By Mariana Kirova
Troubleshooting your sewing machine or stitch. I know first hand it is not a happy situation. The opposite! Could be very daunting. To help you with that I put together this guide. Below you'll find how to fix #14 common problems you might encounter when sewing on your machine. Check also my top one advice at the end on how you could prevent most sewing machine problems.
In this article I combine information from my personal sewing practice, other people’s experience I know of and what students come across in the sewing classes and workshops I hold locally.
Make sure to pin and keep this guide as a reference.
(If you can’t see your issue below, please let me know in the comments. It will also help others with similar issue. Thanks!).
Quickly find what you're looking for in the Table of Contents below. Just click on the issue to get to the solution.
My Very First Frustrating Sewing Problem
I remember when I was a sewing beginner a while back, for a long time I couldn’t fix the puckered stitch my sewing machine was making.
I’ll never forget that stitch. Small like a seed bead string. Gathering and pulling the fabric. Giving me the worst stitching I could wish for! It was very frustrating (check out how I got into upcycling later). I remember there was no one to ask nor anywhere to read what to do.
Common Sewing Machine Problems And Their Solutions
It's obvious, so it is just a reminder. Please, switch off your sewing machine and unplug it from the power before any troubleshooting.
#1. Thread Bunching Under The Fabric
Thread is bunching and looping under the fabric.
As a rule of thumb this is a sign of having problems with the top thread.
To solve it, remove the top thread and re-thread. Set the tension to the appropriate for the job. For average thickness of fabric (not too thin nor too thick) the tension has to be on standard normal position. Usually that is the middle.
#2. Thread Bunching Under The Fabric (Other)
Thread is bunching and looping under the fabric (other).
Sometimes though, depending on the machine, if thread is tangled under the fabric, could mean that the bobbin is not threaded correctly. Re-thread the right way to resolve it.
Bobbin problem, right (top) side of stitch
Bobbin problem, the wrong (under) side of stitch
#3. Thread Tangled On Top Of The Fabric
Thread is tangled and looping on top of the fabric.
This means the problem is in the bobbin. It could happen sometimes after changing with different thickness thread, using another bobbin case or whatever other reason.
To resolve, remove and reinsert the bobbin. Keep attention on re-threading it the right way. If that doesn’t help then perhaps the bobbin tension is too loose. Tighten in clockwise direction the tension spring (one of the screws on the bobbin case, for machines with front loading bobbins – the screw that is closer to the opening where thread passes).
#4. Skipped Or Uneven Stitches
Skipped or uneven stitches resulted from forcing the fabric.
Skipped or uneven stitches could happen because you were pulling the fabric from behind more than necessary.
In general, there’s no need to force the fabric to be sewn. The machine is designed to do it on its own with a bit of guidance from you.
Help the fabric to get even stitchline, the layers to be aligned and sewn together or manipulate corners and curves when necessary.
I know, it happens to all of us but there's no need of forcing the fabric while sewn.
Skipped stitches on decorative stitching
#5. Skipped Or Uneven Stitches Because Of The Needle
Skipped or uneven stitches because of the needle.
If pulling the fabric is not the case and skipping stitches persist it could be the needle.
Change the needle with new. Use good quality needles. Check if it is the right size and type (sz. 80/12, type 'Universal', 'Stretch', 'Overlocker' and that sort of thing) for your project. Rarely, but bear in mind even new needles could be rusted, so make sure the one you use is not.
#6. Machine Running But Not Sewing
The machine is running but not sewing.
If everything else is working but the needle doesn’t move, then your machine is likely still in bobbin-winding mode. Push back the winding pin to engage the needle and you are ready to sew.
Also, ensure the feed dogs are pushed back up, after sewing buttons or after free motion sewing.
Another reason for machine not sewing (happens to newbies), could be you simply forgot to put the presser foot down before sewing. Don’t worry if that happened to you. Very soon you’ll catch up with great sewing habits and you’ll be a sewing queen! It just takes a bit of time.
#7. Decorative Stitches Not Sewn
Decorative or similar stitches not sewn.
If that happens double check your stitch settings. Ensure you follow the recommended in the Manual stitch length and width settings. Some models also require choosing decorative stitch mode, either by knob, button or dial.
#8. Puckered Or Gathered Seam
Puckered or gathered seam.
Exactly what happened to me as a beginner.
It could happen for various reasons like heavier thread or thinner fabric. So, not a straight forward solution. Try the solutions one after another (as opposed to all together at the same time). Makes it easier to find the reason and learn to avoid it next time.
If the thread is thicker for the fabric sewn (it’s heavier weight for the fabric). So, make sure the thread is appropriate for the project.
If the fabric is thinner for the current tension settings. If that is so don’t go instantly to reducing the tension. First try adjusting the stitch settings. Set the stitch to longer stitch length. Most of the time you’d be able to resolve slightly puckered seam just with that. If the seam is still distorted and gathered, as a last resource, adjust very slightly the top tension. If the issue gets worse, set the tension to standard middle position, re-thread top and bobbin, try another fabric.
