If you sew with an old sewing machine, you probably don’t have many problems with it. They can run for years between servicing and put up with lots of abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for a lot of modern machines. They are more complicated, have more features and are generally less indestructible than those old workhorse machines.
Newer, more modern machines need more attention and probably should have an annual tune-up. However, lots of daily inconveniences can be fixed with a little patience and knowhow.
Regardless of the age or complexity of your machine, most average problems are either operator error or related to the needle thread tension. Bobbin thread dislodging from the tension spring can be another problem. A dull, damaged or bent needle is another common cause of sewing problems.
You should keep your machine’s manual handy. If you don’t have one, you can download a PDF copy of the manual. It shows how properly to thread your machine and probably has a chapter on troubleshooting.
If you still can’t find your manual, no worries! Here’s a handy guide with some common sewing machine problems and their fixes.
The Sewing Machine Keeps Jamming
If you haven’t threaded your machine correctly, have a bad needle or haven’t cleaned your machine of dust and lint, you may wind up with a jammed sewing machine. If you’ve taken care of all those possibilities, there’s one other thing to consider.
If the sewing and bobbin threads are too short, they can be sucked into the sewing mechanism. They tangle and jam up the machine. Always leave tails that hang out long enough to hold when you begin stitching.
Thread Keeps Bunching Up Or Nesting
Nesting happens most often when you have a tension problem. The bobbin thread may have jumped out of the tension spring, or the sewing thread may have come unseated from the tension disk.
Remove both threads from the machine, pick out any pieces of thread that may have become stuck in the area and use some canned air to blow out any hidden pieces of lint or thread. Rethread both the bobbin and the sewing thread and leave long tails that you can hold as you begin sewing. Here’s a great article that goes more in depth about thread tension.
Needle Thread Breaking
Your sewing thread may break for a number of reasons. If you’re a hoarder, you may be using old thread. That thread you inherited from your grandma may be decades old. It can become brittle over the years and weaken.
Certain types of thread are weaker by nature and more prone to breakage. Dark thread tends to break more often than light colored thread and the composition of some types of thread is more delicate than others.
Before you start messing with the dials and buttons on your machine, simply try a different spool of thread. Weak or brittle thread may be the culprit.
Check to make sure the thread isn’t catching in the notch in the spool cap. There could also be a burr in the path the thread takes. You may have gouged the surface with scissors, a needle or seam ripper. If you are sewing with erratic speeds, the thread might have looped around the spool spindle.
Inspect the hole in the throat plate where the needle passes to catch the bobbin thread. If there is a nick at the edge of the hole, you should replace the throat plate.
If you’ve checked for these physical impediments and still have the problem, check the needle thread tension. Rethread the machine, making sure the thread goes through the tension disks properly.
Bobbin Case Tension
One scenario that may require case tension adjustment is if you are using very thick thread in the bobbin. If you really think you want to adjust the bobbin case tension, remove the bobbin case from the machine and locate the tiny screw.
Before doing anything, mark the bobbin case with a fine permanent marker to show where the original tension is set. That way you’ll know where to return it when you find out it isn’t the problem. Turn the screw in tiny little increments, approximately 1/8-turn. Turning right loosens and turning left tightens the screw. Rethread the machine and sew a test strip each time you make an adjustment.
Sewing machines are timed so the needle is at the precise spot to catch the bobbin’s loop at the exact right moment. If you’re experiencing skipped stitches, there are a couple of things to check.
Make sure there is no bend in the needle and no nicks or burrs on its surface. Also, make sure you’re installing the needle in the right direction and it is seated at the proper depth. Sewing machine needles vary in length. Make sure you’re using the correct needle for your machine.
The needle thread tension should be checked to make sure it’s not too tight. If you’ve changed the pressure on the presser foot for quilting or sewing through heavy layers of fabric, make sure you return the pressure to the original setting.
If you’ve tried all these remedies and the problem persists, you may need a repairperson to correct the timing. This doesn’t happen often, but if you’ve had an abusive relationship with your machine, it may need the intervention of a trained professional.
If you have a drama queen for a sewing machine, it can be very frustrating. As you get to know your machine and learn the proper ways of doing things, you’ll come to understand why your machine sometimes acts up and what you can do to correct the problem.
It’s very often a case of you, the operator, not understanding how to use the machine properly. When you do what you’re supposed to, your machine will probably behave the way it should. If it doesn’t, you now know how to troubleshoot and correct many common problems.
You can save yourself a lot of time, frustration and money by taking care of little problems, so you can afford to give your machine a little pampering with an annual tuning and checkup.