Sewing is incredibly fun, and it feels amazing to create something beautiful on your own. Nothing is better than the still-strong hum of the machine I’ve had since I was thirteen years old. However, we’ve all had sewing machine problems—the dreaded broken needle or thread that won’t cooperate. Yearly cleanings and repairs at a specialty shop will help your machine work its best, but situations can still happen. Since Seams & Scissors is your go-to place for sewing fixes, let’s examine some of the most frequent issues and solutions.
Note: For more detailed information specific to your particular machine, always consult the instruction manual. Most can be found online if you can’t locate the original paper copy.
Problem: Needle Keeps Breaking
This is the worst. You’re sewing along and concentrating on a project when all of a sudden your needle breaks. It’s really important to change your machine’s needle frequently, and a pack of them is relatively inexpensive to purchase. Most professionals recommend doing this after about 8 hours of sewing, and more often if you sew a lot or are using thick fabric. I use a lot of fake fur fabric, so this is more likely to bend and dull the needle and lead to it breaking. Regularly inspect your needle to make sure it’s not curving, and if it is, then change it right away. Use the little screwdriver provided with the machine, and always be sure to have the needle facing the right direction based on the groove or flat side at the top (consult your manual or the needle pack instructions).
Problem: Thread Gathering Underneath Fabric
This situation is the most frustrating for me besides a broken needle. If the thread bunches a lot on the underside of your fabric and the top side almost looks normal but is loose, you’ve most likely threaded your machine incorrectly. Unthread your machine completely and check that your bobbin is wound and inserted correctly and that the thread spool is facing the correct way (some brands have a top and a bottom). After you’ve carefully removed all the thread from the piece of fabric with a seam ripper, do a test on a scrap before you try again.
Problem: Fabric is Wrinkling When Sewing
Bunching and wrinkling is a problem typically experienced when using thinner and more delicate materials. In this case, your machine’s tension be incorrect or your stitch length too short. I recommend doing a test piece on a scrap of fabric. This way you can experiment with a few stitch lengths and tensions to see what works best for the fabric you’re using.
Problem: Needle Comes Unthreaded
When this happens to me, it’s almost always because I left the presser foot up when I started to sew. If this is a consistent problem, you should rethread your machine completely and also check the tension. Also be sure you’re leaving enough of a thread “tail” when you start sewing—pull a few extra inches of the thread out and to the side before you start stitching.
Problem: Loose Stitches
This is the opposite of the problem above. It might also be a tension or stitch length issue, or it could be a mistake made when you threaded the machine. Double check that your bobbin is facing the right way when inserted into the bobbin case, and also that you are using the correct one for the machine. I’ve gotten them confused as I own two different brands of sewing machines and the bobbins are not interchangeable.
Problem: Machine is Full of Lint
In between professional cleanings, your machine may still get filled up with fabric and thread lint. Unthread (and unplug) your machine and, using the little brush that came with it and a pair of tweezers, very gently brush and pull out the clumps of lint. You can turn the hand wheel that controls the needle to move the bobbin case along and reach other areas that might be full of debris. Never blow into the machine to remove lint because it can drive moisture into the metal parts, leading to rust and other problems. I also typically oil my machine after cleaning the lint out—always refer to your manual to see how to do this and if your machine requires oil or not.
I hope these tips can help take the stress out of sewing machine issues! They happen to everyone, so just stay calm and go step by step until it is fixed.