Troubleshooting Common Sewing Machine Problems

Dressmaker using sewing machine
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How many times have you been in the middle of a project and your trusted sewing machine has decided it doesn't want to sew? The fun part of sewing is completing our creative inspiration, not fighting the machine.

The most frequent issues involve fairly simple problems we have overlooked while absorbed in a project. Here is a simple checklist for mechanical problems, a guideline that can help save you an unnecessary trip to the repair shop and a load of frustration. But remember that each type of sewing machine has its own unique set of operating issues and routine problems. Always refer to the troubleshooting guide in your sewing machine manual.

Symptom: Skipped Stitches

  • The place to look when a sewing machine starts to skip stitches is the machine needle. If your machine was sewing fine and suddenly decides to skip stitches, change your sewing machine needle. That machine needle is little more than a sliver of metal and you may have inadvertently bend it while tugging the fabric or by hitting a straight pin. Learning and understanding sewing machine needles can save you hours of frustration.
  • If you find yourself changing the needle often, be sure you are allowing the feed dog to feed the fabric through the machine and that you are not forcing the fabric, which can lead to bent needles. Even forcing the fabric ever so slightly can bend the machine needle. Let the feed dog do the work.

Symptom: Knotting or Breaking Thread

  • Are you using a quality thread? Most bargain threads throw off excessive lint and have loose fibers and knots, all of which can all affect how your machine forms stitches.
  • Check the way your machine is threaded. Completely un-thread your sewing machine and re-thread it. Remember to always thread your machine with the presser foot up. Knotting thread on the bottom side is usually caused by upper threading errors.
  • Check the bobbin and be sure it is threaded correctly and that the bobbin case is correctly threaded. Be sure the bobbin is positioned in the bobbin case in the correct direction.
  • Always watch for bobbin wear, especially on plastic bobbins. If the edges of the plastic are showing abrasions, the size of the bobbin has changed and this may be the culprit. Although the size change might be minute, it allows the bobbin to wobble in the case and changes the tension.

Standard Operating Procedures

Following routine practices can help prevent the appearance of symptoms that indicate actual mechanical problems.

Tension Adjustments

How tension adjustments are made varies depending on the make and model of your machine. The rule of thumb for a turning disk-style adjustment is "righty tighty, lefty loosey". The disks are actually helped in place by springs and screws; by turning them to the right you are tightening the spring, by turning them to the left you are loosening the spring. 

Regular Maintenance

Have you been so "into" your projects that you have not taken the time to do basic maintenance on your machine? We're all guilty of this from time to time, but we do shorten the life expectancy of our sewing machines by not properly maintaining them. There is nothing like machine problems to force us to take the time to do basic maintenance described in the machine manual. Regular attention to these maintenance schedules will prevent mechanical problems requiring repair.

Be on the Lookout for "Helping Hands"

Is it possible that you had some helpful little hands at the sewing machine while your back was turned? Children may have been taught not to touch your sewing machine, but all those knobs and buttons can be irresistible.

And always unplug your machine when you are not using it, if children are in the area. It is very simple for them to step on the foot pedal while a small hand is on the needle bed. The resulting medical emergency is far worse than dealing with skipped stitches.