Its happen to every sewer in the middle of your project your machine decides its checking out early. What should be a fun exciting time turns into a frustrating experience. Here is a troubleshooting list of common sewing machine errors and how to resolve. As always refer to your sewing machine manual for best practices.
1. Thread bunching up under your fabric when sewing
If you’re seeing knots of extra thread on the underside of your sewing, there are several likely culprits. First, remove your sewing from the machine. You may have to cut through all the extra thread to get it free. Don’t simply pull it loose, or you risk damaging the mechanism of your machine, not to mention your fabric! Once your project has been freed, carefully remove all the cut bits of thread as well. Now you’re ready to identify the issue. Keep a scrap piece of your fabric on hand to test solutions as you try them.
- Remove your top thread and re-thread the machine, being careful to follow the threading schematic provided in your machine’s manual. Make sure your presser foot is up while threading—many machines lock the tension disks when the presser foot is down, making it impossible to thread the machine through the disks correctly.
- Remove and re-thread your bobbin. Some machines are particular about which way the bobbin unwinds. Consult your manual to be sure it’s inserted correctly.
- Make sure you are using the same type of thread in both top thread and bobbin. A difference in thread weight commonly causes machines to draw threads at different rates, leading to tangles and knots.
- Adjust your tension settings. This is a common issue, especially if you go from working with a heavy fabric to a delicate one (or vice versa) without remembering to adjust your settings. Test your tension settings on a scrap of your project’s fabric to make sure everything is correct.
2. Bent or broken needles
This is a problematic issue that can be dangerous as well as annoying. Always use a new needle for a new project. This prevents needles from getting dull or hooked at the tip, which can damage your fabric. Make sure you’re using the right type of needle for the project at hand— knit fabrics do best with a ballpoint, or jersey needle, while leather, vinyl, or denim will need sharp, sturdy needles. If your needle breaks or bends, stop sewing immediately. Carefully remove the broken needle and put it in a container to be disposed of properly. Replace the needle with the correct type for your project, being sure to install it according to your sewing machine’s manual. Re-thread, and continue your project. If you’re using the correct needle, but you continue to have issues with breaking or bending, you may have underlying mechanical issues with the timing mechanism, which will require expert repair.
3. Fabric not feeding
Make sure if your machine has a drop-feed setting that it has not been activated, and that you don’t have an embroidery or darning plate covering the feed dogs. You’ll also want to be sure that your presser foot is down, and is set to the correct pressure for your fabric—too little or too much pressure results in a poor feed. When starting a seam, make sure the fabric is all the way under the needle before lowering your presser foot.
4. Thread keeps breaking
Check the type of thread that you’re using. Delicate threads designed for hand sewing are not suitable for use in a sewing machine. Your top and bottom threads should also be of the same weight. Re-thread your top thread, making sure your presser foot is up while threading. If you’re still having issues, lower the tension settings for your top thread.
5. Machine is skipping stitches
There are several possible reasons for your machine to skip stitches. First, check that your needle is installed correctly, not bent or otherwise damaged, and that you’re using the right type of needle for your project. If the top thread is not reaching the bobbin, the threads will not lock properly, resulting in a skipped stitch. Re-thread your machine, both top and bobbin threads, and test. If your machine is still skipping stitches, there may be an issue with the timing, which will require expert repairs.
6. Bobbin tension not consistent
If you find yourself constantly adjusting the tension of your bobbin thread, check the bobbin itself. Plastic bobbins especially can wear, causing them to grow loose within the bobbin housing and making it difficult to maintain the correct tension. Try switching to a new metal bobbin and see if that resolves the issue.
7. Seams in stretch fabrics coming out wavy
This one may be a sewing machine issue, but it can also be a problem with your technique. First, adjust the way you’re sewing. Make sure the entirety of your project is supported while you’re sewing. The weight of the fabric alone can be enough to cause knits or other stretch fabrics to stretch while you’re sewing, so don’t let your fabric drape off the table while you work. Let the feed dogs do all the work, and avoid pulling on the fabric to straighten it as you sew. Pin well before you start! If you’re still seeing issues, adjust the pressure of your presser foot, or better yet, switch to a walking foot, which will feed the top and bottom layers of your fabric under the needle at the same rate, avoiding that distortion.
8. Sewing machine seizes up or won’t sew
It’s not uncommon to need to give your machine a bit of help by turning the hand-wheel, especially when you’re just getting a seam started. However, if you need to force the wheel to turn, or the machine doesn’t pick up after a bit of assistance, stop what you’re doing! Likely, your fabric is too tough for your machine to sew, and continuing to try will damage your machine. If you’re not working with a particularly tough fabric, make sure that your needle is installed correctly and is the right type. Remove it to check that it isn’t bent. If you’re still having issues with your machine not sewing, check your manual for cleaning and maintenance tips. A build-up of fuzz and lint can make it tough for your machine’s mechanisms to work correctly.
9. Needle comes unthreaded before sewing
How annoying! You just spent ages getting that thread through the eye of the needle, and as soon as you go to start sewing, it unthreads itself. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for this one. Before threading your machine, just make sure that the needle is at its highest point. You can do this by winding the hand-wheel toward yourself (always wind it toward yourself since this advances the machine—winding it backward can cause threads to tangle) while watching the needle. Some machines also have an “up/down” function that allows you to raise or lower the needle automatically to its highest or lowest point.
10. Fabric or threads are bunching at the start or ends of seams
Your seams should lay perfectly flat from one end to the other, but it’s not uncommon to see bunching or tangled threads at the ends. This is caused by back-stitching (or back-tacking) over the ends of the fabric, which changes the tensions your sewing machine experiences and causes tangles. Avoid this by sewing an extra few millimeters into your fabric before back-stitching at the start of seams, so that the back-stitches are all made through fabric and not over the edge. Similarly, when ending a seam, back-stitch before you hit the edge, and then sew straight off the edge for a nice clean finish.
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