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 25 Common Sewing Machine Problems and How to tackle them

 25 Common Sewing Machine Problems and How to tackle them

Hey there, stitchers! Are you exasperated by constant thread breakage? Or maybe your sewing machine has been skipping stitches? Look, we’ve all been there. No need to toss your beloved machine out the window just yet! We’re about to delve into some of the most common sewing machine problems, and more importantly, how to tackle them. Save your sewing sessions from becoming a nightmare with these handy tips and tricks. Read on, and you’ll be back to creating gorgeous work in no time!

1. Thread Bunching Under Fabric

Thread bunching, often referred to as ‘bird nesting’, is a common issue that can be quite frustrating. The primary cause is usually improper threading. To fix this, start by re-threading your machine, ensuring that the presser foot is lifted during the process. This position releases the tension mechanism, allowing the thread to properly seat. Additionally, check the bobbin.

It should be correctly inserted with the thread unwinding in the right direction as per your machine’s specifications. Sometimes, using different types of thread in the bobbin and the top can also lead to bunching. Ensure both threads are of the same type and weight. Lastly, consider adjusting the tension settings. Each fabric type may require a different tension setting, so it’s worth doing a test run on a scrap piece of the same fabric.

2. Bent or Broken Needles

Dealing with bent or broken needles can be both annoying and hazardous. The key to avoiding this is using the right needle for your fabric type. For instance, knit fabrics require a ballpoint needle, while tougher materials like denim or leather need a stronger, sharper needle. It’s also good practice to start each new project with a fresh needle to prevent issues caused by wear and tear. 

If you’re consistently facing this problem despite using the correct needle, it might indicate a deeper issue with your machine, such as a timing problem. In such cases, it’s best to consult a professional for repairs. Remember, when replacing a needle, ensure it’s properly installed according to your machine’s guidelines.

3. Fabric Not Feeding Properly

If your fabric isn’t moving through the machine as it should, first check if the machine is set to a drop-feed setting, often used for freehand embroidery or darning. This setting disables the feed dogs, which are essential for pulling the fabric through. Make sure the feed dogs are up and operational. The presser foot pressure is another aspect to consider. 

If it’s too high or too low for the type of fabric you’re using, it can impede smooth feeding. Adjust the pressure according to the fabric’s weight and thickness. Additionally, when starting a seam, ensure the fabric is placed correctly under the needle before lowering the presser foot. This initial positioning can make a significant difference in how the fabric feeds from the very beginning of your sewing project.

4. Thread Keeps Breaking

Thread breakage can disrupt the flow of your sewing project. This issue often stems from using the wrong type of thread. Threads designed for hand sewing are typically not strong enough for machine use. Ensure you’re using a thread that’s compatible with your machine and is the same weight as the bobbin thread. 

Another culprit could be the tension settings. If the tension is too tight, it can cause the thread to snap. Try re-threading the machine with the presser foot up and then adjusting the tension settings. A test run on a scrap piece of fabric can help you determine the right tension level before you resume your main project.

5. Machine is Skipping Stitches

Skipping stitches can ruin the aesthetics of your sewing project. This problem often occurs when the needle is either incorrectly installed, blunt, or the wrong type for the fabric. Double-check that the needle is fully inserted into the holder and is the correct type for your material. 

For example, thicker fabrics require a larger needle, while delicate fabrics need a finer one. If the needle and threading seem fine, the issue might be with the machine’s timing. This is a more complex problem and typically requires a professional’s touch to adjust and fix the timing mechanism.

6. Bobbin Tension Not Consistent

Inconsistent bobbin tension can be a tricky issue. If you find yourself constantly adjusting the bobbin tension, inspect the bobbin itself. Plastic bobbins can wear out over time, leading to tension inconsistencies. Switching to a new bobbin, preferably metal, can often resolve this issue. 

Also, ensure that the bobbin is correctly inserted into the bobbin case, as an improperly seated bobbin can cause tension problems. Regular cleaning of the bobbin area is also crucial, as lint and debris can affect the tension.

7. Seams in Stretch Fabrics Coming Out Wavy

When sewing stretch fabrics, it’s common to end up with wavy seams. This issue is often due to the fabric being stretched while sewing. To prevent this, ensure that the fabric is well-supported on the sewing table and not hanging off the edge, which can create unwanted tension and stretch. 

Let the feed dogs move the fabric without pulling or pushing it. Adjusting the presser foot pressure can also help, as can switching to a walking foot. A walking foot feeds the top and bottom layers of fabric evenly, reducing the chances of stretching and distortion. Pinning the fabric properly before sewing can also maintain alignment and prevent waviness.

