first as soon as you one such hitch. Check the placement of NEEDLE. Most of the time the sewing machine is giving you skipped stitches, thread breaks, not taking the bobbin thread etc. because the needle is not placed properly. Put the needle so that the flat side is to the back or as per your sewing machine manual. Putting it backwards is what mine says.
Next to look for is whether the machine is threaded properly. One little missed step and your sewing sequence is off. Check out this post that details how to thread a sewing machine. If you are not thoroughly familiar with your sewing machine – check out this post on different parts of the sewing machine
This is assuming that you have done the regular sewing machine maintenance which is recommended every 100 hours of your sewing machine working. Check out the post on the 3 steps to do sewing machine maintenance.
As a sewing machine vendor told me, the modern home sewing machines which come with their inner components coated in grease ( comes with the label – do not oil) needs a yearly maintenance at the showroom by a professional. So even after a home maintenance your machine is not behaving or making unnatural sounds, maybe it is time for a visit to the nearest service center of your particular brand.
Sometimes problems arise due to the kind of fabric you are sewing and you mistake it for a sewing machine problem. Checkout the posts on how to sew with sheer fabrics, satin fabric, poplin and cotton.
Why is there excessive noise while sewing?
A knocking noise coming from your machine is giving you jitters. If your sewing machine is making loud noises there could be various reasons.
The most common explanation is a need for cleaning or maintenance. Right away stop operating the machine; turn off the power and then inspect the machine for the problem.
Try Replacing the needle.
Another solution is to remove lint from under needle plate and bobbin area. Lint build up could also be causing the unnatural noises ; Use a lint brush to clean out lint and other debris. Clean the race-hook area out with the tip of a pin or needle, brush and blow. The slightest piece of thread in this area can cause a tight spot. Put a single drop of oil on the race-hook.
Also make sure thread is not wrapped around take-up lever. Thread caught around the shuttle also could cause noise. If that is the case clean the shuttle.
Checkout that there are no loose screws in the machine; if yes and you know what you are doing (beware some screws are not meant to be tightened) tighten them.
Read the sewing machine manual and if it says so oil the machine with appropriate oil to lubricate the parts
If everything else fails, take the machine to the service centre for repair
Why is the machine running slowly?
- Check foot control
- Adjust speed control
- Remove lint/dust from under needle plate
- Check if bobbin winder is still engaged
What to do if the machine will not form stitches?
Needle may have come un-threaded. You may also have threaded the machine wrongly. When threading the machine keep the presser foot up to release the tension. Check out this post on correctly threading the machine.
Needle may be inserted wrong or not in all the way ; Make sure that the needle is fully inserted and facing the correct directions as specified in the sewing machine manual. Blunt or bent needle also will result in stitches coming undone. Push the needle all the way up the clamp
Needle may be wrong for the machine. Check out the different types of sewing machine needles you may need
Bobbin may have run out, or not inserted correctly.
If spool cap is the wrong size for the thread spool this problem can occur. Replace the cap with the correct size in this case.
If the thread is not properly and fully pulled into the thread sensor guide also this problem can occur.
My sewing machine has suddenly stopped while working? What do I do?
Have you been sewing for a long time at low speed continuously? Your sewing machine may have stopped itself to prevent overheating of the motor. In this case turn off the power and wait for 20 minutes before using it again
What to do if the motor/light is not working?
- Make sure power cord is plugged into the wall and machine;
- Also check the fuse and/or wiring in the outlet
- Make sure power strip is on
What to do if the motor/light is working but the machine not sewing?
Check to see if there is a bobbin on bobbin winder; If the bobbin winder shaft is pressed to the right ( or however it is in your machine) because when it is in bobbin winding mode machine wouldnot work.
Check to see if foot control is plugged in properly; make sure foot control can be depressed completely and is free from obstruction
Replace the presser foot if the needle hits presser foot.
Ensure that needle is correctly inserted.
Why does the needle break or the needle gets bent/ blunt?
