2/29 | Quick Fixes for Sewing Machine Problems

There you are sewing away and boom! You encounter a problem. What do you do now? Before you throw your hands up in frustration or go rushing off to the sewing machine repair shop, there are several things you can check out and fix on your own.

This guide to Quick Fixes for Sewing Machine Problems can help you troubleshoot the issue and will give you some simple solutions. Often, what seems like a huge problem turns out to be something one that is easily fixed with a few basic steps you can complete right in your own home. We may not be able to take the frustration away but we can help you get back to your sewing quickly!

Quick Fixes for Sewing Machine Problems

Let’s start with some basics.

If your machine simply isn’t sewing efficiently, a good place to start is with the basics. Have you cleaned your machine recently? If you’re using it often, it should be cleaned on a weekly basis. And once a year (twice if you use it daily), your machine needs to be serviced by a professional. In the meantime, you should be wiping your machine down regularly to avoid a buildup of dust, lint, and bits of fabric or thread.

Check your needle and thread.

Is your sewing machine threaded properly? Occasionally, mine will start catching as I sew and most of the time, the problem is related to threading. It’s easy to rush through this step and make a tiny mistake that can mess things up. So, unthread your machine and rethread it. Check to be sure that you’ve got the right kind and size of needle and the right type of thread. Is your bobbin properly in place? Is your needle secure and in the right position?

If these steps don’t solve your problem (and 90% of the time, they will!), check out the more specific tips below.

Help! My needle keeps breaking.

As mentioned above, the most important question is, are you using the correct needle and is it installed correctly? If you’re trying to use a needle sized for delicate fabrics when sewing denim, it’s likely going to break. Not only are there different sized needles, there are different types of needles too. Each of them is designed to work with a certain type of fabric. You can find more great information in our Guide to Understanding Sewing Machine Needles.

Help! My thread keeps breaking.

 Similar to the above issue with the broken needles, you need to check the type of thread you’re using. Some threads are far too delicate for machine use and are only intended for hand sewing. It’s important that you are using the correct type of thread for your project, needle, and fabric. Your thread needs to be the correct weight and unless you’re doing some specialty sewing (sewing with elastic thread for example), your top thread and bobbin thread should match in weight. Our Guide to Picking Thread Type will help you figure out what kind you need for your project.

Remember that your thread should fit through the eye of the needle smoothly. The eye can’t be too large compared to the thread thickness or the thread will slip and move around. If the eye is too small and it’s a really snug fit for the thread, the thread will be prone to catching and breaking. Check that the eye of the needle isn’t damaged in any way as this can cause issues as well.

Another common cause of breaking thread is an incorrect tension setting. Try lowering the tension for your top thread a tiny bit at a time and see if that solves this issue. And remember that thread does have a shelf life. It can begin weakening over time and become much more prone to breakage. If you’re using thread that you’ve had in your sewing room for quite some time, try using some new thread instead.

Help! My thread keeps getting all bunched up under my fabric.

There are several possible solutions to this problem. First things first though, you need to take your sewing project out of the machine. If the thread is really bunched up, you may find that your fabric is actually stuck what with all those threads going every which way. Don’t pull on it! You can damage not only your sewing project but your sewing machine too. Use a small pair of scissors to snip the extra bits of thread away until your project is freed from the machine. Now, on to the solutions!

Sometimes, right before this happens, I’ll hear the bobbin kind of “jump” under my sewing machine. This usually indicates a bobbin issue. Remove your bobbin. Check it over carefully. If the bobbin has any sort of damage to it, you need to throw it away and use a new one.

Even simply dropping a bobbin on the floor can cause a little nick in it that can create problems in your sewing. Make sure too that there are no loose threads sticking out from the bobbin that might be catching on your stitches.

Lift up the presser foot and move the needle to its highest position. This will often release the tension and make it easier to thread. Unthread and rethread your sewing machine, both top thread and bobbin, making sure that you are using the same type and weight of thread in both locations.

Try sewing on some scraps of fabric. If the thread is still getting bunched up underneath, try the above steps again. This time, though, you’re going to try adjusting your tension settings. This usually happens because you’ve switched fabric types and forgot to change the tension but sometimes, machine tension just needs a slight adjustment for no apparent reason.

Help! My stitches are uneven or there are missed stitches.

This is usually caused by a damaged needle. Even the slightest bend in a needle can cause issues. Did you know that you’re supposed to replace your sewing machine needle after 16 hours of sewing time? A simple needle change might be all that’s needed here.

Another common problem has to do with how you are feeding the fabric into the machine. The feed dogs are meant to pull the fabric through the machine. If you push the fabric through or, even worse, pull it from the back, you can interfere with the proper functioning of the feed dogs and affect the consistency of the stitching.

Ultimately, you may even damage your machine. Your hands are there to keep the fabric straight. Let the feed dogs do their job of pulling the fabric through.

Help! My sewing machine won’t work. It just makes a whirring noise but won’t move.

Oh, I have been there! It sounds like your machine is completely seized up and it’s enough to send a sewist into a panic. First step, don’t panic. Just stop sewing. Forcing it isn’t going to help and it might cause damage to your sewing machine. Next, make sure that your machine can handle the type of fabric you’re sewing. Denim, for example, might just be too heavy for an inexpensive beginner’s machine. Double check your sewing machine manual to be sure.

Then, once again, make sure that you’ve got the correct (undamaged) needle and thread for the fabric you’re using. I know, I know. I’m repeating myself but this really is one of the most common reasons for sewing machine issues!

Finally, if you didn’t already give your machine a quick wipe down as suggested at the beginning of this guide, do that now. Even just a tiny bit of fuzz or dust can interfere with the smooth running of your machine. Does your machine need oiling?

Some are self-lubricating but if yours isn’t and you can’t remember the last time you oiled it, that’s probably the culprit. Oil according to your sewing machine manual’s instructions and then try sewing with some scraps of fabric. This will not only test your machine to see if it’s now working properly, but it will help get rid of any oil residue so you don’t end up with stains on your sewing project.

Help! My machine is running but my needle won’t move up and down!

Believe it or not, this is usually a really simple problem to solve. Most of the time, it’s because you’ve got your sewing machine set to the bobbin-winding function. Check that first! If that’s not the issue, once again, a dirty sewing machine might be the issue. Have a look at the section on “My Sewing Machine Won’t Work” for tips on cleaning your machine.

Help! My decorative stitch setting isn’t working.

In most cases, this is simply an issue with your stitch length and width settings. Many of the decorative stitches have very specific requirements when it comes to length and width in order to work properly. Check your manual and adjust your settings accordingly.

Of course, you want everything to go smoothly when you’re working on a sewing project. If an issue does crop up though, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. It’s often a really simple fix! Give one of these solutions a try. If the problem persists, it’s time to take it in to a sewing machine repair professional.