By understanding these common issues and knowing how to address them, you can enhance your sewing experience, making it more efficient and enjoyable. Regular maintenance and a bit of troubleshooting can go a long way in ensuring your sewing machine works smoothly for all your creative projects.

8. Sewing Machine Seizes Up or Won’t Sew

A sewing machine that seizes up or refuses to sew can be a sign of several issues. First, check if the fabric you’re using is too thick or tough for your machine. If the fabric is appropriate, then inspect the needle. A bent or incorrectly installed needle can cause the machine to seize. 

Replace it if necessary, ensuring it’s the right type and size for your fabric. Another common cause is a build-up of lint and dust, especially in the bobbin area and under the needle plate. Regular cleaning and oiling, as per your machine’s manual, can prevent this issue. If the problem persists after these checks, it might be a mechanical issue that requires professional servicing.

9. Needle Comes Unthreaded Before Sewing

It’s frustrating when the needle comes unthreaded just as you’re about to start sewing. This often happens if the needle isn’t in its highest position when threading. Before threading, turn the handwheel towards you until the needle reaches its highest point. Some machines have an automatic needle up/down feature which can be used for this purpose. Also, ensure that the thread is properly seated in the tension disks and the take-up lever. A needle threader tool can also be helpful, especially for those with vision difficulties or when working with fine threads.

10. Fabric or Threads Bunching at the Start or Ends of Seams

Bunching at the beginning or end of seams is typically caused by tension issues during backstitching. To avoid this, start sewing a few millimeters in from the fabric edge. Then, backstitch to the edge before proceeding forward. 

This ensures that the backstitches are placed within the fabric, maintaining consistent tension. Similarly, when finishing a seam, backstitch before reaching the end, then sew straight off the fabric. This technique prevents the accumulation of thread that causes bunching and ensures a neat finish.

11. Thread Inconsistently Knots, Loosens, or Tangles

Inconsistent knotting, loosening, or tangling of the thread can be maddening. Often, this is not a result of incorrect threading or tension settings but rather the accumulation of lint and fluff in the machine, particularly around the bobbin case. Regular cleaning is crucial to prevent these issues. 

Use a small brush or a vacuum attachment to remove lint from hard-to-reach areas. Avoid using compressed air as it can push lint further into the machine. Following the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations will help keep your machine in top working condition.

12. Thread Fraying, Shredding, and Breaking

If your thread is fraying, shredding, or breaking, it’s often a sign of an incompatible needle and thread combination. The needle’s eye should be large enough for the thread to pass through easily without friction. If the thread is too thick for the needle, it can fray or break. 

Ensure you’re using the correct needle size for your thread. Also, check for any burrs or rough spots on the needle, as these can damage the thread. Replacing the needle and choosing the right thread type can often resolve these issues.

13. Fabric Feed is Inconsistent

Inconsistent fabric feed can lead to uneven seams and a frustrating sewing experience. The feed dogs are usually responsible for this issue. If they are worn down or clogged with lint, they won’t grip the fabric properly.

 Check and clean the feed dogs, removing any lint or debris. If your machine is older, the feed dogs might need to be replaced. Additionally, adjusting the presser foot pressure can help. For thicker fabrics, a higher pressure is often needed to ensure even feeding.

14. Machine is Making Strange Noises

Strange noises from your sewing machine should never be ignored. They can indicate a variety of issues, from minor to serious. First, stop sewing and turn off the machine. Check for any obvious issues like tangled threads or a jammed needle. 

Clean and oil your machine according to the manual’s instructions, as dirt and lack of lubrication can cause noise. If the problem persists after cleaning and oiling, it’s best to take the machine to a professional for a check-up and possible repairs.

15. The Machine is Running, but the Needle Won’t Move!

If the machine’s motor runs but the needle doesn’t move, it’s likely set in bobbin-winding mode. In this mode, the needle mechanism is disengaged to allow the bobbin to wind smoothly. Check the bobbin-winding spindle or lever and make sure it’s in the sewing position. This is a simple yet common oversight, especially for beginners or when switching tasks during a sewing project.

16. Decorative Stitch Settings Aren’t Working

When decorative stitches don’t work as expected, it’s often due to incorrect stitch length and width settings. Consult your machine’s manual to ensure you’re using the correct settings for the selected decorative stitch. Some stitches require specific widths and lengths to form correctly. Also, ensure that the machine is properly threaded and the needle is the right type for your fabric, as these factors can also affect decorative stitching.

