Top 10 Sewing Machine Problems and Fixes

Whether you’re new to sewing or have years of experience under your presser foot, anyone can run into problems. Sewing machines don’t always do exactly what you want, with small issues becoming frustrating if you don’t know how to fix them.

Before you start sewing, always test your machine on a sample piece of fabric. This should be exactly the same as the fabric you’re using for your project. Using a sample checks that your machine is set up and working as it should be. Any problems, if you sew with a sample, are highlighted before you get to work. At worst you’ll damage the fabric sample, rather than the project you’ve worked hard on.

Don’t assume that your machine working yesterday means it’ll still work today. Minor bumps can upset the delicate balance of your sewing machine, as can a small piece of lint or a slightly worn needle. Every time you sit down to sew, start with a sample and make sure you’re happy before you commit to what you’re doing.

Here are ten of the most common sewing machine problems you might face, all of which can be fixed before you throw your machine through the window in a moment of frustration:

Bunched Fabric or Thread

If the thread is bunching up as you’re sewing, take a break and get your fabric free. If you’ve caught the problem quickly, it shouldn’t be too hard to release your fabric from the machine. If you’ve left it too late, it’s likely you’ll need scissors to cut through the excess thread. Be careful when releasing your fabric, as being too rough can damage your machine or your fabric.

A great fix for this problem is to simply re-thread your machine. If you take the time to simply start again, you don’t need to worry about finding out exactly where something’s gone wrong. Follow the instructions in your machine’s manual, as some need different methods of threading. The presser foot should be up as you thread, and you might need to remove and re-thread your bobbin. Some machines need the bobbin to unwind in a specific direction, which is another reason to keep the user  manual to hand.

You might also need to look at the tension settings. On lighter fabrics, you might need to adjust the tension of the top thread, or switch to a slightly longer stitch.

If you’ve taken time to re-thread your machine, and the same thing keeps happening, check and adjust the tension settings and make sure that they’re right for your fabric. You might also need to make sure that you’re using the same thread throughout your machine.

If your thread keeps snapping, rather than just bunching, there’s a good chance that you’re using the wrong weight for your fabric. Delicate threads, and thinner threads, can only be used with thin fabrics, and you may need to loosen the top tension.

Fabric is likely to bunch if you’re moving it too slowly through the machine. Another common problem is stopping before you’ve reached the end of the fabric. Always sew fabric by adding your backstitch before you get to the edge, then sewing right off the edge of the fabric so it doesn’t bunch up at the end.

Broken Needles

If your sewing needles are breaking or snapping, there are a few things to consider.

The most likely issue is that you’re using fabric that’s too thick for the needle. Sewing denim, in particular, requires a specialist needle. Look for needles labelled ‘jeans’ or ‘denim’ if they need to get through tough fabrics. Some other fabrics, like thick fleece, also need stronger needles.

Always use new needles when you’re starting a new project. Blunt needles will struggle and will be more likely to snap or break when they’re used. Make sure that you’re frequently replacing your needles, so they don’t have time to wear down.

Use the right type of needle for the fabric you’re sewing. Ballpoint needles cope well with knitted fabrics, whilst fabrics like leather or vinyl will need something sharper.

If you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to try your luck with just one needle type. In fact, you’ll have far more success with your projects if you’ve got several needle types available. Always stock up with the accessories you need before you start a new project, as there’s nothing more frustrating than being forced to wait because you don’t have the right needle or thread.

Needle Unthreading

Though it’s frustrating when it happens, a needle unthreading isn’t too much of a problem. It’s usually a sign that you didn’t thread the needle at its highest point in the machine. By threading the needle at its highest point, you’re making sure that it’s already set to cope with maximum movement. The needle is likely to unthread itself if you’ve started too low.

You can lift your needle to its highest point by slowly turning the handwheel on your machine. Some machines also have a switch to raise and lower the needle.

Skipped Stitches

If your machine is skipping stitches, check the condition of your needle. Even if the needle’s just slightly bent, it could ruin your sewing project. Also make sure that you’re using the right type of needle for the fabric you’re sewing.

If stitches are skipping though the needle looks fine, take a break and re-thread your machine. This is the best solution to many common problems with all types of sewing machines, since starting again is the easiest way to make sure that an issue is resolved.

If you’ve taken time to re-thread your machine and it’s still skipping stitches as you sew, there’s likely a problem with the timing that will need a professional repair.

Bobbin Tension Problems

Bobbin tension problems are very common, but also very easy to fix. Instead of using plastic bobbins, which wear down very quickly, stick to stronger metal bobbins less likely to wobble around. High quality bobbins are a bit of an investment that you might not want to make straight away, but spending a bit more for a good metal bobbin could help with your early enjoyment of your sewing machine. Some people feel that they should start with the cheapest possible equipment, but that often leads to early problems that can deter you from trying again.

