We consulted Becky Hanson of Singer Sewing Company to keep your sewing experience positively seamless.

By Alexandra Churchill
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Bryan Gardner

When you're learning a new skill, a mistake or two is inevitable. It's all part of the learning curve. But even a skilled seamstress can fall victim to the dreaded skipped stitch or broken needle, or what's possibly the most annoying of all sewing machine headaches: thread bunching. When you hear that agitated whir from the machine-cue the internal "ugh" of despair-consider that to be your distress signal.

The details may vary a little depending on the make and model of your sewing machine-so we suggest that you get familiar with the mechanics of your machine-but the fundamentals are the same. Whether you're a seamless pro or a novice with needles, we have the no-sweat solutions for your most frustrating issues.

Bryan Gardner

The Problem: Thread is bunching under the fabric.

THE SOLUTION:

You can have a perfectly straight stitch on the top, but a "bird's nest" forming on the bottom. So why the inconsistency? People tend to think that the bobbin is to blame; in fact, this couldn't be farther from the truth. The thread is snarling -- usually, under the fabric -- because there is no tension on the upper thread. Seems counterintuitive, right?

Still, here's what to do: First, raise the presser foot lifter and rethread the machine. This opens up the tension mechanism to receive the thread. Second, you will need to raise the take-up lever and needle to the highest position according to your machine's manual. This should help to confirm you have the right tension.

The Problem: Stitches are coming out uneven or skipping entirely.

THE SOLUTION:

Odds are, the secret culprit here is a needle that is broken, bent, or otherwise damaged. Experts recommend that you replace your needles for every 16 hours of stitching time.

Another possibility is how you handle the fabric whilst sewing. If you have the tendency -- and many of us do -- of pulling the fabric from behind to make it go through the machine, the practice can result in unclean stitching and can even break your machine. This kind of force-feeding of the fabric works against the feed dogs (the metal teethlike ridges that grip the bottom of the fabric, coaxing it to move away from the needle as stitches are sewn). Work with the machine -- don't force it.

TRY THIS: Here's What to Do if Your Sewing Machine is Skipping Stitches

The Problem: The needle keeps breaking.

THE SOLUTION:

This boils down to a single follow-up question, "Are you using the right needle?" Going up or down to the appropriately-numbered size can make a huge difference. Needles are sized from 8 to 18, depending on their use. A size 9 or 11 works best for delicate, lightweight fabrics like chiffon, silk, and organza. A size 14 works best for medium-weight fabrics like flannel, linen, and synthetic suedes. And a size 16 (or preferably) 18 is reserved for heavy-weight fabrics like denim. Therefore, using a size 9 needle on denim will inevitably break the needle. Additionally, are you using the right type-that is, ball point, regular point or wedge point? For reference, you can check a full size chart here.

LEARN: A Full Guide to Sewing Machine Needles

STILL HAVING ISSUES? THIS THREE-STEP CHECKLIST CAN EASILY SOLVE MOST MACHINE MISHAPS.

1. Clean it out: When was the last time you did a thorough top-to-bottom wipe-down of your machine? Dust and lint can quietly and quickly accumulate in the bobbin area and tension assembly, so have your machine professionally serviced regularly. If you use it daily, a weekly cleaning is needed. For weekly use only, clean it once a month. And for occasional monthly use, clean it every three months.

2. Rethread your machine: Yes, even the slightest bump can affect your stitching. Check your bobbin, needle, and thread to make sure eveything is in the right place.

3. Check your needle and thread: As we already mentioned, using the right size and type of needle is imperative. Additionally, you should use high-quality thread -- it will have a nice, smooth filament and not be "fuzzy" or uneven in thickness. Thread does have a shelf-life -- although different types age differently -- so keep your collection of spools in rotation and stored properly (out of humidity and direct sunlight).

Feeling inspired? Watch how to make a garland using your sewing machine:

Comments (27)