17. Seams are Puckered and Distorted

Puckered or distorted seams can ruin the look of a finished garment. This issue is often related to tension or thread weight. If the thread is too heavy for the fabric, it can pull and distort the seams. Adjust the thread tension and use a thread weight that’s appropriate for your fabric. 

Uneven feed can also cause puckering. A walking foot can help by feeding the top and bottom layers of fabric evenly through the machine. Additionally, ensure that the fabric is not being pulled or stretched while sewing, as this can lead to distortion.

By addressing each of these common sewing machine problems with care and attention, you can ensure a smoother, more enjoyable sewing experience. Regular maintenance, proper setup, and understanding your machine’s capabilities are key to successful sewing projects.

18. Machine Overheating

If your sewing machine starts to overheat, it’s a sign to take a break. Continuous use over long periods can cause the motor to get hot. Ensure your machine is well-ventilated and not covered while in use. Regular cleaning and oiling can also prevent overheating, as accumulated lint and dirt can cause the motor to work harder than necessary. If overheating occurs frequently, it might indicate a more serious issue, and professional servicing is recommended.

19. Difficulty Sewing Thick Fabrics

Sewing thick fabrics like denim or canvas can be challenging. Use a needle designed for heavy fabrics, such as a denim needle, which is stronger and sharper. Adjust the presser foot pressure to accommodate the fabric thickness. If your machine struggles, sew slowly or manually turn the handwheel for tough spots. Avoid forcing the fabric through, as this can damage the machine.

20. Stitches are Too Loose or Too Tight

Loose or tight stitches are often a result of improper tension settings. If stitches are too loose, increase the tension. If they’re too tight, decrease it. Remember, tension adjustments should be made gradually. Test the adjustments on a scrap piece of the same fabric you’re working with. Also, ensure that the machine is correctly threaded, as improper threading can also cause tension issues.

21. Machine Not Starting

If your sewing machine won’t start, first check the power supply. Ensure it’s plugged in correctly and the power switch is on. Check the foot pedal connection. If everything seems fine but the machine still won’t start, the issue could be electrical and requires professional attention.

22. Automatic Needle Threader Not Working

Automatic needle threaders are a great convenience but can be finicky. If it’s not working, check if the needle is in the highest position. The threader can’t catch the needle’s eye if it’s not aligned correctly. Also, check for any damage or misalignment in the threader itself. Sometimes, simple cleaning or a slight adjustment can fix the issue.

23. LED Light Flickering or Not Working

Many modern sewing machines come with LED lights. If the light is flickering or not working, it could be a loose connection. Check the connection points and tighten any loose parts. If the problem persists, the LED might need to be replaced.

24. Unresponsive Electronic Controls

For computerized sewing machines, unresponsive controls can be a major issue. Try turning off the machine and unplugging it for a few minutes. This can reset the system. If the controls remain unresponsive, it could be a software issue or a malfunction in the electronic components, requiring professional repair.

25. Bobbin Winding Issues

Problems with bobbin winding can stem from improper threading of the bobbin winder or an incorrectly positioned bobbin. Ensure the thread is correctly guided through the bobbin winder tension disks. The bobbin should be placed correctly on the winder, and the winder should be securely engaged.


Frequently Asked Question

  • 1. What are common sewing machine problems?

    Common problems with sewing machines include the thread bunching up under the fabric, needles breaking or bending, issues with fabric feeding, the thread breaking or getting tangled, and the machine skipping stitches. Sometimes, the sewing machine might also make strange noises, the tension might be off, or the machine might not turn on at all.


  • 2. Why is my sewing machine thread not stitching?

    If your sewing machine isn’t stitching, it could be because the needle isn’t threaded correctly or the needle is damaged. Also, check if the bobbin is properly inserted and threaded. Sometimes, the issue might be with the machine’s tension settings or its timing, which might need a professional’s help to fix.


  • 3. What makes a sewing machine stop working?

    A sewing machine can stop working for various reasons. It could be due to a jammed bobbin, a broken needle, or tangled threads. Overheating, caused by prolonged use, or electrical issues can also cause a machine to stop. Regular cleaning and maintenance are important to prevent these problems.


  • How do you fix a sewing machine stitch problem?

    To fix a stitch problem in a sewing machine, first, re-thread the needle and the bobbin, as incorrect threading is a common cause of stitch issues. Check the needle to make sure it’s the right type for your fabric and isn’t bent or dull. Adjust the tension settings if the stitches are too loose or too tight. If these steps don’t work, the problem might be more complex, like an issue with the machine’s timing, and might require a professional repair.


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