#9. Machine Making Unusual Noise
The machine is making unusual noise, like humming for example, (but continue sewing).
Generally, if you hear strange noises coming from the machine please don’t force it to sew.
Most likely the reason for slight unusual noise would be that the machine needs good cleaning. Check the machine Manual, it is the best resource to refer to how to do it.
#10. Machine Making Heavier Strange Noise
The machine is making strange, clunking noise or other heavier sound (and yet continue sewing).
Again, don’t force the machine to sew. Unusual sounds are most times sign of something wrong happening in the machine.
In this case the issue could be mechanical. Perhaps you've inserted the bobbin or the bobbin case incorrectly. That could happen mostly with front loading bobbins. Fix it by reinserting the bobbin correctly. Keep an eye on the details, slight difference matters here. Your Manual should have information what is the proper way to do it.
#11. Thread Keeps Breaking
The thread keeps breaking.
There could be several reasons for that and thus different ways to fix it.
It could be the type of thread is not suitable. It is not recommended to use thread that is for hand sewing. Also, avoid old cotton thread, it becomes weak and breaks easy with time. I also found that the cheapest polyester thread, although new, it is not good option for machine sewing.
The best option is a good brand quality thread.
Other reason to check for solving thread breakage could be if the needle has small needle eye. This will create frictions and will break the thread strand. Doesn’t happen often, but check if the tension settings are not been left too high from sewing on a previous project.
Vintage cotton thread becomes weaker with time
#12. Thread Keeps Unthreading
The top thread keeps unthreading at the beginning of sewing
Of course it happens to all of us, like the other problems. Just have a cuppa and keep going ;)
To prevent the top thread slipping out of the needle eye, first, make sure the needle is raised up to its highest position when threading.
Second, ensure the presser foot is put down before start sewing. Might be obvious but not when you're still a newbie building up your sewing habits.
Another, not related to threading and very rare reason could also cause this. Could happen to machines with automatic thread cutter. Sometimes the cutter could go off for unknown reason and start cutting the thread too short. So, when the machine start sewing again the thread that has been cut too short slips out. If you think that this is the problem it is better to check with the nearest sewing machine service professional.
#13. Machine Jammed And Can't Sew
The machine is jammed and can’t sew.
Could be for any reason. It’s important not to force the hand wheel or the machine to further sewing.
Jammed machine is serious and not happy time for sure! But if happens, keep calm. Just unplug the machine and remove all threads and fabric caught in the sewing area.
You may need to remove the needle, the presser foot, the needle plate and to open the area more than usual. Put back all together carefully, re-thread, insert new needle if needed.
Make sure all things are done correctly and try sewing again.
#14. Broken Needle
Different reasons for that to happen, like going over bulky seams, thicker layers of material, hitting a pin or a zipper end, or else.
It is important to collect all pieces of the needle (check more on safety sewing here). Change with new needle, perhaps thicker (bigger size). Make sure it is the correct type for the project, too.
# Bonus: Singer sewing machine reported issue
When I turn my Singer machine on, it sets up but all the red lights come on and it locks up.
Reported by Diane, reader on the blog (in comments below).
General check as for all other machines:
1. Check and clean the bobbin area removing any threads bunched up, lint, debris etc. Then, important, put all the parts around the bobbin and the bobbin back together in the correct way.
2. Also, check carefully the threading – top and the bobbin. Usually machines have tiny details in threading that are easy to omit but vital for the machine to work properly.
If that’s not working here’s what is suggested for this issue on the Singer’s FAQ page (https://www.singer.com/frequently-asked-questions):
1. The buttonhole lever (next to the needle bar which holds the needle) might be lowered accidentally. Push the buttonhole lever up into the correct position to sew. Also, make sure the needle is at its highest position AND the bobbin winding pin is pushed back to the left.
2. And lastly, they suggest to push the reverse button a couple of times which should reset the machine and you’ll be able to sew.
If none of the above works and the machine looks like there’s nothing wrong with it yet it keeps doing this it might be better to check with a servicing technician.
My Top One Advice
My sewing experience proved me that most machine sewing issues are related to improper threading.
Thus, my top one advice is to keep close eye on threading, both the top and the bobbin. This is key and will prevent from lots of sewing machine troubleshooting.
Use your Manual when learning how to thread. And later, keep attention when threading.
It’s important when threading the top to always keep the presser foot raised up. It opens the tension disks inside the machine and allows proper inserting of the top thread. So, when the foot is down – the discs close and lock the thread which gives it the much-needed tension.
If the foot is down while treading, the top thread won’t get tension and this usually results in issues with the seam.Similarly, the bobbin thread should go into the special tiny grooves to get proper tension.
Example of a diagram for threading a top loading bobbin
Example of a diagram for threading the top thread
In conclusion, you see that troubleshooting is not a strict science. Nevertheless, if you keep attention to threading, use good quality and appropriate for the project needle and thread, plus clean up your sewing machine every once in a while – you should enjoy smooth sewing with no issues!
I hope you find the article helpful. Please, let me know of other problems you can’t see here (I'm sure there's more). Thanks!