Your needle is the most used part in a machine – so it could have broken due to prolonged use or it may have run over a pin or a hard object while sewing. But if this is not the case –
- Ensure that you are not pulling on the fabric as you sew. If you force the fabric it could result in a bend needle which in turn will lead to needle breaking. Ease the work through the machine at the same speed as the machine is going.
- Make sure the needle is not loose. Insert the needle fully and properly into the needle bar.
- Check size/type of needle for the project – this is very important; make sure that the needle size matches for the fabric you are sewing. You cannot use a needle used for lingerie for sewing a heavy upholstery material. Using the correct sized needle is very important. Checkout this post on selecting the best needle for your project. Using a needle that is too fine for the work will cause it to bend and snap. As a general rule, thick work, thick needle, thin work, thin needle.
- Make sure bobbin is inserted properly.
- Make sure the thread you are using is free from knots. Cheap threads should be avoided especially for your best projects. Checkout the post about sewing machine threads.
- Check presser foot is the correct one.
- check presser foot presser; make sure presser foot is securely attached
- Check if needle clamp screw is loose or not
- Ballpoint needles are not suitable or dense fabrics like cotton. Use regular sharp needles for these fabrics.
- When sewing very thick fabric which is also hanging down pulling down the needle, support the fabric to prevent needle getting bend.
- Double check that you have the correct foot and plate on, make sure you have the machine set to straight stitch. If you are sewing zig zag stitch and you have a straight stitch needle plate on, needle will break.
- When sewing special fabrics like Leather take precautions. Soften it with soap first, or use talcum powder to allow it to slide under the foot.
- Sewing very close to zipper, over zipper teeth, stops etc. over sequins and beads can sometimes cause the needle to bend or break.
Don’t sew over pins because that is a sure fire way of breaking all your needles.
Raise needle out of fabric before removing.
With all the precautions and solutions needle still breaks. To continue sewing keep extra needles at hand at any point in time.
Why do I get the occasional skipped stitches?
This refers to missed stitches which result in one or two skipped stitches merging into one long stitch, occassionally
Most of the time, this is due to a needle problem. It may be due to bent or blunt needle or it may not be properly and fully inserted. Simply put in a new needle, even if you have recently changed it.
Select a different type/size needle; If you are missing stitches go up one size. Change to stretch needle if the fabric calls for it. Sometimes the problem is with the needle point, like switch between ballpoint or sharp needle and see if the problem persists
Pre-treat ( pre-wash) fabrics to remove excess sizing
Using too thick a thread with a fine needle will cause the machine to miss stitches.
Some fabric ( too thin or stretchy) can cause missed stitches.. Try adding some interlining or stiffener, even tissue paper will work.I see skipped stitches everytime I sew over elastic.
Check if top thread is too loose or too tight. Check the thread tension. If it is too tight skipped stitches could occur. Change the tension
Make sure that you have selected the correct size needle appropriate for the thickness of the material you are sewing. Also allow the feed dog to move the fabric rather than forcing the fabric with the hand, which usually results in bend needle
Apply adequate pressure on the presser foot.
Ensure that you are sewing at an even speed and not pulling the fabric
Lack of maintenance and lint build up also can cause missed stitches. Give the machine a good clean around the shuttle area and teeth, then a drop of oil if needed.
Why is my thread winding itself on the shuttle?
- Ensure that you have drawn both the upper and lower thread to the back under the presser foot. This is usually the number one reason the thread winds and bunches on the shuttle and the needle refusing to move because of the thread jam.
Why is my thread bunching (Bird nesting) up on the fabric?
This may be due to a number of reasons. Inspect your machine for each of the solution given below
- Bobbin thread not aligned in bobbin tension ; check that bobbin is correctly inserted
- Incorrect thread tension. Reset tension of upper thread
- Ensure that you have drawn both the upper and lower thread to the back under presser foot.
- Check if feed dog is down
- Did you thread the machine with the pressure foot raised
- Is the Thread threaded correctly on the machine – have you missed threading over the take up lever ?; because it is mostly hidden, I always miss checking this spot.
Thread bunching on the upperside?
This is mostly because of loose tension on the bobbin
Thread bunching on the lower side?
This is mostly due to loose tension on the upper part of the machine or because of higher tension in the bobbin.
