Common Sewing Machine Problems And How To Fix Them

sewing machine problemsWhether you are a beginner in the sewing world or an expert who has completed innumerable projects, there is always a chance that your sewing machine might create some trouble for you.  Sometimes it can be that annoying sound or as bad as the machine refusing to work at all.  Here are 5 common sewing machine problems encountered by most of the sewing enthusiasts and ways to fix them that don't involve seeking outside help.

Machine not sewing:

This is one of the most common sewing machine problems faced by all. This could be because either the thread or the needle is not properly set up. Read the user manual carefully while threading and inserting the needle. While threading, make sure that the presser foot is up and once threaded the presser foot should be brought down. Similarly, make sure that the needle is facing the right side of the machine so that it picks up the thread while sewing.

sewing machine problems

Bunching thread under the fabric:

Sometimes while stitching you might notice a bunch of thread beneath the fabric even though the top stitch looks perfect. This could be because of various reasons.

If the bobbin is not threaded properly then the bunching is likely to occur. For this, take out the bobbin case and rethread it.

This can also happen if the bobbin thread is too loose. In that case, adjust the bobbin properly to get the right tension.

Uneven stitches:

Stitches become uneven mostly because of broken needles. Experts are of the opinion that the needles should be replaced after a stitching time of 16 hours. If you have the habit of pulling the fabric from behind while stitching, then it can also lead to uneven stitches. The solution for this is to replace the needle at the right time and follow correct stitching practices.

sewing machine problemsBroken needle:

Needles break if you use the wrong needle with the wrong fabric. Needles are sized from 8 to 18 in the American sizing system. The lower the number of the needle the finer the needle is. So if you use an 8 number needle to sew a denim fabric, it is more likely to break. The only solution is to use the right needle for the right fabric. Sizes 8-11 can be used for delicate fabric like silk and chiffon while size 12-14 can be used for medium weight fabric like flannel. Size 16-18 can be used for heavy fabric like denim.

We've written a whole article on the dangers and prevention of broken needles.  Please feel free to check it out.

sewing machine problems

Noise:

If the machine produces abnormal sound, then it is an indication that the machine is jammed or requires cleaning. Switch off the power before inspecting the machine. Sometimes lint build-up occurs as a result of constant sewing. If so, clean the lint using a brush. The machine should be oiled using sewing machine oil to prevent rust. Make sure that all the screws are in place and tight.

For a complete guide on how to clean your sewing machine.  Please refer to the linked article or watch the video below.

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These are a few of the common sewing machine problems that you may face as you practice your hobby.  Hopefully, these tips will help you find and resolve the issue.  If the machine is still not working properly even after all these things are checked, then you should seek the help of a qualified technician to figure out the real problem and get it repaired.


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20 Responses to Common Sewing Machine Problems And How To Fix Them

  1. Jackie Kittle says:

    In 1966 found a 10+ year-old Pfaff in the back of a Viking shop. I got it for cheap because it was European and had to have a replacement (American) motor and it tended to sew in circles.
    I had the shop replace the motor and 3 engineering students puzzled over the circular sewing problem for an entire evening. At the end, we removed the throat plate and cleaned a LOT of gunk out from under it and we have sewn happily ever after. .

  2. Linda G says:

    Good advice for basics to keep your machine healthy.
    Cleaning and oiling is usually the first, and often best, solution for problems.

    I would hesitate to use the hair dryer, since it can cause the same problems as canned air by blowing lint deeper into the machine. A vacuum with a narrow nozzle attachment may be better if you can’t reach inside. Seeing sealed machines like the on in the video makes me grateful for my mechanical machine in which I can see and reach nearly everything inside.

    I recommend using folded tissue paper (like sturdy gift wrap tissue) to gently clean the tension disks. Most cloth has some lint on the surface that can be deposited in the tensioners. The smooth surface of the folded tissue paper is still rough enough to grab and pull out the lint, but is less likely to leave lint from the paper behind. The folded tissue is thinner than most cloth, as well, so it can get into very narrow spaces to coax out pesky fibers. Just don’t force the paper; use it gently.

    Uneven stitches can be caused by too much lint build up in the feed dogs impeding normal movement of the fabric under the needle. Be sure to check and clean the feed dogs, if changing the needle and cleaning and adjusting tension don’t work.

    Noise can also be the result of a slightly bent or worn needle hitting the bobbin or bobbin hook (or worst case, nicking the edge of the presser foot or throat plate). If you’ve been sewing for a while using the same needle, using a needle too small for the fabric weight, sewing over pins, or putting undue tension on the fabric while sewing and your machine starts to rattle, try changing the needle. Also, check to make sure you don’t have a bent or warped bobbin. This happened to me when I got some cheaply-made, slightly off-square, metal bobbins. They usually stitched OK, but made a lot of noise bouncing in the bobbin case.