Bobbin tension problems aren’t always caused by poor quality bobbins. If you don’t have a metal bobbin, don’t feel that there’s nothing you can do. Often, you can solve any bobbin tension problems by manually adjusting the tension. There’s a small screw on the bobbin case that could need a little adjustment. To tighten your bobbin tension, just turn the screw a little in a clockwise direction.

Sewing Machine Jammed Up

If your sewing machine is jamming up and not sewing as you expect, it’s very likely that the fabric you’re using is too thick for your particular machine. Thicker fabrics need more expensive or industrial sewing machines, whilst most of the cheaper domestic machines can’t cope with things like denim or fleece.

If your machine is jamming up, don’t try to force it to keep working. Forcing your machine to work with thick fabric could cause permanent damage.

If the fabric your using isn’t thick at all, a jammed machine is usually a sign of incorrect threading or a damaged or worn needle. Re-thread your machine, use a fresh needle and see if the problem resolves itself.

Fraying Thread

Fraying threads are usually a sign that something is wrong with your needle. It might be that the needle has been damaged or bent whilst it’s in the machine, or it could be that you’ve chosen incompatible thread weights and needle sizes. Make sure that your chosen thread will easily fit through the needle’s eye, and doesn’t need to be forced because it’s too thick.

If you’ve noticed that your thread is fraying, trying a new needle is the quickest way to solve a majority of problems.

Unusual Noises

Sewing machines aren’t exactly known for being quiet. You expect some level of noise when you’re sewing, but what if things don’t sound quite right? Unusual noises could be a sign that your machine needs a good clean. Lint, dust and old bits of thread can cause a machine to make grinding sounds. They’re also amongst common causes of tangles, skipped stitches and inefficient sewing. Stop sewing, so you don’t cause more damage, then take time to check your machine.

Your machine’s manual should provide details of the best care routine. You may need to add oil. Remember that machines have lots of small gaps and narrow ridges that need to be cleaned, so consider buying a sewing machine cleaning brush or full cleaning kit.

If you’ve cleaned your machine and the noises persist, it could be time to send it to the repair shop.

Needle Not Moving

If your machine’s making noise and seems to be working, but the needle’s not moving, the likely problem is that you’ve left it in bobbin winding mode. This is one of the easiest problems to fix, in a majority of cases.

Distorted or Wobbly Stitches

Beautiful stitches, all perfectly aligned, are something of an art form. It takes time to learn how to use your machine, so don’t expect great results straight away. Your first few projects are likely to look a bit scruffy. Even if you’ve used other sewing machines, each one is slightly different. Take some time to get used to your machine, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

If your stitches look distorted or aren’t very neat, it could just be that you need more practice. This could be human error, rather than a sewing machine problem. You might find that, over time, you’ll get better results. However, distorted or wobbly stitches are sometimes signs of problems with machines.

If you don’t think user error is to blame, there are a few issues to look out for. First, check that your sewing machine’s clean and not covered in bits of dust or lint. Even small amounts of lint can affect how easily your sewing machine does its job.

Other problems that might lead to wobbly or inconsistent stitches include using the wrong thread weight, the wrong tension setting or feed dogs that aren’t working properly. Over time, these can wear down and need replacing.

It’s particularly hard to get your technique right with stretchy and flexible fabrics, so if you’re having problems it’s wise to see if they still occur with all types of fabric. It’s also worth remembering that fabric can be pulled by the weight of any unsupported excess, so always make sure that excess fabric is resting on the table you’re working on. Fabric that’s left hanging off the side of the table can pull what’s moving through the machine, causing the stitches to be less consistent or look wavy.

Still having sewing machine problems?

Many of the most common sewing machine problems can be easily fixed. You don’t always need to call in the professionals or send your machine to be repaired. Often, a fix is as simple as starting again and re-threading your machine. Sometimes, you’ll need to replace the cheapest parts like the needle or bobbin you’re using.

If you’re still having problems with your sewing machine, after you’ve worked through the most common solutions, then it could be that your machine needs a professional’s perspective. Sewing machines are full of delicate moving parts, so there’s a lot of scope for things to go wrong. A professional sewing machine repair service will know how to handle your machine, so you can get back to creating clothes and making new curtains in no time.

Always remember to follow advice in the manufacturer’s manual. The rules are different for each different machine, so never assume that what worked for your old one will apply to your new one. Whether you’re a complete beginner or have years of sewing experience, there’s always something new to learn and that’s what makes sewing so much fun!