Top 10 Sewing Machine Troubleshooting Tips


Common Sewing Problems

A balanced stitch is the key to attractive and strong seams. The threads coming from the needle and from the bobbin require the correct amount of tension so they meet and loop in the middle, between the fabric layers. Most thread-tension adjustments are made for the needle threads; the bobbin tension is preset at the factory (A).

Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

Loose Tension

The most common problem with stitch formation is looping on the underside. This is due to too much thread from the upper thread path; the needle thread tension is too loose (C). Refer to “Connection Between Tension Disks and Presser Foot”

Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

The opposite problem, too much thread coming from underneath the stitching area and forming loops on the top of the fabric, is from lack of tension on the bobbin (D). This is usually caused by improper threading; try reinstalling the bobbin, making sure the thread is going in the right direction.

Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

Excess Tension

Too much tension on either the upper thread or the bobbin thread can cause stitches to pucker. The stitches should lie flat and smooth without distorting the fabric. In this case, the needle thread tension is too tight (E).
Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

Reduce, or dial down, the needle tension. Do this by turning the dial on the upper tension disks, in small increments, usually by half a number at a time, so you don’t end up making the tension too loose. Adjust the tension and then sew a test seam on a scrap of fabric. Keep doing this until you get a uniform stitch that doesn’t pull the fabric too tight (F).

Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

You’ll rarely need to change the bobbin tension setting. If for some reason you do find that you have too much tension on the bobbin, first rethread the bobbin to make sure the thread isn’t stuck on something (G). If this doesn’t work and you need to tighten or loosen the bobbin tension, do that by adjusting the screw on the top of the bobbin case in very small increments. Remember the phrase: “righty tighty, lefty loosey!”

Sewing Machine Troubleshooting

TIP: Sometimes, instead of loosening the bobbin tension, you might try tightening the needle tension to compensate. It is always easier to adjust the needle tension than the bobbin tension.

Here are the 10 most common trouble areas of a sewing machine:

Thread nests on bottom Presser foot was raised so there was no tension on upper thread After rethreading, make sure presser foot is down before sewing If the presser foot is down and this still happens, then there could be a buildup of thread fibers in the tension disks. Try “flossing” fibers out with a piece of thread, or take the machine to a technician to address the problem.
Thread loops on bottom No upper tension, thread not seated in tension disks properly Remember to thread the machine with the presser foot lifted. Rethread upper thread make sure thread is seated in between the two tension disks Adjust upper tension slightly until you have a balanced stitch
Thread loops on top Not enough bobbin tension, thread not seated in bobbin case properly Rethread bobbin Adjust, ever so slightly, the bobbin tension until stitch is balanced
No stitches form during sewing Timing is off on machine Rethread top and bottom threads; change needle See a technician to address this problem
Uneven or skewed decorative stitches Wrong presser foot for stitch Refer to owner’s manual for foot recommendations for particular stitches
Fabric won’t “feed” into machine Feed teeth disengaged Make sure feed teeth lever is in up position
Machine is skipping stitches on knit fabric Needle not right for the job Replace with new ballpoint needle
Machine is making holes in knit fabric as it stitches Needle not right for the job Replace with new ballpoint needle
Thread is getting stuck or is too tight Thread coiled around bobbin case and is stuck because bobbin is spinning in bobbin case; thread is coiled around spool pin on top of machine and getting stuck because spool spinning too fast Bobbin is wrong size for machine; check to make sure it’s the bobbin for machine’s model number. Make sure there’s a felt pad under the spool to keep it from spinning too fast; there should be one that came with the machine.
Needle is breaking when using straight stitch foot Foot and needle position are out of alignment Make sure needle is in center position Make sure presser foot holder and needle are securely attached to machine

How do you make a stitch sampler?

Whenever I start a new project with a technique I’ve never done before, or when I am working on a project that will require me to toggle between techniques, I always make stitch samplers on the actual fabric that I am using to make the project. Once I have the stitches perfected on the samples, I make note of the stitch length and width and the tension setting or whether I used a special pressure foot. This is a great way to ensure smooth, even stitching for all of the construction processes.

You might want to keep your stitch samplers in a journal or on a bulletin board, so you can find them quickly and refer to them often (see below).

It’s also a great, fun exercise to stitch out on fabric all the stitches your machine can perform so you have a visual reference of what’s available on your machine. This is smart practice, and it lets you explore all your options without the pressure of a project.

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