Why is the stitch forming in loops in between?
Number one reason is usually a not properly wound bobbin
The fabric is not taut enough when stitch is formed because of less presser. Adjust the stitch tension. Another reason may be because the machine is not threaded properly.
What to do if the top thread breaks frequently?
There are many reasons for the top thread breaking.
Usually, this happens because the threading is not done properly. Try to re-thread the machine
Examine the snapped thread, if it is a frayed snap, rather than a straight cut, it is usually a rough spot around the bobbin case, race, hook or needle plate area. Run your finger around the shuttle area and feel for anything sharp, if you find something, however small, polish it away with fine emery paper.Find the rough spot and rub it away with some fine emery paper.
Sometimes it may be due to a knot in thread or because of old thread or low quality thread. Always run your machine with a good quality thread .
Incorrect needle size/type for the project or if you have a blunt or bend or even a too sharp needle, the top thread can break. You can try changing the needle – go up one needle size or try a Top Stitch needle.
Adjust tension. If the thread tension is too tight the thread may break. Make sure your tension dial is not too tight, it should usually be around the middle of the dial.
If the thread is caught on spool pin the thread may break
Did you thread the machine with the presser foot raised.
Make sure thread and needle are compatible.Thread too thick for needle, needle too fine for thread can also cause problems.
Starting to stitch very fast also can cause the upper thread to break. Make sure that all the procedure is followed in threading the machine.
If you have recently changed a needle, check you have put it in the correct way.Make sure needle is properly inserted
The thread is shredding near the needle eye, Why?
Poor quality thread or even old thread is usually the culprit when thread frays.The friction when passing through the eye of the needle shreds the thread strands apart. Good quality thread costs more but they are worth it because they will have less weak spots. Do not keep thread which is older than 10 years and do not buy them even if it is offered for ‘almost’ free. They usually are bad.
Check that appropriate needle is used for the thread. If the eye of the needle is very small, for the thickness of your thread. It will shred. A thread lubricant can be useful, in such cases.
When you use decorative speciality threads as top sewing thread it starts to shred quickly due to the friction through the needle eye. Use the speciality thread on the bobbin instead and stitch from the back of the fabric. This is a solution which is very effective.
Look at the solutions given for the above answer (for thread breaking).
What to do if the bobbin thread breaks?
If the bobbin thread breaks frequently make sure that bobbin is inserted properly or bobbin does not have more than appropriate amount of thread.
One way to ensure a nice even bobbin when winding is to rest your finger gently on the reel of thread while winding the bobbin. Never wind bobbins by hand.
Over filled bobbin can also cause thread breakage.An over filled bobbin will jam in the bobbin case and cause snapping, remove some of the thread before putting the bobbin into the machine. A bobbin should never be more than 90% full.
A damaged bobbin case is a common problem. Place your bobbin into the case and make sure it turns freely and smoothly as you pull the thread out.
Check whether you have the correct bobbin for your machine.
Lint in the bobbin case will jam the bobbin and cause lower thread to snap. Clean out the case and place a single drop of oil on the shaft.
Why do I get Unattractive/uneven stitches?
Check thread tension and presser foot placement and stitch regulator.
Make sure thread has not come out of bobbin case.
Lack of stabilizer, inferior thread and lint build up, incorrect placement of needle also can result in unattractive stitches.
Try vertical instead of horizontal spool pin.
What do I do if the fabric will not feed?
This may be due to many problems.
- Presser foot is not down.
- You may be using incorrect foot.
- The feed teeth could be down, accidentally lowered ; Ensure that feed dog is in a raised position when sewing. On most machines you should be able to see the teeth rise about 2mm above the needle plate on forward movement.
- Feel the teeth; do they feel sharp?, if they are worn the fabric will slip. Are they even ? Examine the teeth when they are at their highest point and see if they are level, if not replace them.
- Presser foot presser may have to be adjusted. If it is set too low the fabric will not feed. If the fabric is too heavy the presser maynot be enough.Refer to your instruction manual on how to increase the presser. Most machines have a dial or knob above the foot on top or to the side of the machine for this purpose.
