Thread Buying Tips and Troubleshooting: Thread Problems Solved

As part of "Learning to Love Specialty Threads", Robert Purcell of Superior Threads offers this wonderful information about thread which can help solve your sewing machine problems and more.

  • 01 of 18

    Buying Thread - Thread. Cones and Spools

    A Collection of Sewing Thread
    A Collection of Sewing Thread. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to
    • Look for uniform wind. Lack of uniformity results from improper winding and could indicate damaged thread. If a manufacturer is cutting costs resulting in poor-quality winding, they are most likely cutting costs in overall quality.
    • Look for uniform color. Any non-standard appearance indicates winding tensions were too high and damage to the thread has resulted. How to Choose Thread Color
    • Look for bruises or flat spots. Damage can occur in handling and will result in thread breaks. Thread can be defective because of improper construction. If defective, return it or throw it away to avoid machine damage and frustration.
    • Do not store metallic thread with adhesive tape to prevent unwinding. The adhesive rubs off onto the thread and then accumulates in the tension disks and the eye of the needle.

    Learn more about Thread Quality

  • 02 of 18

    The Thread Path

    Basic Sewing Machine Threading Guide
    Basic Sewing Machine Threading Guide. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Make sure the machine is threaded correctly. It is OK and sometimes preferable to skip the last thread guide.

    • Make sure all thread guides are free of grooves that will damage metallic thread. Polyester threads are abrasive and over time can cause thread grooves.
    • Keep your machine clean. Dust and lint buildups interfere with thread flow.
  • 03 of 18


    Singer Fashion Mate Tension Disks
    Singer Fashion Mate Tension Disks. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    The tension assembly should provide even pressure to produce even stitches.

    • Buildup of lint or thread particles can make tension adjustments impossible.
    • Threads can wear grooves in tension disks and leave deposits on disks.

    More about sewing machine tension and thread

  • 04 of 18


    Stretch Sewing Machine Needles
    Stretch Sewing Machine Needles. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

     This is a most important part of sewing application.

    • Use a new Metallic or Topstitch needle and change it if in doubt.
    • The needle should be inserted all the way into the needle bar and square with the sewing hook.
    • Select needle type and size appropriate to the application.
    Continue to 5 of 18 below.
  • 05 of 18

    The Presser Foot

    Singer Sewing Machine Presser Feet
    Singer Sewing Machine Presser Feet. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Check the condition of the presser foot. If it is bent or has rough spots, it will affect the embroidery and may cause thread breaks.

  • 06 of 18

    The Sewing Machine Needle Plate

    Threading a Sewing Machine Needle
    Threading a Sewing Machine Needle. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Needle Plate

    The needle plate has the potential for thread abrasion or cuts. It should be smooth and free of nicks. The needle should be centered front to back in the needle plate to prevent needle strikes.

  • 07 of 18

    Sewing Hook

    Pulling Up the Bobbin Thread
    Pulling Up the Bobbin Thread. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    The sewing hook should be smooth and timed precisely to engage the thread loop. It should have no scratches or rough spots that would damage the thread fibers. It should be properly adjusted in relation to the needle and the sewing motion.

  • 08 of 18

    Bobbin Case

    Bobbin Case for Singer Fashion Mate 237
    Bobbin Case for Singer Fashion Mate 237. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    The bobbin case holds the bobbin and sets the tension for the stitch. The bobbin case and tension spring must be clean and free of lint to ensure consistent tension. Bobbin cases are fragile. If dropped, they can become out of round and can result in ‘wandering tensions.'

    Continue to 9 of 18 below.
  • 09 of 18


    An Assortment of Sewing Machine Bobbins
    An Assortment of Sewing Machine Bobbins. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Bobbins should be wound evenly to provide consistent tension when fed through the tension spring. Sideless pre-wound bobbins can leave an adhesive residue that affects tensions and thread movement.

  • 10 of 18


    Machine Embroidery Hoops
    Machine Embroidery Hoops. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Fabric should be snugly hooped without any deformations or loose areas.

  • 11 of 18

    Backing and adhesives

    Machine Embroidery
    Machine Embroidery. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Backing and adhesives should only be used to the extent necessary.
    More is not always better. Excessive backing produces stiff embroidery and applies greater friction to the needle and increases thread breaks. Excessive use of adhesives and stick-on backings can result in deposit buildups in the eye of the needle, causing friction and needle breaks.

  • 12 of 18


    Burlap, canvas, silk,denim, stretch
    Fabric Collection. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Embroidering thick or dense fabrics will cause increased friction. To compensate, use a larger needle and reduce sewing speed.

    Continue to 13 of 18 below.
  • 13 of 18


    Singer Fashion Mate Tension Disks
    Singer Fashion Mate Tension Disks. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    It is recommended to set the top tension very low when using metallic threads. Since metallic thread is a multi-layer thread, excessive tension will cause the discs to grab the thread, which results in shredding. Lowering the tension will increase the space between the tension discs and allow the thread to move through with ease.

    Tension Problems

    Tension is the term we give to the process of balancing the top and bottom threads so the machine will sew a good stitch with as few problems as possible

    • Problem: The top thread frays  Probable Cause: The needle is too small or the wrong type. Tension is set too high.
    • Problem: The bobbin thread shows through on the top.Probable Cause: The bobbin is too loose, dirt under the tension spring, or the top tension is set too high.
    • Problem: The bobbin thread does not show on the bottom.Probable Cause: The bobbin is too tight or the top is too loose.
    • Problem: The top thread snaps and leaves a small hook at the point of the break.Probable Cause: The top thread is too tight or the needle type and size is incorrect.
    • Problem: The thread gathers under the needle plate. Probable Cause: Either the top tension is too low or the machine is threaded incorrectly, bypassing the take-up lever.
  • 14 of 18


    Digitizing Software Screen Shot
    DigitizerPro Screen Shot. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Digitizing is an art, not a science. Knowledge of threads, machines, and fabric to be embroidered is essential to a good design. Recurring problems with the same design may reflect digitizing problems rather than technique or equipment problems.

