Troubleshooting – hints and tips

So – you’ve sat down, ready for a relaxing sewing session, but your machine just isn’t having it!  The fabric is rucking-up, threads are tangling, or your machine just won’t sew at all.  What do you do?  Give up and hope it feels better tomorrow??  Here’s a list of trouble-shooting suggestions to try and sort the problem.  After each step, try sewing again on a scrap of fabric to see how you’re getting on.

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Check the electrics!

Of course the first step may sound obvious, but I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point – check that your machine is plugged in, it is switched on and the foot pedal cable is firmly into the socket.

Also, if your machine is trying to sew but isn’t feeding the fabric through, check your feed dogs are up – this often catches me out if I’ve been free-machine quilting.

At the start

Are you starting your stitching in the right way?  The bottom thread should be up and you should be holding on to both the top and bottom threads when you start sewing.  If you don’t do this, it can result in a tangled mess at the beginning of your seam or your machine can jam.

If you are sewing with fine fabrics it can help to sew onto a scrap first as this anchors the threads— leave a short ‘string’ then continue on to your piece.

Museum and HLF professional photos August 2011 040

Rethread your machine

If you’ve checked the above, your next step is to rethread your machine – this often sorts the problem out.  Start with the top thread – take it out completely and then rethread.  Did you know that your presser foot should be up when you thread your machine as this ensures the tension discs are in the right place?

Then, remove and replace your bobbin.  Check your bobbin is in the right way round – if you aren’t sure which is the right way, check your instruction book.  While you’ve got your bobbin out, have a quick look at it – have you got the right size for your machine?  Is it showing signs of wear?  Slight variations in size can cause it to wobble and this affects the tension.

Get the screwdriver out

Check the foot you are using is firmly screwed on.  Also, check the needle is in properly – both the right way round (flat bit at the back) and confirm that it hasn’t come loose.

And while you’ve got your screwdriver out, it may be worth giving your machine a clean.  You should unplug while you’re doing this.  Take the stitch plate off and use a small brush to clean out the bobbin race.  Trapped lint or fluff can affect how the machine operates.  If you’ve never cleaned your machine you can get guidance in your manual or on-line.

Do you need a new needle?

Guidance on needle changes varies according to who you listen to.  Some experts recommend changing it every 6 to 8 hours of sewing.  Others say you should put a new needle in when you start a new project.  Generally, if you can hear the needle forcing its way through the fabric, or if your stitches are skipping or wonky, your needle could be blunt and it may well be time for a new, sharp, needle.  Additionally, needles can develop barbs which may break the thread, or may get bent if you sew over a pin (try to avoid doing this).

Needles come in different sizes and types according to the thread and fabric you are using and this can cause a lot of confusion. For regular patchwork with a general purpose thread, a Universal size 80/12 should be fine.

What thread are you using?

Are you using a needle suitable for the thread – if you are working with specialist quilting threads for example, they will normally indicate what needle to use.  Are you using a good quality thread?  Cheap threads can break more easily, or may shed fibres into your machine.  A good quality thread is worth investing in when you think about the time and effort which goes into your projects.


Have you got the same thread top and bottom?  Using different threads on the top and bottom can cause problems.  Alternatively, you can use a specially made bobbin fill thread.  Have you used the thread before?  If it’s a new one, try going back to a trusted thread.

Still having problems – what now?

Check your manual – there is often a trouble-shooting list in the back which details specific solutions to a range of problems.  This includes tension problems where the stitch doesn’t seem to sit right.

Alternatively, ‘Google’ the problem – include your machine make and model number in your search – there’s probably someone out there who has had the exact same problem!

You may have to seek professional help—like cars, sewing machines need regular servicing to keep them running smoothly.

Hope that is some help in the future!!

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