  3. Tamra says:

    As a sewing teacher, I learned there are several reasons that a machine isn’t sewing. Is it plugged in? is it turned on? is the bobbin winder engaged? and has the thread come out of the needle? Simple reasons, but they happen even to the most experienced sewists!
    And when there is thread bunching on the underside, it could also be that the upper thread tension is too loose or that the thread is not seated properly between the tension disks. Be sure the presser foot is up when threading the machine so that the thread can get between those disks.

  4. j Bryan says:

    I agree entirely – keep a clean machine! Also, watch out for polyester fleece — it creates fuzzies quickly. This next is true of my old Husquvardna and may be true of others as well: If the “empty bobbin” warning has stopped working, this probably means so much lint has built up in the bobbin area that it has blocked the sensor. A red flag to get in there and start cleaning. Oh yes, and do use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust, not canned air. Canned air can force dust farther down into the machine. This goes for cleaning the insides of a PC, too.

  5. LL says:

    I use a chenille pipe cleaner to help clean my machine. It bends easily and picks up dust VERY nicely.
    And I try to remember to clean it every time I start a new project. Or if it is a big project, part way thru.
    Had a friend who never cleaned her machine, and the poor machine stopped working. She brought it in for service and the tech told her that the lint had packed in so badly the it killed her machine. He couldn’t do anything to revive it.
    So ever since then I clean, clean, clean out the lint. A very good (and expensive) lesson to learn.

  6. msgabizkid says:

    l LOVED IT! After all these years of sewing (60+), I still can refresh my skills & learn something new from time to time! THANK YOU! Cleaning my machines this week!

  7. Laurie says:

    I think it took about 10 minutes for my mouth to stop gaping open once you opened the bobbin area, lol. I even paused it so I could scroll up to make sure it was really you Mayra. Please tell me you staged that, lol. I’ve never seen that much crud before and it belongs to my sewing goddess!?! Say it ain’t true! Seriously, get one of those little vac attachment kits they work amazingly well. Just use it quickly so you don’t choke out your vacuum. Thanks for the video I learned a couple of things from it.

    • Mayra Cecilia says:

      Hi Laurie, you made almost fall of my chair in laughter, no it is not I in the video and yes it was staged. I have been sewing since I was 14 years old so I have learn the hard way to keep my machines as clean as possible. I actually clean my machine before each project and even during a project with long fiber fabric.

      • Laurie says:

        Mayra, my Sewing Goddess, thank you for confirming it was staged. Now, all is right in the Sewing Universe again, yay!! 🙂

  8. Teresa Ballesteros says:

    When something wrong happen with my machine I get up from it, drink a coffee and begin again: I clean it, change the needle, rethread from the beginning, never fail if the machine is ok, if not to the tech store

  9. Leslie says:

    I’m throughly confused by the relationship between top tension knob, stitch length knob and the spool tension.
    The handbook gives minimal help. The machine isn’t stitching correctly on simple cotton sheeting with the same good thread top and bottom. Whatyever I’ve tried I’m still getting uneven stitching which is almost like gathering! Help!

  10. Becky says:

    When my thread bunches up underneath it is due to the top thread not being threaded properly, even if it appears to be in there correctly. I found this in the trouble shooting section of my machine’s manual, and sure enough, when this happens I pull out my top thread and rethread my needle and all is back to normal with no troubles.

  11. Tina says:

    Thread snarling can also happen if the thread has jumped out of the take up lever,
    something mine does at the weirdest of times. My Pfaff Ambition 1.5 has a clip over it to hold the thread in, but makes no difference.

    I have spring/gripping tweezers that I sometimes use to weight down the threads whilst starting to stitch where I have limited room & no chance to start on a piece of scrap or wash/tear away in the case where there is snarling with no other indication of problem.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      HI Tina, this is perhaps a design problem, and one I think Pfaff would like to hear about. The good thing with this brand of sewing machine is that they will listen to your feed back. I suggest you make a video and send it to PFAFF head design office they might be able to suggest something.

  12. GLENDA says:

    Great advice , wish I could have found sooner .Thank You

  13. Sammi says:

    Most of the bobbin thread bunching is not the bobbin thread at all, but incorrectly threading the top of the machine. Try using two different colors of thread to test which is actually the problem. Also try holding the thread tails for the first few stitches and see if that doesn’t also help prevent thread bunching under the fabric.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Thank you Sammi, indeed this is useful information!

    • Rita says:

      If there is a mess of thread under the fabric, it’s usually the top thread that is the problem. Remove the top thread from the machine. ALWAYS RAISE the presser foot and rethread from the beginning. Frequently, doing this will stop the thread mess. It may also help to hold the two thread tails in your left hand while taking the first couple of stitches.

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