    • Very short stitches result in a single point of thread going through the eye of the needle up to 60 times. Compensate by reducing sewing speed.
    • Very long stitches result in increased tension on the thread due to the movement of the sewing field. Compensate by reducing sewing speed.
    • Excessive stitches in a single zone increase the density of the fabric and can result in thread breaks. This can be either a digitizing problem or a machine feed motion problem.
  • 15 of 18

    Selecting the Proper Backing

    Machine Embroidery Stabilizers
    A Collection of Machine Embroidery Stabilizers. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Many factors can affect your embroidery stitching. Machine tension, proper hooping tension, needles, the threads you choose, stitch count and density are some of the major players. With all of these variables, it is important to choose a backing for your work that can provide the foundation needed for a solid, stable embroidered design. The entire purpose of using a backing is to provide a secure base under the fabric for your stitches to keep your image from becoming distorted and to help hold up after washing.

    There are two main categories of non-woven backing: tearaway and cutaway. As its name implies, a tearaway backing is easily torn away after your design is complete. It is best used on more stable fabrics such as denim, terry cloth or on caps. Cutaway backings are normally more stable and softer than tearaways, with the excess amount being removed by cutting around the finished design. Since it provides more stability, it is often used for knits or other fabrics that need extra support.

    Numerous styles and weights of backing are available and they are becoming more and more specialized. Choosing the style that best suits your needs may take a little experimentation. As a rule of thumb, keeping a mid-weight tearaway and a soft, but stable cutaway on hand will allow you to tackle most any design. It is important to find a tearaway that will tear cleanly away while still holding your stitches and a cutaway backing that will not stretch too much in any direction.

    Having too much stretch can cause puckering or distortion of your design once your garment is out of the hoop. This distortion can also happen if you have to pull too hard to remove your excess tearaway.
    Specific backing decisions are up to the individual embroiderer. Not everything will work for everyone. Your style of stitching can influence your choice in backing as much as the fabric or stitch count can. Have fun and experiment. Sew out several designs with different weights of backing on various fabrics to see the effect on the finished product and before long you will be able to see what works the best for you.

    We need to ask some basic questions for each independent project. What fabric am I using? What stabilizer? What is the content and weight of the thread? What about needle type and size? Do I need to change the tension? What would be the best thread to use? When it all comes together, the result will be a completed project that is looked upon with pride.

  • 16 of 18

    Troubleshooting helps

    In Desperate Need of Cleaning
    In Desperate Need of Cleaning. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    If you are experiencing trouble with broken threads or skipped stitches, the following may help.

    1. Is the needle size appropriate for the thread and project? A needle too small or too large in relation to the thread size makes it difficult for loops to form.
    2. Check the thread path from the cone to the needle. Is it threaded correctly? Are you using the proper size needle for the thread you are using? Are any of the thread guides too small for the thread you are using? It is often OK to bypass the final thread guide.
    3. Is the needle in correctly? Is it square to the face of the machine? Is the scarf to the back? Are you using the correct needle for the job?
    4. Is the bobbin tension correct in relation to the top tension? Is the bobbin positioned correctly? Is there lint or other debris under the tension spring? Has the tension spring been deformed by over-tightening?
    5. Is the top tension adjusted properly?
    6. Is the needle coming down in the center of the darning foot? Is the needle rubbing on the darning foot?
    7. Change speed according to the job. The wider a satin stitch, the faster the machine can run. The narrower a satin stitch, the slower the machine should be run. It is OK to change the machine speed while running a design.
    8. Check the timing. If the timing is off, the bobbin hook will not catch the loop.
    Continue to 17 of 18 below.
  • 17 of 18

    Embroidery Design Density

    Embroidered & Denim Felted Tote
    Embroidered & Denim Felted Tote. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Field Density

    It is important to select the appropriate thread for the project. Most digitized designs are created for 40 wt. thread. If a heavier thread is desired, adjustments are required. This can be done by either reducing the field density by one-third or by increasing the design size to 125% of the original size. Increasing the stitch length will also help.

  • 18 of 18


    Singer Quatum 6000
    Singer Quatum 6000. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    To successfully use specialty threads, the operator must be aware of the abilities and special requirements of both the thread and the machine.

    • Use a high-quality thread.
    • Ensure the machine is threaded correctly.
    • Ensure the entire machine is free of scratches and grooves along the thread path.
    • Properly adjust tensions for the desired application.
    • Use the correct type and size of needle and check that it is inserted correctly.
    • Ensure the machine is adjusted properly.
    • Ensure the hook mechanism is lubricated every 8-10 sewing hours.
    • Ensure the bobbin case is in good condition.
    • Use backing only to the extent required.
    • Adjust sewing speed to compensate for other limitations.

Thank you!

A special thank you to Superior Threads for sharing this wonderful information and taking the mystery out of understanding thread! If you ever have the opportunity to take their class in person, I strongly recommend it! The demonstrations with an extra large needle make the entire concept easy to understand.

Visit Superior Threads for free downloadable designs, online catalog, embroidery tips, projects and more!