- Stitch length may be too short like near to zero.
- Check for dust under needle plate – dust-lint build-up could jam due to debris inside the sewing machine.Remove the needle plate and clean out the grooves between the teeth. If these are full of lint/fluff they will stop the teeth from rising to the proper height.
- Make sure needle plate is firmly seated. Another reason maybe the needle plate hole is too big for the particular type of fabric.
- Check that thread is not knotted under the fabric.
Why is my stitching wrinkled or fabric puckering?
First and formost the way you sew could be the reason for this. Keep your fabric taut as you sew by keeping your hands on the fabric in front and to the back of the needle.
For hems and seams that pucker you can use a stay tape. This can be any stable fabric that do not stretch.
Other reasons are
- If the fabric you are sewing is very soft or a sheer delicate one, use an underlay of tissue paper or two layers.You can also stitch slowly
- If the stitch length is too long for the material decrease the stitch length. A long stitch can produce puckering on fine fabrics.
- The bobbin thread was wound very fast. You should wind the bobbin thread slowly and evenly.
- If the needle point has become blunt change the needle.
- check thread tension. Lowering of the thread tension helps sometimes.
- Needle may be bent or you have incorrect size/type needle on the machine
- Incorrect or poor quality thread. You may be using a stretchy fabric and non-stretchy thread. Use cotton polyester thread if you know the fabric has stretch. A two-ply thread will stretch more than a three ply.
- Wrong presser foot; The wrong foot will cause puckering, for example using the buttonhole or appliqué foot.
- incorrect presser foot presser
- incorrect or insufficient amount of stabilizer
- lower stitch length
- Incorrect thread tension
Why do the stitches fail to “grab” at seam beginning?
This occurs most often with lightweight/loosely woven fabrics – In case of such delicate cloths start the seams with an extra bit of fabric to prevent your presser foot eating your fabric.
Increase presser foot presser.
Try a smaller needle.
Use straight stitch plate.
Be sure threads are under presser foot.
Make sure needle is fully inserted.
Why can’t I thread the sewing machine?
This can happen if the needle is not in its highest position. What you can do is to turn the hand wheel until it reaches the highest position.
If the threading hook is not entering the needle eye it could mean that the needle is not properly inserted. Fully insert the needle into the needle bar to solve this problem. More on threading the machine here.
Why is the needle threader not turning?
The needle threader will not turn if the needle is not up. Turn the hand wheel until it reaches the highest position.
Why does the needle unthreads when I start to sew?
Always have at least six inches of thread out the back of the machine before you start to sew. You can also hold the thread or start the first stitch by hand.
The Sewing machine is not sewing reverse.
Check whether the machine has the capacity for reverse stitching.
At times, some stitches like buttonhole or stretch stitches maynot reverse stitch. So check your stitch control and adjust to straight stitch before reverse stitching.
Why are thread loops / birds nests under the fabric as I sew?
This is mostly a tension problem. Adjust tension and this problem will mostly go away.
Ensure that the take-up lever is in the uppermost position before you sew. If it is not this may be causing the problem.
Get a long tail of thread from the top thread and bobbin thread and take them to the back of the machine; hold it to the side before you start sewing.
If you get thread bunching up and tangle when backstitching at the beginning of the seam, try straight stitching instead with very short stitches for 1/8″ to 1/4″, then change to the normal stitch length for the remainder of the seam until you’re 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the end. Change back to the very short stitches to finish the seam.
Why are the threads of my fabric snagging as I sew ?
This is definitely a sewing needle mismatch or a sewing needle defect. Check out the post on sewing needles for selecting an appropriate needle for your fabric.
Why is the fabric not feeding and moving straight?
This may be a result of worn out or bent teeth on your needle plate. Check whether the presser foot is properly pressing down on the fabric as you sew – if it is not it will be impossible to sew straight. A cleaning of the teeth may be all you need to do if you are lucky because lint in the teeth can make your sewing wonky.
If you have a gut feeling that your machine needs a trained professional looking over the problem it is having, you are probably right. There are somethings only a professional can fix.
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