How To Fix Common Sewing Machine Problems

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

​Safety First

​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

​The Problem:

Thread is bunching and looping under the fabric.


​​As a rule of thumb this is a sign of having problems with the top thread.

The Solution:

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)

​The Problem:

Thread is bunching and looping under the fabric (other).


The Solution:

​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.

Common Sewing Machine Problems_Bobbin problem right side

Bobbin problem, right (top) side of stitch

Common Sewing Machine Problems_Bobbin problem wrong side

Bobbin problem, the ​wrong (​under) side of stitch

#3. Thread Tangled On Top Of The Fabric

The Problem:

​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.


The Solution:

​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

​The Problem:

​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.

The Solution:

​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.

Common Sewing Machine Problems_Skipped stitches

​Skipped stitches on decorative stitching​​​​

#5. Skipped Or Uneven Stitches Because Of The Needle

​The Problem:

​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.

The Solution:

​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 Problem:

​​The machine is running but not sewing.


​​

The Solution:

​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

​The Problem:

​​Decorative or similar stitches not sewn.


The Solution:

​​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

​The Problem:

​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.


​​

The Solution:

​​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.


Common Sewing Machine Problems_Puckered seam

#9. Machine Making Unusual Noise

​The Problem:

​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.

The Solution:

​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 Problem:

​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.

The Solution:

​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 Problem:

​​The thread keeps breaking. 


There could be several reasons for that and thus different ways to fix it.



​​

The Solution:

​​​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.

Common Sewing Machine Problems_Thread keeps braking

​Vintage cotton thread becomes weaker with time

#12. Thread Keeps Unthreading

​The Problem:

​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 ;)



​​

The Solution:

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 Problem:

​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.


​​

The Solution:

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

The Problem:

​​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.

​​

The Solution:

​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.

Common Sewing Machine Problems_Broken Needle

​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.


Diagram for correct insertion of top bobbin

​Example of a diagram for threading a top loading bobbin

Example of a diagram for threading the top thread

​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!


Happy sewing

Mariana

Mariana Kirova

Mariana is passionate about garment upcycling and helping others to make their own upcycled clothing. Graduated with Award in garment construction from WAIFT, Perth WA, Mariana is not a main stream eco fashion designer. She makes unique eco-friendly garments from unwanted clothes and materials and believes that small fashion professionals and DIY sewers can embrace sustainability in garment creation, thus changing the fashion world for good.

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