Anonymous
April 10, 2020
Hi, I have a Singer sewing machine. Sometime back it just got jammed. Meaning the needle doesn’t move! What could be the problem and how do I set it right?
Anonymous
February 1, 2020
On my sewing machine the tread getting a little stuck in the gap on the dial and breaks occasionally. I'm trying to figure out how to fix that.
Anonymous
January 21, 2019
Totally agree, especially #3. Make sure you use the right needle for the type and thickness of the fabric. I also needle quality vary quite a bit too. Schmetz is a good brand. Organ Needles https://amzn.to/2ARR8Wj is even better, but they are hard to find in stores.
Anonymous
January 15, 2019
I recently experienced several of these issues with my sewing machine. I tried every solution I possible. Turned out there was a very small crack in the plate and the thread was actually catching.
Anonymous
December 21, 2018
THANK YOU SO MUCH! Absolute life saver, I had no idea what the problem was and I thought I had tried everything. You are amazing.
Anonymous
November 12, 2018
Hi, please assist me i recently both a new industrial machine but its not stitching at all it stitches one stitch then stops.
Anonymous
November 12, 2018
Hi, please assist me i recently both a new industrial machine but its not stitching at all it stitches one stitch the stops.
Anonymous
September 21, 2018
I also have a brother sewing machine & needle broke as well and I was sewing a light weight fabric ..so i tried another needle that came with the machine and it broke as well . I believe that they are just cheap needles
Anonymous
July 25, 2018
I have a Brother sewing machine (not sure if it makes a difference) but the needle is breaking even without using fabric. Im not sure what size needle I am using but it came with my machine. I have cleaned it, made sure the needle was in correctly and all the way in. It is breaking just by hitting the pedal. Do you have any ideas? I have tried bending the needle a little to see if maybe it isn't alighned correctly and it still breaks. I really need to be able to use my machine! It's been out of commission for a year now! Please help!
Anonymous
July 6, 2018
I have tried using the decorative stitch settings on my Babylock Audrey all to find out that it broke my needle. Things were going along when the needle started hitting the plate instead of inside the little [filtered]. (Great terminology, I know.) So I was wondering if there is a reason why my machine is going hog wild with the decorative stitch.
Anonymous
June 22, 2018
I just bought a brand new Singer Promise, started sewing and my thread broke. It is stuck in the upper threader and if I pull on it , it will most likely break. I'm guessing my thread might not be the best quality or the tension is off... But how do I get it out without taking it to the shop? There must be a way...:( Help!
Anonymous
June 22, 2018
I have been using needle 18 for sewing for many years since this is the one that came originally with the machine... however, now the thread breaks whenever the fabric to be stitched is three or more folds thick... or if there's embroidery on the fabric... it is working fine with needle number 14 and 16... but i am curious to know why suddenly no. 18 has started breaking thread... can u suggest what the problem might be?
Anonymous
May 21, 2018
I have an old sewing machine that was given to me second hand. It is a Kenmore 8. The issue I am having is that I keep breaking off needles. But I don’t think it has anything to do with the fabric that I am using. The needles hit the metal plate below the fabric and crack off. It has also gotten jammed in the bobbin housing and I had to take the whole metal bobbin housing out to release the needle. Can anyone help?
Anonymous
February 22, 2018
Thank you so much for this great article! I was just having the thread bunching problem, and I just happened to stumble into this article, I will give the trouble shooting suggestions a shot , Thanks!
Anonymous
February 20, 2018
Is there a trick to lowering the feed dog on my Brother SQ9130. I can't get it to move
Anonymous
February 20, 2018
Is there a trick to lowering the feed dog? I can.t get it to move.
Anonymous
September 9, 2017
my takeup lever fell off on my white sewing machine, how do i put it back on
Anonymous
June 14, 2017
Very useful tips......my machine singer nui-com 5580 wad working all fine and suddenly started getting stuck.......with a deep hummiing sound.......dont know wat to do.......did rethread , help start,....but nothings working....plz help!
Anonymous
March 20, 2017
so many tips! I love it! Thank you!
Anonymous
March 20, 2017
Where could I find traiming to work on sewing machines as retirement income.
Anonymous
March 20, 2017
In reply to victorydryahoo: I also have an old Necchi machine. Best SM I have ever ! Some call it the Porche of sewing machines. So, to address your problem: Do you oil it? This is a precision machined piece of equipment with a very small tolerance between moving parts. regular oiling and dry brush cleaning is a necessity! even the smallest buildup of dust can affect its performance. My user manual suggests oiling after 15 hours of intense sewing; or if used less often, every few weeks. It isn't hard, or time consuming... a few drops on any moving joints, don't forget the underside, and turn by hand a few revolutions to distribute it. If it's been a while, you may need to take it to a shop for a more thorough cleaning. But it always works like a dream afterwards! Check some Necchi boards online for more spav
Anonymous
March 18, 2017
This was so helpful!!!
Anonymous
March 18, 2017
Some very good information here. I wish I could print it and keep it near my sewing machine. Don't see anyplace t do that?
Anonymous
March 10, 2017
The "thread in a cup" trick worked for my extra large quilting thread (not as big as the cone) which was getting stuck on the spool holder. But it needed a counter weight. A battery worked. Thanks!
Anonymous
November 21, 2016
I have an old NECCHI sawing machine, my machine sometime works fine, but most of the time it seem like it stuck, I turn the wheel to help it start, but some time it get too hard to turn the wheel. I wonder you have any idea what is causing it, when I press the paddle sometime it run good, some time its motor humming and I turn the wheel then it goes but sometime I have to keep turning the wheel.. Thank you for helping.
Anonymous
January 25, 2016
Thank you, I learned something new today.
Anonymous
October 14, 2014
Simple steps to fix common problems! It is a nice thing! Thank you.