6 Common Sewing Machines Problems and How to Solve Them

Close-up of fashion designer threading sewing machine
Igor Ustynskyy / Getty Images

Sewing machines routinely have many of the same problems, which means they are easily anticipated and usually have established methods of repairing them. Other problems are unique to specific machines, and the fixes may be particular to the brand and model, so it is best to have the manual for your sewing machine on hand as the first reference. To one degree or another, most sewing machines are susceptible to these six common problems.

  • 01 of 06

    Tangling Caused by Improper Threading

    Professional Dressmaker At Work
    ClarkandCompany / Getty Images

    A massive nest of tangled thread is usually a result of the sewing machine being improperly threaded. Just because the tangled mess is on the bobbin side of the stitching, don't assume the fault lies with the bobbin.

    To correct this problem, put the presser foot up and unthread the sewing machine entirely. Rethread the machine with the presser foot up. Follow your sewing machine manual to make sure you are guiding the thread through all of the guides in the proper fashion.

    One of the most common mistakes people make is to thread a sewing machine with the presser foot down. This causes the tension disks to be engaged or tight, preventing the thread from seating properly between the disks.

  • 02 of 06

    Skipped Stitches

    The most common cause of a sewing machine skipping stitches is using the wrong type of needle for the fabric you are sewing. The simplest rule of thumb is that a knit fabric requires a ballpoint needle, and woven fabric requires a sharp needlebut of course, there is more to it than that. If the machine is sewing fine and you find yourself changing the needle very frequently, you should make sure you are allowing the machine to feed the fabric and that you are not forcing the fabric through the sewing process.

    Skipped stitches can also result if the needle is bent, which can occur if you are forcing the fabric, rather than let the machine feed it automatically.

    A sewing machine needle is the smallest and usually one of the least expensive parts of a sewing machine to replace; you owe it to yourself to understand everything about sewing machine needles.

  • 03 of 06

    Fabric Not Feeding Under the Needle

    Several issues can cause fabric feed problems. Many sewing machines have a setting that lowers the feed dogs, which is necessary for free-motion sewing. But in normal operation, the feed dogs are what move the fabric under the sewing machine needle. If the feed dogs are not coming up to move the fabric, check to see if there is a setting that has lowered the feed dogs; if so, return them to their proper setting.

    If there is no such setting on your machine, take off the throat plate and clean out all dust, thread, and lint. Oil the machine according to your sewing machine manual. If the feed dogs still do not work, troubleshoot the problem with your sewing machine manual. When all else fails, it may be time to take the machine in for repairs.

  • 04 of 06

    Jammed Machine

    As dramatic as it may be, jamming is a very common problem for a sewing machine. Your first step toward a remedy is to remove any fabric you were trying to sew. This may require gently tugging at the fabric and lifting it enough that you can snip at the threads and pull the fabric free of the machine. Next, remove all the jammed thread; this may require removing the bobbin, the throat plate, and any other parts to release any jammed threads and get the machine sewing again.

    Before you start sewing again, check your sewing machine needle. Even a slightly bent needle can cause a thread jam.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Breaking or Shredding Thread

    If you find that the thread breaks every so often, or if it shreds until the machine jams, stop and check out these possibilities:

    • Is the thread getting hung up on the thread spool itself? This could be caused by a nick at the end of the spool or a notch in the spool (designed to secure the end of the thread). You can eliminate the problem by changing the direction the thread feeds off of the spool.
    • Are you using old or low-quality thread? Have a look at what kind of thread you are using, and discard supplies that seem old or of poor quality.
    • Are you using a relatively new sewing machine needle? If the needle has sewn over pins, it may have a nick in it that will play havoc with the thread, causing it to break and shred. There are specialty needles that have a larger path for special threads.

    If the thread continues to break after you have checked out these possibilities, thoroughly clean out all dust and lint from the bobbin area and the tension disks. Run your fingers over the path traveled by the thread, looking for any kind of burr, debris, or loose fabric that could cause snags.

  • 06 of 06

    Poor Feed Technique

    If you find your sewing machine having any of these common problems regularly, take a close look at your technique when operating the machine. Make sure you are letting the feed dogs do the work. Inadvertently forcing the fabric through the machine can bend the needle, which can cause a range of problems.